Can a Sheepdog Desire the Fun of Fetching?

It has never ceased to amaze me how James wants a canine whose heritage is herding to run after a ball he’s tossed and bring it back to him like an obedient Labrador. Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Labs – some are my best friends. In fact, one is the mother of my puppies. (You guessed it – that romance happened during my eleventh month – well within my first year for which this blog is dedicated.)

(Ollie during his first spring after running around with the ball.)

Where was I? Oh, yes – the game of fetch. I have to give it to James. He is a smart man. (Thank you – a nice treat.) It was during my first couple of months of life that James began trying to train me to fetch a ball. Now this ball was one made out of rubber webbing so my teeth could grab it. He started this series of exercises while I was still locked – okay, more like caged, within the mudroom.

First he introduced me to the ball. To me it was yet another toy like the many I had been given. (You can read about all my toys here.) It was a delightful red in color – easy for me to spot. It was, I must mention, only smaller than the size of my head. However, it was light in weight.

While these drills were taking place, my teeth were still coming in. (You can read about my teeth here.) The rubber webbing was soft and felt wonderful against my gums. Yet this ball was not something kept out, but put away after each instruction. That made me want to have it all to myself even more.

Once I was proficient in retrieving the ball, bringing it back, and dropping it at James’ feet, we moved outside. Oh, did I neglect to mention that treats were involved? Well, lots of treats came my way during these repetitive commands. I must say, for a herding dog, I was excellent at fetch.

(Ollie’s famous red ball with its green companion.)

During the winter months, this – may I be excused for calling it a game? – took a backseat to other things we did. Still, James was determined once the spring arrived to get me to bring that gosh darn ball back come Hades or high water. Little did James know that Ron had found the red ball and was playing get the ball away from me. Now that game a shepherding dog can understand.

So, when the songbirds arrived, and I wanted to chase them (see that blog here), James took me and the red ball outside. I could tell he was excited to have a chance to get me to run after the ball, bring it back, and drop it at his feet for a treat. He was bubbling over with anticipation.

Now I knew he had the ball even though he was hiding it from me. Please know that I’m cleverer than I’m sometimes given credit – just sayin’. I was antsy to get that ball between my teeth and run around with it, keeping it from James like I had from Ron. Well, after the first toss and James’ command to fetch, I ran like lightening after that ball. I skidded past it on the grass I was running so hard. Gathering myself back up, I grasped the ball in my mouth and began galloping and bucking around the yard. James didn’t know what had hit him. He kept ordering me to “bring it” when that was the last thing I was going to do. I was having the time of my life. In fact, I’m all but snorting from laughter right now, trying to communicate with James about this so he can type it for me (remember, my paws are too big for the keyboard).

Oh, my sides are aching from all the fun I’m having. Stop, please. I have to catch my breath. While I do that, here’s the poem James wrote about his attempting to teach me fetch. I hope you enjoy it.


the lesson began by our siting side-by-side
watching a five-minute training video
“how to teach your dog to fetch”

when the film completely cycled
we agreed it was a tedious course
as educational exercises usually are

          if you remember
          it began with a reward
          for showing interest in a toy

          if you recall
          said toy was thrown a few feet
          and I said “fetch”

          if you recollect
          once you started to go towards it
          you were rewarded

          if your memory serves you well
          after you went to it
          you were rewarded

          if you recollect
          when you picked it up
          you were rewarded

          if you recall
          I was to say “bring it”
          which is what you were to do

          if you remember
          when you made cues in that direction
          you were rewarded

          if you recall
          when you brought it
          you received a huge reward

          if you recollect
          I was to say “drop it”
          which is what you were to do

if your memory serves you well
when you dropped it
you were royally rewarded

I suggested we take it outside
where you excelled
after a few days’ effort

I found you would quit
after three throws
when you were but sixteen weeks

by the time you were eighteen weeks
I discovered you would stop
after four throws

I recorded that you would rest
after five throws
when you were twenty-two weeks

by the time you were a six-month
Old English Sheepdog I realized I
wanted a break after six throws

when the winter came
the toys you fetched
were used for indoor play

making fetch
with those or any toys
a thing of the distant past

for when spring came
and we frolicked outside
you lost interest in the game

you ran around wanting me
to chase and fight for the toy
instead of you coming and dropping

eventually you returned and
acted as if you’d never release
no matter how hard I pleaded

even treats were of little use
so now we play a variation
I call “fetch and fun”

nowadays after I throw
a new red rubber ball
you run around awhile

ultimately coming to me
dropping to the ground and
releasing the ball to receive a treat

we’ve trained one another
to give in to each other and
enjoy the company we have to offer

I promise to try and remember
this simple life’s lesson
how satisfying compromise can be

I’ve never heard of a game called “fetch and fun,” and I bet neither have you. Regardless, the point I think James wanted to make with this poem was the art of compromise. It was not an easy lesson for me to teach, but James is, sometimes, a fast learner. It only took him that first spring outing to catch on.

The one thing I do wish is that he would have brought the ball inside. I mean, he wouldn’t even let Ron bring it indoors. I suppose that was because I was nearly my full size, and I would be like an elephant gallivanting around with a red ball in my mouth. He knows I will do anything to keep it away from Ron and him.

On the occasions we still play with the ball outside. When we do I have a blast. James no longer yells at me to bring it to him. He does, from time-to-time, ask me to drop it. What does he think I am – stupid? (Oh, that got me laughing again.) Actually, I allow James to get the ball every now and then because he always throws it. I have to admit, it is fun running after it. Maybe I should bring it back to him and drop it so I can run after it again. Nah. Not going to happen.

If you will, let us know what you think about my first year and the poems James wrote in the comment section below. I always like to hear from you, so please feel free to leave me a note about this or anything else that’s on your mind.

I hope you’ll come back in two weeks and hear about my discovery of ants. While I was growing nearly to my full size, these tiny specs never grew a fraction. Think about that.

Until next time,
Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm (you can call me Ollie)

PS: Please note that James never tried to get me to fetch a tennis ball. For that, I thank him. (Score, a delicious treat!)


Paw Prints courtesy of
All photos © James Stack 2018 unless otherwise indicated

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