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Friday, February 8, 2013

Dogs on Duty

What??  I AM on duty!

What?? I AM on duty!

Yep, a lot of our working dogs' time is spent lounging around (if not eating!), but that's okay since they are still 'on duty'. They sleep lightly and wake at the unusual sound or alarm call, day or night, ready to fly to the fence in all their barking fierceness. And, when you have seen your guardian dog respond with emphasis to a neighbor's dog at the fenceline, then you know what I mean about their impressive ferocity and full throttle 'go away' snarls and barks.

It was long road for us to finally have guardian dogs that 'did their job' right. While agisting at another farm several years ago, we experienced an unfortunate incident where their newest Maremma guardian dog thought that the tail of one our alpacas made a great chew toy. Long story short is that the alpaca was predicted by the veterinarian to lose 3-4 inches of his tail but thanks to our diligent care and some luck, our alpaca only lost an inch from the tip. But, when you have seen raw flesh with missing skin and the bone sticking out, the image tends to be retained in the memory. Afterwards, on our own farm, we attempted to add two young Great Pyrenees dogs but again found misfortune as the first cria of the year met an early demise to at least one of them (the pieces were small and few). Early warning signs should have been the captured and eaten birds and 'playful raking' at the alpacas but we foolishly thought that buying dogs that were "raised with alpacas and other livestock" of a certain breed would ensure better behavior.

We decided in the interim that no dog was good to have and the best defense was a good fence, which is generally true and can be enough, depending. But for us, blizzards created large drifts in the span of a couple of hours and dogs (who will prowl in the middle of snowstorm whereas a coyote will not) will then walk over them with ease. Lucky for the alpacas who had bedded down in the shelters, but bad for the loud fowl, these dogs went back over these fences to other pens to massacre a bunch of geese and ducks instead. We realized that only dogs would be able to make another dog think twice about entering our alpaca paddocks.

So, though our current dogs were seniors from a farm that was closing up shop, we gave it another try. Perhaps, we thought, we needed to start win an experienced pair of dogs that could help us 'train' a new dog to the team. We realistically knew that these older dogs would not be around for several more years*. We hit the jackpot there, though we initially had some issues keeping our Anatolian Shepherd male in the alpaca area. He either dug a hole and both he and the Great Pyrenees female were on a 'walk-about', or he went right over the fence by himself and only roamed the nearby 80-240 acres (ah, ahem -- good dog??). So, with some judicious use of buried wire panels and electric fence, we no longer even think about 'keeping the dogs in'. And, I don't think that the dogs even think about heading out now..... No, not now with their siestas, the continuous dog feeder in place, and their special dog treats (read: huge bones from the store). And, yes, they are training their new team member just fine.... Good dogs.

*Did you know that large breed dogs do not have long lifespans? Generally 6-8 years is a good life, though some can pass away as early as 2 years old if they experience any complications. Cancer and joint issues are not uncommon and can present at very early years. This is something to consider in keeping your 'dog protection' in place at your farm.... How will you replace your missing team member -- by buying an experienced dog, 'training' a new pup using your existing team, or by trying to raise your pup the 'right way' yourself? A tip to consider: breeding and bloodlines alone do not make a guardian dog....
...taking a break in the mid-day sun.

...taking a break in the mid-day sun.

Time for a treat!  Alpacas and dogs getting along fine.

Time for a treat! Alpacas and dogs getting along fine.

Our dogs, the first winter here.

Our dogs, the first winter here.