Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Monday, September 26, 2016

September Does That

We often sell lambs near the end of September but this year we decided to keep them a bit longer and let them put on a few more pounds. It delays the ineveitable task of selling lambs, a task that continues to tug at my moral principles, no matter when we do it.  We fence line weaned, and the lambs are fully separate from the ewes now.  They remain in the north pasture and the ewes travel southward each day to graze.  Each evening when the ewes return they night pen alongside the lambs.

We continue to bring the ewes home each night although we don’t really need to now that there are no lambs at foot.  The night penning is good for the pups though and the lambs bed down right next door to the ewes so they are close by as well.  The pups are not yet traveling out with the flock on their own initiative, so by day they hang out with Tex and Zeus, and at night they join the flock and the other three adults.

The day to day pace is settling down a tad or it feels like it anyway; September does that.  The colder nights remind us that is we’re into the last month before we start to freeze up.

This photo was taken a few days prior to weaning lambs.  The flock is settling in the night pen.  I love how the ewes and lambs join up each night to sleep next to each other.  The dogs have just eaten and that's Oakley already sound asleep. 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Watching Over Tex

Upon his arrival we placed him with the group of dogging sheep (more on his arrival in previous post). The next morning, he barked and growled at my approach, doing a fast pace back and forth in front of the sheep, telling me to stay away. I marvelled at being with a dog who was keeping me away from the sheep. I got as close as I could and we studied each other. I moved around and he circled, then darted back to the sheep, barking and growling.

Then I set upon an idea. I walked into the group of sheep which was only possible because these are dogging sheep and they are very familiar with me.  The ewes on pasture would not have let me get so close, and that group is too big, so Tex could avoid me easily and still be with sheep.  But with this smaller group I could slip right in and if he wanted to be with them, he’d have to be with me too. When I moved in, he darted out to circle again, only now I was with his sheep.

I took it one step further, and instead of letting him get back to the sheep I kept him out of them, much like I might circle a stock dog around the outside, or push a horse out.  It was not hard to do since he didn’t want to be near me in any way.  No words were spoken.  We went back and forth in semi circle for ten minutes or so.  He was perplexed and concerned that I was with the sheep and he wasn’t. He stopped barking and growling and eventually stopped moving.  I invited him in (turned my back to him) and placed the food bowl I’d been trying to offer him earlier, on the ground nearby and then moved away.  He came in to the bowl.   Right there I’m sure we had a change in understanding. While he still would not let me touch him, he ate a meal with me close by.  When finished I picked up the bowl and left, feeling a little changed by the exchange that just happened.

Over the next day we continued to get to know each other and by nightfall he was allowing me to get close to him and to touch him briefly. It is not my goal to handle him, I’m fine if he never wants that, but it is to gain his trust.  He’s far more worrisome and likely to bite if he remains suspicious but if we have some amount of familiarity and trust with each other then he’ll know where he safely stands.

We had good intro’s with Tex to the other dogs and I started leaving him in the night pen overnight and letting him go out to pasture during the day. On his first day out to pasture with the flock I spent the morning watching. Tex worked a smaller pasture in his previous home, and I’m sure he near panicked at how much these ewes traveled. He would trot off on patrol and then circle back, always returning to the front of flock. He passed each of the other dogs several times, lying in the sun catching naps where they could.

After two/three days of this I was just thinking we had pulled off the smoothest transition of a new dog, and then the resident dogs beat him up over night.  The next day they were intent on keeping him away from the flock and pounced on him again.  One of the most frustrating things with having multiple livestock guardians is that they can influence who’s in and who’s out.  I think I need Tex to be with that flock, they think otherwise, and convincing them of what I want feels like a pretty big hurdle.

Not wanting to push the pack boundaries any further at the moment, Tex is now with Zeus and the rams. Zeus is very accommodating and they are getting along well.  Tex is healing from minor wounds from the scuffle and meanwhile, Lily keeps popping over and visiting.  My suspicion is Lily is the instigator of the trouble and I’m not sure what this visiting is about yet.

Tex and I continue to get to know one another and I still think he’s a gem.  He’s not a dog one can be quickly comfortable with as he’s always just a bit on edge.  He no longer barks and growls at me though, he’ll let me handle him lightly and will follow when it’s his desire to do so.  I think we're going to get along just fine. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ten Days With Tex

I have been looking for an adult guardian dog all summer long.  Miss No Name came and went and then I bought the two pups, but still hoped to find an adult.  When I stopped looking so hard, I found one.

Tex is a two and half year old Great Pyrenees.   He grew up with sheep and is a dog who needs sheep.   His approach to the sheep is amazing, - soft, sideways, floating and fluid.  The sheep do not flee as they still do when the pups, Wren and Crow approach them.

This in on the first evening here and he’s in a small paddock with the sheep I use for stock dog training.  He’s already traveled the perimeter and passed by the sheep, keeping his body profile to them, rather than approach them head on.  From there a whole lot of sniffing takes place.

Even when he moves right among them, no real alarm is caused

I have just returned with the camera to sit with him for a spell.  I can’t get close to him, he won’t allow that.  There is no element of sadness in this though, there is no hint of any of the feelings I experienced when working with rescue dogs from the humane shelter years ago.

This is not a dog that needs rescuing in any way, or, if there is any rescuing being done, it is him liberating me in some way. 

To sit with him gives me a feeling unlike any other.  I really want to be able to touch him and yet I don’t want to lose the feeling of connection that is happening precisely because he won’t allow me to.

No clue what this sniffing is about

I sit on the ground and we have all this eye contact going on, he’ll hold my gaze steady and unnervingly so, then he’ll bark and growl at me and travel around me in a circle.  The moment I speak his body softens and the tip of his tail wags.  He knows enough about people to know we’re okay, he just doesn’t yet think I know enough about dogs or sheep to be trusted, and given how rudely I treated two of my stock dogs the other day, I’d have to say he’s right.

The more I do the less meaningful communication we have.  The more I just sit and be with him the more communication takes place.

For a person who wants to do a lot with dogs that are around me and constantly fiddles and praises them, treats them, pats them, reassures them, corrects them, forces them, begs them, cuddles them, and on and on, this is a different concept of being with a dog.  I experience this with every livestock guardian dog, and it’s why I find them so fascinating.

I think this boy is a gem.  How he is with the sheep, causes me to wonder about the approach we’ve used with raising guardian dogs in the past.  I have had two other dogs act like this around sheep upon introductions, and both were raised right with sheep, with very minimal human contact or none at all.

Tex arrived ten days ago and much has happened since.  We had a nice grace period and good intro’s to the other dogs and then we had a set back.   But more on that to come, all these photos have taken some time to post and it's getting late.

Shortly after arriving the sheep are already comfortable with the newcomer