My ‘little old gal’ finally died of old age last January (2007), and it was now time to find another, more ‘street wise’ dog. Because I live where I do–in a predator-infested playground–I decided that I had to find a good guard dog. I hadn’t had to find a dog with these requisites before. My ‘little old gal’ Tatra had been my traveling companion and friend for nearly 17 years, but that was all. Guard dog, she was not.
Tatra had fulfilled that role of companion nicely. In fact, once she came into my life, I stopped almost all travel that required getting on a plane–instead, I found places that we could drive to: Mexico, Belize, and various parts of North America. It was a promise that I made to her when I got her. An unintentional result of this was having friends who, self-admittedly, were envious of her life-style.
During the last year of Tatra’s life, we managed to acquire a couple of dogs, though not at the same time. Each of them, in turn, had promising prospects of being great guard dogs. The first was found by a co-worker. She was being thrown head-first against a brick wall by some kids, so he rescued her. He couldn’t keep her because he was living in an apartment and already owned a large German Shepherd. When nobody else wanted her and it looked like she would be put back out on the street, I stepped up. I didn’t really want another dog at this point because ‘little old gal’ was starting to wane, and I worried that the energy of a pup might just do her in. I also knew that ‘puppy-sitting’ was not what she had envisioned for her retirement. However, letting this little pup go back and fend for herself wasn’t an option. I
I brought the pup home and introduced her to Tatra. She was not impressed, but what could I do? The pup would have to stay. Besides, looking at her dainty feet made me think she wasn’t going to be that big of a dog. However, despite her diminutive sized feet, the pup, once comfortably installed in her new home, promptly laid down on the floor and began concentrating on growth. Rapid growth. You could practically watch it happening. Within a couple of months she transformed herself into a very big German Shepherd type dog.
Not only was she big and fairly intimidating to look at, but also she proved very difficult to train. She turned every training session into a game, so trying to outwit her nearly drove me to distraction. One of her redeeming features, however, was that she proved to be a great guard dog. When I took time to read in the pergola, she would watch over me vigilantly. Every now and then she would suddenly burst across the lawn, come to a screeching halt beside the pergola, and let out a full-throated ‘woof’. Alarmed at first but hearing nothing, I eventually relaxed and wondered what she was doing.
After several weeks of this behaviour, and curious about what the dog was on about, I decided to investigate. Looking behind the pergola, I found a bear’s day-bed–within feet of where I had been reading. She had been telling a Grizzly bear, ‘Stop, you come no further!’ She was marking her territory and defining the boundary line of our property. She obviously had great instincts for guarding, and acute senses–I’d heard nothing to indicate there had been a bear behind me, reading over my shoulder.
That poor, beautiful–albeit disobedient–dog met a horrific and untimely end. She was hit by the propane truck (the driver completely unaware he’d even hit anything) on the road in front of our then gate-less driveway at eight months old: her back end was smashed to bits. When you live nearly 500 kilometers from the nearest Vet, these sorts of tribulations become major events to deal with. I didn’t own a gun at the time, so couldn’t put her out of her misery. Thankfully, a doctor friend of ours came to our aid, gave her some morphine, helped us get her to the hospital and managed to put her down. I say ‘managed’ because not only do human hospitals not have the right equipment to shave a dog and find a vein, but also human doctors don’t necessarily have the knowledge of dog anatomy to know where the good veins are. Alas, he did get the job done. He had given me the option of shooting her and offered to do it for us, but I couldn’t envision having to bury her with her head shot off, so was much relieved when he was able to do it with drugs.
Not long after this, another dog came into our lives. She had adopted one of the teachers that my husband was working with, but the teacher didn’t really want her, so we took her in. She fit in just fine and was a lot easier on my ‘little old gal’ than the previous pooch had been. She also proved much easier to train, except in the area of chicken duties. She was a sweet-natured thing; nonetheless, I couldn’t trust her with the chickens and she managed to kill several.
Despite the fact that I had done a lot of training with her and she showed me she knew better, I was unable to train the mauling of chickens out of her. Unfortunately, she was smart enough not to go after any while in my sight, but every chance she got, she went after a chicken. I hated that I couldn’t trust her. I hated even more that I couldn’t train it out of her, and that my own dog that had become a predator on my flock. It is one thing if it is foxes or eagles predating on your stock, but when it’s your own dog, it is embarrassing and frustrating.
That dog, too, met an untimely death. At the store with my husband, she’d jumped out of the truck to go visit with other dogs, and he, worried when a car came by, called her back. Being the obedient girl that she was, she ran back to him and was hit crossing the road. He felt awful because it was her obedience to him that ultimately caused her doom. He brought her home and she was quiet for a couple of days, but not in obvious pain. I looked her over and got talked through an exam by the Vet on the phone. Watch her and keep her quiet, was the only recommendation. She actually survived for days, and we thought she was out of the woods. Four days later however, her bowel twisted suddenly, and she died an awful, painful death–six hours drive from the vet is simply too far for many injuries.
Now we have Tui. She too is a rescue pooch. She showed up at a friend’s place, starving to death. She was just skin and bone and came to their place only to eat. Already having three dogs, they didn’t want another. She looked terrible: hips and ribs sticking out, no fur to speak of except some hair on her head and a few guard hairs on her back, and a tail that looked like a rat’s. So much so, we called her ‘Rat-tail-Tui’.
We took her on a trial basis, just to see. This time, I wanted to make sure that I got a dog that would be trainable and chicken-proof. I want to be able to free-range my chickens, and therefore need to be able to trust any dog I have, to be left alone with them. It is crucial that they co-habit, otherwise the chickens will get eaten by hawks, eagles, owls and foxes. You need a dog here, to protect the flock.
The first few days, she proved herself intelligent and trainable, so we kept her. She was a natural with the goats, as if someone had told her that border collie was in her blood. She chased the ducks once, and still shows interest, but has not done it again. She did manage to kill a chicken once, but I couldn’t blame her really. For one thing, it was early days and she’d been starving to death. I had to face the reality that she probably only managed to survive by killing whatever she could in the bush and–judging from her condition–it was precious little. I was, however, a bit worried that this might become a habit, but after a firm scolding she has never done it again.
Of course it wasn’t that simple. I put a lot of time in with her, bringing her around the chickens and telling her ‘no’ whenever she showed interest. I also tied her up and let the chickens free-range all around her–again, telling her ‘no’ if she showed any interest whatsoever. We’ve had her for three months now. Just yesterday I felt confident enough in her to put her to the test: I went to town and left her and the chickens at the farm, free-ranging together. There was part of me that was worried I might come home to a massacre scene, but she did me proud.
When I returned to the farm, she was the vision of an angel: sitting quietly in the sun at the front of the house, chickens happily milling about her feet. It was a huge relief and I felt very proud of her accomplishments. After all, it can’t be easy going against all your natural instincts and learning to be a trustworthy farm dog. Oh, and that rat-tail? It’s now a shimmering black plume at least a foot high!