What are you wise to be looking for?
With working dogs that can basically bring you back some sheep (and often very little more) costing around £2,000, if you set out to buy a pup (at around £150 for a dog and £200 for a bitch) you’re basically looking for economy … but the risk the pup won’t grow up to work is substantial.
So how do you pick out a good one from a squirming mass of puppies, piling over each other, nipping and biting on the barn’s earthen floor?
That’s the question we were asking last week when I took my eleven year old to pick out a young Welsh Sheepdog bitch. It’s a very big question. We’re looking for the pup that is going to be ‘the one’ … his working companion in his work on the hills as (God willing!) the boy grows up into the man.
Obviously genetics means a lot, so you check out the parents. You see them at home. You try to see them at work. And (mebbe) you wince at the cost of a pedigree pup!
If you listen to the old boys they’ll tell you to check in its mouth. ‘Black mouth – smart dog’ they’ll tell you … as if this is the wisdom of the ages. They might try to tell you a black mouth indicates a good blood supply to the brain, but be very aware – this stuff is not clinically proven!
Picking the one that picks you.
That sounds good.
There’s always one that wants to sit on your foot, and it takes a lot of the stress out of deciding!
But if you check the academic papers floating around on the internet, the truth is more risky than this.
The American military’s extensive research on selecting good search and attack dogs says you really can’t tell until they’re about eleven months old whether working dogs have the makings or not.
The truth is, probably, you pick a pup that you like and you hope for the best, you take it on and give it a go, as you teach it to come to its name and to follow you around on the yard, feeding stock, bedding down, doing maintenance. It’s bonding and learning to follow you.
Without that, it will never be any good.
If it learns those things well, there’ll be some hope it will work. But buying a pup’s still a risk.
And why not? Life’s a risk! (Even God seems to take a ‘risk’ … on His people.)
God buys a pup with His people?
God looks for people that turn to Him, that follow Him around as He works. But all the while it appears that He’s taking a risk with us … ‘buying a pup’ you could say.
And let’s face it, you can even have a great dog that turns out to work well, but occasionally turns into a killer.
It’s a risk.
And you see the same problem when God’s picking His church. There are people He trusts who ‘turn bad’ and show they weren’t really His people at all.
Yet He still takes a risk on us and gives us the chance – as if He always meant it should be so.
See, it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us … and from the human perspective He takes a risk on us right from the start. We might seem ever so enthusiastic and sincere to begin with, seem to follow Him around and get ever so excited at His voice … but (Matthew 13 explains this) turn out to be stony or weedy ground later, or even reject Him altogether.
And the risk’s so much bigger where He’s concerned. He’s not picking from pedigree stock! He’s looking to make followers – specifically – from failures.
And the lesson from all that goes like this …
The important thing for young pups number these:
- to learn the voice that calls their name,
- to learn their name when its called,
- and to learn to follow the hand that feeds them as they pick up on the job and grow into the work (“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”- John 10:27).