Farm Dog Retraining

Winter on the farm is altogether different from the other seven months of the year because we don’t have flocks of chickens and turkeys. And what is a livestock guardian dog to do without chickens and turkeys?

We have been trying to re-train Greta the guard dog to bond with the cattle to keep her active and occupied during the winter. Neither Greta nor the cattle want anything to do with each other. Despite our efforts, we don’t see much improvement. I suspect the problem is that the cattle are pretty self sufficient. They regularly encounter coyotes and run them off, so it seems that they feel confident in their place in the world and that they really don’t need a dog to complicate their social order. It makes me wonder if next winter I’ll need to keep a token flock of hens or rams just to give Greta more meaningful work.

Greta came to us from another farm, and somewhere in her young history she made some unpleasant associations with Amish men. Since then, she has always been wary of anyone with a big beard. Unfortunately that prejudice carries over to my beard. From her arrival she loved Rachel, the kids, and most (non hirsute) visitors, but she’s been slow to warm up to me.

So the other dog related project this winter has been a concerted effort to win Greta over. Unlike the cattle-dog bonding attempt, I’ve been more successful at dog-human bonding. Slowly, she has begun to trust me. Lately she is responding to my verbal commands and now I can walk her off leash in her pasture.

It is funny that these days I can get some of the cattle to lick my left hand while Greta is on the other side licking my right hand, but I can’t get the cattle and the dog to meet in the middle. Somehow they both depend on me being the middleman. It seems they are slowly moving away from outright hostility toward each other, but I’m not seeing enough progress to hope that they’ll reach detente before I reassign Greta to chicken duty in the spring. Oh well. Dogs are like people; certain ones have knacks for certain things, and it seems Greta isn’t a cow guardian dog.

Apparently neither of us knows how to pose for selfies.

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