The sheep have settled in, and gotten used to eating pasture and staying within the electric fence. So, to keep myself pushed just a bit beyond my bounds I bought a pair of six month old Anatolian Shepherd puppies on Monday. My mom accompanied me on the four hour drive to the Sierra foothills to the breeder's--a very talkative, slighlty quirky woman who raises horses, goats, and dogs. It may be because of her remote location, but I gather she doesn't get many visitors judging by the about of talking she did while we were there! We are now intimately acquainted with the medical history of a number of her distant relatives, as well as their religious affliations.
Anyhoo, back to the dogs! When we drove up to the farm to see the dogs we were greeted by a very large barking male and then a large female and the two pups. Once we were out of the truck the dogs were extremely friendly and sweet, despite their intimidating size and bark. The large male, the sire of the pups, had a very heavy long white coat and looked much like a Great Pyrenees, probably weighing in over 150 lbs. According to the breeder, he and a couple of other dogs had recently killed a bear!! The combination of gentle sweet disposition and overall mellowness with the potential for ferocious defensive behavior had me sold on the two female puppies as guardians for my sheep flock.
So, the newly named Flora and Scout, about 60 lbs each, got dragged into the back of my pickup camper shell for the long drive back to Watsonville. The girls had never had collars or leashes or been in a car before. They spent most of the ride standing and drooling, interrupted occassionally by throwing up and peeing. Getting them out of the truck and into the "garden" fenced yard was pretty much a matter of dragging them. Once in the pen and given food, though, they recovered quickly. The first introduction to Gort, the resident farm dog, was a little rough. Scout seemed to accept him immediately, but Flora, the bigger and more dominant pup, continued to bark and growl at him the whole evening. The next morning I solved this problem with a vague intention by letting Gort in the pen when I brought their breakfast. He ate out of the bowl first and I let him for a little while. After that the girls treated him as dominant Alpha male. If only human relations were so easy to sort out.
For the past week, I have been taking the girls out on leashes for walks around the perimeter of the farm to orient them to their boundaries and to work on some obedience training. The first walk was more of a drag for the initial 100 yards but overall was not bad. By the third walk they had figured out the whole leash concept and we were doing quite well. I may have a been a bit overconfident at this point because I decided to introduce them to some of the other farm animals. First, we encountered the Tom turkey and the dogs did not want to go anywhere near him. Next, Scout pulled loose of her collar and chased a rooster for a little while until I got her to come back so I could put her collar back on. Fortunately, I think she just liked chasing and wasn't interested in catching. Things went downhill though when we went by the pasture with the steers. The steers came trotting up to the fence and were very interested in the dogs, and definitely not afraid of them at all. At this point both dogs decided they would not like to walk on the leash anymore or be any where near the steer. As the steer were between us and the dog's pen this made things a bit difficult however. To cut a (very) long story short I ultimately had to carry Scout back to their pen while dragging a reluctant Flora behind me. Things can only go up from there! We have since had a couple more very successful perimeter walks and you would never guess they had only just been introduced to leashes.
We will have to see how the pups work out as sheep guardians, though. The first couple of times I let them in the pen with my sheep they barked and chased. However, Kinky, my landlord's ram, jumped through a fence and joined my flock a few days ago and he may help put the pups in line. The sheep's yard and the dogs' pen are separated by an open wood slat fence, allowing Kinky to stick his head through and snort at the puppies. While they were still barking at him, they also were acting very puppyish and licking his nose, which I believe is a good sign of submissiveness. Nevertheless, the last couple of times I let them in with the flock they chased and herded them. I used them this morning to force a couple of reluctant ewes across a small ditch that had filled with water and the majority of the flock had simply jumped over. While they might occassionally be useful as herders that was not my intention in bringing them to the farm. We have a obedience school lesson scheduled for Tuesday, so hopefully I can get them to obey me before they get to huge for me to manhandle and carry when they are mischevious.