Friday, May 10, 2019

I Always Learn the Hard Way.

It was a nice evening. Dusk had eaten the shadows and all but the last bit of color over the peak. There was no wind, the birds had quieted down, the dogs were tired and the monotone from the  fence charger was flat and gray as the twilight.

I still limped from a smacked knee earlier in the week, but overall I was feeling pretty frisky. The day was about over, everybody was fed, and once I turned off the water, chores were done. It was hard not to dawdle, morning and evening animal care was about my only break from caring for my husband, Jim. I leaned against the stock tank and enjoyed the cool down as the night deepened. Brockle sat next to me, and nudged my leg a bit to remind me it was time for my meds.

The horses flew around the corner of the barn and about ran into me. They snorted, bucked and farted as they whipped past, then ran to the back corner of the corral and huddled together.

"Look at them watching the barn," I told Brockle, "I wonder what got them so riled up."

Right then my two littlest dogs broke out with their shrieking, yowling, godawful bark, and my peaceful interlude was done. They didn't quit, if anything, their yappy howls went another four or five octaves closer to glass shattering pitch. Good God, they must have the cat trapped in the barn. I cut across the corral to go pull them off, still walking, but kicked up to what I consider a jog these days.
I came around the back of the barn and started to yell, the damn heathens were tearing at something between them.

"Leave it you little bastards! If you kill the cat I'm having me a squeaky dog barbecue, that's for sure." Then, I walked up to scruff them and yank them off the cat when instead  I walked right into a rattler of respectable size coiled in the dust. The cranky thing struck at the sound of my voice.

I'd love to tell you I yipped, whipped out my six shooter and shot him, but instead I jumped at least eight feet backwards. I might have yipped  bit, oh all right, I screamed like my little brother at eight, when I caught him with a Penthouse. At the top of that jump, I managed to take a moment and admire how agile I was. Look at the air I'm getting, damn, I've still got it. Then, of course, I landed. I heard felt something give in my knee, it buckled and I fell flat on my face, not two feet from that damn snake.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Paladin and Competitive Aggression II

Paladin, with her favorite chew toy in her favorite hole.

The idea of not training a dog fascinates me. It makes sense to me in many ways, because of how I approached horse training and how my relationship develops with my dogs. Paladin is a different kind of animal. Her breed has been around for the last 4,000 years or so. They evolved according to the need for them (to guard sheep and property) and to have the smarts to do these things on their own without direction. I'm telling you, she just knows things. I just have to keep my mouth shut and watch it happen.

In the horse world, especially  western events, training starts early. When Jan 1st of a horse's second year comes around, they are automatically considered a two-year-old, even if the poor bugger was born on Dec. 31st.

A horse isn't physically or mentally mature enough to carry a rider until their third, or better yet, fourth year, but that's just not the cowboy way. The ethics behind this are better left for another day, because once I get going, it's hard for me to shut up. I brought it up for another reason.

If a trainer plans on having their two-year-old ready for a reined cowhorse futurity, a lot of information needs to pass to that baby very quickly. Because of their youth and propensity for blowing minds and tendons at that age, they can't be ridden for long in one session.

The problem for me was, I wasn't, and still am not, a fast trainer. When I waded into the pro cowhorse world it took me an average of six to eight weeks to have a decent walk, trot and lope on a colt. I needed to be there in a week.

So, I learned to drop the unnecessary things. All the stuff that the young horse could learn on the way was put to the side and I handled it as it came up. Standing tied, picking up feet, being groomed, clipped, vetted, trimmed, shod, loading, saddled, all of it was handled as I needed it done.

This eventually led to an experiment I tried on the last horse I trained (he was almost four when I started him), my personal horse, Scrub, out of a favorite mare.

I decided to show him each step of the process only once. I figured if I really thought things through, and built each new experience as a stepping stone, it should be all I needed to do. I only did one step each day. If he didn't understand, then I took it as my mistake, figured where I had missed my mark, and went back to that before I tried the failed request again. Again, another story, another day.

Back to the dog. I don't think this approach would work with dogs. A dog wants to hang with their person, repetitions are okay, as long as they come from their trainer. Horses want you to leave them alone and go back to their friends. I do think it takes a lot less repetition for a dog to learn than most people do, unless each repetition asks for a better position, or refinement.

This attitude has made it easier for me to let Paladin grow into herself and keep her training to a minimum. There have been issues though.

The first is, she's a rhino. A very happy, enthusiastic rhino. If she wants something and there's a barrier between it and her, she just lowers that giant, bony head of hers and rams her way to it. The barrier can be the gate at the top of the stairs, the entrance gate to the property, or the airspace between her and a guest, be it dog or human. She is very fast, so the speed she can get to before her happy rhino greeting is insane.

Therefore, I have made personal space and respecting boundaries a priority.

Nobody pets the dog unless she sits, and doesn't touch.
If I say off, then she better off or hell will rain down on her big rhino head.

Which brings me to her next quality. She only listens if it makes sense. To her, not me. Sometimes the only point she sees is, "Oh, if I don't listen, I might die." It only happened twice, now she gets that I do have a line she can't cross and we're doing well. No, I'm not telling what it entailed, but nobody bled or limped, so there you are.

Paladin has a ferocious, endless hunger. She will scoop up and eat anything. I'll skip the food items, including week old baby diapers, and go straight to her other favorites. Pine branches, right off the tree. Packs of cigarettes, books, magazines, upholstery, tupperware, Brockle's precious tennis balls. PVC pipe, deck furniture, bottles of carpenter glue, almost anything with my scent on it and leather. You wouldn't believe what an adventure it is to pick up poop at my place.

This has eased off, most likely because they tasted terrible, hopefully because I take things from her and snarl "Mine!" She understands that command. It makes sense to her and she respects it. She will even show me things she wants to eat.

"How about these pliers?"


"This wrench?"


"Your tool belt?"


"The chihuahua?"

On to difficulty # 365.

She wants to eat my small dogs. Seriously, I think she would kill them if I let her. Her demeanor changes if she thinks I'm not watching and she stalks them with intent.

This is a dog who, without training, allows chickens to sit on her, plays gently with the goats and naps next to them, walks through the horses every day and makes nose to nose contact with each. She guards little Hazel anytime she's alone, in the house or escaped into the horse pasture. She's even friendly with the barn cats. Yet she wants to kill my little dogs.

I was stumped, at least until I read this great article on different types of dog aggression, on a blog I was just turned on to, fuzzylogicdog.

"But in nature, competitive aggression means aggression to remove ecological competitors. I believe this covers a pretty wide range of competition, from sexual competition (rams trying to kill each other in breeding season) to food/territory competition (coyotes kill dogs for this reason). The competitor is outside the animal’s social group and there is no percentage in NOT fighting — there is no social harmony to maintain, and leaving the competitor alive means less food for the attacker. So this type of competition can be swift and brutal."

I think Paladin looks at the little dogs as a useless waste of resources, therefore, worthy of killing and eating. Her ancestors look pretty much the same as they do now. They can survive for a long time and protect their flock when the snow is too deep for their person to get to. We all know they had to eat something during those long winters. I'm guessing unnecessary competitors are high on the list.

The wisdom in this dog is incredible, I can't wait to see it bloom, but the rhino? That's going to be a long, uphill battle.

She is learning. As her attachment to me grows, so does her willingness to do what I ask. A month or so ago, all four horses were nose to nose with about ten head of the neighbors cattle. The electric fence was clearly on the fritz, because the damn critters were in the process of tearing down my horse fence. I muttered something unpleasant and went to grab my coat.

By the time I went outside, Paladin had walked down to the livestock. She was quiet, her head was up and her tail was relaxed. She worked her way in front of the horses and they politely backed away.

Now when did they work that out?

Then she began to bark. Deep, serious, "Get off my land!" barks. She didn't touch the fence or cattle, but raced up and down her side of the fence with the ferocious roar she can use when needed. The cattle left. She laid down and took a short nap before coming up to the house. It might seem simple, but for me, it was a beautiful affirmation of what kind of dog she is.

I think the adult dog is going to be astounding, as long as I don't eff her up.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Paladin and Competitive Aggression

Almost a year ago, my husband, Jim, died. It was not unexpected, he had a stroke seven years before, and at that time, was given two more years at best. We showed 'em.

He was terrified of dying in a hospital and I promised to keep him home. Between my daughter, me, and at the end, some really shitty live-in help, we managed it. I cared for him, twenty-four seven,  except for runs to the store, from the day after he went into rehab until the night he died. It was the hardest job I've ever taken on in the course of my very up and down life. I don't regret a second of it, but I'm truly grateful that going in, I didn't know how it was going to be.

Some of you from the days of yore might remember I was diagnosed with Parkinson's. That little bit of fun began the year before Jim's stroke. Somewhere in the pile, I quit writing the blog. I wasn't riding, I had no thoughts except the daily grind (and drama, sooo much drama) and I lost the connection between my readers and I. I did manage to have one Mugs and the Big K clinic before I crawled into my hole, and I'll forever be grateful for it. I had an absolute blast.

So, here I am. I haven't ridden much, hardly even thrown a leg over in the last couple of years. I wrote some, not much, and I started learning about dogs. I thought that was it. Madonna and Scrub are totally OK with the fat lazy backyard horse life. Except, lately, I've been looking at my horses and a little itch has come back. I think of training issues and want to head home and fire up the computer.

Tentative, but not forced, so maybe I'll be around some.

I didn't tell you this so you could feel sorry for me, or hit the crying emoji a thousand times, so please don't. It's just a warning that I've changed. It's a deep, exploring, what's our purpose kind of thing. It's opened up how I deal with my animals and because of that, how I cope with people.

I'm going to get back on my horses, there's a rumor I might be breaking Scrub to the harness this coming summer, and I'll be trying to get my mojo back. I'll be writing about my dogs, because I write what I know and I've learned a couple things. I'm also working hard at turning our place into a sustainable farm, which I find fascinating, God help you all. So be prepared, don't get all whiny about the good old days and horse stories, they'll show up as they come to me, and if you want, you're invited to journey on down this road.

Enough of that maudlin crap, here's the post for today.

I have a new dog.

Actually, I've had her about a year. Yes, if you do the math, I got a puppy right around the time poor Jim was trying to die in peace. We already had five, count 'em five dogs. My daughter and her not quite two year old daughter had moved in with us. I had a deranged maniac living in my basement, who, although hired to help take care of Jim and I, mainly drank while doing a truly crappy job of cleaning, and fought with my daughter.

In my infinite wisdom, when a friend called and offered me this puppy, I said yes. Tell me you would have turned her down. I was sad and tired. What can I say.

This is Paladin. She's a Livestock Guardian,  her breed, Sarplaninac, and  her parents were brought to the U.S. from Croatia. I had been interested in these dogs ever since my friend had decided to breed them. They are a landrace breed, and a molosser. Which from what I understand, the first means that the Sarplaninac was developed mainly by ability and geography. Second, she's a big fat hairy mastiff.

These dogs are big, but there's nothing ponderous about them. She can catch a coyote if that helps. She rears back on her hind feet and jumps straight up in the air when she's happy to see me, because she's not allowed to flatten me with joy. I am not kidding, her hind feet launch almost to my shoulders. I am trying desperately to get this on video, it's pretty amazing. She's primitive, instinctive and feels no need to take direction.

I was firmly told by the trainers I consulted, both who work extensively with this breed, NOT to train her. I was to let her develop and shape the behaviors that came with. If these dogs get too much obedience training, they lose their canny, independent thinking and generally become mean, crappy, unhappy dogs. Okey dokey then.

But, since we weren't herding sheep in the Sar Mountain range, I decided she had to be taught some things. Like, don't put your giant, drooly ass mouth on people. Don't knock people down. Don't block, lean or whack em' with your paw. Sit. She's good at that. Don't eat the chihuahua.

Paladin is turning into the dog she was born to be. Think about it, Sarplaninacs are somewhere around 4000 years in the making. Their purpose has always been the same. Guard the sheep, guard the land, and guard your people. Do it on your own, without human direction. Kill the wolves, bears, hawks and eagles that are after your charges. If we humans want to interfere with that amazing desire to do their jobs, then as usual, we're stupid and destructive and will ruin yet one more breed of dog.

She will doze in the sun with chickens on her back. Last week, she showed up and asked to be let in - with one of our goats. They were hanging around together and apparently, Paladin thought she should come in too. You know, if you're cold, then your goat is cold, bring them inside.

The best thing she does, the very best, is this. If my granddaughter, Hazel, slips out of my line of sight, I know in an instant. Paladin quietly pads by, and stands next to her. She doesn't bother her, just stands there, guarding the weakest, most precious, most troublemaking being on the place. She doesn't leave until her mother or I come to get her.  She keeps track of Hazel's whereabouts all the time.

The worst? There's lots, but it will have to wait until tomorrow.

This is my delicate little flower at 12 months. She's supposed to grow until at least 18 months, maybe more. She hasn't begun to fill out yet, not even a little. Note the door knob as reference.

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