Not everything goes as planned on the farm. Before moving to Tennessee we put in over a year’s worth of research and planning to make the start-up as “smooth” as possible. Since then lots of stuff has gone according to plan, but just as much has not. Things not going according to plan is what we spend most of our time figuring out, fixing, and trying not to do again.
With the dogs we’ve been very lucky. Our three girls, Sophie, Sheba and Izzy, all stay within the perimeter fence, they love the animals, they love us and they hate anything that tries to get inside the fence. So far they've been fantastic and we haven't had any predator problems. However, because of our property's layout and the amount of land we’re managing it will make sense for us to have more guard dogs as we expand. We’ll be running goats in different paddocks. Bucks will be separate from Does. Kids will be separate. Cows and pigs are all run separately. In addition, the land is split between three (or four, depending on how you look at it) distinct parcels. It’s too much to ask of three dogs and we don’t want to set them up for failure.
So we’ve been looking to add another dog or two. Specifically, we wanted to get a male Maremma that could breed with Sophie when she gets older (1-1.5yrs from now, or ~2 yrs old). I looked online for a long time and networked with Maremma breeders via Yahoo Groups. Since puppies take two years to develop into guard dogs we wanted to get an adult (2yrs or older). Adult guardian dogs are very hard to come by in our area. If you spend two years raising and training an LGD it’s highly unlikely that you’ll want to part with it. Eventually, I found one about 7.5 hrs away. Very early one Saturday morning I made the long haul back and forth. The dog at stake is known as “Blue”.
Blue has big, droopy, dopey eyes. I originally wanted to call him Bob, of Marley fame. We went with Blue instead, at least in part so I could say "You're my boy Blue" a lot.
Since our dogs were already established on the farm we didn’t want Blue to get scared away or feel forced to fight for his place on the farm. We introduced him gradually and kept him separate from everyone else. We walked with him around the farm a couple times a day and he would come with us to get the goats for milking in the mornings and evenings. No fights, no barking, just tails wagging and lots of butt sniffing. All the dogs seemed to get along.
After a week of our routine Blue was fitting in well. One night on our way back to his area he yanked on the leash and pulled it out of my hand. This had never happened before. He didn’t run away, he just sauntered back to where the other dogs were and stayed there. I took it as a sign that he was ready to stay in the pasture, so I took the leash off him and let him go.
The next morning he was perched on top of a hill, overlooking the goats and cows. He picked a great spot and I was proud of him. He came up and let me pet him twice and then he went back to his hill. The next day he did the same thing with Sweetbreads. He wasn’t as affectionate as our other dogs, but that’s ok, as long as he comes around, isn’t mean, and doesn’t roam.
But then the next day he was nowhere to be found. No trace of him. The day after the same thing. We were worried and put out food in the places where he typically hung around. We searched for him in the evenings, trying to coax him out and make sure he wasn’t sick or injured somewhere. Every couple days we would catch a glimpse of him. We tried to walk toward him and he would run away into the woods, not to be seen again for another couple days. And that’s been the circumstance for the last week or two.
Recently, he’s been coming out of hiding more and more frequently. He’ll pop his head out when we’re rounding up the goats, or he’ll be sitting on his hill early in the morning. We don’t know when or if he eats. We leave a bowl out for him and some water, but the other dogs could easily get to it. We stopped trying to approach him because it was fruitless and probably only scaring him away more. Yesterday he came out into the fields and sat under a tree within our view. Maybe our hands-off approach is working.
In the book “Just the Greatest Life” (highly recommended) the author, David Schafer, relays some hilarious stories about his elusive guard dog. In order to “catch” it for annual shots/vaccines they would have to shoot it with a tranquilizer from a rifle far away. Sounds crazy, but these dogs are known to be nomads and many people prefer to raise them that way. It doesn’t happen to be our approach, however. We like our dogs to be friendly and easy to catch. They can protect and monitor the goats and also enjoy a belly rub, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
But Blue might not want it that way and who knows if we can break him in. Elusive Blue, we hope he comes around.