I know most stories start at the beginning, but this one really started in the middle. The advent of social media puts us in contact with an almost incomprehensible number of opinions on how to accomplish something. It’s amusing that I find myself one of those opinions now.
There is no dog more pigeonholed than livestock guardian dogs. They are expected to do one job and one job only: be born, live and die with the livestock. The definition of what constitutes livestock to LGDs — or the idea that they, as a whole, are predisposed to guard a particular animal — is not only self-limiting, but when it comes to breeding, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When it comes to selecting our dogs, first and foremost, we look for intelligence over all other traits. Meet Bridger, the least conventional LGD on our farm. Bridger is in charge of our unruly, free-ranging, tree-sleeping poultry, the house, yard and us. She is truly a guardian of hearth, heart and home.
Her patrol area encompasses approximately one acre, from the end of the driveway to the beginning of the pasture fences. The area itself has no fencing — nothing to hold her in, except her job. Her discernment and ability to assess a situation are unsurpassed. She has escorted visitors to the door, prevented items from being stolen and taken out predators with extreme prejudice.
We also rehabilitate aggressive dogs and “failed” LGDs, typically for their mistakes with poultry. It is Bridger’s job to make sure our poultry stays safe, but also to ensure that I stay safe as well.
She teaches fosters not to touch the chickens or the barn cat, not to put your feet on the fence — and as one recently found out, never jump over the fence. I did not teach her any of these things. She watched, learned and stepped in where she was needed.
Respect the intelligence
At 5 years old, Bridger has her own rule book, values, sense of right and wrong and a work ethic that has developed over time.
Although she has filled many positions on this farm, part of having an intelligent dog is respecting that intelligence, and Bridger has had a hand in selecting her duties. I have shaped and directed those skills as needed, but the core rules? Those are Bridger’s.
This is sometimes a cause for humor or frustration, because I don’t always know what the rules are. Take, for example, the contractor. He can work on the property for days on end, but when he shows up after “last check” to pick up payment, he isn’t allowed to exit his vehicle. Not with Bridger on duty. “Sorry, we’re closed. Have a nice day!”
Bridger had been through tragedy, upheaval and triumph with me. She is dedicated to helping me train the next generation, passing on her intelligence to more LGDs here in the Maine woods.
I am the shepherd. I am the line.
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