Congratulations to Zoe MacBean and her Lacy Taliesin, NLDA Dog of the Year.

“Taliesin (aka Tally) was born on my birthday and has truly been a gift and a blessing. He came into my life at a time when both my marriage and my sweet old stockdog were falling apart.

We live in a small, remote town (accessible only by ferry) on the edge of a vast wilderness. To say we have a healthy bear population is a profound understatement. The little acreage we rent sits on the edge of a salmon creek and is a commuter route for bears, wolves and cougar. Our area also boasts a very large eagle population and huge egg-stealing, chick-gobbling ravens.

I keep a small flock of sheep and a handful of pack goats along with assorted poultry and a small mule. A good dog is essential in these parts. Despite our geographic isolation, we have neighbours on all sides so shooting predators is rarely an option. Besides, we’re a conservation minded lot, bears are quite trainable and orphan cubs are hooligans.

My old girl Rowan was a marvellous bear dog and a fine hand with sheep. She passed along her knowledge of bears to Molly, our foxhound, who in turn showed Tally the ropes. And just before she “went on ahead” she must have whispered her stockdog secrets in Tally’s ear. He was just 7 months when she left us and he was already doing work that would have impressed me in a dog twice his age.

Tally usually starts his day with morning chores. We feed the goats and mule separately from the sheep but in the same paddock. Tally has informed the goats that they are to eat from their own pile at least until the sheep get a chance at theirs. Don’t ask me how he managed this. He just did.
If we’re feeding grain (only about a month out of the year), his job is to collect the feed pans afterwards so I don’t have to go find them in the dark later on.

Our fledgling farm is still largely unfenced and the price of hay here is astronomical ($38/bale for alfalfa) so getting the sheep out to graze is important. I used to have to stand there and watch them lest they wander down the drive to the highway or up the cut into bear territory or over to the neighbour’s hay field. I was impressed a year ago that Tally could help me bring them back. Now I take it for granted that I can get busy with other jobs or even go in the house to bake and Tally will either tell me there’s a problem or just go fetch them back himself. Truly, they rarely try to leave now – they know better than to test him.

He keeps a sharp eye on the skies, too, because eagles will stoop and strike right at our doorstep and the ravens are always hungry. They sure don’t try much when Tal’s on duty. I’ve seen eagles pull a u-turn when they spot him in the yard!
Come time to bring the sheep back in, I just say, “bedtime” or “I need sheep” and he’s off like a rocket. I just stand at the gate and wait most times. He rarely needs help. He’s also learned that sometimes I want just sheep and sometimes I want the goats, too.

If the goats were picketed and I’m leading them back in on halters, I just say “escort only” and he puts just enough pressure on to keep them trotting along nicely.
Out on the trails when we’re packing we say “they’re your brothers here” and he has to leave them in peace to do their work.

We often have to sort sheep for herding lessons or to do foot care and shearing. He’s learning their names and how to help me catch one specifically, then hold it to me while I trim or medicate. Equally important, when I say “let her go”, I can release her and not have him chase. Sometimes I need goats to be moved and he knows he’s allowed to yell at them and back it up with teeth if necessary – goats are not known for their obliging ways. They rarely argue with him these days.

In addition to his farm work, Tally has to help me teach at Dog Club two nights/week. He’s sharp as a tack and keeps me on my toes as we work on agility, rally, perch work and tricks. We’re adding scent work to the class rotation and he loves it. He’ll do pretty much anything I ask him to and do it well but if he thinks I’m doing it wrong or that what I’m asking is stupid, he’ll grumble like a cranky old man the whole time. The class is generally laughing hysterically by the time we’re done. Then the next time we do the same exercise he acts like it’s no big deal because we’ve always done it this way.

When we’re not teaching or farming, we’re hiking or swimming or travelling together. I’ve been training dogs now for about thirty years and he is hands down the smartest and weirdest dog I’ve ever worked with that was still functional.

He is also in no small way the reason I now have two “handsome silver gentlemen” in my life.So, in addition to all his other skills, apparently he can also mend a broken heart.”
– Zoe

Past dog of the year winners:
Wes Mundy’s Brutus 2014
BBK’s Patch 2015
Middleton’s Cazadora Rowdy 2016
Low’s Taliesin 2017

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