THE BORDER COLLIE
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
~1 Peter 5:1-4
“Is that your dog?” is the question that I most often hear when people see the picture of the Border Collie on my computer desktop. I don’t own a Border Collie; I never have and, unless I end up living in a farm or a place with an extra-large backyard, I doubt I ever will. So why do I have a picture of one on my desktop, on my iPod and iPad wallpapers, a figurine of one in my living room, and a blog named after one? The answer: The Border Collie is an emblem of the type of person who, in relation to God and His flock, I truly strive to be.
And so for all of you who are wondering why this wordpress blog is named the way it is, let me explain:
The Border Collie is a sheep-herding dog – a working dog developed in the Anglo-Scottish border with a somewhat rugged appearance that suggests to all on-lookers that it exists for labor rather than display. It is simple in its portrait, without an ostentatious coat or any exaggerated features. Such a dog has never gained the kind of acclaim or popularity that other breeds have. But every canine expert has a deep appreciation for this breed, for what it lacks in appearance and popularity, it more than makes up for in ability and character. It is, after all, a breed of dog that exists not to draw attention to itself, but to labor for the sake of the sheep and the joy of the shepherd.
When herding sheep, the Border Collie exhibits a type of athleticism unseen in other dogs – a combination of blinding speed and remarkable agility that allows it to skillfully navigate all of the twists and changes of direction that it must undertake to effectively mobilize a flock. It’s extremely high energy and fervency are harnessed and directed by a disciplined mind, such that the dog is purposeful in its every movement. And it does so with an endurance that only the Alaskan Huskies can match, which allows it to herd for hours at a time, mile after mile after mile, through fields and pastures and meadows and mountains and valleys. It is fast-paced yet focused, never lagging yet never rushed. It is quick, but never in a hurry.
The Border Collie herds the flock with a unique, uncanny type of concentration. Unlike other herding dogs, which can be profuse barkers, the Border Collie herds in silence. Instead, it simply positions itself in front of the sheep, looking directly at them with an intense gaze known as “the eye.” The sheep, seeing the dog and aware of its position, somehow instinctively know where to go as a result. Such is the skill and methodology of this silent shepherd that it is able to move its flock without barking or biting, but rather by the mark and firmness of its position. The sheep see it more than they do hear it, and move along as a result.
The Border Collie shepherds the flock with both flexibility and vision. One moment, it is ahead of the flock. Seconds later, it may be behind the flock. A minute after, it may be beside the flock – either to the right or the left – ensuring that not a single sheep goes astray. Yet, remarkably, though it looks to be all over the place, it somehow is able to keep the flock moving forward in the same direction. The dog is adept not only in keeping the sheep together, but also keeping the sheep moving. It herds in a way so as not to please the sheep, but rather always to move the sheep towards those greener pastures. It will not allow the flock to go where it wants to, but rather where it needs to.
The Border Collie has, more than any other breed of dog, an instinct to herd and shepherd. Socially, it is no different in its behavior than any other breed, whether it be toward its master or other dogs. Yet, so strong is the dog’s instinct to herd that the Border Collie will never be satisfied with any other task. It will not retrieve, hunt, track, pull sleds, kill vermin, or guard homes. It will shepherd, and only shepherd. And so to see a shepherding Border Collie is to see a joyful Border Collie, never complaining and never needing to be coerced into undertaking this most difficult task. With genuine eagerness and natural instinct, it does its job.
And yet, while it is instinctive, it is not independent. The Border Collie is a dog that lives to obey. Rated by Stanley Coren (an expert on canine intelligence) as the top-ranked breed in the area of obedience intelligence, the working Border Collie is able to learn and follow hundreds of commands (one particular specimen learned over one thousand) to the tee. Its strong instinct to herd is always in harnessed by its master’s voice – only making its moves when the master speaks, and never contradicting him. The Border Collie, as naturally gifted a shepherd as it is, will only do according to what the master says. Never does it herd independently or for self-serving purposes. Just like the sheep, the Border Collie looks to its master for guidance and direction.
But as much as it enjoys the task of shepherding, the Border Collie – just like any other breed of dog – is most content when it is the feet of its master – the Chief Shepherd. To this shepherd the dog entrusts its life. To this shepherd, the dog looks for its food, shelter, direction, and companionship. The Border Collie, in the end, never forgets that it is a dog – an animal that finds its greatest joy under the authority of and in the presence and companionship of the Chief Shepherd. To him, this dog is wholly devoted, and to him alone.