Monday, July 30, 2012

Good Dog

Up until March of this year, I was a full-time member of the "I totally disagree with the idea of buying purebred dogs" club.  All my dogs prior to March were pound puppies, lost and founds, castaways - perfectly wonderful mutts.  During early college I even worked at the county animal shelter and volunteered at a low-cost spay and neuter clinic where we often engaged in heated discussions about the travesty of purebred dog breeding.  Why on earth, we would dramatically wonder, would someone ever buy a purebred dog when so many amazing animals are sitting in shelters at any given time?  And, while I do fundamentally and absolutely still wonder those thoughts at times, I have now begun to understand the strengths inherent in some breeds.  Why one might actually seek out an animal that is bred to be something specific.  Why one might pay cash money for an animal that was not from an accidental litter but is here because its characteristics serve an important, unique purpose. 

Funny what a farm can do.

Because of the goats - I bought two dogs.  This is something that the pre-goat Jenna would never, ever, never have considered. 

Funny what goats can do.

In the 5 months we've had them, the Great Pyrenees puppies have started to morph into something very different from anything I've ever witnessed in all my other dogs (and I've had a lot of dogs).  Without any training or instruction, they have naturally claimed the goats.  Or, maybe the goats have claimed them?  Regardless, they're rarely far from each other.  Bruce, in particular, has emerged as a genuine guardian.  He is constantly scanning horizons, looking through fencelines, cocking his head to listen for distant sounds.  If the goats cry, he runs to check on them.  If he hears anything out of sorts, he barks at it.  If he hears anything in sorts, he barks at it.  If he hears...anything.....he barks at it.  At first I was alarmed by all the barking.  Now I realize he's just a dog doing the job he was bred for; something he can't help doing and something he doesn't have to understand.  He just does what his instincts dictate. 

Choosing a guardian dog doesn't come with a guarantee that the animal will know what to do, but if you choose an animal whose parents work, there's a decent chance the puppy will, too.  I read lots of conflicting information about the proper way to raise a working dog.  For example, Bruce's own father was raised by a farmer who swears the only way to have a proper guardian is to never touch the dog.  In fact, he named the dog "Dog," says hi to it and walks on by.  That's just not a philosophy I can follow.  So the lines I draw are between outdoors and indoors - a place the pups have never been (except to the vet).  They've been raised with the goats since day 1 and even now they go into the goat pen at night - a ritual I have every intention of continuing.  Between the mud rolling, pond swimming, and goat pile sleeping, they appear to be the happiest dogs I've ever raised.  It's early days yet as a goat herder, but so far, I marvel at how well a dog bred true to its best characteristics can serve a fundamental purpose in a place.  I wonder if I'll ever again have "pet" dogs that live inside and sleep next to my bed where I trip on them at night or whether my future dogs will always be asked to work and be chosen based on the work their parents did, and so on.

Funny what a good dog can do.


Aunt Lisa said...

We've read about it and heard stories, but until you witness a breed automatically do it's thing, it's hard to reeeeally believe such a thing is possible. Another amazing experience! Cool!

Ebony said...

Do you plan to get them (you?)some additional training on how to best guard/herd goats and other animals? I've heard of people doing this but don't know if it's necessary or if they just know it all from the outset.