Actually, sheep, cattle and duck camp. Perhaps more accurately, stock herding camp. There are 35 campers. I am one. All adults. We all have at least one dog. Some have 5 or 6. One woman brought along six four week old puppies with their mother since they could not be left at home alone. There are about 140 dogs at the sheep farm where camp is underway. They are the herding breeds: Heelers, Australian Shepherds, Corgis, Kelpies, Bearded Collies, Shelties, and, in large majority, Border Collies. The dogs work stock with passion and intensity. Work is their reward. Toys and treats play no part in their training. When it is not their turn, the dogs watch others work. During the lunch break the dogs sleep in crates and small portable pens. The humans wear name tags. I am glad that camping is no longer exclusively for the young. As with children away at summer camp, we are the essence of indulgence. We may not be cannon-balling off a dock, but when our dog goes out wide around the sheep and fetches them back to us, we are getting the same thrill.
I am back again, with two dogs this year. We had our kick-off briefing with wine and cheese this evening. Very much like similar orientations except it took place in a barn. Again, over 150 dogs waited outside, mostly quiet, some dozing, all focused on the sheep grazing in nearby pastures. Tomorrow we will divide up by skill and inclination. We will hear advice, take our turn and despair at our limitations. Our dogs will be eager, happy and ready to go again. The sheep will assure that the diagrams we see on white erase boards are mere suggestions of the path forward. They think for themselves, unlike a golf ball. They stop to graze, to pee, to turn around and look at the dog. They turn and run flat out towards the gate to the barn.
We try to anticipate, react, stay calm. The dogs are in it for the work. What looks like an escaped-sheep disaster to us is just another long fetch to them. We humans need to remember that the dogs are not scoring our effort or our results. They are just looking for another chance to herd sheep.