21 January 2000

dogged progress

Moss is progressing well. Farmlife, you may remember,

first met the collie settling into her new Dorset home last

November. Tim Relf has been back to see how shes

getting on and to hear about the highs and lows of

training a sheepdog

ADAM Simon is heading across the field, Moss beside him.

Shes keyed up, excited. This is her daily training session – the time for Adam to put her through her paces. The time, also, to put himself through his paces – for Moss is the first dog hes trained.

Its typically about lunchtime that the pair head to the sheep. "Neither of us are too tired then," says Adam. Hes enjoying the sessions. "I stopped enjoying it when I thought she wasnt making any progress. Now she is moving on, its fun again – its like with children I suppose."

&#42 Brilliantly

And the now 11-month-old Moss certainly is progressing. "I think she is doing brilliantly, says Adam. She knows basics such as Stay and Walk up and shes learning Come-by (go round to the left) and Away to Me (go round to the right). "Shes nearly solid on those."

Shes also responding to her first whistle command – the two toned, Come Here. "But we want to get her solid on words first."

The aim is to make her obedient but not stifle her initiative. "I have no aspirations to have a champion trialling dog. If I can train her to be a functional, working, effective dog, that will be great."

Its all about confidence. And not just Mosss confidence, either – for Adam admits to also being on a steep learning curve. "Every now and then I get the words back to front like saying Come-By when I mean Away to Me."

Moss can be a little over-zealous. She edges forward, gets called back, edges forward again. "Shes always two or three yards away, edging forward," says Adam. "I have to continually get her back."

It partly reflects the time she spends with Adam and his wife Ellen around the farm when theyre not working sheep. Moss, then, usually stays close to hand but wanders to and fro under her own steam. "She stays within a close radius of me – but this is not quite good enough when were around the sheep. Its my big frustration."

Moss also panics, sometimes, and take a nip at the sheep. "She will grow out of it," reckons Adam. "Its also a sign of her not having confidence in herself."

&#42 Quiet commands

Adam is making a concerted effort, on the advice of dog training expert Richard Brown, to use a quiet voice for commands. "I try to give her the command with a smile in my voice. You cant shout like that."

Otherwise its difficult for both man and dog to know whether voices are raised because dog isnt doing what man wants or, simply, in a bid to be heard. Its easier said than done, here, on the coast at West Bexington. Its a blowy spot, the wind barrelling off the sea.

Moss, meanwhile, is getting stronger, more mature – emotionally as well as physically. Shes not going to be a big dog, though, and is still slight, lithe. Shes still got the same speed that so impressed the Simons when they saw her as a puppy. Still the same mental agility. The same alertness. No sign, either, of the limp that she once carried after getting hit by a car.

She streaks out, across the field. Yes, shes every bit as quick as Adam hoped. The sheep separate, one becomes isolated from the bunch and Moss goes after her. Adam calls and Moss pauses, stops, and turns away, albeit reluctantly. "She loses control and cant help herself, but responds well enough to know, when I tell her to, to stop. Thats new and thats brilliant – I am really pleased with that."

Again, it comes back to confidence. The solution, says Adam, is give her more tasks that she can comfortably handle. Let her build up her confidence. And, of course, give lots of praise. He pats her, talks to her almost continually. Smiles at her, pats her back, rubs her stomach. "Its a very strong relationship. Not like buying a tractor that you get in and steer."

The relationship between Moss and the Simons cats, however, is slightly less comfortable. "She stalks them round and round the house and every now and then gets a mouthful of claws. Theres an uncomfortable tension all the time."

&#42 More trustworthy

Outside, however, shes easier to have about the farm. More trustworthy. Shell sit in the corner of the barn when theyre mucking out. Not stray too far. Shell ride inside the tractor. The Simons no longer have to continually think about where she is and what shes doing.

"I lost her for an hour-and-a-half once and found her rounding up the cows."

A bit of extra training on her own, maybe.

Teacher and pupil… Adam Simon is training Moss every day.

Dogsbody… Moss is a keen worker.