Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

On training hard working farm dogs.

I got a kick out of one of the questions on my post the other day about that little buckling and how he met the dog. And thanks, also, everyone for your fun comments and on 'the facebook' about Zander's heroic performance. 

The question was, did I train the dogs to do that?

 My Extremely Good Sir.

The answer is... did I train the dogs? Yep. To do that? Not necessarily. I train them to be good working dogs, to be obedient to me, to learn how to work the way I want them to, and to want to be helpful. I can thank their breed's tendencies to be naturally protective, have higher than average smarts, and to be excited to work with me. I guess you can say that we encouraged these traits.....and we tweaked their natural behaviors so it made sense with what we do here on the farm.

Can you train your dog to do this kind of thing? Maybe. As my friend SD always says, you get the dog you deserve. Meaning, it's a lot of work and you get what you put into it. We put a lot of work into it and it's totally worth it.

Our beautiful Kai, would kill ducks all day long if I left her unsupervised.

Right now I'm sitting here waiting for the UPS guy to bring me the new working dog harness I just ordered for Zander. I can't wait. This will allow me to work with him more with the livestock...and frankly our largest collar doesn't fit him and our biggest harness is now too small. (Dog brag: his chest is 42". You read that right.)

My best dog training posts can be found here on my What I Know About Dogs page. It links to my dog training tips. My most important posts are probably:

Never Bring A Goat To A Dog Fight. The most important rule in livestock... don't ever let your dogs play with your goats. Or livestock. Ever. Not even once.

More on Dogs and Livestock. More on why we have these big dogs. What about the livestock - aren't they in danger? Yes. But....

And one of my favorites.... Go Watch the Gate. Farm doggin' level - expert. Watch Ti at work with a baby goat.

Notorious poop eater. Rarely unsupervised outside.

When I got to The Good Land I had virtually no experience as an adult with dogs. We had dogs when I was growing up but they were just good family dogs with no real training. What I had going for me was that I'm naturally bossy and I'm very disciplined in some things. I'm not disciplined in folding the laundry and putting it away... But I can guarantee you that I wield my pack with the iron first of discipline. No shenanigans. No "OK just this once." No "My dog owns me." Nope. Nada. None of that.  We are a lean, mean, hard workin' farm dog machine. I am relentless in my dog training.

I also can't be frustrated, fatigued, or worn down by sneaky, naughty, or bad behavior. The Dog Horde knows with 100% accuracy what will happen when they don't do their jobs or if they misbehave.

Dog tumble. We encourage this to get the wiggles out.

I'm also clear on the limits the dogs have. I would be a fool to just let Kai and Zander, with their higher than average prey drives, out into the hen yard. It would be a poultry massacre. But Titan? Sure he goes out by himself. Mostly I know what he's doing out there and I never leave him unsupervised very long. And honestly... he's usually waiting by the door for me. If I let Lucky outside unsupervised he would just eat a lot of goose poop and I can't have that so that's why he stays where I can see him.

How do you get your dog to do what you want? Show him how to work. Be consistent. Tell him what to do as opposed to always harping at him what NOT to do. Be with them. Cultivate a good relationship so they are eager to work with you. Dogs love to have a job. They love when you are their boss and together you are out there doing the work. Dogs love to be part of a group that accomplishes something - even if it is going out to get the mail. Dogs love when you are happy with them. It's not any more complicated than that.

As far as training tools feel free to check out Dogs and Dog Training section of my Amazon store.  For me, the most important books on dog training are:

Be the Pack Leaderby Cesar Milan. The key concept here is that you have to be the boss of your dog. Throw that "dogs are just little people" crap right in the trash. Your dog is happiest being a dog.

How to Be Your Dog's Best Friendby the Monks of New Skete. This focuses on training German Shepherds but has outstanding training techniques for all dogs. Plus the brothers really know their stuff. If you are getting a puppy I can't recommend enough,  The Art of Raising a Puppy.

The Farmer's Dog is more of a technical training manual for herding dogs... but wow I really learned a lot from it.

What kind of dog should you get? I dunno. But the first thing you should do is throw out that notion that just because a dog is a certain breed then you are going to have instant success. Nope. Not going to happen. Regardless of breed, pedigree, or who that dog's momma is you need to train him.

It also depends on your family situation. Families should have family dogs. Kids and "tough" dogs don't always go well together. Even if you can train your kids to treat that dog well... inevitably children come with friends - and they may not know what to do. Also if you have a highly protective dog he might not know when your kids and their friends are just rough housing - or if your kid is really in danger.

The Black Death. Like a boss. We just think of him as our Bubby.

Not everyone can or should have a big dog. You can't fake it with dogs and if someone in your family is the least bit nervous then that dog will know it and use it to their advantage to challenge them. Then you have the sad situation where the dog is branded as "bad" and dumped at the shelter. Or worse.  Most any medium-ish barking dog will send thieves and ne'erdowellers to rob the next house... so don't get more dog than is appropriate. This is not a character judgement or a contest - it's just good sense. 

The other thing I'll say is that if you are considering another dog because the one you have now isn't "good enough" then you might have some more thinking to do. If you don't have control over the dog you have now... what makes you think that another dog is going to be any different? Certain breeds will have specific traits but if those characteristics aren't cultivated and that dog isn't trained then all you'll have is two goofball dogs who are more interested in digging in the garbage then working for you. What is going to change with the new dog? The effort you are putting into him? Why aren't you putting that same effort into your existing dog?

Sure you could train a chihuahua to herd goats (you know who you are) .. altho it's kind of a crazy idea... so a herding dog makes much more sense. But if that little dog of yours is a nightmare then carefully consider getting a high energy dog who might be smarter than you, bores easily, is stubborn, and needs a lot of exercise. If you are gone to work 15 hours a day then come home and let that dog out of its crate and out in the yard unsupervised.... and wonder why he's killing your chickens.. well. You might be looking at the wrong end of the leash.

So be realistic in what is appropriate for you and your life.

He's looking at goat shenanigans and wondering when I'm going to call him to action.

We have big and tough dogs because it suits our personality, needs, and family structure. I need big dogs to help me with bigger-than-me livestock. My husband and I are both tough characters and work together to make sure we keep our pack structure and hierarchy in line... and we both agree on standards of dog behavior. So having "tough" dogs works for us. But it's not for everyone.

So that is the long answer to, "Did you train your dogs to do that?"

Happy Tuesday everyone! Are you waiting for the UPS guy to bring something?

Editor's note: Is your UPS guy bringing you something from Amazon? He should be! Quick! Order something thru my Amazon store or from one of the links, or the black Amazon search box on the right side of this page. Remember, anything you buy from Amazon or from these links gets me a tiny percentage of the sale. If you like this blog, or if I've helped you at all in your farming efforts, just make a purchase from Amazon. Thanks!


Unknown said...

Great advice. Thanks. We are loving having a puppy around and excited to see her grow up. She is smart so now we are wondering just how good she's going to train up!

Ohiofarmgirl said...

She is going to do great, Liz! Give her a smooch from me.

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