When a livestock guardian shows you you’re wrong

livestock guardian dog and woods
Sakura, at 2, has completely redefined her role — a fence-jumping hooligan that was the cause of much hair-pulling now patrols a territory with no fence. (Photo courtesy of Farei Kennels)

Interesting times we are living in these days.

As a farmer in a remote area, social distancing is more of a lifestyle already. I haven’t stocked up on toilet paper, but I did buy a few extra bags of dog food so I could limit my trips to town. I’ve seen increased traffic in our area as people bring items out to camp. Fear of the unknown has them stocking cabins that usually only see a weekend or two of use during hunting season.

It’s disheartening to know my dogs will have more work with the increase in traffic. Attempted pilfering isn’t new or uncommon here. It’s also why I wanted to add a second dog to the farm house proper. Meet Sakura, Farei Kennels Mimi’s Little Cherry Blossom, just shy of 2 years old.

When you don’t know best

In 2018, I had two litters and kept a pup from each: one to work the sheep with Seven and one to work the farm proper with Bridger. Despite suggestions to the contrary, I set about training them for their individual jobs.

Training has been rocky at the best of times, and neither dog seemed to click. I’ve got a stubborn streak a mile wide, but that’s on me, not them. So, I’ve shuffled things here on the farm. As a result, Sakura and I are redefining our relationship.

It’s not always easy admitting you were wrong, especially when you finally get it right — and it proves how wrong you really were.

Just a few short weeks ago, Sakura was going down with Seven and I, to watch the sheep every morning, and coming back up at night. She spent a fair amount of her time tethered, even at 2 years old. There was lambing, kidding, hatching … and the hated neighbor’s dogs. All things she needed to learn to roll with. (Tethering, as I’ve mentioned previously, is an opportunity for these dogs to learn and observe, without making mistakes. It’s a normal training method I use.)

The problem with Sakura though is that she can jump a 6-foot fence from a stand still. Going next door in the time it takes me to grab grain out of the storage container is unacceptable. Sakura could not be trusted and required more tethering than normal.

She is an odd one, as unlike her mother as you can possibly get. She is much more like her aunt. That’s one of the reasons I was reluctant to have them work together. Multiplying traits isn’t always a good thing.

Switching it up

Instead, since I’ve switched her and, Tanaka, her half sister, and their roles, I’ve found that she has more respect for the militant demeanor of the aunt she takes after.

So, in an odd twist of the universe, this fence-jumping demon is now working a job with no fence. The only boundaries that exist are in Bridger’s head, expanded by my increasing property utilization, and communicated to Sakura as we make improvements around headquarters.

I find myself struggling to have faith in an untrustworthy dog. Sakura is an agile dog with incredible speed that can be out of sight in heavily wooded areas before I even realize she’s on the move. She is a dog that will meet my gaze, not with disrespect, but with the confidence of equality.

I’m finding our time together more educational than I expected, however. There is something new to learn about her every day. It is possible that my increased focus is allowing her to communicate and be heard more consistently now that I don’t have a “plan” in my head for her.

All this time I thought it was Tanaka who needed more, when in reality, she is doing better with less. It is Sakura who is teaching me about the results of breeding intelligent dogs.



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