Archive for the 'dogs' Category

The Dog Search

Sharon April 16th, 2009

When I wrote my first dog piece, Rufus, our American Working Farmcollie, had just died.  We knew we would want another dog - indeed, we didn’t want to leave Mistress Quickly, our other AWF alone long, but we also didn’t know what we wanted.  We’d talked in the past about a dog who would be bonded to Eli, and the children wanted a small playmate dog, perhaps a corgi, but we hadn’t really thought it through.  I really appreciate all the advice we got from people here – it helped us sort out our desires.

After a little more time, we’ve clarified our desires and needs – we may eventually get a dog that will be specific to Eli, perhaps a washout from guide dog training (thanks to those who suggested this), and while I like Corgis too, I’m pretty sure “because the boys like Tasha Tudor books” is probably not the best reason to choose a dog.  Our family consensus is that what we want and need is a Livestock Guardian dog, who will be a farm guardian.  We’ve seen the coyotes crossing the high pasture already this spring, and a close neighbor got to see more of the black bear that lives in our woods than she really liked – while Mistress Quickly is a great house and herding dog, she’s not the most dominant or intrepid creature – Rufus was the one who ran the predators off fearlessly, while she provided barking moral support from the rear. 

That said, we want an LGD to be a homestead dog – bound to our family as well as the livestock, protective of both kids and goat kids.  And now I’d love some help – I’m sure some of my readers have working LGDs that are general family and homestead guardians – if you can tell us more about your experience with that we’d be grateful.  We’ve gotten a lot of advice about what breeds are best – we’re leaning towards Great Pyrenees or Anatolians, but willing to consider other options, or not-quite-LGD but multipurpose dogs like Newfoundlands.  We’re also looking either for the right adoptive dog, or the right breeder – we’re in touch with local shelters and breed rescue groups, but I thought there was a good chance that someone out here would have experiences that were useful, or suggestions, or might even know of an appropriate dog needing a home.

 Unless we knew that the adult had been a family/homestead dog (ie, both exposed to livestock and also accustomed to family life and children) and we knew the status of its hips, we’d prefer a puppy (even though I really like adult dogs much better ;-) ), but again, would consider the right older dog.  I’m a little lost in this process, since both of our dogs were bred by people we knew and had relationships with.

I’d be very grateful for the wisdom, advice, help or connections anyone wanted to offer.  While we’ve obviously had dogs before, this is new territory for us, and all the research in the world sometimes isn’t as good as good advice.  Finding a new family member is quite a project!

Thanks so much,



Sharon February 19th, 2009

We lost Rufus, our older American Working Farmcollie the other day.  He was an unusually large dog for his breed – much bigger than either parent, and the vet suspects that he had a hidden heart defect that sometimes affects large dogs.   He was fine in the morning, but began to decline rapidly in the afternoon, could barely walk into the house, and by the time Eric got him to the vet, he was gone.  We miss him.

His half-sister, our other dog, Mistress Quickly, really misses him – the two of them have been inseperable since the day we brought her home.  We called them the “doofi” (plural of doofus, although they are actually terribly smart dogs) because they came through every door together, no matter how badly the fit or how long it took to get both furry bodies through.  She was his miniature twin – he was huge, she was on the small side for a farmcollie, and they were a unit. Now she’s bereft.

Rufus’s great moment of heroism happened when he was a puppy – I was 8 months pregnant with Isaiah when 3 1/2 year old Eli took off running towards the road.  I couldn’t catch him with my huge belly – and Rufus interposed his body between Eli and the cars.  He was fearless – he ran off the coyotes and the foxes, and once what we suspect, from the sound, was a bobcat.  As a puppy, he killed a racoon after our chickens that was bigger than he was – and when it tried to escape up a tree, he went up the tree after it.  We’re going to miss him.

But I think we’re not going to be able to wait and grieve too long to get another dog – Quickly is simply too heartbroken, and while I doubt another dog could take his place, getting her a companion is a priority.  And discussing the subject with the kids distracts them from their loss.  So I suspect that despite Eric and my inclination to wait, we’re going to look for a dog fairly soon.

 Which brings us to a set of questions.  What breed or mix of breeds?  Adult or puppy?  Shelter dog, rescue group or breeder?  What do we want from a dog?  For us, whatever we choose, it has to serve some larger purpose as well as provide all the wonderful things that dogs do – company, pleasure.  On a working farm, all creatures great and small are part of the whole.

We’re still sorting out what we want.  The boys want a corgi, mostly, I think because of Tasha Tudor ;-) .  I actually have a real fondness for corgyn, having known several wonderful ones.  We talk about a livestock guardian dog, maybe a Pyr, but I’m more interested, at this stage, in a family dog.  Most of our animals are down by the house, and I don’t know how well an LGD would do bonded to the family.

 We could seek out another farmcollie – they are wonderful dogs, bred to recreate the old working farm dogs that could herd, guard the family and handle predators.  But somehow while I can face the idea of another dog, the idea of another AWF seems like a betrayal of Rufus. 

It has to be a dog that can handle farm life – we can’t keep an animal who will kill poultry or chase the goats and sheep.  For this reason (and the four small kids) I’m a little reluctant to adopt an older dog, since you don’t know what their prior experience has been.  Too bad – I actually like settled down older dogs better than puppies (not that puppies aren’t cute, but I’m still housebreaking my kids ;-) ). 

We’ve talked in the past about bonding a dog to Eli, also, to help keep him safe on the property.  A lab or a mix might be just the right dog for that.  Or maybe there’s a better breed, one that could serve some farm purposes, and also free range a little with the kids.

And then there are aesthetics – the dogs of my early childhood were all big – owned by family members and friends they were shepherd and wolfhound mixes.  I’m partial to big dogs, despite the disadvantages of a dog that can look your kid in the eye – or down on them, despite the shorter lifespans.  The kids, I think, would prefer a smaller dog, one that felt like a dog at heel even to them, and Eric sort of agrees.  We do need something big enough not to be prey for the coyotes, at a minimum, though, and one suited to covering some ground on a farm. 

We’re still mulling over what we might need or want in a dog.  I certainly would welcome suggestions and advice as we make this transition, for which we were not ready.