Agent of Destruction

“…another instance of the untoward fate which so often attends dogs and other philosophers who follow out a train of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and attempt perfectly consistent conduct in a world made up so largely of compromise.”

Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

In a passage full of poignance to anyone with experience raising livestock, Shepherd Gabriel Oak finds that his young herding dog has been overenthusiastic in his duties and caused an entire herd to panic over a cliff into a chalk mine pit.  The pup had an “insuperable difficulty in distinguishing between doing a thing well enough and doing it too well”.  Thomas Hardy brilliantly observed that dogs (and humans) so often fail similarly when perfectly consistent conduct is attempted without understanding circumstance.

Piles of feathers found in the snow.

Piles of feathers found in the snow.

Yesterday Lando broke his collar, and pleased with his newfound freedom proceeded to celebrate.  His first stop was to find the chickens and ducks and attempt to kill and maim as many of them as possible.  Judging by the damage, he only managed to tear out the tail feathers from one hen before getting distracted by the kids sledding on the hill, running off to chase them.  He’s in the dangerously cowardly/brave adolescent period of puppyhood.  Border collies are great herding dogs, but that also means they are only thinly concealed wolves.  Even the most experienced dog is using his herding instinct because something in the back of his mind tells him that the other animals are prey.  Experienced dogs are able to hold that idea in check, balancing the desire to kill with long-learned restraint.  Younger dogs are short on training but full of murderous intent.

The victim hen is missing all but two of her big tail feathers and plenty of down is gone off her rear end.  But it looks like no harm was done, other than to her pride.

The victim hen is missing all but two of her big tail feathers and plenty of down is gone off her rear end. But it looks like no harm was done, other than to her pride.

Lando has the makings of a capable herding dog.  But he’s nine months old, smack in the middle of canine adolescence, the crazy period in between adorable puppyhood and reliable adulthood.  For now, Lando is right where Hardy’s dogs and philosophers were stuck, judging everything using a rigid formula without room for understanding balancing principles. We hope he’ll take this blog post to heart.  Perhaps we should remind him of the fate of the dog in the story.  “He was considered too good a workman to live, and was, in fact, taken and tragically shot at twelve o’clock that same day.”

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