“Is your dog part Collie?”
Veleda, Tag’s owner, gets asked this question a lot.
The general public is unfamiliar with Smooth Collies, and Tag’s coat type plus his unusual coloring really throws them off. Blue merles are seen in Collies as well as other breeds, but when the term “harlequin sable merle” gets tossed out there… Well, most people simply have no frame of reference for that, so the confusion and assumption that Tag is a Collie mix is understandable.
Ironically, Tag is actually quite the blueblood. He shares a sire and an impressive lineage, just chock full of champion show dogs, with his half brother River. Veleda told me, “Tag goes back to Albert Payson Terhune’s famous collies. He and River have some pretty cool ancestors.”
River also has the distinction of being a PTSD service dog for Niki Whitham. Niki, Veleda, and I were having a conversation about their two boys on my Facebook page, discussing their shared parentage through Polar.
Niki said of Tag, “He’s so stunning. Polar throws some sexy sons.”
Veleda replied, “Not too sexy right now!” And sent this photo:
Tag may not have his brother River’s illustrious career, but he’s actually at work himself in that photo. You may be wondering, how can that be? (Technically, he’s taking a break to catch some zzz’s there, while waiting for the next customer to come into the office.) And what does he do when a client arrives? Why, he greets them.
It may not sound like much, but it takes a special type to work customer service day in, day out while remaining unfailingly polite and pleasant – let alone enthusiastic. And Tag is fantastic at making customers feel valued and appreciated.
So much so that some clients make it a point to visit the office to pay their bills instead of just mailing in checks. And if Tag happens to be taking a rare day off, they get very disappointed.
On a typical day, Tag is content to sleep in his designated corner when he’s not busy greeting people. But sometimes he wants to be closer to Veleda, so he drags his bed right next to her chair or creates a den under her desk. In pictures, the progression goes like this:
Being self-employed and managing your own company is a lot of hard work, but Veleda counts it a “plus… that my dog is at work with me daily.” For many (myself included), any work environment with a dog present is a better, happier place.
As an employee of Ahrens Heating & Air Conditioning of Minnesota, Tag is more than just an office greeter. He’s the company mascot, featured in ads and on a life-size cutout for home shows when he can’t be there personally. Tag also enjoys riding like royalty on parade floats to promote the business.
He’s ideal for the job of spokesdog. Anyone who’s ever been involved in marketing knows – you want to stand out. As Veleda puts it, “Tag is unique enough that everyone has something to say.” There are even plans for him to be in a future TV commercial.
As if his full-time day job wasn’t enough, Tag also volunteers with Veleda as a therapy dog in his community, visiting a couple of local assisted living centers where she used to work. He is predictably popular, and many of the elderly residents have joined his adoring fan club. Tag loves basking in their attention.
Veleda’s miniature horse, Frankie, even rode the activity bus to make a therapy visit, strolling right into the lobby. “I have a really good rapport with these two homes,” Veleda explained.
Tag may not be a working farm dog like many Smooth Collies, but in addition to Frankie, he does live with quite the menagerie. Veleda also has 2 large horses (an Appaloosa named Shotgun and a Mustang/Pony of the Americas cross named Spitfire), a Shetland pony named Casper, 4 barn cats, 6 hens, 2 ducks, “and a partridge in a pear tree,” she joked.
When it comes to the horses, Veleda describes Tag as “a big scaredy cat. But, to be fair,” she amended, “my mini horse would eat him.” In fact, shortly after this picture was taken, Frankie attempted to bite Tag on the nose and demonstrated a general desire to take him out. Being a wise dog, Tag has decided to keep his distance.
Due to shared indoor living space, the animal with whom Tag interacts the most is a grumpy old house cat called Ginger. Veleda’s husband, Wade, is a cat person, so it was important for them to get a dog who wouldn’t react violently if Ginger was unfriendly. Tag was a perfect fit for their household.
Veleda says, “Tag just wants to be everyone’s friend and doesn’t care that our cat smacks him on the nose periodically. His big sister Ginger may not like him much, but I think she enjoys tormenting him.” (Sometimes, though a feline may actually be fond of a canine, they can’t be seen to be affectionate. That wouldn’t do at all.)
“The wonderful Collie disposition,” according to Veleda, was a big part of the reason she decided to get a Collie again, after 10 years of being without one. She needed a dog she wouldn’t have to be concerned about around her grandchildren as well as her clients.
In Veleda’s estimation: “Collies tend to love people, kids, and other animals. They are just gentle dogs. I think they are one of the safest family breeds.” (I quite agree, obviously.)
Veleda trusts Tag so much that she gets him a costume and takes him out trick-or-treating with the grandkids each year.
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This past Halloween, Veleda said, “Two toddlers came up to us in costume and asked to pet him. When I said yes, one just reached over and hugged his whole face. Tag loved it, and I knew he would… I didn’t have to worry about him reacting badly.”
Past experience with her previous three Rough Collies had given Veleda some idea of what to expect from the breed as a whole, although she says they were each “unique in their own ways.”
Veleda’s parents had a female Collie when she was just a toddler, so she has dim memories of Topsy and her puppies. Tragically, Topsy died after being struck by a car. But Veleda never forgot her, and she grew up reading Lassie books and watching the TV show. Around middle school, she also discovered Albert Payson Terhune’s books about Collies. (Is there a Collie person who hasn’t encountered Lassie and/or Terhune at some point?)
After years of dedicated begging, Veleda finally got a sable and white Rough Collie puppy of her own as a Christmas present when she was 15. Treasure was from the Twin Creeks bloodline, bred by Joius’ Collies, so Veleda gave her the registered name of “My Xmas Treasure of Joius’.”
Treasure lived to be 13 and was, in Veleda’s eyes, “the best dog ever.” She gave this glowing description of her:
“Treasure was brilliant and super easy to train. She never took a wrong step and was a star student in obedience classes. Honestly, she was a dream dog that belonged in movies. I could control her off leash in the dark, from a distance so far we couldn’t even see each other. Truly one in a million.”
After Treasure passed, Veleda specifically searched for another Collie from the Twin Creeks bloodline and found Trinket, a two-year-old female blue merle from Candyapple Collies (a co-breeder of Treasure).
Veleda described Trinket as “a sweet, timid, little girl – quiet and quirky, not the outgoing type.” Sometimes people who didn’t know about Trinket would come over the house, visit, and leave – never realizing Veleda even had a dog!
Though Trinket could not be trusted off leash since Veleda said she had “some issues with wandering,” she was “a true couch potato” whose idea of a perfect night was lying at Veleda’s feet watching TV. Sadly, Veleda only had her about 5 years before losing her to a malignant brain tumor, which may have been present from the start.
Shortly after losing Trinket, Veleda married Wade and moved to a new area. She wasn’t in a hurry to get another dog, wanting to wait until they had a place in the country. “I waited 10 years for the right time and the right dog,” Veleda said. At first, she was open to a Collie mix or possibly another breed altogether. She searched at rescues and humane societies, but none of the prospective pups were quite a good fit.
“Although I love all dogs, Collies must be in my blood. Eventually, I decided that I was serious about wanting another Collie. I felt that was best for our family.”
The decision to get a Smooth Collie, although they are harder to find in Minnesota, was one of practicality. Wade and Veleda have a woods on their property that they regularly traipse through. With Veleda’s busy life, she didn’t need the added work of constantly pulling burs and sticktights out of a long Rough Collie coat. A Smooth seemed like the perfect solution to have less coat maintenance but still get that great Collie temperament.
One day while scrolling through Facebook groups on her puppy hunt, a picture popped up that really struck Veleda. She contacted the breeder and asked a few questions before showing Tag’s picture to her husband. His comment was simply, “That looks like it might be a nice dog.” Coming from Wade, a confirmed cat person, it was practically a stamp of approval.
“That was it. I contacted the breeder again and said we wanted him. After a little more back and forth, it was agreed: Tag would be coming to live with us.”
When I asked Veleda if she would recommend Tag’s breeders (Collies of Wych, Mar-Jo’s Collies) for our Collie Chatter breeder directory, she had nothing but good things to say. Tag came with a whole bag of treats and toys, and a guarantee that if any unfortunate life changes happened, they would come and take him back. Veleda said it was obvious that Jacque and Lynda were breeding for quality over quantity and that, more than anything, they want their dogs to go to good homes.
Since Tag came pre-registered with the name “Tag You’re It” and it seemed to fit him, Veleda decided to keep his name. Ironically, this continued the unintentional tradition of Collies with “T” names (Topsy, Treasure, Trinket). When Veleda took Tag to visit her parents, they also visited her previous Collies’ resting places.
Last year, Veleda had all three of her Collies’ pedigrees traced and learned that Tag also has Twin Creek bloodlines like his predecessors. Plus, all of them were connected by being descended from Terhune’s Sunnybank Collies!
But Tag broke with tradition by being not only a Smooth Collie and a male, but a general holy terror as a puppy.
“He chewed everything. He’s the first dog I’ve ever crate trained, and I’m so glad we did. For a long time, he had to be crated at night and whenever he was home alone. Several magazines, game boxes and games, a 64-count box of crayons, a loose piece of trim work, and chew marks in our TV remote are a testament to his puppyhood.”
Tag turned two years old on November 4th, and Veleda is grateful that he is past the teething and chewing stages. “Althoug an occasional box left on the floor is fair game,” Veleda said, he can now be trusted to roam free overnight and when they’re away.
“Anyone considering ANY puppy should be aware that some will be difficult; but time, training, and love will get you through. A difficult puppy certainly doesn’t mean that they won’t be a great dog. Tag is such a good dog now that we can easily forget that naughty stage. He’s truly grown up.”
Mentally, some dogs are not fully mature until they are 3 years old; but even though Tag is becoming an adult dog, according to Veleda, “He’ll always be our baby.” Veleda is proud of Tag for how far he’s come, knowing that whether in public or at home, she can count on him to be a good boy.
I asked Veleda to share some of Tag’s traits, quirks, and how he specifically differs from her other Collies. I’ve related to several of these with my past and current Collies, and I suspect I’m not the only one who can!
“Tag is a total sweetheart, but he’s definitely got a stubborn streak. We joke that he takes cues from our cat. He’s very smart, as Collies generally are; but he chooses when he wants to listen. I believe it’s called selective hearing.”
Adorably, Tag has an extreme fondness for blankets. When he was younger, he used to collect the blankets from the furniture, arrange them into a nest, and fall asleep on his pilfered pile. But he doesn’t steal Veleda’s blankets anymore now that he has been given his own, and he gets very excited whenever he is given a new one!
“He’s super proud of his bones, and he’ll prance around with his head in the air carrying one. Tag loves to either nap or play; there is no in between. He alternates between lounging in his chair and bouncing like a wild thing from sofa to sofa, barking, while we egg him on. He can be a total goofball. Every evening he jumps his front half into my husband’s lap and gets him to play with either his blanket, a ball, or a bone.”
Tag's Favorite Things to do With Humans:
Veleda monitors Tag’s weight since he has his lazy spurts; but at 70-75 pounds, his rubbing can almost tip a chair! He does have his own favorite chair in the living room. While he likes to be close to Veleda at the office, he is usually content to be in his humans’ general vicinity at home.
“When he comes to wake us up in the morning or checks in on me during the night, he sticks his wet nose in my face or on my arm. There is nothing sweeter than that cute face looking at me, and I swear he’s saying, ‘Hi, Mom, just checking in to let you know I’m here.’ Tag has won my husband (a non-dog person) over.”
For such a young dog, Tag already has an impressive start on his professional career, yet he does an excellent job leaving work concerns at work and focusing on his family at home. We can all take inspiration from him!
I think everyone would agree that 2020 has been no one’s favorite year. Tag had to make major adjustments like the rest of us; but in typical dog fashion, he focused on the good admirably well.
Covid-19 played a big role in how the year has played out. Once the first big outbreaks were here and places were closing, although our company remained open as essential workers (keeping our customers’ equipment running), Tag was exiled to stay home for a while. During those first few months, there was so much that we didn’t yet know and whether or not our pets could get sick with the virus and/or spread it was one of those questions. Because Tag’s role at the office is as our mascot and greeter, it seemed to be a good idea to keep him away from the petting hands of the public.
But soon Tag was able to return to the office, although he had fewer visitors than formerly. And he rides there in style! Since he has what Veleda calls “plush traveling conditions,” he spends most of his commute time doing one of his favorite things – napping. When he’s not sleeping on the job or greeting customers, Tag likes to drag his mom outside for a walk break.
Despite his busy schedule, Tag has also kept up on his volunteer work. “During this pandemic year we haven’t been able to visit the Assisted Living homes nearly as often as we would like, but we did get in one in-person visit at each location,” Veleda said. Tag even got to see Ronda again, who remains one of his biggest fans!
Despite the year’s drawbacks, there were a couple of milestones to celebrate, including Tag’s third birthday. “So I guess that means he’s fully an adult,” Veleda said, while repeating that he’ll always be their baby no matter his age. He received his favorite thing – a new blanket! – along with a chew bone and a dog-friendly birthday cupcake.
Also, the anticipated company commercial was filmed, and Tag was a TV star! (The grandkids had supporting roles, naturally, as well as Chewbacca the duck.) Tag’s career looks secure for the time being. Although his concept of “future” events may be fuzzy, he seems to be looking forward to a new year and the possibility of more customers to greet in 2021. After all, he’s always willing to share his positivity, and family and friends alike usually walk away from an encounter with Tag smiling.
*All photos courtesy of Veleda Cordes, unless otherwise specified.
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