My aging stock dog and I were bickering like an old married couple. It was raining lightly on a cold and blustery day. I hurried across the yard looking for a staple gun in a tool shed. Out of habit, I called my Border Collie/ Aussie cross dog to follow me. Halfway across the yard, I realized she wasn’t tagging along. Turning, I gestured for her to come with me. She’s trained in voice commands as well as hand signals. However, her body language indicated she wasn’t sure I “really” wanted her.
After a total of about 3 days of practice with her harness, after which period she was performing nicely, I introduced the dogcart. I had fashioned a homemade lightweight rig from an old bike trailer. I took the bike trailer apart until all I had left were the wheels and the square, lightweight steel frame. I cut a piece of stout wire fencing/paneling and fitted it to the frame. Then I repurposed a pair of aluminum crutches for the shafts (notice that the emphasis is on lightweight).
Gyp was not a dog to invite overly familiar ear-scratches, and with strangers, the careful back of a hand offered for sniffing seemed to define the limits of his comfort zone. His name spoke about gypsy wandering while nosing down a hot scent, and of ‘gyppo’ loggers, the independent catch-as-catch-can lumberjacks of the Western states, who sometimes followed their hounds on midnight rambles.
That was my first look at Hercules, a three-month old Maremma male pup. The thick snow-white fur that covered his body stood straight up on the top of his handsome square head and down his back. His black nose was like a piece of coal in the middle of a winter field. He had almond-shaped hazel eyes. He was only a pup, but his instincts were clear to me. He would do what needed to be done to protect whatever was in his care, even if his side still hurt from the beating the buck gave him after the farmer put him in the pen.
When you introduce new animals to an established herd or flock, you should observe your dog’s reactions and behavior for a few days. Since he will be curious anyway, it is a good idea to introduce him to the new animals while he is leashed or to place the new animals in a nearby area.
We were first introduced to livestock guardian dogs (LGD’s) by our friends the Dillon’s. Will and Debbie milk goats in the coastal mountains of South Tillamook County, and we were visiting them to pick out our first Nubian doe in the late 1990’s. We were greeted by Pete, a Great Pyrenees pup, and an older female Pyrenees. Our first impression was astonishment both at the size of the dogs and at the fact that they were so calmly living in the midst of goat herd pandemonium! We have over the years been treated to many stories of Pete and his companion LGD’s and their escapades.
When I saw an ad in the paper for a sheepherding clinic being held less than a stone’s throw from my front door, I could not resist. Such an event, pre-dog, would definitely have interested me, falling in the category of human-animal cooperative endeavors, as it were. I wasn’t sure if I should dare bring my mangy pound puppy, though. So I signed on as a spectator and arrived a minute before showtime, curious to see, and maintaining the option to bring my dog later.
A while back, with the farm slumbering under a full moon and a clear winter sky, my husband Mark and I decided to take a stroll down to the mail box, ostensibly to see if the outside world had delivered to us anything of interest, but really just to enjoy the night. Jet, my one-year-old English Shepherd, was with us. Just out the door in the driveway, Jet suddenly puffed up and let loose with his woo woo woo bark that means, in his language, something’s wrong here, folks. Then Mark and I saw a big black shape lumbering toward us.
It’s a cool morning on a nature preserve owned by Bur Oak Land Trust in Johnson County. I’m scouring a shady hillside with John Rucker and his four Boykin spaniels, looking for turtles. “Find turtle, find turtle,” Rucker calls to his dogs. He turns to me and says, “did I tell you I’m the only person in the world that does this?” When he’s not living off the grid in rural Montana, Rucker travels the country with his specially-trained hunting dogs, helping scientists and conservationists find turtles.