The most challenging aspect of life here on Hebron Hills Farm (apart from the winter, that is) has been our Bowie.
She is now five months old, and rapidly growing into her gigantic paws. Already, she dwarfs our 14-year-old dog Sophie, and is taller than me when she places her paws on my shoulder (which is is learning not to do). She has given up on Sophie as a dog companion, and become best pals with Lewis our barn cat instead. Lewis, in turn, has given up on ever being let into the farmhouse, and has settled into a barn partnership with Bowie. This entails all sorts of playful rough housing with Bowie, which Lewis tolerates for the most part. Of course, he is perfectly capable of swatting Bowie away with his fearsome claws when the occasion calls for this…which happens with some regularity.
Bowie’s purpose on the farm, ostensibly, is to grow into the work of her breed: to guard our sheep. As a puppy, though, she is too rambunctious to leave alone with the sheep. Her playfulness can hurt the lambs, and the yearling sheep are large enough to hurt her. So, she spends part of each day in a paddock adjacent to the sheep for now, with daily visits to the sheep while on a leash and with me. Added to all of this is the need to train her to obey commands and be a well mannered member of our farm family.
It’s all been quite a daunting task for me, I have to say, one I must admit to being less than adequate at. I’ve read one book too many offering conflicting advice and tips, I needed someone knowledgable about dogs and sheep to come to the farm and observe us in action. Luckily, just the right person happened to live less than 15 minutes away, Sarah Todd, of Dog Days Farm.
And so both Bowie and I have begun training. I am learning to be direct and consistent in commands, and Bowie is learning…well, I hope she’s learning…to do as commanded. She’s smart as a whip, crafty, and utterly charming, and I am learning to resist those charms and stick to my guns. This means more barn and sheep time and less farmhouse and porch time. This means guiding her through the paces of learning how to restrain her natural puppy instincts to play, chase, jump all over people, and teeth on whatever is available – especially my arm and every stick of furniture we own. This means keeping my wits about me and responding with calm directions when I really want to scream and shout…also, cry.
Time will tell if Bowie is cut out to be an LGD (a livestock guardian dog). She seems to love the sheep and be drawn to them, which is a great sign. I need to remind myself about why I acquired her in the first place, and help her to become the best LGD she can be. This, I am discovering, is easier said than done.