Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Nothing to do with writing, but...

I have amazing dogs. Truly, seriously, special and amazing. Timber and Phantom are not your ordinary house pets by any means. They are livestock guardian dogs (LGD's) and unless you live in farm country you'll  probably have no idea what I'm talking about. The breed is Maremma, and their roots go back in history 2000 years or more. Originating in Italy, these dogs would be sent up into the mountains for the summer, along with the herd they were responsible for, and spend months without human contact. Because of the solitary lifestyle and the responsibility of protecting an entire herd, the breed has developed the ability to think for themselves, judge situations and react accordingly.

We bought Timber because the cry of coyotes close to the barn was a constant worry. I love my goats and would be devastated if anything happened to them so I researched ways to protect them. Llamas and donkeys are regularly used for protection but my research revealed that LGD's offered the breeding and instinct that I wanted to protect my babies.

Timber was two years old and been raised with goats, so he knew exactly what to do with no training from us. When we brought him home, he entered the barnyard and lay down, belly up to the goats. The submissive action let the goats feel safe while they sniffed and stepped all over him. Within a week, Timber had the goats trained to respond to his barks. Barking a warning at nearby predators garners no reaction from the goats, a bark of curiosity or uncertainty, and the goats still ignore him...but if Timber gives his bark with that certain tone to it, the goats come running. No matter where they are or what they're doing, they race to his side and stand in a tightly-knit group until Timber releases them. Don't ask me how he lets them know it's safe because I've watched for the sign, but I have no idea. They just know when they can go back to their previous activities.

Timber is loving, intelligent, sweet-natured, gorgeous and listens to me most of the time. The thing with LGD's is they pretty much do exactly what they want. They'll obey as long as it doesn't conflict with their number one priority...protecting the herd they are responsible for. If they sense danger we don't, you can call them to come as much as you want. They won't do it. If you want to hug or play with them and they know a coyote is in the area...forget it. You no longer exist and you can't bribe them with treats or affection.

Phantom is our younger dog. I lock the goats up in the barn at night and Timber is left alone in the barnyard. Every night when I'd come back to the house and look back at Timber sitting at the fence watching me and looking so sad and forlorn, my heart would wrench. I decided he needed company, not to mention two dogs against a couple of coyotes is much better odds. The thing is that I bought Timber to protect the goats but didn't want him to get hurt, so I bought a second dog to help guard Timber.

Phantom - as a puppy
We'd been fortunate that Timber is friendly and bonded with the goats so well but from what I've seen of how some people train their LGD's, I didn't want to take the chance of bringing home a dog who wouldn't be absolutely socialised and friendly with people. So I bought a puppy.  For the first couple of months it was important that he bond with the goats and not with me, so cuddling this cute, fluffy puppy was out of the question for the first while.  Now, you have to understand that I've never owned outside dogs before. My dogs have always been spoiled rotten house pets. Keeping a puppy at the barn and not spending all my time there cuddling him was an extremely difficult thing for me to do. I managed, but in spite of my fortitude and period of only minor attention, Phantom decided to love me like crazy anyway. He follows me everywhere when I'm at the barn, lays at my feet, watches every move I make with adoration.

He's so cute. But I do see signs of him becoming a good LGD. For example, when I take my usual morning wheelbarrow full of manure down to the growing pile, Phantom usually stands at the fence and watches every move I make while Timber keeps an eye on the trees and fenceline around me. Just so you know, Timber's action is more correct. He should be watching the surroundings for signs of danger. Watching me doesn't do any good if there's a coyote hiding in the shadows. Anyway, I noticed that Phantom is now starting to focus on what's going on around me instead of staring at me. A step forward for sure. He's great with the goats and watches and mimics Timber. It takes about eighteen months for a dog to become a valuable, valid LGD and Phantom is now one year old, so he's getting there.

Now, what prompted this entire post..I saw a deer and fawn in the back of my neighbours hayfield, so I grabbed my camera and ran back for a photo op. When I climbed the fence, I noticed the doe was stamping, snorting and jumping. I didn't realize why until I saw a coyote. The doe ran at the coyote and then ran away, almost as if leading the coyote. That's when I heard the fawn cry. My blood literally froze. The cry of a baby deer sounds exactly like a baby goat. I screamed NOOOOOOOOOOO and without thinking, ran to the back of the barnyard, opened the gate and set the dogs loose. I yelled at them GO, GO, GO. Boy can they ever run when there's incentive. Now I know some of you are wondering what was I thinking. Trust me, these dogs would not chase the deer, their focus would be totally on the coyotes. By the time I jumped the fence and looked to the back of the hayfield, all was silent. No deer, fawn, coyotes or dogs.

It took three hours for my guys to return home and that's a long time for these dogs to be away from the herd. Timber was limping on three legs and Phantom had some scratches in his ears and on his head. Very minor stuff that healed within a day or two. I have no idea if they tangled with a coyote, or hurt themselves in the dense bush. I have no idea if they got back there quick enough to save the fawn...I'll probably never know. I do know that these dogs are amazing and I can leave my goats in their care with total assurance of safety.

I do have more photos of all my animals on my website:
While you're on my website, why not check out my books as well. If you see something you like, maybe even purchase one. Animals are expensive to feed so look at it like this:
Buy a Book = Feed an Animal 

Take care and have a great day,