“Which one is mine?” I asked excitedly as I looked around at all the fluffy, white Great Pyrenees puppies competing for my attention.
“That one in the corner,” pointed the breeder.
“Are you sure?” I asked, as I looked at it doubtfully.
The puppy was fast asleep. It couldn’t even be bothered to open more than one eye even when I picked him up.
“He doesn’t seem like much of a livestock guardian dog,” I thought privately as I held the sleeping puppy in my arms and looked around at the other much more energetic dogs.
But I, of course, instantly loved him anyway. He smelled strangely of popcorn and his incredibly soft and wild, fluffy fur made him feel and look like a teddy bear having a bad hair day.
As I examined my new livestock guardian dog, I noticed he didn’t have a ribbon around his neck like the others. The owner laughed and shook her head. He had somehow managed to chew it off, she said.
I laughed too. But I should have known – this was a sign of the trouble to come.
I couldn’t take the puppy the kids named “Buddy” home with me that day. We didn’t yet have our Babydoll Southdown Sheep and, as the breeder explained, you want your livestock guardian dog to bond with your animals. So, they kindly agreed to keep Buddy on the farm with their goats and sheep until ours arrived.
I wasn’t sure what to expect the day I went to pick him up. He was now 5 months old and all he had ever known was their farm. The owner had kept his brother and the two were very close. As I suspected, Buddy was not prepared to come with me. In fact, he refused to walk the few feet to my car. Instead, he had to be carried into the backseat. Not an easy feat when your dog weighs around 100 lbs.
When we got home, I had to once again carry him out of the car and it was a long time before he would even move. He acted like he was deathly ill and would never recover. (Buddy has a bit of a dramatic flair.) Of course, after spending a lot of time with him, he adjusted to his new surroundings as all dogs do and eventually, he stopped crying every time I’d leave and he seemed to take to his new role as guardian of the sheep. The key word in that sentence was “seemed”. There were a lot of bumps along the pasture road.
What I wished I would have known about livestock guardian dogs
Guardian Livestock Dogs and Small Trees Don’t Mix
Buddy and the Disappearing Trees
It was calling for an early frost so my husband suggested using the large, brown paper chicken feed bags we had been saving up all year to cover our small fruit trees. It was a great idea. The bags easily fit over the trees completely shielding them from the frost. Problem solved, we thought smugly as we curled up into bed that night and drifted off to sleep without a single worry about those trees.
In the morning, much to our surprise, the bags were mysteriously gone. Upon closer inspection they weren’t just gone, they were torn to pieces. Apparently, Buddy thought we had invented a new game for him to play: Try and tear the bags off the trees.
Not only were our trees left unprotected from the frost, but Buddy wasn’t very careful when he decided to remove the bags, causing damage to the branches.
Although I was concerned about the damage our sheep might inflict upon our fruit trees, I hadn’t considered that a dog might also be a threat. On top of the damage he did that day, he also decided to start burying his bones at the base of the trees essentially “digging them up”.
They are escape artists
The Great White Polar Bear and the Fox
I’m out shopping when I receive a text. Our neighbour’s 7-year-old daughter has spotted a polar bear roaming freely around our backyard. Of course, when her mom peers out the window, she discovers it is Buddy who truly does look like a giant bear roaming around in the snow. He has escaped from the electric fence enclosure. I rush home to catch and scold Buddy, but instead I congratulate him. Footprints in the snow prove that he chased a fox out of the pasture. Unfortunately, he broke through the electric fence to do so. We give Buddy a bone for his bravery and reinforce the fence. No harm done – yet.
Guardian Livestock Dogs Can’t be Trusted with Your Phone
Buddy tries to make a phone call
“Kimberlee, did you see my cell?” asks Jérémie as he frustratingly searches throughout the house.
“When did you last use it?” I ask.
“Well, I had it out in the barn…”, he muses.
Can you guess where this story is going? That’s right. Jérémie finds his cell in the barn…with Buddy.
As you probably already know, livestock guardian dogs are intelligent creatures and Buddy, who realized Jérémie had forgotten his phone, tried his best to text him to let him know he had found it. But it was rather awkward using his large paws and big, black gumdrop nose to push the small buttons and so, in a moment of frustration, he bit down a little too hard on the phone. That is to say, it was completely crushed. And yes, Jérémie had to buy a new phone.
They Have a Sensitive Side
Buddy and His Pet Frog
Upon entering the barn, Jérémie can hear Buddy crying. He rushes over to discover Buddy staring at his water bowl. Inside is a frog happily swimming in his water. You’d think Buddy, an incredibly big dog (he now weighs close to 140 lbs), would simply nudge the frog out of his bowl. But no, he just sits there and cries and waits patiently as we remove the stubborn frog. We go through this routine a couple days in a row before the frog finally gives up and finds a new watering hole.
Guardian Livestock Pups Should Never Be with Other Young Animals
Buddy and the Wagging Tail
The real problems begin when Buddy decides to start playing with our sheep. It all started with Hara’s tail. Sheep’s tails are fairly small, fluffy and they move. To a puppy, who often likes to chase his or her own tail, I can imagine a sheep’s tail looks like an attractive toy. So, one day, when I imagine Buddy’s feeling particularly bored, he bites Hara’s tail. And then rips the tag out of her ear. Alarmed, I separate Buddy from the sheep until he is older
They Are Willing to Take Other Animals Under their Protection
Buddy and His Pet Chicken
Without any sheep to keep him company, Buddy befriends our one-winged wonder chicken. Every day she heads to the barn to hang out with him. Buddy even lets her eat some of his food and they form some kind of alliance, which involves her scratching for bugs in the hay and Buddy watching in amusement. To date, Buddy shows no signs of aggression towards any of our chickens and has yet to chase one. But…
Not All Livestock Guardian Dogs Are Suited for Every Type of Job
Buddy’s Duel with Hunter
Once Buddy reaches the age of two, we decide to test him out with our two rams thinking that now he is older and the rams are no longer lambs, all should go well. Unfortunately, the sheep feel threatened by Buddy and Hunter (our most aggressive ram) starts to violently “butt” Buddy in the head. Surprisingly, Buddy doesn’t fight back until Hunter goes for his food. And that’s when Buddy decides he has had enough and bites him hard enough on the head that I have to bring in the vet to stitch up the wound.
Buddy and the Last Lamb
After Buddy’s duel with Hunter, we decide that he may be better off with our gentler ewes instead. All goes well and everyone seems at peace. But we make a fatal mistake. We have an 8-week-old lamb among our two ewes. In hindsight, the lamb should never have been in the test group with Buddy. And apparently Buddy still has an obsession with tails. He bites the tiny lamb’s tail and I once again have to call in the vet who does an amazing job fixing it. Unfortunately, the lamb dies (not from the injury) but of shock. If you read my previous post – death, tears and life on the homestead – you know how important this last lamb was to me. To lose it, was devastating.
Unfortunately, because of these incidents, we don’t feel confident that we can ever trust Buddy with our sheep. Sadly, we rehomed him last week. It breaks my heart and I still feel tears well up in my eyes every time I think of him. He caused me so much grief but he was truly the most intelligent and sweetest dog I’ve ever known.
But I’m also extremely happy for him. He is now working on a horse farm near Alma, New Brunswick and, according to the new owners, doing an amazing job. He even has two other dog “friends” to work with and the owners have a nearby river on their beautiful property where he can swim.
To be honest, I’m not even sure Buddy would want to come back to our farm where he spent a lot of time by himself because he couldn’t be with the sheep. Although I took him for regular walks and the kids and Jérémie interacted with him on a daily basis, I think he was lonely.
Livestock guardian dogs are supposed to be aloof, independent creatures, but Buddy loved to be petted and have his belly rubbed. He craved attention from us. I think he would have made a better pet or house dog than a livestock guardian dog. Lucky for Buddy, his new owners even let him sleep in their house.
So, this is my ode and goodbye to you, Buddy, my pal, my friend, my “boo bear”. You were and are the very best dog of all and we will never forget you. May you enjoy the rest of your days running wild and free among the horse pastures and never look back.
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