Guardian/herding dog differences

 

I’ve written extensively about our relationship with our working livestock guardian dogs and have written very little about life with our herding dogs. The difference between the two types of dogs is remarkable.

None of our guardian dogs over the age of about two months old has ever been willing to play with a store-bought toy. Sure, they will fling a dead prairie dog through the air repeatedly, but never an actual dog toy.

Our guardian dogs do not retrieve anything you throw for them in attempt to get them to play. Instead, they tend to look at you like you’re an idiot, and watch while you retrieve it yourself.

We had the exciting experience of teaching a few of our guardian dogs to do funny tricks. But they only did the tricks once (as if to prove it could be done), and reverted back to the typical “this-human-is-a-complete-idiot” look of contempt.

Unlike any herding dog I know, our guardian dogs are nearly incapable of catching treats that are tossed directly at them. It’s a rare event that one of our guardians will open its mouth to catch a piece of meat that is gently launched at them. The meat will hit the dog on the nose, or in the middle of the forehead, before bouncing off and landing on the ground from where it is retrieved and consumed.

With the exception of the “go to the sheep” command, our guardian dogs fail to take more than the most rudimentary instructions from us. Even if they are fully aware of what we want them to do, they will comply only if it was their idea in the first place.

Try pointing something out in the distance, and the guardian dog will look at your hand, unlike our herding dogs, which use both verbal requests and hand signals. I can point out a specific lamb to Hud the herding dog, and tell him to “Get that lamb.” Hud will them chase the lamb through the flock, knocking it down with his chest and holding it to the ground until I get there. (Hud’s the dark dog in the photos, while the guardians are the all-white dogs.)

These behavioral differences are easily explained by the differences in the type of work the dogs specialize in. Guardian dogs are by their very nature independent decision-makers. They assess threats to their herds, and react accordingly. They do not wait for human guidance.

The only exception to this is exhibited by Rena, a guardian dog now suffering from arthritis as the result of a battle with wolves. There is a pesky coyote that she can’t catch, so when it comes around teasing her, Rena will bark and wait until Jim or I follow her out with a gun. All she wants is that coyote dead, so she’s willing to cooperate with us to make that happen.

In contrast, herding dogs are human companions, bred to be pliable in taking instruction, and seem to have a desire to please their humans. Guardian dogs generally don’t care about what humans think, but herding dogs do.

Since most of our dogs were raised together, the guardian dogs are all amazingly tolerant of the much smaller herding dogs. The guard dogs don’t like to have their sheep messed with, but allow the herding dogs to do their jobs so long as no sheep are injured in the process. Shearing day is fun for herding dogs, which enjoy the excitement and the work of keeping the sheep bunched and moving forward, while the guardian dogs sulk around outside the corral, fuming about the disturbance to their flock.

Our adult guardian dogs tend to weigh between 90 and 130 pounds, and our smallest adult herding dog was Abe, weighing in about 25 pounds when soaking wet. Yet honest old Abe was treated as top dog, with a pack of guardian dogs patiently waiting for him to walk away from the food bowl before the ravenous pack would move in.

Abe was a bearded collie/border collie cross, while Hud is a bearded
collie/Aussie cross. Both dogs had the soft-mouth characteristic that we
shepherds find so endearing. Both dogs prefer to simply poke the sheep
with their noses rather than bite. Content just to be in the presence of
their sheep, both dogs could be left alone with the sheep without
feeling the need to “work” them.

All the dogs tend to be well
aware of their surroundings, and often it’s a herding dog that detects
the presence of a coyote. The herding dog will raise the alarm and start
running in the direction of the problem, but will always glance behind
to make sure the guardian dogs will arrive at the point of danger long
before the herding dog. The herding dogs then happily return to their
leisure while the big dogs do the work.

One of Hud’s jobs is to “guard” four goat guardian dogs every morning while they eat. Hud keeps the goats from getting to the dogs and competing with them for their food. Yesterday his job got a little more complicated when a baby goat decided she liked the looks of Hud and came to him. Hud adores baby animals and got excited by the tiny goat since this was only the second time he’d been able to thoroughly investigate a member of this species. Hud towered over the kid, running his nose over her back and putting his nose to her tail. The kid decided that was too close for comfort and raced for me to save her. I told Hud, “Easy, easy,” and tried to convince him to move her back to her herd. But every time she tried to go back to her bunch, Hud cut off her exit by licking her nose and turning her back to me. It was pretty funny, but I eventually told Hud to knock it off, so he let her go, following her back to her herd before returning to the work he was supposed to be doing. The guardian dogs didn’t even look up from their food.

Hud is a prime example of the concept that like their human companions, dogs are creatures of habit. Hud has a few store-bought toys to play with, but there is one special toy that is our bedtime entertainment. When I make the bed each morning, I place the decorative pillows on the bed and place his stuffed Lambchop toy on top. Every evening while Jim and I are on computers or watching television in the living room, Hud quietly goes back to our bedroom to retrieve Lambchop, and then slowly walks into the living room to present it to us, gently pushing it into a lap. The suggestion is clear: It’s bedtime. We usually agree, jumping up to shut off the lights, and following him down the hall to bed. Hud and Lambchop wait patiently in the middle of the bed while his humans brush their teeth and crawl under the covers.

But sometimes Hud tries to put us to bed far too early, and we have to convince him that no, going to bed at 5 p.m. is not a good idea.

This nighttime routine is such a staple of our lives that when I’m away from home, Hud sulks. He refuses to retrieve Lambchop to put Jim to bed, and usually sleeps outside on those nights. His sulking starts the minute he sees me get out my luggage. That’s why I usually try to pack my bag while its deep in the dark recess of my closet.

While Hud would prefer to spend nearly every minute in my presence, our guardian dogs aren’t nearly so devoted. The guardians act happy to see me every day, but usually grow bored with me within a few minutes, dismissing me and returning to their flock. Their devotion lies elsewhere.

More Tim–and Johnny UK, and Kazakhs, and the Urbigkits

Tim says to John Hill,  on “Huntress”: “Johnny UK, my late partner Alan Sullivan, who attended the death, always choked up at that last line.” I agree, but the one that really gets me is the end of “Perro del Amo”: Vaya con Dios, love/ you were the dog of God.”

Here is the Magdalaenian from East Anglia, with his bespoke Darne  magnum twelve that Herve Bruchet made for him, and his own “Perro del amo”, his lab Petra…

 
And here in Magdalena

A particular favorite of Tim’s from his extensive  repertory:

Soul of the North

Out of the wilds, I pray.
Bound by my northern birth
to fish, to hunt the earth
and follow my forebears’ way,
I mutter I have sinned,
wander the knee-high grass,
flourish awhile and pass
whistling into the wind.

As char swim to the clear
tundra rivers that run
under the midnight sun,
as wolves follow the deer
drawn from ford to ford,
as clamorous geese in V’s
throng to the thawing seas—
all creatures of one accord—
my soul thirsts for the Lord.

.. and then Tim realized, like so many others, we her at Q blog are (at least) three, and sometimes more, but always two. This one goes out to you, Cat!

“I read the front page of your blog with great pleasure last night and did a double take, not realizing there are other posters.  Steve runs sheep in the Winds in summer and winters them in New Mexico? Whoa!  Alan and I spent a lot of time in the Winds, and I’d like you to send this little poem to your friend, Cat.  If you ask me what the form is, I’d say amphibrachic dimeter, an ancient Greek meter.  I only know two examples after 500 BC, both mine, bien sur.  I wanted the gait of a mountain pony on switchbacks, and I think I got it.”

Headwaters

Up switchbacks through passes
we ride winded horses
through spruces, then grasses
ribboned with watercourses,
the Wind River’s sources.

A trail called Highline
meanders through flowers
from treeline to snowline
where War Bonnet glowers
on Cirque of the Towers.

A bald eagle’s shadow
plummets from its aerie,
then circles this meadow
whose cold waters carry
some hope to our prairie.

The galloping line reminds me of Kazakh folksong, surprisingly accessible to western ears, always with a rhythm of horses. Cat, what do you think?

She visited, fifteen or more years later, some of the same people I hunted with, including the late Aralbai, a true wild man, and his son, now married with a wife. The third photo MAY be him- I lost a lot of files, including a good one of him by Cat (Cat?).  In the intro to the new pb edition of Eagle Dreams, she  tells how, as a good Wyoming cowgirl should, she beat him in an impromptu horse race, winning a silver- mounted riding crop; like any proud Kazakh, he immediately proposed, saying he was Moslem and could have a second wife. Cat had the perfect rejoinder: “I know your FIRST wife- and you can’t!”

In this photo from the first expedition, he is rolling a cigarette as he takes a break from riding around in circles, dragging his bird by its jesses in a way that would look ridiculous to any falconer. He raises his head to me, indicates the intense  discussion going on behind, and says “Stev– photographers FUCKED!” People always learn the bad words first! Of course, there is also the matter of my NAME. When I asked Canat and our driver Siassi why they always pronounced my name like that, Siassi looked at Canat for permission, then turned to me and said “You are  Stev, because ‘Steef’ mean..”; and he gave me the universal sign for intercourse, with his finger going in and out of his circled fist. It is just GREAT to know that your name means “Fuck” in Kazakh, though through the years, I have come to accept it, and even sign my letters and emails “Stev”…

 What the hell, a few more; this post has become pure free association anyway: Siassi and me and Canat, young and strong and invincible in late February  ’97; my first hunting paty in Mongolia, pure Indiana Jones; and a scare- Magpie  hung over Aralbai’s lambing corral, showing that intelligent corvids are not the herder’s friends. Jackson used to have an Irish- sounding reel he had written called “The Magpie’s Breakfst”; when asked what a Magpie’s breakfast was, he would answer succinctly, “Roadkill!” And Pere Henri Michel, the naturalist priest in Serignan, home of Jean- Henri Fabre, would shake his head over the sheer numbers of Magpies there, which kept the numbers of song and game birds depressed, and say “Les pies sont mechant; ils ne sont pas baptisee!”

Here are Cat and Jim at their trailer house on a dirt road south of Pinedale, where I took refuge from Jackson Hole, a place that my convalescing friend Peter Bowen (well, a character in one of his best novels, Wolf no Wolf) calls “a good place for a nuclear accident”. For three days, we rode around and looked at the country, the livestock, and the wildife; at night we drank and talked and laughed. Jim and Cat’s well – honed political comedy act had me in stitches. He likes to portray himself as a poor dumb rodeo cowboy who works in the gravel pit; no matter that he and Cat have received grants from the Wyoming livestock council (I THINK– Cat can set me straight) to go to places like Turkey to study livestock protection dogs and their culture, and that Jim and I can stay up all night killing a bottle of vodka and  discussing the science and anthropology of  domestication, pulling out more abstruse papers than anyone not a student of the subject would ever think existed.

 My most impressive experience there was not even hearing the wolves
howling down on the river (a sound still rare in my country, and one
that will make the hair rise on your nape no matter WHAT you think of
wolves),  and going out in the morning to see that the dogs had held the
line and moved the wolves on, and were only a LITTLE cut up– see Rant
in the pic below.

No, it was the political comedy act. I knew them well enough to know they were pro-gun and pro- conservation and VERY pro- domestic livestock, but didn’t know any details. I had been complaining about the Hole, where everybody is a pc liberal, where everybody now owns THREE houses, because the billionaires have driven out the millionaires; where I had been reasonably informed that there were 63 private jets on the runway the day we flew in; where there are more poor southern Mexicans than in Albuquerque or, probably, New Mexico, because such people need servants; where a celebrity lawyer whose hair, like that of Warren Zevon’s Werewolf, was perfect (my not particularly Puritan soul had been shocked to see, on a previous visit, that the first thing you confronted when you walked in the front door of his mansion was a garish ten- foot high full frontal nude portrait of his wife, by him (and no, Jim C, I am not talking about the wonderful whimsy of “Mail Order Brides come with Issues”, or as I think of her, the Goddess and her dogs– I would happily sleep with her and her watchful dogs at the foot of my bed forever, if only Penelope would let me!); but he had been good to Libby after Harry’s death,  when there were still plenty of climbing hippies and Mormon cowboys in the Valley, so I introduced myself  and mentioned the name of a serious writer and friend who had worked in the oil patch long ago and written a good book about it and about this lawyer, quite complimentary–only to have him take my hand languidly, stare over my shoulder, and say “I can’t quite recall anybody by that name…”

 I was going ON, as people who know me know I can. We had been invited by a wonderful old friend of Libby’s, an educator and classicist, and incidentally quite rich, to come up and cook for his daughter’s (rather odd– the best part was Mark’s reading from Wendell Berry on the responsibilities of marriage, which seemed to puzzle the crowd) wedding, and, being a gent, he PAID her for it. Which seemed to encourage some of the young people, like the barely post-adolescent  lout who said he had just spent 6 months in the Andes “skiing for social justice”, to treat Libby and Martha (only the greatest outdoorswoman of her generation, and another old Outward Bound friend of Mark’s, and unlike Libby still in the food biz), the way the nuns of my odd aristocratic grammar school (the school, not me, I’m plain as dirt, a scholarship student born in “Saint Maahk’s Parish” in Dorchester, who didn’t find out about that scholarship until 1987) told us NOT to treat servants.–

 So Jim begins, reflecting.”Well, you know I robbed the cradle. I started dating Cat when I was thirty and she was twenty.

“And when she turned twenty one, I took her down to the Sublette County courthouse, to register to vote.

“Now I was born here, and I know the drill,[Cat was born in Kentucky I think, though she moved out early] so I say ‘Urbigkit’- resignedly.

“Then I spell it.

“Then I say, ‘Democrat’ [pronounced cowboy, “Dimocrat”]- resignedly.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Really?” (I don’t know many non- Hispanic cowboys that are Democrats).

Jim: “Yup, I’m the chairman of the Sublette County Democratic party– I nominated Obama.”

I laughed, a bit incredulous still. “Any buyer’s remorse?”

“Every day- until I see your guys!”

This time I whoop and high- five him, and return to my seat.”What about Cat?”

“Well, remember, she’s still this naive little girl. So she turns to me and says, ‘Jim, what am I?’

“And I say to the registrar, ‘She don’t know it yet, but she’s a genetic Republican, so put her down as that.”

And SHE gets up, and high fives Jim, and says “And I’m the REPUBLICAN chair of Sublette County!” And I say, “You know, I’ve heard more political intelligence and diversity of thought in this trailer house than in a week in Jackson.”

And then I go back to Jackson and some rich jerk asks me where I’ve been and I say on a ranch south of Pinedale in Sublette County and he says “WHY? That’s the asshole of the world!” I say to Libby, just a little later, never say I lack self- restraint- I did NOT say- yell!- “No, THIS is!”

 

And finally, a link to Tim: (No, it won’t work. Tomorrow)

More soon. It has been a long day, and night

In the Hawk Pasture

What I call the “hawk pasture” is an open hay meadow tucked into the foothills of Wyoming’s southern Wind River Mountains. Irrigation water and a water gap for cattle provide a draw for a variety of wildlife, but this year the birds that have taken over, including sandhill cranes, sage grouse, a pair of Northern Harriers, and a short-eared owl. The harriers and owl are competitors, and it has been a pleasure to watch both species hunt during the daylight hours. Here’s a few shots of the harrier pair as they chased a coyote away from their turf. (Click on image to see larger version.)

Ranch Life

Jim and I had a little time to kill on our friend Pete’s ranch today when we went to pick up our rams. I thought Q readers might enjoy a quick tour. The photo above provides the setting – a western Wyoming ranch, at the foothills of the Wind River Mountains.

Livestock guardian puppies awaken from their nap, while a one-day old kid goat naps nearby.

Guardian dog body language and attitude is demonstrated at an early age. This little goat was very well guarded.

This is the bonding pen. A group of rams inhabits the pen with the adolescent guardians and teaches the young dogs to always be good to sheep.

These are six-month old Central Asian Ovcharka/Akbash pups.

The ranch uses plenty of horse power, and almost exclusively draft horse – not saddle stock. Besides being the mode of transport for the herders, these horses pull wagons and feed the cattle.

A good-looking group of gentle giants.