Land Poor

Life on 80 Acres

Land Poor

Land Poor
A small crossroads, Ontario, Canada
December 31
I live in a (dilapidated, leaky, infested) trailer with no electricity, no plumbing and no permit, parked on the 80 acres of land DH and I purchased last summer. We are trying to start a farm from the ground up, with very little money. This blog is about the trials, tribulations and joys we encounter in our everyday lives.


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JULY 26, 2011 1:34PM

"Beat the dog with the dead lamb"

Rate: 7 Flag





  Meela is an amazing dog and I could tell you many things about her- for instance, she has two coats of hair, one long for winter and one so short and thin I imagine it must feel as cool as wearing linen- but I will try to maintain some focus here. She is supposed to be a livestock guardian dog. Problem is, we do not know how best to bring out her guarding instincts.

In the last week or so we have been increasing her amount of freedom- leaving her off her rope all day and letting her wander beyond where we can see her. Being off her rope allows her to patrol the area, which is obviously crucial to her function. We have been mostly happy with the results and have seen a lot of progress in her ability to obey simple commands.

Just yesterday, however, we noticed that she has started to harass the chickens. I was down behind the barn and when I looked over, Meela was laying down beside a limp chicken. It looked as though she had killed it. I yelled but she just nudged the chicken, which then twitched its legs. I went over. The chicken was soaking wet as though it had been caught out in the recent rain. A small patch of feathers was missing from its left wing. It was completely docile and let me pick it up. There were no feathers or blood on Meela. Had she been saving it from wherever it had been caught or had she caused the problem in the first place? It was impossible to say.

Later that day I saw her go into the chicken coop and chase the chickens inside. She mouthed them but did not pull any feathers or draw any blood. I pulled her out of the coop by the scruff. Down she went into her submissive position and I squeezed at her scruff, imitating the corrective bite of an alpha dog. Yet, later still that day, we saw her carrying a chicken around by its foot for no good reason.

This small problem of ours reflects the larger problem of loss of continuity in specialized branches of knowledge related to farming. Formerly, parents would have passed the knowledge on to the next generation. Now the flow of knowledge is disjointed.

When looking for a second dog to be a companion to Meela, we encountered a man who breeds livestock guardian dogs and also uses them to protect his herd of sheep. He told DH about how he trained one of his dogs; he fashioned a sturdy house out of a barrel and then put both house and puppy into the sheep enclosure. For five days and nights, rams battered the house and the puppy did not come out. (Food and water were put into the house for it, safely away from the sheep). After that, the puppy emerged and began to learn how to get along among the sheep. He grew up into a model guardian. This man claims that he never loses a sheep to coyotes and, in fact, if he puts a dead carcass out back, it takes days for the coyotes to come and get it.

For those of us used to understanding dogs as little persons, this technique is shocking. The main tenant is that you are not allowed to touch or talk to the dog often because you want it to be bonded to the livestock, not to you. More shocking still is the advice given to this man by a person he called an 'old-timer'. The old-timer told him that if one of your dogs kills a lamb, you have to beat the dog with that dead lamb.

Definitely not PC. However, I don't think what that old-timer suggested is what comes to mind when you picture a dog-beater. It is not an un-leashing of pent-up rage. It is a controlled, unemotional method of letting your dog know its limits. It requires a completely different philosophy of the man-dog relationship than what is currently popular. 

Could I beat Meela with a dead chicken? Not with any conviction. Despite myself, I humanize her. I feel guilty at night when she howls for us. I love seeing her fuzzy tail wagging in pleasure when I come down to the barn. It makes me feel good to have her follow me around. When I'm sad, I admit, I fantasize about pulling her into big hug and letting her lick my face (I have resisted this temptation so far). Unfortunately this kind of love is something that meets my needs but not hers. Her over-arching need is to act out the instincts for guarding that she was born with. This will fulfill her intellectually and emotionally because she will always be busy and she will be bonded with the animals she spends every night and day with. Furthermore, if she progresses to killing chickens, we will re-home her if we cannot correct the behaviour. My enthusiastic love could actually take her away from me. 

The saga is not over yet. We will continue to gather information and we also plan on experimenting with putting her in with the new piglets. As with everything we do, it is a matter of trial and error.    




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What a wonderful piece! Your dog is adorable and sound's like she has quite the personality, although maybe not one that's perfect for her intended job.
Good luck! Maybe you need a dog you can keep as a pet as opposed to a worker, but she is gorgeous.
This is wonderful. You might be interested in reading some of Jon Katz's books (particularly, A Dog Year) if only to know you are not alone in this conundrum. Wonderful read. Thanks!
Great piece...thanks!
the people i know who run sheep and have sheep dogs never ever socialize with the dogs. they are in a business relationship.
Your Meela is - no doubt here - at least part Great Pyrenees or Maremma, both LGDs (livestock guardian dogs). The harsh reality is that you must choose: working dog, or pet? Choosing 'working dog' means training it the right way; then your dog is 24/7 with its flock, whether the 'flock' is lambs, llamas, or chickens, or whatever.

Choosing 'pet' seems like what you are doing by humanizing Meela...however, NO dog is a 'little human' - and *especially* not LGDs. Tying her with a rope just makes me so, so should NEVER tie up an LGD. They are intelligent and capable - and you need to learn all you can about them if you are serious about keeping her as a pet. Pyrs can be problem 'barkers' - and will roam a huge territory if unfenced (another reason so many are in shelters). Tying them is NEVER recommended, as serious aggression can develop.

So, IF you are serious - start by googling LGD or Great Pyrenees. Read it all. The story about the rancher putting the puppy in with the rams sounds all wrong to me from what I've read; sounds like he got lucky with the puppy learning its own way. There are lots of websites devoted to these wonderful animals, so you can see for yourself some gentler ways they are introduced to their 'flocks.'

If you are NOT up to the task - please re-home her immediately; don't make her suffer more. There are plenty of rescue organizations willing to take her.

I rescued my Great Pyrenees, Jeff, about 3 years ago, from a shelter (where, unfortunately, many LGDs end up when their owners don't or won't do the work to learn how to handle them). The shelter had no info on him, but did not think he was trained as a working dog from birth, so of course he is our pet. His instincts are still there - telling him to guard us, of course, which he does; but he will never be a 'working dog.' We will never tie him up. He is calm and obedient on leash and is never people-aggressive. Now that I've had him, I can't imagine a more wonderful breed of dog. Everyone I've met with a Pyr agrees.

Please do the research on your dog. I'm glad OS put her photo on the cover so Meela can get the help she needs. Dogs are not just 'adorable' - they are in most cases designed for *some* sort of work, and in ALL cases need to be well trained. By an owner who can act as pack leader. And who would never think of them as 'little humans.'
What a challenge. I sorta envy you. Honest. I do.
I always would get a box of Easter spring chickens.
You'd be guaranteed one rooster and mostly hens.

At the hatchery the roosters are sent to chicken hell.
The hell's a 55- gallon barrel. Male peeps get rendered.
My daughter remembers walking into the coop on days.

She's just walk inside. Hens got startled. They drop dead.
This happened on occasion. I call her a chicken murderer.
Christine [a] always remembers her childhood experiences.

One day She was feeding corn from a bucket. She was five?
She accidently stepped on a baby peep. I am her therapist?
Chickens can drop dead from fright. Panic. Humans might.
Good Luck. The youth won't be hurt. No join the military.
The military 'should' take care of the 'Homestead' Land.
I look forward to more stories ref Homeland Security.
Thank you for the kind comments!
Dragon lady: I try to by completely honest in my posts despite the risk of attracting negative judgments. The purpose of this one was to share the viewpoint of a person trying to adjust to those harsh realities you speak of. I confess I am not perfect. I don't think that means Meela needs to be taken to a different home. We are still learning together and I care deeply about her welfare.
For anyone interested, Meela is an Akbash, which is neither a Great Pyrenees nor a Maremma.
The old man was correct. I have seen other herd guard dogs and the one thing the good ones have in common...they are not family pets. They are raised from a puppy with whatever herd they are to guard and they learn the way of that herd. I was told, by a man who has trained them for years that if you treat them like a pet and interact with them outside the herd, it harms their ability to guard that herd. he told me that a dog can only belong to one pack or herd at a time so you have to figure out if you want the dog to be part of your "pack" or of the herd he is to guard.
I'm a professional dog trainer who lives in a rural area and I'm very familiar with LGDs. The rancher you spoke to is right about one thing: it's important for working LGDs' primary bond to be with the animals they're meant to protect . That bonding should ideally occur before they dog is 16 weeks old. If you're getting chasing and mouthing in an adult, it may be too late to turn her into an effective guardian - but I'd suggest checking out forums from people who know what they're doing for advice.

Stay away from your rancher friend. His technique of letting a puppy be scared by rams is counterproductive. The idea that beating a dog with a dead lamb after the fact to teach her not to do it isn't even remotely plausible. Dogs brains just don't work that way. If you caught the dog in the act, it would at least be plausible - if barbaric and far from the most effective approach available for dealing with predation - that his technique would have some value. It might also lead to getting one's face ripped off.

Understand how dogs work and avoiding the temptation to humanize them is important to getting behavior that we want. Being mean to them, however, is not. The key lies in understanding how the tick and what motivates them.

You might want to check out Patricia McConnell's blog. She's a PhD animal behaviorist and one of the world's premier experts on animal behavior. She's also one of the only people I know who has managed to walk the line between pet and working LGD - although I don't really know to what extent. You can find her blog at
you surely have your work cut out for you. dogs are their own creatures and when we step back and allow them to be the dogs they are hardwired to be, the results are less "lovable" and more hardworking. Even the smallest dog has a need to work and contribute to the pack.

OTOH, when we encourage them to be a part of our packs, we have animals that are devoted to us and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. So take your pick. Meanwhile you are living with a beautiful animal and I wish you all the luck in the world with this mission. It may turn out that Meela just shouldn't be left alone with chickens or other fowl. She may instinctively want to smother them, or mouth them until they expire.

Since she's not a puppy, you can't change many of the instincts that she's developed. She may change for YOU, but she may not change, meaning she may not mouth chickens in your presence, but when left to her own devices, she may feel it's in the pack's best interest to "deal" with the chickens.

Dogs are magnificent and intelligent animals and the longer I live with them, the more they reveal to me that they are not what I assume. They're terrific communicators, far better than we are in many ways, but still...I think it's difficult for us humans to understand that what it is they need or want isn't necessarily in OUR best interest.

Good luck with this experiment. I hope you and your girl find a common ground where you're both satisfied.