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Archive for the ‘working dogs’ Category

plott hound

He bought the young Plott and named her Crockett, and he trained to hunt rac oons and gray foxes in the overgrown coverts that stretched out behind his house.

He was a school administrator by trade, but the demands of the job meant he could slip in and out when the cold nights of November came slipping down upon the hills.

He had run Walkers on red foxes as a boy, and he’d always had a beagle or two, but when his last beagle passed on to that Valhalla of cottontail chases, he went looking for a big hound to run.

When he saw the ad in the farm classified, he rushed off and plunked down the $250 for a little long-eared brindle pup and began the process of turning her into a first-rate varmint dog.

Crockett came from a long-line of hard driving bear dogs, but in these hills, the bears rarely graced the overgrown woods, and the law strictly forbade anyone from running bears with hounds.

So Crockett’s education was to run the raccoon and the gray fox until they took to the trees, where the man would come and blast them out of the trees with his .17 HMR.

Their fur would be sold at auction in the coming spring. It would sell for a pittance, but man and dog were united in their common cause, the cause of pursuit, the cause of the hunt.

She learned that tracking deer would make her neck burn with electricity, and she learned the same when she struck off after rabbits.

She learned that the gray fox scent and that of the raccoon were the great ones to follow, and like all proper trail hounds, she let loose the cries of the ecstasy of the pursuit while her nose breathed in the spoor and enlivened her very being.

One clear night in early December, Crockett was let loose from her dog yard, and she began casting her way through the coverts, casting her nose over the brush and briers and mud and rocks for the scent of the brier fox and the ring-tail.

She caught scent of a gray fox and began a baying run down its track. She was hot-blooded and alive, as only a scenthound can be when it’s on the trail of its quarry.

The fox heard her the banshee baying into the night and began his escape, running long hand hard down little ‘coon trails that course their way through heavy thickets of autumn olive. But the hound knew her trade, her passion, and she kept coming, screaming hard on the fox’s long tail.

So the fox changed his tactics and ran hard until he hit the big sycamore where he would sometimes spend long afternoons sleeping out out the day. Night was his time to prowl, and the tree was the perfect shelter until that sweet veil of darkness surrounded the land. It was along a remote little creek, where the thorny thickets drew in close, and no idle man would be willing to approach it, and any many with gumption would make enough noise on his approach to alert the fox’s ears and black quivering nose.

To get to the tree the fox began to double back on his track, trying to throw the hound’s questing run, and for a few minutes, he succeeded, and he used those few minutes to bolt fort the sycamore.

He raced up the tree as if he were a barn cat and not particularly canine. The gray fox is unique among North American canids in that it can climb trees, readily does so, especially when it wants to escape a predator.

The fox rested his form hard against a big branch and waited for the coming dog.  Crockett hit the tree hard about five minutes later, and she began singing the song of a hound that has finally treed. The man would be there soon,  the strap on his rifle would creak along with the cadence of his boots in the leaf litter. It would be the orchestra of death, the baying treed hound and the creaking rifle strap and the shuffling of boots, and then would come the loud boom. The fox would fall from the tree, and the hound would sent casting the woods once again.

But this time, another creature heard the whole song. It was a bitch coyote. 31 pounds of snapping, snarling fury, she had come to work the creek for any hidden vole or deer mouse trails, and now, she heard this other coyote screaming like it owned the place. It more than piqued her interest. It brought up her territorial spirit, and she came rushing down toward the sycamore, incensed at the interloper.

Crockett had never met the coyote before.  She’d smelled her track a time or two, and she sometimes smelled coyote’s mate’s tracks a well, but they mostly stayed far from the gray fox and raccoon haunts, preferring to stay so far from man’s dwellings that they would never meet a dog.

The coyote came with jaws open in a gape threat, and the hound turned from the tree.  She raised her tail and all her hackles. She let loose a few growling barks.

But the coyote tucked her tail between her legs and hackled up and began her intimidating circling of the dog.  A tail between the legs and jaws wide open are the war stance of the coyote, and a dog with its tail up and crooked forward is making its war stance.

And so the two stared each other down beneath sycamore, but this would not be solved without a fight.

31 pounds of coyote and 52 pounds of Plott hound collided with each other in a fury of fangs and fur. The coyote was an experienced scrapper, and her long canines cut deep into the Plott ears.

But Crockett came from a line of bear dogs. In her blood, coursed the veins of the German forester’s hound remodified over the centuries in the Appalachians into the gritty bear hound. Rumors and lore persisted that the Plotts had a bit of wolf crossed into them, and if it were true, then it would just add a bit more grit and fighting spirit to the hound.

Two or three good bites from the coyote was all it took to release the fighting fury of the big game hound. Her greater mass and thick muscle were more than the coyote bitch had reckon for.

And soon the coyote was down. The Plott’s jaws were on her neck, pumping hard for the kill, and the coyote slipped into death beneath the sycamore.

The gray fox stared down at the hole scene. He didn’t move, for he had not expected such a thing to develop.

The man began calling for Crockett as he came down into the creekbed.  He had heard the wild fighting the blackness of night, and he feared what might have happened to her.

Crockett ran to her master’s voice. He knelt to stroke her and talk the sweet lovings of a man greeting his dog. He was shocked to find the blood dripping from her right ear.

It was a big gash, and he wondered what could have done such a thing. Almost as if she read his mind, Crockett dashed off towards the sycamore. The man followed, casting his head lamp before him on its highest setting.

Its beams finally cast down into the thicket that led to the sycamore and then caught the Plott hound eye-shine. He plodded through the thorns to where he saw the dog standing, and then came upon her standing with her tail wagging.

The dead coyote bitch lay below her, and at first the man had no idea he was looking at. Had his dog killed a husky or a Norwegian elkhound. But one good look at narrow muzzle and long fangs told him otherwise. Crockett had killed a coyote.

He had never heard of a dog doing such a thing before, but his gritty little bear dog had done it.

He leashed Crockett and stroked her bloody ears. He told her what a good girl she was, and then he grabbed the coyote up by the hind legs with his other hand and began working his way back home.

He had bragging rights and a good dog, one that had taken out a wild bitch in the woods.

And as man and hound and quarry left the scene, the gray fox watched from his treetop vantage. He waited and waited until the hound and human feet no longer made a scratch on the leaves.

He shimmied down the tree, smelled the coyote and dog blood. All his hackles were raised at that hot scent, and his black tail hackle stripe rose up like a spiky flag.

If he could reason, he would have bet his life of that hard coyote bitch coming hard to fight the dog, but he’d spent much of his life keeping as far from their jaws as much as the hunter’s gun.

The night haunt of the gray fox was not ruined now, and after sniffing the blood for a bit, he slunk down the trail that he knew would lead him to a quiet lane of tram road where many cottontails sat out on cold December nights.

And so the hound and man left their mark of savagery upon the land.  Organic beings made of nature, but now wholly contrived into the modern era of varmint and raccoon hunts. they were but reenactors of the old hunter-gatherer men and their wolfish dogs that went questing out for big game for survival. Two beasts of prey working in confederacy, man and what became dogs were the apex predators of yore.

But modern man has long since abandoned this life, but a few souls participate in the hunt of game and use their dogs and perhaps feel that old partnership rekindled in the darkness. Yes, it is ersatz, but it echoes pretty loudly in their psyches.

And it is the echoes that drive them and their hounds into the cold crisp darkness in search of game.

And so the hound will go into the brush in search of quarry and man will be following after.

 

 

 

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Beautiful  N Red

Beautiful N Red at turn out at Derby Lane. St. Petersburg, Florida, on Christmas Day 2010.

I am not known for my conservatism. Indeed, I am definitely on the other side of the spectrum, but on some issues, I am not an ideologue, especially those issues that deal with animals that have a purpose.

What I am about to write might cause me to lose some readership, but I feel I have to say what I do think about this issue. This issue is the continued existence of commercial racing greyhounds in North America.

Many states have banned wagering on greyhound. My native state of West Virginia is still one that is very much into greyhounds and wagering on them. The former governor’s family was a devotee of greyhounds and greyhound breeding, and his successor has made a point to keep the hounds subsidized in the state budget.

But West Virginia will not keep the practice alive. The real market for greyhound racing is in Florida, and now Amendment 13 is on the ballot for this coming election.  My guess is that Florida will ban it. Democratic voter enthusiasm is way up in Florida, which is a good thing for 95 percent of the things I care about, but the odds that the typical Democratic voter is going to see through the nonsense that everyone “believes” about greyhound racing are not particularly high.

Greyhound racing may have been cruel in the past. They may have shot the racers after they couldn’t run anymore. They might have let the dogs run live meat rabbits that would be hung down from the lure.

I saw all these things on tabloid news shows when I was a kid, but I didn’t assume that the entire enterprise of greyhound was immoral. Even at that age, I thought they should just ban cruel practices, and I thought that greyhound adoption was just a great idea to stop people from shooting their retired dogs.

star in a crate

Star enjoying her spacious crate.

In the end, that’s what most states did for a while, but big money wanted the practice to end entirely. Casinos didn’t like having their revenue tied to racing, and many states had requirements that casino licenses be tied to greyhounds. Ban the practice, and the casino licenses would be liberated from the dogs and whatever fines and regulations go along with them.

I have come to know several track insiders, including my current partner. I’ve heard stories about the old trainers, true dogmen of the highest order. These were men who could tell which muscle was pulled simply by how the dog was limping and could tell you the bloodlines of the greyhound simply by looking at it.

They were not like the horse trainers who make massive salaries training their racers. These were men who made money on the dogs, but they lived mostly austere existences. The dogs were their passion, and the skillset was passed on from generation to generation. Whole families devoted themselves to breeding for and caring for the dogs.

If this Amendment 13 passes, the biggest state with legal greyhound racing will end this whole culture. All this knowledge and all this passion will be dashed away.

And all because people simply believe that greyhound racing is inherently cruel. I’ve been told by my friends in Florida that many dishonest political ads are filling the airways. Some are making claims of mass fatalities at tracks, with no supporting evidence given.  One wag even put up a Halloween display showing greyhound tombstones with the names of greyhounds that supposedly died at the tracks.  Strangely, people on social media who owned the dogs wound up sharing live photos of the dogs named on the fake monuments, showing that the dogs were not dead at all. They had been adopted.

Further, the end of greyhound racing is also the end of greyhound adoption. Many people have relied upon a steady supply of retired racers to fill their homes with their favorite breed.

What likely will happen is that those in the know will buy up racing greyhounds from the trainers and kennels. NGA dogs can still be registered in the AKC, and these dogs certainly will be.  They will then be bred for amateur racing and dog sports, and because they will be bred like any other sport breed, you will likely be able get an eight-week-old puppy from a breeder. But you will pay a big price for it. The racing greyhound will become like the racing whippet, a dog owned by amateurs only, and not one easily procured at retirement.

derby land greyhounds

Fuzzface Monte counter-surfing at Derby Lane. Note the size of the crates in the background.

So people who own retired racers now are essentially setting up a situation where when their current dog dies, it will become so much harder to find another dog to fill the void.

I would urge Florida voters to vote down this Amendment 13.  I would urge them to speak to the real greyhound people, who are not the monsters portrayed in 30 second ads.  These are among the last of the true dogmen, and their ideas and thoughts and expertise are not to be laughed at.

And certainly not squelched because a well-funded animal rights campaign has deemed them and their livelihoods undesirable.

 

 

 

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black and tan pair

Gus Morrison was a bow hunter. Every Sunday morning in October and early November, he worshiped at the Holy Altar of the Great Fred Bear. Every year, he bagged a monster buck from his tree strand, and every year, he filled his antlerless tags, which put even more nice meat for the freezer.

Sure, he’d go out when the rifle when that season rolled around during Thanksgiving week. He’d hang out with gunners at their cabins, sip back a few cold ones, and tell a few stories about the big ones he’d seen.

But the rifle hunt wasn’t for him. He would usually use the opportunity to fill an antlerless tag than to go out after a big buck. The big ones knew where to when the guns started cracking anyway, and they had already had the peak of their rutting madness sated. So this was his time to meat hunt, be cold, and realize that he had mastered a more primal way of hunting than most of the people around him.

So that great October weekend rolled around, and Gus rose before the sun crested in the eastern sky. He showered down in de-scenting soap, and then moseyed out with only a towel around his waist to the shed where his carbon camouflage suit was stored in an airtight bag full of oak leaves. He slipped on the clothes that would mask his scent, and then he painted on the camouflage face paint that would hide his visage from any deer that bothered to look up into the treetops.

He sprayed down his boots with de-scenting spray and did the same with his old compound bow, as well as the quiver and all the arrows. He would not rid his entire being of his stinky monkey human scent, but he would come as close to it as he could.

He dug out the de-scented blanket from the bottom of the airtight bag. He sprayed down  the driver’s seat of his truck and placed the blanket over it. Then, he turned the ignition and set out into the early morning darkness for his lease.

He cut off the little two-lane country road that meandered through the hills onto the gravel road meandered over more rolling hills and deep woods. Then he turned left onto the mud track logging road that cut up a steep hill which rose and rose until he came to the top, which was a flattened out Allegheny Plateau “bench,” which was an ancient pasture for sheep. It was now kept open with tractors and mowing machines that came by twice a year.

He parked the truck at the gate, rose from his seat, and carefully closed the truck door . He sprayed himself down with more de-scenting spray, then tested the wind with a bottle of talcum powder.  He direction of the wind would tell him in which way he’d approach his tree stand.

He put it up a few days before. It was nothing more than a ladder welded onto a steel platform that was propped up against a big red oak and the festooned tightly against the tree with several strands of thick cable wire. He attached a safety harness to the back of the platform, which had a bench on which he could sit and watch the deer move along the game trails.

With flashlight in hand, he softly maneuvered his way to the tree stand in the oak woods beyond the meadow. He made sure the wind was in his face. He then sprayed de-scenting spray all around the ladder and on his boots once again. Then he climbed up the ladder, put on his safety harness, and then sprayed all around the platform with that spray.  He pulled out his bow. Sun began to filter its way in from the east.

The orange and crimson leaves were soon exposed in the coming light. They were not quite at peak, but they were beautiful nonetheless.

And now the shooting time had arrived. Gus sat there as still as an oyster.  Gray squirrels fitted among the hickories and white oaks.  Chipmunks made little popping sounds through the undergrowth. Blue jays screeched through the trees, and a pair of pileated woodpeckers squawked about and drummed on a fallen log.

A trio of deer suddenly materialized from the woods to Gus’s left. It was a doe with her two fawns, both of which had just recently lost their spots. One was a little button buck, and the other a little doe. The former weighed 45 pounds. The latter about 40.

The approached with the wind in their faces. Their bedding area was just a little bit deeper in the woods, and they had no real reason to worry about the wind as the stopped to munch a bit of acorns before lying down for sunnier parts of the day.

Gus sat so still, but his blue eyes focused hard on the doe and her two fawns. Let them be at peace, and maybe a buck or two will follow them. He’d always followed that formula. It’s how he’d nailed that big twelve-pointer on the opening day two years ago, and he believed the odds were in his favor once again.

As doe and her fawns wandered around the oaks smacking their lips on acorns, Gus heard another noise fill the autumn woods. At first he didn’t recognize it, but as the minutes progressed it grew louder and louder.

It was the sound of hounds on the track. Every few seconds, one of the hounds would let loose a baying cry,  and as soon as Gus knew the sound, he began to worry. The hounds were not far off, and they sounded like they were coming down the same trail that the doe and fawns had used to enter the oak lot.

He hoped the hounds were not on the deer trail, for if they were, they were sure to ruin the whole hunt.

The deer stopped their munching of acorns. The big doe stood erect and sharp on her legs. Her big ears were up, and she looked down the game trail with wild eyes. Then she stomped her black left hoof, blew out a warning wheeze, and the whole band bounded down the game trail, white tails flashing wildly toward the sky as they disappeared from view.

Not a minute later, the baying hounds appeared upon the scene. Two black-and-tan coonhounds.  They were fat hounds with shiny black coats and deep rust red markings.

And they were not broken off deer at all. They were hot on the trail of the doe and her two fawns, and their wild baying surely scared off all the deer that day.

Gus let loose a few expletives, and the hounds looked up at man in the tree stand. They wagged their stupid hound dog tails and grinned up at the man in the tree stand with faces all goofy.

Gus thought he should collect those hounds and take them home, but he decided against it.  Just them run the deer, and let their master sort it all out.

But for now, the hunt was over. He climbed down the ladder of his tree stand and walked back.  He went home and went to sleep and repeated the whole ritual on Sunday morning.

This time, no deer came wandering down the trail, but both hounds came with their trail singing cries. And Gus cursed them and crawled down from tree stand.

He decided to try again that evening, but this time nothing came. Only the squirrels and chipmunks beat out any cadence of life. The hounds had run all the deer off.

He hoped that this had been just a one-weekend deal. Some half-baked coonhunter had turned his dogs loose in the woods in hopes of breaking them on deer, and he figured that if he went out on the next Thursday evening, things would have a chance to quiet down.

Twenty minutes after he was seated in his tree stand, the hound baying began to sound, and he watched with horror as a big buck– at least a ten pointer– came racing down the game trail with both hounds in hot pursuit.

And so Gus was now angry.  He decided to take a personal day at work and slide by Eustace Sims barber shop. Eustace knew all the comings and goings in the county, and Gus needed a haircut– and a few answers.

When Gus arrived at Eustace’s place, all the regulars were hoping for the tale of a the big buck Gus just bagged, but when he told of his hound predicament, Eustace knew the full story.

“Well, sorry about your luck, Gus, my man, but I meant to tell you a few weeks ago when I saw you at the diner that Travis Baker, Old Maxwell’s son, has moved back to the family homestead. They say he’s got many head of hogs loose on that rocky land, and I heard he bought him some coonhounds from a hot shot breeder in Kentucky.  I don’t think they were well-trained yet, and I figured they’d give you some trouble.”

“Well, I think I’m gonna have to make a visit to Travis Baker this evening,” said Gus as he slid down into the barber chair for one of Eustace’s  infamous hatchet jobs.

By that evening, Gus had a bad haircut and a bad attitude. He drove his pickup out along the road that took him to his hunting lease, but this time he turned down a little creek road that emptied down into a hollow.  As the truck sped along into the hollow, he came into a land of boulders and closely cropped grass, and then he came to a gait with thick woven wire fence all around. He opened the gate, drove through, and shut it. And as he drove, the came into the presence of so many swine of all shapes, sizes, colors.

These were the hogs that Eustace had told him about. And then he came to the farm house, a chipped paint old ranch house that Maxwell Baker had made for himself in the big woods.  Maxwell had since moved away, but Travis had returned to make a go of it as a big farmer.

The house was on the other side of a fence, and when Gus got out of his car to open the gate, he had to kick away a few smart pigs who thought that a gate opening was the perfect chance for a jail break.

As he walked up to the farmhouse door. He spotted the two hounds tied in the backyard to steel drums filled with straw.

They weren’t loose all the time, Gus thought to himself, and that explains why they were so fat.

He marched up the front porch and knocked on the front door. Travis Baker opened the door, and the two men exchanged their pleasantries. Gus thought he’d be angry and shouting by now, but something told him to hold back.

“Well, my name is Gus Morrison. I am bowhunter who has access to the old Russell McDonald place, and well, every time I go up there…. I…I…see your dogs.”

“My dogs?”

“Yeah, the two black-and-tans. They run a lot of deer, and well, I pay a lot of money to lease that place….and the hunting, well, sucks.”

“I guess I wouldn’t like hounds running off my deer either, but the thing is I don’t know how to train them not to. Dad used to beat his beagles if they ran deer, but I don’t want to beat these dogs. They’re too good to be beaten like that.”

“Well, I don’t think a coonhound would be much use if you never ran ’em, but if you could try to run yours at night and point ’em away from the McDonalds’ place, I bet you could stay out of my hair.’

“I reckon I could.”

“It might work. Also, I know a guy who runs Walkers by the name of Steve Wells.”

“I heard of him. I thought of calling him up to help me train my dogs.”

“I know him really well. He’s got some good dogs, and his don’t run deer. Maybe I should tell him to give you call.”

“That would be awesome!”

“I’ll give him call tonight. What’s your number?”

And so Gus drove back out of the hollow. He called Steve Wells up and gave him Travis’s number.

He waited until the next Sunday evening to go bowhunting again, and as he drove down that logging road he met another truck coming out.

It was Steve Wells, and Gus recognized him instantly, The two men pulled their trucks to the side to make for easier passage, but because they knew each other, both men rolled down their windows and began a good conversation.

“Well, look what the dogs drug in!” Wells shouted out the window.

“Not as much manure as you’re haulin’.  Lemme guess, you’ve been up to Bakers breaking them hellhounds.”

“Yessir, and they are pretty well broke off of deer now. Thanks to my little secret.”

“What’s that?”

“Shock collars.”

“Isn’t that what they all do now?”

“Pretty much.”

“How is that a secret?”

“Well, ten years ago it was!”

“You sure do beat all.”

“Well, I don’t beat ’em all, but I do try.”

“So you’ve had his dogs out?”

“Yes, I’ve been running them with Belle and Ol’ Sam, and they know their trade pretty well now. I don’t think they’ll be running any deer, because they both got nice neck e-mails every time they launched on a deer track last night.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, that Travis is a good man. He’s raisin’ hogs and working at the lumber mill down the road. He’s gonna be a great houndsman.  This winter, I’m gonna have a new huntin’ buddy. I’m pretty sure.”

“Well, that’s good news. I’m gonna get set up and see if I can get me a buck before the sun sets. It’s was nice talking to you.”

That night Gus set up in the tree stand. He thought he had done wonders by being nice and respectful and not being a raging fool with the young man and his hounds.

He had been surprised at how nicely it worked, and as he thought about what had happened, a ten-point buck wandered out into the oak woods. Gus drew and drilled his arrow into the deer’s heart. He waited twenty minutes, and then he began his blood track.

He came upon the deer in a thicket of autumn olive. He dressed out the nice buck and began the process of dragging it toward the logging road.

As he began that long process, he could hear hounds baying the distance. Travis was turning out the dogs for a good coonhunt.

This time, though, the baying of hounds went down the hollow and away from the oak woods. The dogs were working the creek, where the raccoons lurked about.

As the darkness fell upon that October night, Gus felt lighter and more alive than he had in a long time.  Simple human decency had prevailed, and the old rites of Appalachian sportsmen were recognized once again. Each hunter recognized the other’s methods and quarry and did not do the foolish thing and alienate another.

One day, he hoped that Travis would find the ways of the bowhunter every bit as appealing as the baying of hounds. After all, it was his long childhood days of running beagles in the briers that had made Gus love hunting so much now.

But he’d outgrown hounds, or so he thought.

And now the weird thought crossed his mind that maybe he should get a brace of coonhounds to go running on cold winter nights.

But right now, he was lost in the reverie of succeeding in the hunt and succeeding at human relations.

Who could want anything more?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ve long admired Joseph Carter’s work training mink as hunting animals. He’s now getting a Dutch shepherd or Belgian Malinois as a versatile hunting dog and mink tracker.

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great pyrenees

She was one quarter Maremma and three quarters Great Pyrenees. She was as white a snowdrift by genetics, but life among the sheep and the thick mud meant she always was stained a little grayish brown.

Her abdomen was distended now, and her nipples were now hairless and hanging pink with milk.  She was in the final days of her nine-week pregnancy, and she had spent much of the last month locked up in the shed behind the master’s house. She pined for her charges, the nice flock of Katahdin sheep that grazed the hill pastures that spanned out across the big acreage. All day, she and her companions patrolled the pastures, scenting the air and barking at any sort of danger that might be coming their way.

Her name was Grace, and she worked with two other dogs. The massive Badger, who was full Great Pyrenees and the father of the young in her womb, and her own half-Maremma mother, Isobel, who had since been spayed and left to full-time guard duty,  ambled along the fence edges. And when the heat of the day took its toll on the big hairy dogs, they would lie about in the shade and position themselves so that wind blew toward their nostrils and that the could see any forest edges where the blasted coyotes lurked.

Life had been good with the sheep. The meals were readily coming. The work pace was avuncular and steady, and the dogs lived out fine lives among the sheep. The winter snows and driving rains didn’t faze such ruggedly constructed canines. Only the summer heat and mugginess got them down.

These dogs grow close to their charges. They come to see the sheep as part of their pack, and although a sheep is far less sagacious than a dog, a dog can come to see sheep as something that must be protected from the horrors of the world. Those horrors come mostly in the way of sheep-killing coyotes and wayward dogs that become so stimulated with the lupine predatory behavior when they set themselves among the flocks that they often surplus kill.

Dogs and coyotes, though, respect other dogs, especially those that are much larger than average and bark with deep growling bellows across the farmland. So they usually avoid slinking among pastures where these big guard dogs are residence. It’s easier to kill chickens out of a clueless homesteader’s yard or lift little fawns from the multiflora rose coverts than to risk a fight with a guard dog.

And so the wiser farmers have set about getting these Old World guardian breeds. To the uninitiated, their doe-eyes and heavy coats give them the appearance of being nothing more than a larger version of an English golden retriever or a very pale-colored St. Bernard.  But behind those docile eyes is the instinct of a true guardian, a dog that will stand up and fight if it feels its charges are threatened.

But the droopy ears and shorter muzzle and that sweet, soft expression of the dog just isn’t threatening to the sheep. And that is the point. The goal is to have a dog that the sheep trust, so they will graze out in the pastures with the dogs milling about and patrolling and will not rush about in terror just because a dog is there.

On the dogs’ side, too, they have such a heavy threshold to stimulate predatory behavior. So much so, that if you were throw a ball for one these dogs, it would look at, pant, and then turn its head as it looked for a place to lie down. Such dogs are calm with the sheep and the best of them are never even remotely stimulated to chase or spook their charges.

These dogs work well, and farmers want them, especially those farmers who want to sell “predator friendly” meat to the public or who feel some deep ethical obligation to avoid killing coyotes.

And so this farmer, a simple hobbyist whose main profession was as an attorney in the little shire town down there road, decided to breed a litter of Great Pyrenees every couple of years.  He knew the pups would sell pretty well, and he knew that most of the farmers around him simply could not afford to buy purebred stock of that breed.

So he bred from crosses that worked well and generally scoffed at the hobbyists who told him he was ruining breeds by doing such things.

Grace was now heavily pregnant, and the lawyer knew that his bitch in whelp could not be risked in the pastures. So he moved her to that shed behind his house, and Grace howled like a lonely wolf all the night long. She did so for the first week, but regular leash walking after work gave Grace her exercise and eased her worry enough that she no longer howled from the shed.

In the back of the shed, the lawyer set up an enclosure at the back of the shed, where the big white dog could whelp on clean straw.

And so the lawyer checked on her one last time on that cooling August night. Her heavy panting told the story. Puppies would be coming soon, probably in the collied darkness of the night.

The lights in the house went dark. The air grew soft and still. In the distance, Badger and Isobel barked a few half-hearted warnings at any coyotes that might be lurking about. A sheep or two bleated The katydids filled the air with their hot stridulations, beating out the tensity of a cadence that come from some ethereal maraccas

Grace pushed out the first squealing pup and licked him clean of his afterbirth. She ate the placenta and bit off the umbilical cord, and the first pup of the litter squeaked and mewed and scutter-crawled his way to his mother’s milk. He was badger marked on the head just like his father.

Another pup came 15 minutes. He was solid white like his mother. Another came 20 minutes after that one. It was also badger marked but female.

And the pups came all through the blackness of night, squealing and mewing as they writhed away from that state of fetus to the state of puppy and situated themselves on their mother’s warm milk bar.

The last two pups were born as the soft red light of dawn filtered down upon the countryside. There were 13 in all. 6 were male. 7 were female. And all were ether latched onto the their mother’s dugs, sucking in the gallons of that acrid colostrum, or wriggling about wildly to make sure they got a good helping.

The lawyer heard their squeals from the open bathroom window, when he rose to take his morning urination. He ran out of the house in his wife-beater and boxer shorts and flicked the light to illuminate the shed.

Thirteen puppies born. That would mean lots of work monitoring the puppies and making sure they didn’t starve or become too cold.

But Grace would do most of the work for the first month or so. He would just have to be her assistant.

And so on the early morning glow of an August morning, a new set of guardians entered the world. They were helpless and blind and deaf, and one good cold snap would wipe them off the face of the earth. But they were writhing and wriggling little larval forms of the canine, and soon the miracle of time would knit them into proper puppies, cute little things that most people would want to buy for their children.

But not these dogs. Cute though they would be, they would have that guardian’s savagery deep within their psyches. They would grow to be white and lackadaisical dogs on the surface. But their eyes and ears and noses would always be casting for coming danger.

And if it arrived, they rise as growling, roaring bears of dogs, fellest of fell beasts, and meet the sheep killers on the green battleground.

But for now, they would nurse as the helpless beings of newborn canines. Their mother’s watchful eye and warm milk would be their main sustainers, but so would the lawyer’s constant monitoring of their lives and weights and condition.

One day, though, the majority of them would be among the pastured sheep or goats in the field, casting their noses and eyes for danger and booming out the barks of true guard dogs.

It would just take time for them to grow into their forms and into their nature.

That is the way of all puppies, after all. Even these very special ones that stand to as guards for the bleating hoofed stock mus be puppies before they become dogs.

And for right now, they were just barely puppies, and all they could do is nurse and squeal and mew and stay warm and survive. And begin that solemn process of growth and learning that would turn them into true useful dogs.

The journey had only just begun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Harzer Fuchs tricks

I’d love to have one of these dogs someday. I don’t know if anyone is breeding them in the US, but I’d love to be able to have some over here. They are so much of what I like in the standard working GSD. The expressions are so much of what I love about Anka.

These dogs are so sporty that I’m actually surprised there isn’t a larger international following of them. They are sort of a GSD meets border collie.

 

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This film appears to be a big-time rip off of Earnest Thompson Seton, and it’s obvious to me that he is a German shepherd and not a wolf. But this dog has all the same mannerisms as my dog, including the little playful “alligator snaps.”

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