The Dogs

When we knew we were at the point where we truly needed to add animal partners to the nut crops, the first animal partner(s) we added was - dogs.  We'd never had them on the farm before; but a full year before we planned on adding pastured poultry, we acquired one, and started training.

Training both the dog(s), and training the humans.  We had a lot to learn, on all sides.  At various times, we've had 1, 2, 3, or 4 dogs at once.  Regardless of number; they all eat their dinner out of one bowl; which they share with the cats (between 3 and 8, depending); and sleep mostly under the house,  all winter; refusing to use the lovely brand new "Dogloo" we bought.  If it gets colder than -15°F for very long, we think about bringing them inside the house for the night, but they hate that.

They howl in direct response to the local (abundant) coyotes almost every night- the coyotes totally know they are here.

Here is one of the 3 current canine partners; this is Theodore, who has been with us since he was 3 months (I think) old.  He's a mixed shepherd, a rescue from our local animal shelter, neutered.  His mother was a purebred Anatolian shepherd; father uncertain, but the shelter lady guesses possibly Australian shepherd, since the farm of origin worked those also.  Theodore is big enough to eat coyotes for breakfast.  I don't think he has yet; but he's willing, and the coyotes know it.  At this point, we have never lost a sheep or lamb to coyotes.
Theodore 6/10/15 (and Eleanor)
Obviously, he is human and child friendly.  Photo by our very long time friend Pat O'Laughlin.

I could go on about Theodore for a long time - he's a very close friend, and partner.  He does not "herd" the sheep, or "guard" in the fashion Anatolians were bred for- but he is "fierce", in the full meaning of  that word, with any predators on our turf.  Theodore's face is very difficult to capture in a photo; it's very dark.  But; up close; you can read "trustworthy'; very easily.  Unless, of course - he doesn't trust you.  Then you may hear his "Guard Bark" - a voice he uses very very rarely - but which is stunningly effective at communication.  You may pee your pants.

He, like our other 2 dogs, is not "obedience" trained; but he is very emphatically trained.  They are all 3 free, 24 hours a day, as farm dogs used to be.  They know where home is; and rarely go outside our border fences.  They are trained to be independent, intelligent partners; not to wait for instructions.

At the moment, our 3 are working very well.  But yes, we had one dog which proved untrustworthy, killing virtually all our free range chickens when trusted, for the first time, to watch them while we were off the farm.  At this point in my education; I almost certainly would not have selected that puppy.  He was a great "person" - but the genetics were going to be questionable.
Daisy, 6/15 
Daisy is a "working collie" X German Shepherd cross; one of 2 sister pups we acquired from the shelter when about 6 months old, with us since 2010 (?).  We truly wish she looked less like a coyote; we have a real fear she might be shot mistakenly some day, since we have a great many deer hunters on adjacent land in the fall.  During  deer season, we put a blaze-orange dog coat on her, and hope for the best.  She's a year younger than Theodore, and noticeably a bit more puppyish in her behavior.  Her sister- did not survive; at about 1 year of age, and after many attempts to break her bad habits, she got run over as Meg was simply backing our van up in the parking lot.  Pigheaded car chasing - is not a good survival trait.

Daisy is the "scout" of the three- running very fast to find out exactly what this new intruder is, and informing the others if attention is needed.  Perfectly healthy and fast as a greyhound.  In working the sheep, she does not do any typical "herding" - but - I'm quite convinced she understands what is going on when we are moving the flock without benefit of fence; many, many times, when attempting to slowly, casually, direct the flock in a specific direction; Daisy will be found - lying down in the grass, and specifically blocking the sheep from moving in a wrong direction.  She is helping.  Without being directed.  And if she's in the wrong spot, she responds perfectly if I call her name- and provide hand signals as to which direction she should move in; or she will come to me, calmly, if I tell her to, other possibilities being too confusing.

She will not move through the middle of the flock, and I've never seen her confront a sheep; rather the contrary, she will defer to any of the flock, and move out of their way.  Strange behavior in a herding dog; but in her case it works fine.  

Daisy and Sophie, 6/15
Canine #3 has only been with us some 6 months. Sophie was basically a "pity" acquisition; we had an "order" in with the shelter lady for another shepherd mix puppy (2 is not a good number for your dogs), and she called to tell us she had a good one in for us to look over.  When we got to the shelter, however, that pup had somehow failed to appear - so she tried to talk us into taking this one instead.  I have a long standing rule to not take someone else's trouble, and greatly prefer to bring new dogs in as very young puppies.  Sophie was already 3 years old...

And had lived 22 hours of every day all her life - in a dog crate.  The vet in the picture had finally forbidden that situation to continue; so she wound up in the shelter.  We tried her out on the leash for 40 minutes, even though I was very, very doubtful...

She was somewhat "trained", very friendly- starving, literally, for humans to bond to - and incredibly "willing."  She so, so obviously wanted to do exactly what would please you, her humans- you just had to ask and explain it.  So; we took her on 1 week's approval (because she was SO not what we had been asking the shelter for) and worked on making the transition from an utterly inside urban dog to a 100% outside farm dog.

At a week, the progress was very substantial, and we had her running with Theodore and Daisy for 2 hours at a time, off leash, successfully.  It seemed to be working.  Now; she's fully integrated, and apparently very happy.  The bloody ulcerated ear she'd developed from nervous scratching- disappeared in one month.  We're happy too.

We did have to train her not to chase cats, which took a little attention; at the time, Daisy had a pet cat, which she would regularly pick up and carry around the farm (not kitten, cat- the cat put up with it), and Sophie totally did not understand this.  Trees got climbed, noses got scratched, explanations were enforced, and within a month Sophie fully understood that the cats are family, and part of her responsibility to protect.  We just had to make it clear.  We also explained about the sheep; and the sheep explained that they could and would kick her butt - and that was solved.

I've never been able to untangle the story of her parentage, except it is putatively "mostly shepherds".  She does show signs of possibly learning to actually "herd" the sheep - as in "Sophie!  Move them over that way!"  Not there yet; but she really pays attention, and is, as is first of all necessary, not a problem when moving the sheep.

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