Shepherd’s Dog: The Cunning of Sheep-Stealing Dogs

From Anecdotes of Dogs by Edward Jesse, Esq., 1858
The Colley Or Shepherd’s Dog: the cunning of sheep-stealing dogs


“The stories related of the dogs of sheep-stealers are fairly beyond all credibility. I cannot attach credit to some of them without believing the animals to have been devils incarnate, come to the earth for the destruction both of the souls and bodies of men. I cannot mention names, for the sake of families that still remain in the country; but there have been sundry men executed, who belonged to this district of the kingdom, for that heinous crime, in my own days; and others have absconded, just in time to save their necks.

“There was not one of these to whom I allude who did not acknowledge his dog to be the greatest aggressor. One young man in particular, who was, I believe, overtaken by justice for his first offence, stated, that after he had folded the sheep by moonlight, and selected his number from the flock of a former master, he took them out, and set away with them towards Edinburgh. But before he had got them quite off the farm, his conscience smote him, as he said (but more likely a dread of that which soon followed), and he quitted the sheep, letting them go again to the hill. He called his dog off them, and mounting his pony, he rode away.

“At that time he said his dog was capering and playing around him, as if glad of having got free of a troublesome business; and he regarded him no more, till, after having rode about three miles, he thought again and again that he heard something coming up behind him. Halting, at length, to ascertain what it was, in a few minutes there comes his dog with the stolen animals, driving them at a furious rate to keep up with his master. The sheep were all smoking, and hanging out their tongues, and their guide was fully as warm as they.

“The young man was now exceedingly troubled, for the sheep having been brought so far from home, he dreaded there would be a pursuit, and he could not get them home again before day. Resolving, at all events, to keep his hands clear of them, he corrected his dog in great wrath, left the sheep once more, and taking colley with him, rode off a second time. He had not ridden above a mile, till he perceived that his assistant had again given him the slip; and suspecting for what purpose, he was terribly alarmed as well as chagrined; for daylight now approached, and he durst not make a noise calling on his dog, for fear of alarming the neighbourhood, in a place where they were both well known.

“He resolved therefore to abandon the animal to himself, and take a road across the country which he was sure the other did not know, and could not follow. He took that road, but being on horseback, he could not get across the enclosed fields. He at length came to a gate, which he shut behind him, and went about half a mile farther, by a zigzag course, to a farmhouse, where both his sister and sweetheart lived; and at that place he remained until after breakfast time.

“The people of this house were all examined on the trial, and no one had either seen the sheep or heard them mentioned, save one man, who came up to the aggressor as he was standing at the stable-door, and told him that his dog had the sheep safe enough down at the Crooked Yett, and he needed not hurry himself. He answered, that the sheep were not his—they were young Mr. Thomson’s, who had left them to his charge, and he was in search of a man to drive them, which made him come off his road.

“After this discovery, it was impossible for the poor fellow to get quit of them; so he went down and took possession of the stolen drove once more, carried them on, and disposed of them; and, finally, the transaction cost him his life. The dog, for the last four or five miles that he had brought the sheep, could have no other guide to the road his master had gone but the smell of his pony’s feet. I appeal to every unprejudiced person if this was not as like one of the deil’s tricks as an honest colley’s.

“It is also well known that there was a notorious sheep-stealer in the county of Mid-Lothian, who, had it not been for the skins and the heads, would never have been condemned, as he could, with the greatest ease, have proved an alibi every time suspicions were entertained against him.

“He always went by one road, calling on his acquaintances, and taking care to appear to everybody by whom he was known, while his dog went by another with the stolen sheep; and then, on the two felons meeting again, they had nothing more to do than turn the sheep into an associate’s enclosure, in whose house the dog was well fed and entertained, and would have soon taken all the fat sheep on the Lothian edges to that house.

“This was likewise a female, a jet-black one, with a deep coat of soft hair, but smooth-headed, and very strong and handsome in her make. On the disappearance of her master she lay about the hills and places where he had frequented, but she never attempted to steal a drove by herself, nor the smallest thing for her own hand. She was kept some time by a relation of her master’s, but never acting heartily in his service, soon came privately to an untimely end. Of this there is little doubt, although some spread the report that one evening, after uttering two or three loud howls, she instantly vanished! From such dogs as these, good Lord deliver us!”

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.