We built the “kennel” as a joint home that would permit us to be with the dogs and to share their companionship. Always, there are dogs present while we do chores and desk work, dine and socialize. This shared existence makes for strong bonds. With such relationships, dogs develop a vocabulary, and conversational communication replaces commands. The dogs gain familiarity with human foibles and vice versa. They come to understand our spoken language. With good communication, commands are rarely used. The fringe benefit: lower blood pressures and reduced stress levels for everyone.
Such intimacy becomes a very helpful tool in the selection process. By having the sustained, consistent contact, we take note of who among the dogs busily carries all sorts of materials (good working dog potential); who likes to climb up and crawl under places (Search and Rescue Dog); or one who is always at the gate waiting for us (Social/Therapy Dog).
Such promising behaviors help determine their future careers. In the case of puppies, careful observations also help us greatly in choosing the right people for their future homes. Ultimately, when we spot particularly unflappable Collies with the special combination of talent and stamina, we earmark them as Service Dog candidates. Such a dog was Cole, Ch. VCh. Kings Valley Select VC, our first Service Dog a beautiful, healthy, stable dog with a sense of responsibility and with the ability to take appropriate initiative. All who have followed in his pawsteps have performed with equal grace and effectiveness.
In building the kennel, we based the design on several precepts:
If it doesn’t work, change it. Be responsive to the behavior of the dogs – let the dogs’ behavior indicate needed changes and suggest solutions.
In 1977 we gave the dogs seven acres and built them a 100-foot long “kennel,” constructed like a pole barn posts in the ground, tied together with horizontal “gerts.” Its exterior is dressed in steel and weathered old barn wood. The family, with the guidance of a professional carpenter, did the interior using the spoils of the high-class wrecking yard doors, windows, even the clerestory window panes, lamps, Lucite, and assorted materials.
Our Collies’ private property slopes gently toward a rock-filled drainage moat and the sheep pasture. The dogs are securely tucked behind a long 4-foot high anti-traffic fence(1) interspersed with strategically placed 3-foot human gates and 14-foot vehicle gates. The pens that are usually occupied by puppies are fenced in 2×2” kennel fencing. All fencing is transparent enough not to spoil the dogs’ view: from their field runs, they can watch one another, their people, or the sheep, the ducks on the pond, and wildlife.
The two young-puppy areas they can be combined into one larger one adjoining the entry road. The puppies learn a lot about Collie culture from watching the adults in the neighboring fields. They also receive much stimulation from happenings along the road. They scramble up the steep, terraced slope(2) to their secure kennel fence and watch and wiggle at the thrilling extracurricular entertainment of delivery trucks and passersby.
The connection of house and kennel has always played a major role in the social life of the dogs. Any seniors are always free to reach us and can come and go; the others have to take their turn. Generally they like to run along to spend dinner time with us. To them our spacious front yard is an exciting place full of treasures and toys. The retrieving kind will zoom around, pick up their find and carry it to the house. On a rotational basis, every dog regularly gets a vacation from the kennel a chance to feel free to roam, explore, and take personal inventory of the farm.
(1) 2×4” wire mesh stretched on pressure-treated 4×4 wood posts set 8 feet apart.
(2) Because mowing the slope was too difficult, we cut and filled 2-3 foot wide steps into the ground, and retained each with p.t. 2×8s, set on edge about 3 inches into the ground, and held up with rebars.