After the lambing and joking is finally over, I prepare for the second annual pastoral seminar at the Farei Kennels. During the three-day event, I greet would-be shepherds on the farm to learn how I train and work my dogs. The participants are a very diverse group of farmers and homesteads with different levels of experience, but we all share an enthusiasm for learning how to do things better.
The versatility and intelligence I selected and bred for was proven last year when 35 strangers broke into the winter holding area, pitched the tents, and helped with the work on the farm – and my dogs handled it with ease despite the hustle and bustle.
Judging by the number of returning participants as well as newcomers from near and far, it is a well-received event.
Having guard dogs as part of your farm can be a steep learning curve for aspiring herders. New owners often struggle with the idea of a working dog when they are inundated with lifelong societal beliefs about dog ownership.
One of the most important things I want to point out to new owners is that I don’t ask anything from my dogs that I wouldn’t or haven’t done. You work in the same environment as me, out in the elements.
I had a Shih Tzu once. She slept on the couch most days while I sat behind a desk in an air-conditioned office. Now I am an aspiring shepherdess and the dogs I have fit in with this new lifestyle. We work the same job, the dogs and me. Rain, snow, mud and bugs, we all work together for a common goal.
Working with LGDs
Teaching people to work with their dogs, rather than just owning them, is another key piece for aspiring shepherds. When my dogs are small, we spend a lot of time together. I teach them how to be a good citizen, how to behave in the home and in public.
They accompany me with housework and agricultural work in limited capacity, similar to small children. As their skills improve, they will be asked to take on small temporary jobs that will be supervised by an adult as we progress towards full-time employment. Most accomplish this before they are a year old by orienting themselves on me and the other working members of this farm.
I try to observe where and with whom they stand out and assign them to roles accordingly. I know when I need them they will do any job I want because the relationship we have built enables communication.
In pack building, I encourage owners to have enough dogs to do the job, plus one. This provides the flexibility for breaks and, in the event of an injury, leaves enough time to heal without jeopardizing inventory. I like it that my dogs understand “break” and like to pass out for four to six hours of “death sleep” on the kitchen floor. They are comfortable knowing that their existence is safe and they will return to work rested and ready for action.
Teach pastoral instruction
I’m really looking forward to this year’s event. Although it’s a work weekend for me, the dogs get a break from everyday life, which they enjoy. We keep livestock closer to a safe place and focus on herding arts, obedience, and working with herding dogs.
I will not have my males in the pasture during the event. While they’re good at not marking things that are mine – I’m a zealot not to have my truck tires marked – tents in the pasture are just too much. I have five bitches who will be with us on the pasture, aged 6 to 3 years, all with very different personalities, as well as two young puppies.
Each of my dogs has its individual characteristics that make them a lovable part of our work team. This diversity is what I enjoy most about working with them and a facet that I like to share with the visitors to the farm. Their ability to go from being a hilarious farm dog to a wild protector – and back again – is simply amazing to watch.
We expect similar numbers this year and look forward to another successful seminar. I am sure the dogs will remember this and I am curious to see how they react when activities start again.
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