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Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men

15 May 2013

I just finished reading Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men, the story of a Virginia writer and shepherd who explores Scotland in search of adopting a border collie suitable for helping him work his sheep farm back home.

One of the things that impressed me the most in reading this book was the vivid description of life as a shepherd. I had never imagined shepherding as being a very mentally demanding occupation, but here we learn of a shepherd who by the age of twelve could recognize each of the family farm’s one thousand sheep individually, and recall their attributes such as medical history and grazing preferences.

While the accounts of shepherds was fascinating, this is mainly a book about border collies, and their stories are at least as fascinating: a border collie who successfully rounded up a flock of frightened sheep in the darkness of night; a border collie who could gracefully drive sheep down from precarious mountain peaks; a border collie so determined to obey his master’s commands that after being told to “stay”, to the horror of his master who neglected to signal otherwise, he stayed put without taking a step while being trampled to death by a herd of cattle.

We also gain insight into the close relationship that can develop between shepherds and their border collies: an expert sheep dog who, after being sold to another shepherd after several years with his first, refused to herd sheep in any sensible way for his new master; the shepherd’s complete inability to tend to the sheep without his dog; a shepherd who, upon learning that his beloved border collie is about to pass on, spends the night with it, outside, in the snow, wrapping the dog in his own coat until morning.

This book paints border collies as absolutely magnificent creatures; if not the most beautiful, then surely the most faithful of all dogs. But the book concludes with a warning that border collies can be difficult to deal with as pets. If you already have a border collie, reading this book will give you a greater appreciation for your companion; if not, it would be inadvisable to run out and adopt a border collie just because of the stories in the book, as taking care of a border collie can be more intense than many other breeds of dog.

(Thankfully, I had already adopted a border collie before reading the book!)

There are a few photographs, but the book is mostly straight text, and would be perfectly readable on a Kindle or an iPad, if the publisher sold an electronic edition, which they don’t. You can buy a printed copy at Amazon.