The first thing I read about Livestock Guard Dogs barking is that the last thing you want to do is stop them from barking. Well, fine, but the rancher who writes this advice must be amid a thousand acre spread somewhere in Oklahoma. She or he doesn’t have my very sleep deprived neighbors!
Kids will be kids, or some such. We love our eight month old Tonka, who’s doing a great job of keeping our goats safe from deer, foxes, neighbors chatting on their decks, dogs on the opposite ridge, neighbors hammering unknown things in their own yards, and other dangers only he has identified.
Not to make light of potential threats. One chatty neighbor came off his deck to warn us he’d seen the bear around. He was sure that our goats were attracting the bear and a mountain lion he’d heard vocalizing down the
canyon. The neighbor wanted us to know that he was armed and that if we had any trouble, we could call him and he’d come over and shoot the trouble for us. Thanks. Do you think I could get away with it if I told the next bill collector, “Please put on this bear suit and wait here. I have a phone call to make…” I guess that’s just mean.
So what to do about a giant barking pup? Well, first, understand that he’s not a pet in the conventional sense. He’s more livestock. Yes, we spoil him and we’re not going to eat him, but still, he’s more like livestock, in that he lives with the herd, sleeping in the barn. We need it to stay that way. He’s a working dog with a job and night is a crucial time on his job.
Most advice in books and online has been for pet dogs. These writers assume that the dog lives with people in a house with a yard. Their advice assumes these things, too. Even so, I’ve tried to adapt the best advice to our situation.
All of the advising writers agree: Understand the reason for the barking and make your training relevant to that. At first, when Tonka shared the barn with just Ponder, our tiny bottle baby goat, we humans spent more time with them. Tonka is so playful and outgoing. It was easy to get drawn in.
But making Livestock Guard Dogs human-focused is a no-no. And we quickly saw that his barking, in day and night, was wanting our company.
So we quickly got more goats, a second, younger pup, and ample fencing. Tonka matured and calmed down instantly. He now wrestles with the pup instead of mauling the bottle baby. He walks his perimeter hourly and surveys for trouble. He’s chased away curious foxes and lots of deer.
He also sleeps like the dead. In the middle of the day. In a foxhole that’s becoming the size of a swimming pool. I assume the depth of his sleeping is in part due to the fact that he’s still growing. He’s a teenager and human teenagers, well, they need a lot of sleep.
Tonka and the herd overnight in the barn that’s between our cabin and our landlords’ cabin. We share the herd with our landlords, and thus, we started by barking corrections at him from the cabins on either side of the barn. Sometimes one of us would throw on clothes and trek out to the barn to make sure everything was okay. Whatever fantasy we had of strangling him so we could sleep would melt away to coos and reassurances when we would see that enormous, innocent head, breathing hopefully at our approach.
We changed the bedding. We brainstormed expanding the stall. Soothing music. I even spent several nights in a row sitting in the dark for hours, a few yards from the stall, ready to correct each bark and reward his stopping. Everything we tried had this in common: It worked at first, then stopped being effective.
At this point, he’s forming this as habit, or even a game.
My partner, my very sleepy partner, C.T., noticed Tonka sacked out in his foxhole a little while ago, passing away the heat of a summer midday. “Retribution!” C.T. called. He had the idea of tossing pine cones near the sleeping dog, keeping him awake as payback and also as a way to insure Tonka would be sleepy tonight. He gathered up pine cones and took position. I watched from a bathroom window. Incoming One: It landed three feet from Tonka’s nose. No response. Income Two: Landed just outside the electric netting. No movement. Incoming Three: Bounced off subject’s right ear. Subject unresponsive. Mission: Failure.
I know dogs typically sleep about sixteen hours per day, and that they rarely sleep through the night. I’ve lived with dogs all my life. But Tonka’s youth, and maybe the summer heat, are challenging me right now. I tried exercising him more. This can’t do me any harm, either! But a walk around the land didn’t wear him out. His breed doesn’t like fetch. Too bad; That’s always worked for our Sheltie.
I’m ready for drugs. I can see this going several ways. First, the drugs are either for the dog or all the humans in the neighborhood. Then, he or we get uppers for the day and downers for the night.
The saddest part is that Tonka is the wise one here. We live in the mountains above Chico, California. Every summer the college students vacate and Chico rolls up its streets like other college towns. We keep being told that this event or that organizing should wait until the students get back. This has always seemed strange to us because few if any students come to the events we’re discussing. But we’ve slowly come to understand that Chico, in the wide open valley, becomes an intolerable oven in the summer. Saying wait for the students to come back is a euphemism for wait for Chico to awaken from its sun coma. It’s too hot to think.
Tonka has it right. We humans structure ourselves, scheduling year round, filling the time with do, do, do. We have forgotten siesta time. Or worse, we make some racist association with lazy Mexicans or other desert dwellers who simply know that our schedules-of-European-decent won’t work here.
Don’t think I can sell that to the neighbors of European decent. Tonka’s getting drugs!
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