Worried

Our new pup is a Maremma. She was born on a 2,000 acre ranch. And I don’t mean “the breeder who produced her owns a 2,000 acre ranch.” I mean, this pup was born and reared in an environment where she and the group of dogs into which she was born ranged over 2,000 acres. Naturally, the dams of the litters stick close to home when whelping and rearing young pups. The breeder described that at sixteen weeks, the pups still weren’t ranging far from the safety of the homestead. But, they were indeed ranging, and acclimating to the lifestyle of learning to protect a large span of territory from predators. She hails from Eastern WA, where wolf packs are now a force to be reckoned with, and most ranchers are needing to run large groups of LPDs to protect their livelihoods.

Her breeder, like many Maremma breeders, wasn’t advertising. Maremma breeders are fairly careful that these dogs only go into working homes. Maremmas are not an AKC-registerable breed, so they are not shown, and are produced solely for livestock protection work. I learned about this litter by word of mouth.

When selecting a puppy for a house pet or a competition dog, of course we lean towards the more bold, outgoing, exploratory social pups. I’ve decided that the opposite is needed for LPDs. When we got Bronte, she was the last one left in the litter, likely not chosen because she was extremely shy and balked at human interaction. This works out well, however, because then they tend to bond to sheep, and treat humans as a secondary social circle. And, they are too insecure to go gallivanting  around the neighborhood; they tend to stay inside the security of their familiar pasture with the “protection” of their flock of sheep. Bronte actually went through a long feral period where I had to tame her by manipulating her dinner delivery. But, in the end, she wound up being an excellent dog, with just the right balance of friendliness with us, commitment to staying with her sheep, assertiveness with coyotes, but no desire to escape and roam. This is also why I wanted to stick with the Maremma breed, as they have a better reputation for not being rangers. I’ve heard reports from a lot of people who have Anatolians that it’s common to find your Anatolian in the next county, guarding somebody else’s livestock! Worried2

When I was shopping around for available pups, I ran across a yearling male Maremma advertised on craigslist. The owners were re-selling him because he was fence jumping and sitting on their porch all the time, rather than staying with the stock. They didn’t tell me who the breeder was, but they blamed the breeder for too much socialization of the puppies, which was driving the dog to seek out people rather than be independent and stay with his sheep. It’s something I mentally logged, and I shied away a bit from breeders where it was clear they had kids who were constantly playing with the pups in a family homestead setting. The 2,000 acre environment was more aligned with the start I wanted in a pup.

I  discussed with this breeder the range of temperaments she had in the available puppies. She had mentioned that while she was out of town, she kenneled the pups to make it easier for her mom to housesit. A group of the pups dug out to release themselves back onto the range. A few did not follow. I asked for her to choose for me one of those: the conservative ones that stayed behind in the safety zone. I was hoping for a male just because neutering is more trivial than spaying. But, it turns out, it was the males that were exhibiting this bolder, adventuresome behavior. So, I  got a female. As it happened, a mutual friend was making the trip over the mountains for a meeting, so offered to give the pup a ride. She called mid-trip to say, “we’re running late, when you choose the shyest puppy in the litter, it takes a while to catch it!” :-0 Above is a photo of her sad and worried face when I picked her up, her eyes droopy from Acepromazine. They had drugged her pretty good; I’m not sure if it helped or hurt. I could tell she was not very clear-minded that first night.

First thing, I employed a longline made of grosgrain ribbon so I could catch her, because she did not appear to be very tame. At least, not in her frightened state from being caught, crated, drugged and transported. I learned about this longline trick from the late Patty Ruzzo, who was a fantastic dog trainer. Grosgrain is light enough that it floats over surfaces and doesn’t tend to get hung up on objects. It’s strong enough that you can step on it to stop a runaway pup. But it’s weak enough to offer a breakaway feature if need be. And, it’s easily replaced.

I plotted my strategy carefully. I decided to put her in the barn the first night, and have Moses spend the night with her. I figured she’d join up with him, for lack of any other options. I  started her off with a meal, then introduced her to Mo. They were both very awkward at first, looking away, ignoring each other, and keeping their distance. At one point, I tried to encourage Moses in to greet her, she got cornered while my hand was on her collar, lost her marbles and tried to scream and bite. I  overpowered her, and she yielded. Good, one lesson down right away. Their eventual meeting displayed all the standard dog body language of a somewhat tense meeting between two wimpy, uncomfortable dogs; Moses only having a slight edge of superiority being an adult…

By morning, they were laying near each other, and it was clear the puppy had concluded this was her new mentor. I leveraged this to get her down to the pasture: I had her on a leash, but just followed her as she followed Moses down to the field.

Similar meeting behavior happened there with Bronte, though you can see Bronte is a much more assertive dog, so the puppy had even more yielding body language.

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Then, all was settled and they became a gang. So far, so good.

The first several days, she mostly hid in the thistles along the fenceline. It was hard to find her. In fact, on day two, I could not find her and had some moments of panic wondering if she’d already escaped and bolted. But, I did finally locate her with more thorough searching. She was sleeping, and I flushed her with the ATV when I drove slow and close to the fence. Hiding

I had to track her down and push her food bowl towards her, then back off, to get her to eat. Stepping on her longline was the only way to catch her, but she did seem to enjoy petting once subjected to it with no option to escape.

It is amazing how malleable young puppies are, however. Each day, she emboldened more, sneaking out from her hiding more at night, exploring, and watching her mentor dogs. Several days in, I started to see her silliness emerging as she relaxed into the environment. Now, here it is, only two weeks since her arrival, and she’s bolting around with exuberance. She loves her raw food meals, and is waiting expectantly at the gate morning and evening, doing leaps and spin-moves in impatience with my slow approach; only to gulp the meal down as fast as possible when I  set the bowl down.  Here she is, wagging her tail as I ask her if her meal is delicious. WaggingAndEating

She weighed fifty pounds on arrival, similar to our border collies. I thought I’d start with two bowls per day of similar-sized meals, figuring roughly double what they eat might make sense for her growing body. Oh no, she ate that and still seemed hungry, so she’s graduated to two larger bowls, and is now eating more than Bronte. She still seems hungry, so I’m not sure how much more she needs versus wants! I’ll play it by ear as I judge her weight gain over the next few weeks.

At some point, her longline did break or get chewed off, so now it’s only a hanging tab. This is ok for now, as she allows me to touch her when she eats, and will often even come in for some brief petting if I invite her. I’ll definitely replace it if I put her in an area where catching is important. But, for now, she’s in a small secure area with Moses and the ewes. I’m dry-lotting them for a few weeks, partly to start this training, partly to let the grass catch up, and partly to help them dry off from weaning.

The pup (yet to be named) is a professional at interacting with adult dogs. Here is a funny sequence where she’s going in for a steal on something Moses is eating. Both adults have given her a throw-down multiple times for doing this. But, she’s pretty brazen; and employs classic puppy bunker crawls, massive silliness, speed and agility; and if all else fails, pathetic, squeaky yelps of submission when she’s called-out on this pushy behavior.
(Sorry, my cell phone camera was struggling to reconcile a dirty white dog with a clean white dog, so the photos are a bit blanched.)

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So far, I’m really pleased with her progress and her temperament; and how the adult dogs are accepting her. They react as one would expect to silly puppies: with joy and playfulness, and sometimes sternness, but all the right mix to help her grow into a functioning adult.

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