Adam Henson is probably one of Britain’s best-known farmers, bringing his knowledge of the countryside and all things farming to BBC’s ‘Countryfile’ every Sunday.
His new book, ‘A Farmer and His Dog’ explores his relationship with dogs but goes far beyond that and investigates what makes the dog perfect for search and rescue, assistance and sniffer work.
We caught up with Adam to hear more about the journey this book took him on and the dogs which led him there.
Hi Adam! How many dogs do you own?
Hi! We have four dogs in the family, two Hungarian Wirehaired Vizslas and two Border Collies. The Vizslas are very much pets, whilst the Border Collies are working dogs, who work with me on the farm.
Adam, pictured above with Pearl and Maud
Oh wow, four! They must keep you busy, please tell us about them.
Boo is a 6 year old Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla and was bought as a puppy as a present for my son, Alfie, so she is very much his dog. Olive is a 1 year old Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla who we had not really planned to get!
It sounds like there’s a story behind Olive joining the family?
The story is that Boo had not long had puppies which all went to great homes, when very unfortunately Dolly, our first Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla, was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. Boo found herself on her own and really missed a doggy companion, so we bought Olive as a puppy and as a Christmas present for my partner, Charlie.
Adam, pictured with Boo and Alfie, pictured with Dolly
And you have two working Border Collies too. What are their stories?
Yes, Peg is the youngest. She’s a 9 year old Border Collie who I bought from the Barry family after Steve Barry, who owned her, had sadly passed away. She was a fully trained trialling dog and has been a fantastic addition to my working farm life.
Pearl is a 13 year old Border Collie who I have had from birth. I bred Pearl and trained her up from a puppy, she is the granddaughter of my first Border Collie, Fenn, so her heritage is truly with our family and the farm park.
As working farm dogs, how do Pearl and Peg’s days differ to Olive and Boo’s?
As a working dog, Peg doesn’t live in the family home but lives just outside the house in a kennel. She is often tired and dirty having been working with the sheep all day and it is always sensible to let a working Collie have its own space where it can rest quietly away from any distractions. They are very different from pet dogs in that their key purpose is working for you. It’s an accepted fact in the canine world that Collies are the most intelligent and agile dogs.
Peg, pictured above
Boo and Olive live in the farmhouse kitchen, the hub of our home. They are great family pets, but also good guard dogs, barking and making plenty of noise if a stranger comes to the door. They do also accompany me when I am working on the farm and love following the children around. They are very friendly!
Boo and Olive, pictured above
Have you always owned dogs?
Ever since I can remember we have had working dogs on the farm and family pets in the house. Dogs are so much a part of every aspect of my life.
When I was aged 8, I was lucky enough to be given my own dog for Christmas, a Springer Spaniel puppy that I called Nita and from then on, I have never been without a dog in my home and there are few times in my life a dog isn’t near me.
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Have you always wanted to be a farmer?
I have. The farm has always been my home and from when I could walk I loved going out onto the farm with my Dad, particularly working with the animals. Even when I am filming Countryfile and writing books, my first and foremost job is being a farmer and running the farm park I grew up on.
What do you think is Peg's most important role on your farm?
We have 13 different breeds of rare sheep and a flock of 400 commercial ewes, so we are a proper working farm. We need Peg who is invaluable when it comes to rounding the sheep up into the handling pens or moving them onto fresh grazing. She is extremely efficient and an invaluable member of the farm team!
Boo / Photo Credit: Joules Clothing
In your new book, 'A Farmer and His Dog' you explore not just your own relationship with dogs, but how other dogs make a difference in their owners’ lives. What was the most life-affirming thing you learnt while researching for the book?
I have learnt through all my experiences of the people and dogs I have met about how many amazing skills and uses dogs have. They are not only loyal, loving friends but an incredible support and help to people.
I have also learnt that there’s a very special relationship between children and dogs. I’m not surprised that we hear so many stories of dogs helping children with conditions like autism and Asperger’s and those who have experienced family break-ups or traumas.
You can bury your face in the coat of a dog and feel accepted and loved, whatever is happening in the rest of your life. Everyone has times of being sad, angry, excited, happy: a dog shares it all.
Olive, pictured above
What's the most important life lesson dogs can teach humans?
Loyalty. The bond I have with Peg is priceless; she gives me a wonderful devotion and loyalty that is a real privilege.
What do you think dogs know that we as humans don't yet know?
The sensitivity of a dog’s nose is extraordinary. They have 300 million Olfactory sensors, compared to our own noses that have just 6 million and the proportion of a dog’s brain dedicated to analysing odours is 40 times larger than ours.
I am convinced that over time we will learn to harness their intelligence and sense of smell, even more, to help us in the future.
Finish the following sentence: my dogs are...members of the family.
Many thanks, Adam.