Monday, February 3, 2014

The Replacements, part II

In January of 2013, one of the nicest people I've met through having goats, Lynda of Foggy River Farm contacted me about possibly solving our lack of livestock guardian dog (LGD) problem.  She and her husband had come to the realization that they no longer had as much livestock to guard as they had when they first got their Anatolian Shepherds, and since the upkeep on large dogs gets expensive, it made sense to find the dogs new homes where their cost/benefit ratio would be in better balance.  I was thrilled at the idea of having a dog who had been around my breed of goat before, and who was already a bit over two years old, so I would not have to go through the puppy training again. 

The spouse and I went over to pick Cassie up, and she did very well on the car ride home.  I let her sniff all over the yard and barn to become accustomed to our "normal" smells, and to get acclimated a bit.

Cassie, looking at me like So Now What?

Thinking they should meet quickly, before Cassie had a chance to get possessive of any part of the farm, and shortly after she'd had a chance to smell Stella's scent all over the barn, I brought Stella out for a meet and greet.  Within seconds of opening the stall door between them, and without giving a warning growl or anything, Cassie jumped onto Stella, pinning her down and biting her neck, while  Stella tried to escape and let loose a torrent of yelps.  My yelling wasn't stopping Cassie, so I lifted her by the scruff of her neck (all 90lbs of her) off Stella, screamed at Stella to get out of the barn while she had the chance, and pushed Cassie back into the stall to end the attack.

That's right, this is MY house now, and don't forget it!
So that was a bit of a surprise.  It definitely meant that I would need to spend more time having the two get to know each other.  She was very sweet to me and to Andy though and warmed up to us quite quickly.  The next order of business was to introduce her to the goats.

iPhone picture in low light-sorry for the lack of quality
The ladies in the barn yard were a bit suspicious of this large new dog in their living space.  Eventually one of the younger girls got brave and decided to take a closer look.

That seemed to go pretty well.  She went back into a stall for the night since I wanted to make sure that I could supervise her when she was let off leash with the does.

The next several days we worked on her getting to see Stella do chores with us- she was on a leash so she would not be able to go after Stella, but she could see that Stella was supposed to be there and that Stella was getting praised for her activities.  They'd spend quite a bit of time around each other, and Cassie didn't show any signs of aggression towards Stella.  In the barnyard, she was out with the does only during the day, and often for only about half of the day before she started getting too "playful" for the goats.  I did let her run around in a pasture that the goats weren't in to take some of the edge off, but it was surprising just how much energy she had, especially considering that she was 26 months old.

After a couple of weeks, we decided to try seeing how Cassie would be with Stella if she could actually get within a few inches of her since it is important, at least for our operation, for the LGD and the herding dog to get along.  The LGD is supposed to live full time with the goats, and needs to understand that the herding dog can come into the pasture and move the goats around and remain unmolested.  One can restrain their LGD and then bring in the herding dog, but that adds extra steps to working with the livestock, and every extra five or ten minutes in an already long day adds up quickly.  I also know that accidents happen, people get forgetful, gates get left open, etc., and I didn't want an accident to result in a mangled Stella.

So, we slowly eased the two dogs into closer proximity, with me watching like a hawk for any sign of aggression on Cassie's part.  Her tail remained low and friendly, the hair on her back remained down, her body language appeared relaxed and not at all stiff.  Stella casually walked by, in front of Cassie and with her eyes focused on something else, and again, with no warning or change in body language, Cassie suddenly attacked Stella. This time, it took the two of us to separate them, and Cassie even got her teeth through Andy's jeans.  Stella got pretty badly bruised this time and was quite sore for about a week.  *Sigh*

We'd also had a bit of an issue with Cassie running right through the does or deciding to trot right behind a doe who smelled interesting.  She had to start dragging a small log (this or staking young LGDs when they go through adolescence is pretty common and temporary) to allow her to move around, but which would take some of the edge off of her speed, giving our goats a chance to get away from her intense attention.  She especially seemed to like plunging into a crowd of does who were at one of the hay feeders, sending them scattering.  One of the times she did this, one of our young does slipped and got stuck in a feeder and I found her dangling by her hoof in a very awkward position, twisted and flipped around.

Piapiac, modeling her cast
After taking Pia to the vet, where she was such a trooper about getting her leg set and the cast put on, we decided to try Cassie out in the pasture with the dry does.  Maybe more room would be good for her, and there would be less of a risk of one of our pregnant does getting stressed by her.

After a week or so, we noticed she had decided that the shed in the pasture was off limits to our does.  We had considered tying her out in that pasture to try to make it so she couldn't chase the does, but the only place close to shade and water was the shed she wouldn't let the does near, so that was not going to work.  At this point we were also getting deep into kidding season, and having gone into January already exhausted, I was starting to run short on time and energy to fix the behavior of a dog who was acting like an adolescent puppy.  Livestock guardian dogs have to think on their own, and they can act quite differently on one farm than they did on another farm, and this was proving to be the case with Cassie who seemed to have reverted back to being a puppy, though she had been a responsible adult with her previous family.

Now, I should say that I have found from many conversations and from my own experience that all LGDs have their quirks.  It really depends on your situation as to what quirks are adorable and little and can be dealt with and which ones are just not right for you and your situation. Which means that while a very mellow dog can be good on a small farm, that dog may not work on a large ranch operation.  Some dogs are more about guarding their home territory and the animals thereon from anything that falls into their definition of "strange", and some dogs are bonded with their herd or flock, so don't touch the sheep, but go ahead and help yourself to as many chickens as you want.  So even though some of Cassie's behaviors were not what I needed, that did not mean she was at all a "bad" dog, or that she couldn't fill the purpose for which she had been bred.  She was clearly dog aggressive, but people friendly, and from her barking at night, we knew she was working to keep something(s) away from our place. Lynda was incredibly generous with her time helping us trouble shoot some of Cassie's behavior and find solutions to keep her here, especially considering all of the challenges of having a newborn and a busy organic farm.

I was starting to get the feeling that someone who had bigger animals than we do (which, let's be honest, includes the majority of livestock), and who had a lot more room would do better with Cassie.  Anatolian Shepherds can take longer to mature, which in turn means they have a longer average lifespan than other giant breeds, so it was possible that in a couple more months, she'd just "click" into being a fantastic dog.  However, my hands were already full with everything else on the farm, and kids were hitting the ground every day, so just did not have the energy to put into a very large puppy who had a will that was proving to be stronger than mine.  Yes, that is saying something.

About a week and a half after giving Lynda the heads up that we weren't the best fit for Cassie, Andy drove her back to the coast, leaving us once more in need of an LGD for our does.

Next up: Third try's a charm?


Farmer Barb said...

Oh, Sarah. I'm sorry it didn't work. I have considered the thought of an LGD here in coyote land (CT). I can't risk some of the problems that could arise with people since I am soon to be adding Farm Camp. I am investing in good fencing instead. When the snow melts. If it melts.

How many animals do you have at this point?

Sarah said...

We never had problems with Mini and people- she absolutely loved everyone, especially children. Cassie was SO enthusiastic about showing one child who was visiting that she thought he was the greatest thing since dog food, we worried she might lick all of his skin off! There are quite a few breeds that are dog aggressive but people friendly, and as long as they are brought up well, you should be able to trust them around people. Taking the time to decide who you are going to get your dog from helps to get the right dog too- the person who is willing to discuss the short comings of their animals in addition to their strengths is a)more honest with themselves and will probably be more honest with you as well and b)is actually aware that not all of their animals are perfect for every situation, and probably sensitive to the needs of their dogs as well as the needs of your farm.

We have somewhere between 50 and 60 chickens, and around 60 goats out side of the buck pen. This includes junior does, does who are part of our milking and showing string, retired does, and excess wethers who should be leaving soon one way or another. Since the bucks, Bert and Ernie, and a couple of for sale wethers have their own llama, I'm not counting them as part of the LGD's responsibilities.