An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

Rounding out her resume

A few weeks ago the owners of Coco’s parents asked if we’d like to join them for a two-hour session of herding lessons up in Huntsville, Utah, about an hour north of here. We’d been thinking of looking into something like this for Coco, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to check it out and see if this was something all of us could handle. All of us, that is, except Chuck because we left him home. For a couple of reasons. One, he’s not a herding breed and would be as lost among those sheep as I would have been at sixteen inside a sex shop, all, um, what is that long stick there with two balls on either side? Is that some sort of fancy back-scratcher? Two, he’s terribly unpredictable when confronted with animals not of his own species and has been known to suddenly discover his anal glands when in the presence of horses or cows.

So one gorgeous Sunday morning we packed up a lunch, hooked both Leta and Coco into the backseat and headed north. But not before stuffing a bag full of books for Leta to read and flip through. Because when we told her we were going to see sheep she asked, “Will those sheep have books I can read?” Granted, that’s the first question she asks when we get in the car to go anywhere. Do they have books there? Can I read their books? Which I will admit is sort of cute in the sense that it’s obvious we’re raising a nerd, but it’s sometimes frustrating. Because even though there are books at the grocery store, Leta, I don’t want to spend twenty minutes over there in that aisle, not when the only reason I made this trip was to pick up a gallon of milk and a package of earplugs. Because today Apple is announcing new products and Daddy is going to be doing A LOT OF TALKING.

Hunstville is a quaint, scenic town just up from Ogden Canyon, and when we pulled up to the ranch for lessons we immediately met Coco’s parents, Lucy and Willie. I’ve said this before, but it was such a strange experience to meet a dog related to my dog, let alone her parents, because we have no idea where or under what sort of circumstances Chuck was born. And because we haven’t had any of his DNA checked out we have no idea what sort of breeds could be swirling around in there, and for all we know a cat got freaky with a deer and out popped a creature who can balance a beer bottle on his head.

And it occurred to me that meeting Coco’s mother was probably a lot like what Jon experienced the first time he met my mother and was all, oh. Now I get it. The Crazy is hereditary.

Since all of the dogs in attendance were beginners the trainer talked to us all about what would happen, how one of us would accompany her and the dog into a pen about 1/10 of an acre big, and then when inside she’d show us techniques as to how to encourage the dog to chase the sheep. At this point Leta was sitting on a grassy spot and reading books about twenty feet from the group of us, and Coco was interested in nothing but her whereabouts. WHERE IS SHE? WHERE IS SHE? WHERE IS SHE? Coco, Leta is fine. She’s right there reading books. Chill out. BUT SOMETHING COULD HAPPEN! SOMETHING COULD HAPPEN! SOMETHING COULD HAPPEN! Nothing is going to happen, calm down. DOES. NOT. COMPUTE. MUST. CRY. WILDLY. Is that not totally heartbreaking, though? That Coco is so interested in the well-being of someone who, if gifted with only a slightly more advanced vocabulary, would tell her to fucking suck it.

I volunteered to go into the pen with Coco while Jon and Leta had snacks on the grass, and I’ll tell you what. Sheep are scary. First of all, they’re way bigger in person than on television. And then one of them had this crazed look in its eyes, like it was going to charge me at any second, and I don’t know enough about sheep to know if it could cause any real damage if it went ahead with that plan. But I had faith that this trainer knew what she was doing and had not put me in contact with a homicidal farm animal. Although I think that’s a great idea for a horror movie: vindictive sheep. Or at least an episode of Dr. Phil where he tries to convince them to be more forgiving.

Coco eyed the sheep suspiciously, but other than that she had no interest and ran to the side of the pen to make sure Leta was still alive. So the trainer asked me to start chasing the sheep myself. And then she tacked on to that request an addendum that I would like to use as a warning to every single person out there who ever plans to marry. You might want to make sure that when you take your vows that somewhere in there is a clause that says, “If I am ever asked to run around a pen in pursuit of a sheep so that I might slap its ass, you are not allowed to recount what that looks like to any of your friends.”

Internet, I chased sheep and slapped their asses. And after a few seconds I totally forgot what it ever felt like to have any dignity. Coco watched me for several minutes, dumbfounded, and when the trainer pointed out that her attention had shifted from Leta to me she asked me to start yelling Coco’s name in a high-pitched voice. Because the whole situation wasn’t already ridiculous enough. This was exactly what my nightmares look like, except in those I’m usually wearing nothing but a Disney Princess diaper and have just been told that tomorrow I have an exam in a French class that I forgot I had signed up for.

But that’s when something magical happened, and I will never forget this. I swear to God, suddenly Coco gave me this look, and I promise the look was in perfect English. It said: YOU HAVE GOT TO BE SHITTING ME. YOU ARE ACTUALLY ENCOURAGING ME TO CHASE THOSE ANIMALS?

And that was it. All it took was a nod of my head, and her DNA kicked in. All of a sudden we had a sheep herder. An honest-to-God herding dog. She showed glee and exhilaration and skill that I did not know she had in her. For the next hour and a half as she took turns with the other dogs, she would sit outside the pen with both eyes fixed like lasers on the sheep inside, letting out a tiny moan when one of them would move. Jon and I would exchange knowing glances, like here was our dog doing what it was born to do, and isn’t it magnificent? And that’s when I suggested we adopt a herd of sheep, our backyard could fit maybe six or seven, we could harvest the wool and sell handmade clothes on Etsy. He said he would consider it when he’s dead.

  • Marie /

    OMG – that is the best marriage vow EVER!!!

    Our dog could never chase sheep because he’s part fainting goat (I am pretty sure). Seriously, if you’ve never seen the video, its one of the most hilarious things ever. Check it out:

    Our dog stiffens and faints when the old man across the street tries to pet him. The poor little guy’s head would explode if he were put in a pen with a bunch of sheep!!!

  • Nhiro

    Crap, just noticed somebody commented with the sheep trailer. I’m slow.

    But honestly, how many people in their lifetime can say they slapped a sheep’s ass? Now that’s an accomplishment.

  • Seriously, laughing out loud. Great post, though I’m not a dog person, I’ll happily giggle at yours. 🙂

  • That’s incrdibly cute. And funny. You chased sheep. Priceless.

    And when you mentioned a movie about evil sheep I thought about Black Sheep too, funny you didn’t know it already existed!

  • Anonymous

    You know… Coco’s protectiveness of Leta is typical of a herding breed. Herding dogs tend to do that because they view children in the house as who they’re in charge of keeping out of harm’s way. My friend has shelties that behave the same way around kids.

  • Wow…you have such a way of painting a HILARIOUS picture in my head! Thanks for making me laugh…and three cheers for Coco the Magnificent Sheep Hearding Dog!

  • How freaking cool was it to watch Coco herd sheep? You must have been ready to pee yourself.

  • I, too, took books everywhere and was a nerd. Still am. But thank you for enabling Leta. My parents grounded me from reading. Not quite over that.

  • Meg

    Doesn’t Jon’s fancy iPhone have video capabilities? I cannot believe you posted a teaser of an entry like this without video.

  • Dying laughing. You crack me up. Go Coco!

    Also, I was a book nerd like Leta. Still am. We’re good people, the nerds.

  • Michelle

    I’m a new reader of your blog having just found it recently and I really enjoy your entries. I’m glad you had fun with Coco. I have two border collies that work sheep and we trial along the east coast. Watch out – many people have innocently attended a lesson or two and ended up with more dogs, land, sheep, and then the whole farm. Working those woolies can become addictive.

  • Les

    That’s awesome, it’s amazing to watch herding dogs at work. I’ll bet you both had a great time.

  • t.

    See, here’s the thing. I just found your little blog a few weeks ago (yes, I live in a closet so whatofit.)

    And well.

    You are fucking awesome. I worship at your witty altar and love that you are as crazy as I am.

    Keep it up, I am laughing over here like none other.

  • I am so very sad that I do not get to be the first person to tell you about the fabulous movie, Black Sheep.
    But I can’t resist linking to it anyway.

    THE VIOLENCE OF THE LAMBS? Come on. You know you want to watch that.

    I’m so glad you wrote this out! I’ve been waiting for Coco’s herding story!

  • Chasin’ sheep and slappin’ their asses. Aw, the childhood memories this is dredgin’ up.

  • Hey you do realise that that is why she howls at Leta don’t you? She is rounding you lot up all day as well. We had a dog like that who went crazy if we went on a walk and didn’t stay in a group 🙂


  • Dogmom

    Heather, I don’t have children, so please understand my perspective when I say that when I took Belle (a McNab, Scottish herding breed) to a herding instinct test when she was about a year old and she had NEVER seen a sheep before, and she rounded up a small flock of about 10 sheep into a tiny bunch and actually brought them to me, I was never more proud of anybody or anything in my entire life! I could not believe it, and I will never forget it. I hope you can do it again. For lots of reasons — mostly because I live in San Diego and traveling to herding lessons is really a pain — we didn’t continue with herding. Belle is almost 11 now and it’s one thing I sort of regret because I think she would have been a happier dog (I’m just guessing now) if she had been doing what she was born to do, even a little bit of it. Every day of her life she gets frisbees and balls and various other things thrown, but there’s nothing like gathering up those stupid smelly wooly things! Thanks for your posts!

  • Steph

    More sheep per square foot:

    I need a herd. They’ll keep my grass neat, and I can farm their wool.

  • Yay for Coco. I wish I could take my dog for herding lessons. Shes part border collie and as a pup she would herd all her toys into a circle in the middle of the room.

    I also second what Court says (58). I used to read a lot as a child, until one day my mother said I needed to get out more. I stopped reading AND getting out. It’s taken me about 7 years to get back into the reading habit.

  • We’ve taught our border collie to herd kids. AWESOME!

  • Amanda

    In fact, there is a campy Australian horror movie called “Black Sheep” all about homocidal man-eating sheep. Very entertaining.

  • Where’s a video of that?! That’s brilliant.

    After owning a dog that was of a herding breed, I have to say that I think what you’re doing is great. It can be so hard to appreciate those breeds or even understand why they are so out of their heads until you see them doing what they’re supposed to be doing… which unfortunately, we never did with ours. Which is probably why we no longer own her. Along with the fact that we live in a townhouse and that’s a horrid combination.

    I concur with getting a herd of sheep for your yard. You’d never have to cut the grass again. Small price to pay for having something that looks demon possessed running around outside your house.

  • wait, you had that disney diaper dream too?

    the visuals are hysterical.

  • Amanda

    Oh dear, my apologies. The movie is from New Zealand!

  • So, without the slightly more advanced vocabulary, Leta would tell Coco to “fucking suck…book”?

  • We grew up with a collie. My mom would send her out in the evening to herd us kids in our the cats. It was awesome.

  • That was meant to read “herd us kids in OR the cats.”

  • this post, like so many, is so well-written and hilarious!

    from the onset, i couldn’t help but think of this book though:

    — which is touching (e.g., when edgar is born! oh man…) in perhaps a different way.

    such a great scene with coco though…

  • This is awesome, on so many levels. Why is there not video of the sheep-ass-slapping, though?

    Just in case six zillion people haven’t already said this to you, check out Jon Katz’s dog books. You might remember him from the mid to late 90s when he wrote about tech, and the kiddies on Slashdot took every opportunity to twist their panties into knots about pretty much everything he ever said. Unsurprisingly, that got old, so then he bought an old farm in upstate New York and some border collies and set to trying to make both of those things work as intended. Zaniness, and several books, ensued.

    Start with “A Dog Year” probably—that and, IIRC, “A Good Dog” have many super-fun tales of an aging Jewish dude from the city trying to teach herding dogs to herd. The latter will also make you cry like a baby: fair warning.

    I hope you guys will stick with the classes… I feel certain Chuck would thank you for it!

  • Heather,
    There is a movie about crazy sheep out there believe it or not!! “Black Sheep” rent it an laugh your ass off.

  • Well, thanks alot…you just made me laugh out loud which clued my kids, who were completely and totally occupied by Blue’s Clues, in to my whereabouts.

  • Angie M

    Heather, You have got quite a way with words. I just came across your blog recently, and am really enjoying it. You describe things in such a way that we feel like we’re actually there… That was cute how your daughter asked if the sheep would have books there for her! And the other dog that can balance the beer bottles? Omg…lol…

  • LindsayC

    Oh man- I’m in my office and really can’t laugh as hard as I want to right now, but that was some of the funniest shit I’ve read in a long, long time. Thanks for that.

  • Judy

    Truly hysterical. Love this blog.

  • Holy hell, that is fucking funny.

    And sign me up for a sweater.

    “Made Especially For Me By Dooce”.

  • Evil sheep – so funny!

    Growing up my dad had a property and we had pet dogs. They weren’t meant to be hearding dogs – they were maltese – but boy did they love to chase sheep! And cattle! They were so small compared to the sheep and cattle (especially the huge cattle!) but the were brave enough to chase them and the funniest part was the sheep and cattle ra from them! These little dogs weren’t scared of the animals that could trample them, but the shepp and cattle were scared of my little dogs! Hilarious!

    And I didn’t have to chase them first – we didn’t encourage them at all.
    Funny story – it was great!

  • stacy

    As a librarian, and loyal fan, I couldn’t me more proud of Leta’s book addiction 🙂

  • The only way that post could have been better is if you included some video footage. I expected more, Heather.

  • Kristin

    Did you by chance make it up to the Sheepherding Dog Trials in Soldier Hollow over Labor Day weekend? Every year. That’s some kind of something. If you raise those sheep in your backyard, there are tons of local spinners, knitters, and weavers ready to help you out with that.

  • Ingrid

    You know, there are DNA tests available for dogs. I believe they’re available through vets are maybe you can even find them online. I would definitely be interested to know what combination of creatures Chuck is if you ever do that!

  • I can hook you up with some SLC spinners and knitters who would gladly help you use up that wool. They’d probably even give you pointers on what breed gives the best wool…

  • Hah! If you adopted a herd of sheep, Chuck would not be happy, and you would have to hire a full-time clean-up crew for him.

    Love the story about seeing your dog do what she was born to do. Hopefully it helps with her behavioral issues. Fingers crossed for you.

  • You’ve actually gotta be sort of careful with having a herding dog and a young child. I had a dog who was part Australian shepherd and very much hard the herding instinct. When my twin brother and I were little, and he was maturing, he decided to use those instincts on my brother, who would fall on the ground crying because the dog wouldn’t leave him alone and kept biting at his heels to make him go where he wanted. If that does happen with Leta, she has to be very forceful and not let the dog push her around, and show the dog that she’s the one in control. Knowing Leta (as much as some kid reading a website can know about her), this may not be a particularly pleasant episode.

  • Ok your inspiring me. My dog is 7 and we have been talking about herding lessons for well 7 years and havent got off our asses to do it. He’s not a Shepherd but a wee little vertically challenged Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Its in his blood though, he was born on a ranch, he always needs to stay busy and if kids are around at a picnic–he herds them all into the center of the yard. Great post!

  • That is awesome!!! I wish we’d let our dog do that — she would have loved it.

    And as for the scary sheep movie, yikes. I’ll add that to my list of things I’m afraid of, right up there with clowns and spiders and semi-trucks-with-teeth-on-the-front-grill.

  • Karene

    Here Here, Black Sheep is a hilarious movie that all teenagers should be made to watch in school on days that they have subs. It’s that funny.

  • Debbie

    I love the fact that you capitalized the C in “Crazy.” Had you not, the English nerd in me would have groaned and said, “well, that was funny, but it would have been WAY, WAY FUNNIER had she capitalized the C so that “Crazy” is percieved as a proper noun, thus an actual diagnosis!”

    Do I have issues?

  • jennifah

    That’s awesome! I think you should have chased Jon around and slapped his ass, personally.

    As for Leta’s book addiction, it is great – my 7yo is the same way – we have books everywhere, car, bathroom, bedroom, etc. I was that nerdy kid who brought a book to restaurants with her parents and while I don’t wish that dorkdom on my kid, I can sorta see where she gets it.

    Go Coco!

  • I bet you could convince Jon a lot faster if you told him the sheep would keep the lawn well-tended, and he wouldn’t have to pay a cent to fuel up the gas-powered lawn mower. Oh, and you could even rent them out when your grass got too short (or disappears completely, since that’s what sheep do).

    If it was good enough for Ladybird…

    AAAnndd, with all that money you’re saving NOT buying gas, he could buy more Apple toys.

    I’m just sayin’

  • Sam

    I can’t even get my Yorkie to shit outside. I heard it’s a “breed trait”… Yorkies are hard as hell to housebreak.
    You got a sheepherder and I got a 5 pounds of sass who not only shits on my carpet, but also likes going to the groomer because they put bows in her hair.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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