So this morning, shortly after dawn, I hear a long whistle somewhere out on the ranch. And then another long whistle, this one slightly different in tone—like two long whistles followed by two shorts. Sort of like a whistling Morse code.
Which, I discover when I pull on some pants and a jacket, is pretty much what it is. Stuart is leaning against the fence, hands deep in his pockets on this cold morning, whistling at his dog, high up in the hills, bringing the sheep down so Stuart can move them to another pasture.
Stuart has a whole repertoire of whistles. One means “turn left” and another “turn right.” There’s “move them up the hill” and “move them down” and there’s “stop right there.” A man and his dog.
The dog’s name is Tisdale; Stuart calls him Tis. Stuart says he pretty smart but he’s had smarter. And dumber. “This one here,” Stuart says, nodding at Tis as he herds the sheep directly towards us, “tries hard but sometimes he doesn’t get it right. I whistle right and he goes left. I think maybe he’s a little dyslexic. Can a dog be dyslexic?” Stuart laughs at the very idea and I do too.
It’s something to see though. A dog out there in the hills commanding a couple hundred sheep, all based on the whistles his master gives him.
It takes all of maybe twenty minutes to bring in the sheep from the high hills, herd them through a gate, across the road, and in to another pasture. Fast work. When Stuart locks up the gate he gives another high whistle and this time Tis comes running, hurdles the high fence, and jumps in to the back of Stuart’s flatbed truck. And his payoff for all this? A scratch behind the ears. And then the two of them are off.