Not Quite a Shaggy Dog Story

border_collie_liver_portraitHello everyone,

I have reason to believe there is going to be a spike in traffic to this blog in the next few days. I will have more to say about about that after it happens, no doubt. In the meantime, I have not done much with this blog in some time. Now I have a very good excuse: I’ve written the first draft of another book since my last post, so how much time should I have put into this blog instead of that project? Still, I want to do a few posts between now and the arrival of a wave of first-time visitors.

I thought I would open with a joke, but for my own amusement it will be a long and rambling one that walks the edge of being a shaggy dog story. I saw a version of this on Reddit a few months back, and I enjoyed horrifying friends and family with my own rendition over the Christmas holidays. I encourage anyone who makes it all the way to the end to make this their own joke to torture people with: Put your own spin on it –make it longer or shorter as needed. This is a storyteller’s joke, so don’t be afraid to put some mustard on it.

Here goes:

There once was a farmer –well, a shepherd really. He was good at what he did, and he was fortunate as well. Over the years he managed to build up his flock from about forty sheep in the beginning to seven hundred and ninety-three sheep by his middle years through hard work, an abiding understanding of the fundamentals of animal husbandry, a local vet, and a faithful sheepdog. The shepherd and his sheepdog were damned near inseparable, and the shepherd gave the sheepdog equal credit in their shared success over the years.

Still, sheepdogs do not live forever, and when the old dog started becoming truly an old dog, the shepherd started thinking about how he was going to make do with seven hundred and ninety-three sheep and no sheepdog. To be honest with you, even one dog even in the peak of physical fitness really had its paws full running all over hill and dale all day every day gathering up all those sheep. The shepherd starts wondering if maybe he has to buy a whole litter of sheepdogs to replace his current sheepdog when the time comes. It sounds expensive and exhausting. If only there was a way he could make do with one new dog, but it seemed impossible.

One day the shepherd is talking about his problem with that local vet I mentioned earlier. “I mean, when I started, one dog and forty sheep made perfect sense. But how is one new dog supposed to round up seven hundred and ninety-three sheep?”

“It can be done,” the vet says.

“Really?”

“Oh, yes. You’d be amazed what the latest breeders are training their dogs to do. You wouldn’t even have to bring this new dog up to speed. It’ll cost a little more, but I can definitely recommend someone with a dog that will suit your needs.”

Well, the shepherd is so pleased about this, he gets the address from the vet, jumps into his truck, and drives right over to the breeder. “Do you really have one dog that can round up seven hundred and ninety-three sheep all by himself?”

“No problem at all,” the breeder says.

“Really? It’s hard work! I’ve had one dog helping me since he was a pup, and I think the sheep sort of go along with it now because they’ve known him all their lives. This new dog is going to have to be a wonder to do the job all by himself,” the shepherd says.

“Oh, he is,” the breeder says. He whistles, and a sheepdog comes running over like greased lighting and sits down at the breeder’s feet. “Just ask him.”

“What?” The shepherd asks, confused.

“Ask him. Ask him if he can do it. This sheepdog is so smart, if he was a human being, he’d have a PhD in something, no doubt in my mind!”

So the shepherd looks at the dog and says, “I’m looking for a new dog to help me round up seven hundred and ninety-three sheep. Can you do that?”

The dog looks him square in the eye and says, “No problem.”

The shepherd reels back, shocked. “It can talk!?”

“I told you,” the breeder said. “That dog is probably smarter than I am.”

“So you can definitely do what I need you to do?” The shepherd asks.

The dog looks him square in the eye again and says, “There’s no doubt in my mind I can round up all those sheep for you.”

The breeder holds up a hand and says, “Now, it’ll cost you a little more for him on account of him being such a good sheepdog with all this extra training, but you were talking about maybe needing a bunch of dogs to do this one dog’s job. You’ll end up saving money by getting just this one dog.”

The shepherd agrees to pay what it costs, and his new dog jumps up in the back of the truck, and they go back to the shepherd’s farm house. It’s dark by the time they gets there. The shepherd says, “We’ll start work tomorrow. You’re sure you’re up to this?”

The dog looks him square in the eyes and says, “I have no doubt I can round up your sheep. I can round up more when you get them. You made the right decision buying me. Your last dog saw your flock grow from forty to seven hundred and ninety-three? Just wait until you see what you and I can do together!”

Well, that sounded pretty good to the shepherd, and he slept well that night. The next morning, he woke up bright and early, walked the dog out to the nearest meadow, and waved his hand around at all the little white dots: His sheep were scattered over all the surrounding hills. “Okay, boy. Round them up!”

The dog turns its head one way, then the other, then it turns around in a circle, surveying the horizon and the whole flock. Then he looks up at his new master. He looks the shepherd square in the eyes.

“You have eight hundred sheep.”

Groaning to one side, the trick to making this story work as a joke is having five or six things that COULD be the punchline. People listening to a joke try to jump ahead. The number seven hundred and ninety-three is so specific as to put up a red flag, but there are other elements in this story that could have become the joke. Was it that the dog was going to cost too much? That it could talk? That it always looked the shepherd square in the eyes? Where was the old dog in this whole story?

I heard a variant of this story. This is my version. I wish you all the best with your own variation. Be prepared to fiercely debate the definition of a shaggy dog story with people when you are done. The subject matter and method of telling the joke demands you have a position you are prepared to defend against the outrage of your listeners.

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