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.


  1. Very interesting and appropriate!

    A year ago, my old GS mix dog started having seizures. He was in his teens, and at that time I realized I didn't want to be without a dog when he went, and I wanted him to show the ropes around here. I am partial to herding dogs (although the breed that takes my breath away is Alaskan Malamute - I have had two and knew I didn't have the time to raise them the way they needed) and posted on FB I was starting to look for another dog. A friend of mine contacted me right away - there is an Australian Shepherd where she boards, and while he is a great dog, he was gotten to work the cattle (they do roping) and he had zero drive. Would I be interested? So Biscuit, a 2 year old Aussie, came to live with me, and while we had some adjustment issues going from working farm dog to house dog while I was at work and farmette dog other times, he is amazing.

    My old dog did pass a few months ago, and after grieving, I realized I really was a two-dog person. So I posted for another Aussie on FB, and someone contacted me about their 1 year old female house dog that they could not keep - their health issues, two kids on the ground, and pregnant with twins. Of course I accepted!

    Now after two weeks, I am seeing how much a puppy Nugget still is. She also has a medium herding drive, and I want to give her the job of rounding up the chickens - she already follows them gently, and I need to learn how to channel that.

    However, the other night there was a possum in the barn (way off season), and the two Aussies cornered it with a lot of barking. I trapped it and took it to the local preserve not far away from me (still in it's territory). Of course I praised them, and she was so pleased that she is now chasing the cats and barking at them - now I have to teach her that they are not to be chased! I did not expect that reaction - which is a head's up for me to be very careful with the praise around her - she's very smart and very determined to please me, even after only two weeks with me.

    So blog on with the dog stuff - I have a lot to learn with these smart herding dogs that are determined to make me happy!

  2. I will read whatever you write whenever you write it. Thank you for giving me hours of reading pleasure and increased knowledge over the years. I’m going to quit now before I start sounding stalkerish.

  3. I have missed your writing, so I am glad to see you back!

  4. The primitive breeds are so different from the average pet dog. My Kangal X Anatolian, Khan, killed a gopher snake when he was 6 months old. He neatly severed the body into 4 equal segments that he stashed somewhere and brought out in progressively advanced stages of decay to snack on. I was afraid of how he would deal with the local rattlesnakes. I looked into snake avoidance training. Before I could make any plans, Khan encountered a rattler.i woke up one night hearing that roaring bark,not running the fence like he does against coyotes,but stationary and very intense. When I went outside, Khan ran up to me and lightly grabbed my wrist in his teeth before running back to his station 15 feet from the buzzing snake and continuing to bark. He never tried to close with the rattlesnake. After telling him what a good dog he was,I put the dogs in the house and escorted the snake out of my yard with my snake stick. This whole scenario was repeated twice more in the following weeks. Then the rattlesnake learned to avoid my yard on its nighty hunts for packrats, and everything has settled down to coyote/hawk/raccoon deterrence.

  5. What Sunstruck said - I will read anything you write whenever you write it.

  6. Interesting! Weren’t the Sarplaninac (I know I can’t spell tonight—sorry!) used as military dogs? It’s very fascinating to me how the old livestock breeds intuit their job requirements. I am looking forward to hearing more about her, esp since I’m in the process of training a Karakachan that was basically left to his own devices for the first year of life. I am pretty ambivalent about advice regarding dog training as I have found that the environment/handler/experience can skew results.

  7. It's funny that you use "mine" when she's not allowed to touch stuff--that's what I say to Shadow, the destroyer of all things, when I want her to know that she can't have something (sock, glove, leadrope, boot, helmet, whatever!) to destroy.

  8. I am so happy to see this blog. You see, I have a rhino of indeterminate breeding (definitely bully, with GSP? heeler? wtf?) who is an explosion of love but destructive as all get out. We’re having a hell of a time teaching him to keep his mouth off things, and not to destroy every bed and toy he touches. Can’t wait to read more about Paladin.

  9. Hey all. Thanks for the encouragement, and the company! It's been a long, lonesome year. The holidays were rough, and the depression intense, that's all I'm saying on that subject.
    Horses and Turbos - herding dogs are my favorite. Mind melders all, their thinking is the closest to humans as a dog can get. My Brockle is a who knows? mixture of herding dogs. The argument of what he is made up of has never stopped. What I know for a fact is that he is to date the most complex, devoted dog ever to cross my path, and I'm grateful for him every day.
    Muppet - Sarplaninacs are kissing cousins with Caucasian Ovcharkas. I know the CO's were used for border control, and the Sars still are. There are two types now, a military type and then the herding type - I do believe the military type has CO in it. Paladin is the herding type. The best comparison I've read said a CO is like a Sar on steroids, while the Sar is like a German Shepherd on steroids.


  10. Thanks for sharing this. I am glad to find this and it is very interesting.

  11. Hey Janet/Mugs, Came across this 2018 post about this Rhino dog you got. Wow! You have opened my mind to a whole new world of dogs.

    I don't know if I ever told you how much I admire your writing. I am with Sunstruck.
    I have recommended your blog to my Vietnamese computer friends for years who are studying how to communicate more naturally and effectively in English. Not that they care a hoot about horses. Just the writing.

    SO, not to cross the line, but, where are you and the pups and the ponies these days?
    As a Parkinson's person I am very interested in your continued journey and animal adventures. On my worst shaking, tired days, I do what I must to get in the saddle because I know within 10 to 30 minutes I will feel a world better. Not that I expect a PD blog. I just read between the lines.