Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Do They Know?

The guardian dogs have been staying put with the flock again lately, something I am very, very pleased with. I’m not sure just what it is that causes them to alter their wandering behavior each year. My hunch is that they cease their wandering due to two things.

We are moving the flock much more frequently now. The guard dogs are regularly moving into new-old territory. New-old meaning it’s old because they know all the paddocks on the ranch, but new because time has passed since they were there last, therefore it must be thoroughly checked out and patrolled again.  In doing so they are far more active than when they are set in the same pasture for a few months as happens when winter grazing. Perhaps they get bored being in the same pasture for too long.

My second hunch is that lambing is imminent and they know it because with our larger flock lambing always seems to begin with an abortion or a premature birth. Two things that tend to happen early on if they are going to happen at all. The dogs seem to take up an increased interest in the flock after those first occurrences of lambing.

I also wonder if there isn’t increased movement all around. Predators, both four footed and feathered, are moving about more. The dogs are busier right where they are. There is no need to go find something afar. Or if they do they sense the need to return asap.

As lambing approaches I find myself relying on the actions of the guardian dogs (Diesel in particular) to give me a heads up about what might be going on each morning and evening. If they all greet me upon arrival, I’m pretty confident that no first lambs have arrived yet, although I still always check the ewes. If one of them is missing I know to search for signs of lambs or a ewe in trouble. If two or more dogs are missing it is likely they are off after a predator or maybe more than one ewe has lambed.

I can’t say that I noticed the moment I started relying on the dogs like this. Only that I became aware that I was doing it. I suppose it came about as a result of observation of them and hopefulness and trust that the dogs are serving a fundamental purpose, even when their behaviors clash with my expectations. What is remarkable is how the dogs have become far more than flock guardians.