Wednesday, April 23, 2014

a new beginning for a guardian

It is usually when I'm not looking and least expect it, that a new guardian opportunity lands in my lap. While Toto the lamb & I were visiting a school in a nearby county a few weeks ago, I was told the story of Bandit the Great Pyrenees by one of  Bandit's owners. Bandit's owners were looking for a farm type setting where he could be the dog he wanted to be. Bandit's owner and I talked for a bit and I did something I NEVER do...without seeing Bandit in his environment or even meeting him, I said I'd take him. And so we made all the necessary arrangements and a couple days later, Bandit was here. Bandit was neutered, up to date on vaccinations, walks on a leash and overall in excellent health. What a good boy!

Bandit settled in his paddock quickly and my younger guardian Willa Bee took to him instantly. Bandit's personality was a bit more antisocial with me and his energy level was high and nearly endless. He is adventurous and an explorer and it seemed only fitting that from that moment on, I call him Boone. Boone means a blessing and that I also knew he was. It was a good fit and he took to his new name as if it were the only one he had ever known. And so the task of bonding with this spirited boy began.

Even though Boone is a livestock guardian by breed, I know that not all the guardian breeds can or will be livestock guardians. For some it comes more naturally and some it takes the right circumstances and situation and lots of training and for many, it is simply out of their reach. After the first few days of working with Boone, I embraced the fact that the latter just may be his calling. Boone had some learned behaviors that made him dangerous to the livestock and to himself.

Many times guardians are confused with herders and the herding behavior can easily become a learned but very undesired behavior. It is not a natural instinct for a guardian to herd and to see them in this herding process is like watching chaos. Somewhere along the line Boone learned that herding was acceptable plus it was fun. So I knew just as soon as we were well bonded, this herding habit would be the first thing that needed to be changed.

The first day, Boone is moved to an empty paddock between the dairy goats and the ram paddock. Willa Bee calls the ram paddock home so the company of Boone next door was very welcomed by her. On that very first day, Willa Bee started teaching him to not bark at her sheep and to not chase. But Boone being a non-guided soul, doesn't hear her. When the livestock move, he would try to chase even with fencing between them. He is given supervised visits in with Willa Bee and her sheep where they can run, play and interact together. It is also an excellent teaching opportunity for Willa Bee. She is very loyal to her sheep and knows they prefer soft and quiet surroundings. So she does not romp and play around them or inside the barn, she has learned to listen to her flock and be attentive to their needs. This is true guardian behavior. So she lures Boone away from the flock where they can play..and play they do!
By now, Boone and I are like long lost friends. He comes when I call and knows he will only get head and ear scratches if he is still at my feet. He is also attentive to the tone of my voice and can hear instruction. As we relearn guarding and drop the herding, it will take unmeasurable amount of patience from all of us. Boone has the will to achieve this, he just needs some consistent guidance. And I know with his energy level, he needs this job to do or he will only continue to be destructive. So I plan and prepare to move him. One thing I love about Boone is that he has complete respect for fencing. I know if I put him in a paddock and leave him there, I will still find him there a few hours or a day later. That level of comfort I can't begin to measure or describe, especially when bringing in and training a new guardian. Good boy Boone!
Reina (on the right) has very little patience for Boone's energy level and chasing behavior. She is a powerful enforcer of the rules and consistently reminds him of his duties and place on the farm. Wise old guardians like Reina are worth their weight in gold.
 The Steer Paddock:
We have a small weaning paddock for our steers. This paddock is used to wean them from milk to grain and then from grain to grass before they're moved to the fields at the back of the farm where they will be solely grass fed. Boone is active, tough and hard-headed. And so I go with my gut and introduce Boone to the steers in the weaning paddock. The steers are used to guardian dogs so this is no new sight for them but these cows are completely new to Boone. The steers are a good match for this boy's rough and tough personality and he has complete respect for their size. He gives them their space and is attentive to their needs. It's a good fit and I have high hopes that they will get along just fine.

17 days on the farm and this boy has now been given a job. He doesn't know he's doing it yet..but in time he will. Good boy Boone!


  1. Hi! I have been reading your posts with interest as I have been struggling to find the right guardian. I am on my second Anatolian and still having problems. After a few months, Roz has decided that no fence will hold her. Trying to work with her, but she never did bond with the sheep. Perhaps I am not doing something I should. Not sure. Have you ever considered teaching a course for shepherds and their guardians? Will probably have to start from scratch with a new guardian. Thinking of changing breed of dog. Anyway...would love to talk. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Hi there! It can be a challenge training a livestock guardian, there are so many dimensions to it and it is often overwhelming. I understand completely. I'd love to chat with you about your LGD needs and your Roz. If I can help, feel free to email me Your feedback is encouraging, thank you for that!