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More pooches than people: the importance of dogs in the countryside

PUBLISHED: 10:10 17 October 2013 | UPDATED: 16:26 17 October 2013

Adam Henson

Adam Henson

Archant

Visit any animal-friendly country show and you’ll find more dogs than humans. This is a reflection of their important role in the countryside, says Adam Henson.

Dogs have been part of daily life in the countryside for centuries. Sheepdogs, guard dogs, foxhounds, terriers, retrievers, even huskies, have all had an important role to play in making the work of the farmer, herdsman, shepherd or landowner a whole lot easier. Down the ages we’ve trained them and honed their skills to the point now where a good working dog is just as much a part of the team as any human. Then of course there are the ones that are kept as pets or house dogs. If you’ve been to local ‘dog-friendly’ events like the Cotswold Show or the Frampton Country Fair then you’ll know just how much rural folk love their animals. There are times when there are almost as many pooches as people!

In fact, if you think of a typical Cotswold farmer it’s hard not to picture a dog close by. It’s certainly true in my case. I grew up on our family-run farm near Guiting Power and there have been dogs here for as long as I can remember. I loved having them around and now I’ve got a little pack of my own. They’re my companions and my workmates so they have a very special place in my heart. They’ve all appeared on Countryfile and you might catch a glimpse of them on a visit to the Farm Park. All four have got differing personalities and skills, so as an owner I can use them according to their abilities and really play to their strengths. After all, the England football manager wouldn’t put his best striker in goal!

Boo and Dolly are my two house dogs and they’re both Hungarian wire haired vizslas. As a breed they’re lively, gentle-mannered animals with square heads and long ears. Boo is just under two years old and true to form she’s a really boisterous bundle of fun who loves doing tricks. Dolly is a little more unusual. She’s about eight years old but she never grew any wire hair so she looks a little bald, especially in the winter. They’re both pretty handy guard dogs too. I bought Dolly from a couple called Clint and Anita who live in West Sussex and a while ago we featured them on Adam’s Farm. They take the vizsla’s traditional role as a gun dog seriously and Clint has even trained his own dog to hunt with a golden eagle. It’s a remark thing to see and Clint is expert at handling both dogs and birds of prey. Impressed as I was though, I’m not sure that dear old Boo and Dolly would be quite so happy to share the limelight with a feathered friend.

I’ve also got a pair of working border collies. Maud is about 16 years old and a lovely, loyal dog but she’s a bit deaf now so she’s been retired. Although there are times when I’m not sure she realises that fact. But her daughter, Pearl, is a brilliant sheep dog and she’s superb at rounding up the flock. She’s got an innate herding instinct and when we’re in the field together she’ll display that ability; not only as a way of pleasing me but also working with me to bring the sheep in. It’s an amazing thing to experience. There’s also another collie who deserves a mention. She’s a part-bred Australian Kelpie called Milly who I share with my livestock manager, Mike. I first came across Kelpies when I was travelling in Australia back in the 1980s and it’s fair to say that no self-respecting Aussie cattle or sheep farmer would be without one. They’re so good at herding and mustering livestock that in the outback one dog can do the work of several labourers. In a land where herds and flocks can often be counted in the thousands, the Kelpie is famous for walking across the backs of a tightly-packed flock of sheep to get to the other side. Now that’s not something you’re going to see every day in the Cotswolds.

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This article is from the November 2013 issue of Cotswold Life.

Adam Henson is a regular contributor to Cotswold Life; follow him on Twitter: @AdamHenson

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