When Bowie first arrived at the farm, she was just eight weeks old and weighed under twenty pounds. It was hard to imagine that her full grown size would top 120 pounds of powerful muscle, although her enormous paws were unmistakable clues as to what her full grown size would be. I had done my research into livestock guardian dogs and thought I was well prepared for this Maremma/Kangol bundle of lovable fur, but I was wrong.
Livestock guardian dogs are notoriously difficult to train – independence has been bred into them so that they can make those judgement calls about protecting their flocks from whatever threats they deem worthy of their attention. Bowie has independence in spades, as well as charm and a sly sense of humor. Training did not, therefore, go as planned, so I asked my friend Sarah Todd, an expert in training all kinds of dogs, to help.
Sarah set me straight about a lot of things, the main issue being that I needed to decide whether Bowie was going to be a doggie kind of dog (i.e live in the house and be my companion as I did farm chores) or a working dog (live in the barn with the sheep and be expected to be around them all day and night). “You are confused,” I remember her telling me, “and you are confusing Bowie.”
So, once Bowie had had all her shots, she moved into the barn full time. It will take time for her to mature enough, both physically as well as temperamentally, to be with the sheep all the time. Right now, she moves from the pasture where the sheep are to the barn area as she pleases. Sometimes, she sits with our flock and interacts with them quietly. Sometimes, she wants to play tag and gives chase. Sometimes she helps me bring them to and from the barn with skill and intention, sometimes she is more of a nuisance to us all than a help.
She’s become fast friends with Lily, Auggie, Jasper, and Amos. My Shetlands have boundaries they expect Bowie to obey, and she respects that. Nothing brings me greater joy these days than seeing Bowie move around with the flock, or hang out with them in the pasture. Someday they will all be out there at night as well: the sheep grazing, and Bowie keeping watch.
Wool and pets…both still a work in progress at Hebron Hills Farm.