Diesel was not among the pack when the other dogs greeted me early this morning in eager anticipation of breakfast. Diesel does not leave the pasture on his own so, chances are, he was on the far side of the flock, out of sight. I figured he would come shortly. He did not.
I fed the dogs that were there and gave them some attention, thanking each of them for being there with the sheep.
I continued my tour of the pasture, at ease with the start of another day. It is one of my favorite paddocks. Long and tall hills running almost through the center of it. Cresting the hill on one side of the paddock presents a spectacular prairie view and provides glorious terrain for sending a stock dog on a long downhill outrun that flattens out at the bottom. I had no stock dog with me this morning.
I drove along the hilltops and came around the far side of the flock. Diesel was on that edge, resting next to a ewe.
Alas she was a dead ewe and instantly I was less at ease with the start of another day.
She died sometime between my check of the flock last night and this morning. A three year animal just in her prime. She was laying just like she was asleep on her belly in the common way sheep lie down. Her belly was very distended. She was already cold but not really stiff.
She was a large and robust animal and I had no way to lift her onto the back of the Ranger. I would have to come back with something. I was reluctant to leave a body on pasture because it would be some time before I got back, but Diesel’s demeanour told me he wasn’t going to let anything interfere with it. With a prize like this, I suspected I didn’t have to worry about any of the dogs leaving the pasture today.
It was evening before I managed to return. Diesel was still with the body. The body was untouched. He guarded his prize from the other dogs who approached with me and obviously had been keeping vigil over it all day.
I had brought the calf sleigh with me and loaded the body onto it and pulled it behind the Ranger. Diesel was on my heels right to the gate and he would have followed me home but I sent him back to the sheep and bade him to stay put.
Some would attribute this behavior to a guardian dog trait; the dog staying with his charges even after death. But I’m not so sure. I think it is just a dog thing. It was his prize and he was indeed guarding it, however this guarding was the “it’s-all-mine” type of guarding and had little to do with him being devoted to sheep.
It also fascinates me that the guardian dogs do not begin to consume the carcass sooner. I don’t know how long it would be before they decided to start eating the meat. I thought I might find that out today but I didn’t. I suspect the dogs who live at the house with me probably wouldn’t waste that much time getting started.