Thursday, December 9, 2010

Puppy Chronicles

A couple years ago, I became the happy owner of a Jersey milk-cow. I reasoned I needed goats, to fill in for the 30 to 60 day dry periods she would have prior to calvings so we picked up two Nubians. The problem was the goats had to be under constant supervision, due to predator pressure. A cougar attacked a cowdog in front of our house. I was NOT willing to lose sleep worrying about them night and day. I decided the best thing to do was to find a Livestock Guardian.

 There were some 3 month old Maremma pups in Culver Oregon.  The pups had been in the barn around sheep since birth, with their dam.

   The breeder recommended we take both remaining pups. One dog alone is no match for a cougar.  They need to back each other up. I agreed with this logic and we made a deal.

They were little enough to put in a crate together on the back seat of the truck and they snarled at Scottie, the Border Collie and Cider, my Golden, all the way home. Randyman named the pups Bruno and Cletus.

A wary Cletus

Bruno, guarding his sheep

Note the 'Polar Bear Walk" These little pipsqueaks walk like they think they are John Wayne.

We put them in a stall next to the goats, who were terrified of dogs. By the next morning, the pups had won them over and the goats were sticking their heads into the puppies’ stall for a closer look. They spent the summer living in a pen together, in one of the fields behind the house. As cows, or horses came by for a look, the pups would warn them off with fierce barking and growling and a nip if necessary. As I haltered the animals one by one and brought them over, the pups accepted that they were ours and as long as they didn’t molest the goats, they were ok.  From the beginning, the pups have been very serious about their work, even though they play and rough house with one another constantly.

We picked up some sheep for them and Bruno took to them immediately. Cletus had just been neutered and was in the barn, but managed to escape to be with his goats, so we left him out. The sheep butted and bumped him so I put them in another pen. I looked outside to see Bruno, asleep on his back, cuddled up with the new sheep.
Naps over, time for a goat check

The little band hung together tightly in the 20 acre pasture behind our corrals, and came in every night to be fed and locked up. The pups would go through fences and explore and in spite of all our efforts to ‘dog proof’ them, they always managed to go where they wanted, but always came back shortly either to lounge on the front lawn, or return to the animals.
I don’t mind terribly much, as I wanted them socialized with the dogs on the ranch, and the different people who come. It’s important, as we are just ranch hands, that they don’t cause any problems for anyone here.
One afternoon, two of the boys approached the corral fence with their dogs. Cletus began barking furiously, and stood with his front paws on the back of a sheep so he could see and be seen, over the gate. I was thrilled to see that the same dogs he played with in the front of our house, were NOT going to be welcome in the pasture. I was also amused to see the ewe never looked up from her grazing, with the pup standing on her. That is confidence!

It is amazing to watch the different way they approach new animals. If they assume it is ours, they adopt a very submissive posture. If not, they get pretty aggressive.

The boss loaned us a bull to breed my Jersey cows. We named him “Free Willy” for obvious reasons. Cletus decided that since Willy seemed to have our permission to stay, it was up to Cletus to roll out the Welcome Wagon. My heart fell when he approached the bull and rolled over onto his back. With fear of my dog being crushed, I looked on anxiously as the bull gave him a push, rolled him, then ignored him. Shortly after, Cletus touched noses with him, walked underneath him and the bull paid him no mind. It has to be the Maremma version of Extreme Sports.

Cider, the pups and I did perimeter checks in the pasture everyday before Willy came, and I think they could tell he made me nervous. I went to get my cow one day and she was on the far side of the pasture. I was a little unnerved, and as I snuck out to get her, Cletus came rushing up behind me. He walked so closely he was actually pressing against my leg, as I caught her and led her back to the corral. Once we arrived and the gate was closed, he went back to join the other animals. I have goats and bottle calves in the big barn now, and Cletus always escorts me to and from the barn, checking them over thoroughly before we head back.

Apparently the ranch "dump" and "boneyard" is on their patrol route. We have the greatest collection of leg bones, hooves, rib cages and skulls in the county, in our own back yard. Even though they have 250,000 acres here to access, they never wander very far from the house or the stock, as they usually return within minutes after I call for them if they have been absent, which I appreciate, as I need them to be 'on the job'.

These dogs are also 'order freaks'. If I am not out the door by 7:30 a.m. to feed, they stand on the back porch chair and stare at me through the bedroom window until I get up. Its very un-nerving.


wake up call from Cletus

Cletus' very well practiced "aren't there ANY cookies left?" face
Bruno concentrating on his work ethic

Cletus posing as a sheep

Swim party

Doing the job

Bruno is an escape artist and can climb over most any fence. It is funny to watch him nearly scale the gate and Cletus grab him by the back end and jerk him down again. It always starts a scuffle. Eventually, he still gets over. If I have gone to the boss’ house, Bruno will come looking. He tracks me up there somehow and stands and peers through the window. If he sees me, he goes back home again, content to know where I am.

Winter has come, and all the animals have to be fed because of the snow. Bruno was sitting in the middle of our backyard, just barking. He kept facing the South pasture. I walked outside, and he came to me, then went back to his spot and barked. As I walked over to him, he led me to the gate, then out to the pasture, where my mare had locked herself out away from water and was waiting to be let back in. I opened her gate, and Bruno went back to the yard on his own. I found it pretty amazing that he would alert me to her need as normally, she isn't under his 'jurisdiction'. They are simply incredible dogs.

A few weeks ago, the cowboys put 350 calves in the back pasture for observation. The pups were thrilled. They assumed that these were all ‘their’ calves. Daily, they would patrol around them and Cletus would do his customary ‘nose touch’. This seems to be a big deal to him. He does this more than Bruno, who generally touches noses with me, but not so much with the stock. After it was determined the calves were strong enough, they were moved to another pasture a mile or so away. The pups of course, were locked up with the sheep and goats for this event. The following morning, they went out to do their rounds, to find the pasture empty.
Later that day, the irrigator told me he saw the pups down in the new pasture, walking thru the calves. Seems they decided they are still under their protection.

Its been fun and interesting, watching this breed of dog grow and adapt by instinct alone. They still have 15 months before reaching ‘maturity’ when they are normally considered trustworthy enough to guard without supervision. Cletus, the larger of the pair, is already over 100 lbs at 9 months old. Although they have always been with the stock, they are only with adults. There has not been a predator at the house since they came. We can hear coyotes farther out, and the ‘neighbors’ 20 miles from us say it’s the worse coyote year they have ever had. There were cougar tracks by the pond, not far from the house, but no one has spotted it. I have to assume the pups are making the difference here. I know I sure feel safer with them around. 

I have been told that LGD’s are 'aloof'. That isn’t really how I would describe them. Both pups are very affectionate, and seem genuinely happy to see us, but they are very dedicated to their job, and unlike Cider, do not require constant attention. They come to receive their praise and petting, and then go on about their business, whether that be wrestling, patrolling, or making acquaintances of whatever and whoever is new to the ranch.


  1. LGD's are so amazing. I have great pyrenees and I am constantly amazed at these dogs. While I don't have the predator pressure you have, I have never lost any livestock due to predators. We have an occasional cougar and coyote but they stay away from our place. Enjoy reading your blog and look forward to more entries. I found a link on the KFC forum. I've never posted on KFC but I've been reading it for about a year now. Linda

  2. I so agree, they are awesome dogs. I love KFC Forum. I have learned a TON there! Glad to meet you, hope you have a great Christmas!