Welcome to the world of farm dogs, or at least that of five dogs that live on a small farm in deepest rural Devon.
We have two Springer spaniels, two Clumber spaniels and a sheepdog called Bruce. The spaniels go beating with the Missus at a couple of local farmer shoots, and Bruce, who considers himself the only working dog, helps us with the sheep. They all live outside and sleep each night in their own cosy dog box.
Jessie, one of the Springers, is the oldest at around 12 years of age and is the matriarch, or senior dog.
The other dogs treat her with great respect. During the day she holds sway in the log shed area outside the back door where a variety of doggy baskets are scattered, and she will decide which dog, if any, can have one of the other baskets! She has a well-worn look, with a tousle top head and one blind eye due to a bramble catching her years ago. She is also missing a toe and has a touch of arthritis but none of this has curbed her sheer enthusiasm for a day’s beating with the Missus.
The other Springer is Teazel, a three year old that is overflowing with energy and just seems to love every second of her life.
It is always Teazel that will come and plonk herself in our laps should we sit down outside, and she is very adept at getting in and out of deckchairs. As a puppy she was into everything, but sometimes not quite so good at getting out of things. On several occasions we had to pull her out of one of the feed bins by her back legs, only for her to jump straight back in again.
The older Clumber is called Barley.
Jessie is the light of his life and he hates going anywhere without her. He is normally allowed in the basket that is next to Jessie. Whereas Springer spaniels are the pocket rockets of the spaniel world, Clumbers are at the other end of the scale, and Barley is probably off the scale. He will spend ages sitting just contemplating life. Once I overheard a guest telling his wife, “That Barley, he’s a real cool dude”! I think Barley quite liked that. He has a lovely gentle nature, is never aggressive except when Bruce threatens him, and loves having his back scratched. Once he went on holiday to visit a girl Clumber doggy and had, in his own words, ‘A Very Nice Time’, the result of which was a gorgeous litter of 8 cuddly Clumber pups.
And one of these became our other Clumber, Holly, who is now two years old.
She has Barley’s gentle and trusting nature but, because she is one eighth Springer, she is about 10 times more energetic. She and Teazel spend hours happily playing together, rolling over and over in play fighting, and she is becoming a very proficient little hunter catching squirrels and rabbits, both of which we have in abundance. The Missus is always very pleased with her as she has an excellent nose for sniffing out pheasants and will bring anything she has picked up straight back, and drop it at her feet – something the older spaniels need some persuading on.
Finally there is Bruce, a highly intelligent sheepdog who has little time for spaniels.
He absolutely loves working the sheep and gets beside himself with excitement whenever he realises we are about to get them into the shed from the fields. Sometimes he is a little bit too keen and we find he has already brought the sheep up to the gate before we can even get our boots on. Bruce is very much an Alpha dog, which means he has a very good presence with the sheep, but also means that he has to keep challenging our other male dog, Barley. Normally Barley will walk away, but if he feels trapped then he will stand his ground and a real old set-to follows. Unfortunately for Bruce, the cool dude is stronger and has a much bigger mouth, something which Bruce seems incapable of remembering.
Each of our dogs has a very different personality, but all share one characteristic, a carefully considered disregard for instructions or orders of any sort. Yet they do have their own rules, and ways of entertaining themselves, and every so often we will recount some of their adventures.