The value of a livestock guardian dog’s intelligence: part 2
(Also known as: Archer meets the sheep)
Let’s talk about mentoring — and discernment. Two things that I think are completely misunderstood, based on what people do with their LGDs. Not all adults are mentors. Just because you get an adult LGD does not mean it will teach your young pup. But some? Some are incredible.
(This is also a testimony to buying good dogs, which a lot of people don’t do either. Believe me, most of this stuff isn’t me. It’s my dogs.)
There is a video I shared online a year ago, of Maya, now 2 years, correcting Jael, 16 months, when Jael was a young pup. Jael tried to take a desiccated mouse carcass and parade around like she owned the joint. Maya put the smack down on her. It’s intense, but it was clear. It wasn’t the last time it would happen either. Jael is a strong young lady. (I’ll be sharing more stories of her here in future posts.) Maya wanted to be clear about the rules, and Jael required more than one reminder.
They are a formidable pair now, but, when I watch them tussle and play fight — the things that help iron sharpen iron — I can see how those lessons shaped their relationship. I suspect if Maya had been a weaker dog who gave her ground as a pup, Jael would take advantage. And perhaps be a punk in other things too.
So, I’ve been watching to see how Maya handles Archer‘s training. Even at 12 weeks, it’s clear he’s a different pup. My goal was to get a dog that would complement Jael and add strengths where she is weak. A “softer” temperament in regards to training was one thing I wanted. Jael is a great dog — hell on wheels as a guardian — but sometimes, you have to drive the point home.
A day in the life
Archer is a much easier dog that regard. He’s already learned a lot about house and cat posse etiquette just through a soft “uh uh.” Last year, Maya hovered over Jael and told her in no uncertain terms to keep her mitts out of stuff. This time, she just gives him an all-knowing look and then goes upstairs to take a midday nap before night shift begins.
Every day, he has shadowed me. I moved my home office (read: work computer) to the kitchen and we’ve spent time there to make sure we had house training down. He’s aceing that test. Archer has a pure joy for life that shows every time he’s cavorting outside, but when it’s time to settle, he does so, with just a little grumbling. He’s a talker.
I take him everywhere. Yesterday, we moved hurdles into the barn and filled salt feeders in the young ewes’ pasture and checked in on some ewes recovering from illness and fed the 200 lactating ewes. I also did some computer work in the house. We went up to my parents’ house for supper. He romped with Pili and then chewed on a bone, until he passed out, limp as a dishrag. Today, he’s already helped me feed sheep and cattle, check an electric fence and is hanging with me while I write this up.
But back to feeding time: I had some extra time, so I decided to take Archer in with the ewes and lambs and do some concentrated observation of how he did, and how the sheep responded to him. The past couple of days, Maya has asked to come with us to feed. She has always been very intuitive with ewes and lambs, but staying with them isn’t important to her anymore. That’s OK. She’s the all-seeing eye of everything around here now.
Archer and I went around and checked hay. Then, we started hanging out by the twins’ hay feeder. I am including videos. Watch them in order. The first one is right after we settled in.
The sheep are pressing close. Archer is handling it very well, but he’s, understandably, a bit concerned.
Then, Maya showed up. Now, one of the reasons I think she is cool not being with the ewes and lambs all the time is that she likes order and respect. It gets tiresome to have to tell 200+ lambs to stop chewing on you all the time. Or to get some of our stroppiest ewes to back down. The young generations are more and more accustomed to the dogs, but that still leaves a lot that aren’t really. Bruno was sweet and here a long time, but he didn’t go out much past the old barn. Houdi laid down his life for the sheep, but wasn’t warm and fuzzy with them.
I share all of that, because Maya didn’t have to come find us. She had already made a round of the barn. She was good.
But, no, she sauntered up, scoped out the situation, and plopped down on the ground right in front of where Archer and I were. And, then, she proceeded to flop over, in a classic Maya pancake pose. See: the other videos.
This is where you need to know your dog. Maya does this, but only around newborn lambs and their moms. She makes herself as non-threatening and inviting as possible. With month-old lambs? No. She doesn’t do that. She calmly and clearly asks for their respect. She’s been like this, always.
So, I watched. I took video. I waited to see what would happen. That move subtly backed the ewes up, calmed the lambs down and gave Archer some space to explore and chill. Maya even pointedly endured nibbling from those lambs to get her point across. She was completely still most of the time, except when she started being a goober in the last video. By the end, you’ll see that Archer’s cleaning faces and he and Maya have a little fan club. An occasional ewe came to check things out, but was deferential and not intimidating. We left on a good note.
Overall, Archer is full of life, but seems to understand when he needs to dial his energy back. When we’re in the house, he does well. And in the pens, he moderates. Outside though, he is on the move, inquisitive and alert. Yesterday evening, Maya and Jael were tussling in the back yard before night shift. Archer sprinted back and forth from them to a tree, where he stood, studiously gnawing a branch. Back and forth. Stop and chew. Back and forth. Stop and chew. He’s a character.
Archer is doing well. And Maya is doing what she does. Reading the situation and responding in kind. We’ll see what other lessons she has for him in days to come.