Shetland Sheepdogs

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Living With The Shetland Sheepdog

Through my website, I'm so very lucky to receive lots of heart-warming and amusing emails from sheltie owners worldwide who freely share with me their experiences of living with the Shetland Sheepdog.  Because I felt that visitors to my site would enjoy reading these stories just as much as I do, I decided to create a page purely for the purpose of sharing these precious moments with you all.  The stories are written by genuine, ordinary people who have experienced the joy of owning a sheltie and they illustrate so much better than I can the hidden depths of love and emotion these precious little dogs unlock from our souls. 

This page was created on 23/11/10 and is still in its infancy, but I hope to add to it on a regular basis - enjoy ;-)

A Loving Life
by Lawrence Watson, Australia

A grizzled 71 year-old bloke like me is not supposed to fall madly in love – but I have!

My best friend wouldn’t describe me as ‘macho’ or in any way ‘tough’, but like most men, I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve, nor do I show my emotions too readily.   But nowadays I’m more than happy – proud, even! – to declare to the world how I feel about my new puppy, who until a few short weeks ago was a complete stranger.

I dearly love my wife of almost fifty years, and my two children, and have a passing regard for my grand-kids, but apart from these feelings nothing has really tugged at my heart-strings until very recently.

My somewhat-puzzled wife says I am besotted.   My children have used the words ‘obsessed’ and ‘infatuated’.

Every waking minute is filled with warm tingling emotions about my new best mate.   My last thoughts at night before I fall asleep, and my first waking moments, are focussed solely on this young dog who has become the centre of my universe.  

Throughout the day, if I’m not with him, I’m thinking about him, wondering what he’s doing, if he’s happy, and how long will it be until I’m with him again.   Entire days are at his disposal, and all I want to do is be with him, or at least near him, preferably within touching distance.

I recall when my daughter had her first baby, and we visited her in hospital just a few hours after the birth.  She was up and about, and radiant, but as she walked and talked she took a glance towards the new infant every now and then, just to reassure herself that he was still there, and that all was well.   I’m now exactly the same!             

My new love is the Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie) puppy who we recently took into our home and into our hearts, and it’s fair to say that he has transformed our lives.  My wife loves him – I adore him!   I have become a crushing bore on the subject, and will regale family and even strangers with his story, his antics, his health, and what he means to us.           

I know that we cannot transfer human emotions onto our pets, but I cannot help wondering if he loves us as much as we do him.   What does this hand-licking and tail-wagging mean?   Why does he unfailingly lie at my feet wherever I am?   And what does it mean that he waits patiently at my bedroom door for me to get up each morning? All these things delight me – but I am probably guilty of implying feelings that he cannot have.

We read that dogs give unconditional love: is that what it really is – or is it merely seeking another bowl of food, another tummy-rub, or more play-time in the garden?

Whatever it may be, it doesn’t matter.   He has already brought more than enough joy and fulfilment into our days, and it’s hard to think of life without our precious and much-loved puppy.   And as he grows and develops, taking on even more of his own personality, our pleasure in him can only grow too.   

HONEY’S TALE – a true story 
written by 'Honey' in her own words

I was just three months old, and had only recently left my parents and brothers to travel north to my new home, where I already felt loved and cherished even though we were still getting to know each other.

I was still learning to sleep right through the night, and trying hard to master my toilet habits, but I know you left your bedroom door open so you could respond to my needs, if any.

On this particular night I woke up and knew that I had to go outside.   Uncertain, I gave a low whimper to alert you, and you responded by immediately coming to my door and asking quietly what I wanted.   It was two in the morning, but you didn’t seem to mind.

We slipped into the quietness of the night-time garden, and you walked to the front fence and kneeled down on the grass to wait for me.

Across the road from our house is a small park, and beyond this a creek which is lined with very old, tall gum trees.   There was a light breeze that night, and the only sounds were of nocturnal insects going about their business and the soft murmurings of the trees.   The cool air was scented by the Mock Orange shrubs in our garden, and beyond the tree-line opposite the sky was black, but with thousands of stars twinkling in the darkness.

I crept beside you and sat down, and you put your hand gently on my shoulder as if to reassure me that you were there.   I leaned against you and followed your lead, sitting quietly, just looking up through the open fence at the night sky and the stars, taking in the moment.

We were there side by side for only a short time, but it was suddenly as if our two minds, our hearts, and our souls joined together to become one.   I could read your thoughts and you could read mine – I was thinking “this is lovely” while you thought “this is perfect”.   I felt your heart swelling with pride and joy and love at my presence as we seemed to become two images carved from the same piece of stone or timber – separate, but one.

That early morning we really, truly bonded, and as I lay down to sleep again I knew, as you did too, that although in future there may sometimes be some distance between us, we will never, ever, be apart. 

November 24th 2010

 HONEY’S DREAMTIME

Honey, our beloved Shetland Sheepdog (they are also known as Shelties) was brought home as a tiny ball of fur when he was just eight weeks old.   He’s now reached seven months – a young teen in human terms – a handsome, alert, intelligent, inquisitive and playful  companion, still changing and developing of course as he nears adulthood.   And - not quite perfect, as we still have a way to go with some aspects of his obedience training!

We are amazed at how he has changed our lives and brought so much joy into our home.   We are both retired and well into the autumn of our years, and with our children long gone and no other pets at home Honey provides a huge amount of interest and pleasure in everything that he does.

Just as rewarding are the admiring looks and complimentary words that he gets when we are out walking with him – he loves attention from strangers, especially children, and he certainly gets plenty of that.

We watch him constantly, whether he is chewing a bone, chasing tiny lizards around the garden, digging holes at the beach, or running around the park.   “Gedda life!”  I hear a cynic cry, but then Honey has become such an important part of our life.

Even when he sleeps, which is still quite a lot, we can find amusement and delight in his behaviour.   Mostly, his sleeping is quiet and still, but sometimes he launches into what we believe, quite unscientifically, to be the equivalent in humans of REM sleep – REM standing for ‘rapid eye movement’.   Apparently REM sleep is particularly deep and restorative, often accompanied by dreams and deeply-mined memories.   Of course, in dogs it may be nothing to do with this human sleep pattern, but if it is, then with Honey REM stands for ‘rapid everything movement’!

His transition from normal sleep to this REM sleep (or whatever it is) is quite abrupt, and starts with a very deep and loud sigh.   Then everything starts moving: his legs twitch spasmodically, and he extends and then contracts his claws.   His breathing becomes very deep and very rapid, with his chest rising and falling markedly as he draws air into his lungs to fuel his sleeping activities.  

Most obvious are the expressions on and around his face: his nose twitches and his whiskers move around in a random way, he wrinkles and flexes his brow above his eyes, his eyelids remain closed but constantly flutter, and most amusing of all he often exhales vigorously out of the side of his mouth causing his lips to ripple and flutter with an accompanying strange noise! All this movement is accompanied by a constant array of other vocalisations - little squeaks and yips, soft growlings and quiet muffled barks, and an occasional full-blooded yelp as he lives through whatever is going on.

These little episodes last for a very short time, maybe only twenty or thirty seconds, but they are clearly very meaningful for Honey, or so we choose to believe.   We also choose to believe that Honey is experiencing vivid dreams while he is in this sleep pattern, but of course the question is – if so, what is he dreaming about?

We read that historically the background to the Sheltie breed was their use as working dogs, herding sheep and other animals in the harsh and unforgiving terrain of the Shetland Islands, north of Scotland, and close to the Arctic.   It would have been a very hard existence, with little human interaction most of the time, and a considerable degree of self-reliance probably making the difference between life and death for the individual dogs.   No pampered pooches here – they were an important asset to the islander sheep and cattle herders and those that didn’t perform were most likely discarded without much sympathy or sentimentality.

So – are Honey’s dreams of the distant past, of chasing sheep up rocky hills, of fording icy streams to get to another part of the island, or maybe of finding some shelter, warmth, and food – maybe even a little affection – from his owner?   In his dreams, can he go back that far in time?   And what does it all mean to him?

Or is he dreaming of our outing together yesterday, when he frolicked on the beach with other dogs, feeling the warm soft sand between his paws as he ran around, barking excitedly in that “I want to play” behaviour?   Is he recalling his swim in the balmy crystal waters of the Coral Sea here on the Queensland coast, swimming now being his second-favourite pastime after eating?   And is he re-living the warm bath that he so enjoys back at home, cleansing his lovely copper-coloured coat of sand, salt, and scraps of seaweed?  

Or is all this activity and noise while sleeping just the outcome of some random electric impulses deep in his brain, or something else unknown and unknowable to we humans?    

What joy there might be if we could only understand and share his thoughts, as we vicariously share the pleasure of watching Honey’s dreamtime.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lawrence and Brenda Watson
January 13th 2011

 'Honey' is owned and loved by Lawrence and Brenda Watson, Australia, who kindly submitted these photographs and allowed me to publish their stories