PupIt has been nearly three months since Bronte was diagnosed with bone cancer, with a stated typical timeline of roughly six months left to live. I have switched her to a ketogenic diet and started treating her with CBD (an extract of marijuana, minus most of the THC), in an effort to slow the cancer’s progress and buy a little more time. She is doing very well thus far, most days just slightly favoring the leg and still very cheerful. The wrist tumor is getting bigger, however. This timeline weighs heavy on my mind, both knowing that Bronte doesn’t have long to live, and also that I don’t have a lot of time to get her replacement trained and functioning reasonably well.

I have a sort of mental checklist of the things the pup needs to learn, and I’m trying to be mindful about working through this list as rapidly as possible. She’s heading into her fifth week here, and has made good progress on milestones so far.

Thumbs upRespect for hotwire: both Electronet and three-wire. I started her off with Electronet, since it’s such a visible cue. She learned this straight away in her first day or two. I gambled and moved her into a three-wire enclosure with the ewe group and Bronte, in an area with no external fencing. I figured that even if she did get out, she’d stick close to where one of the two big dogs are residing, since they are her main security blanket. Things went well, she must have had “experience” with the wire right away. She was very careful to stay away from it, even when I brought her dinner and she was anxious to receive it. She cringed when I approached it, which is another sign that she recognizes its danger. 

Last week, when were moving the sheep to an adjacent section, and the wire was off, she did get on the wrong side. I was able to catch her, and I pulled her under and through the turned-off wire to get her back on the right side. This caused her to totally panic, and I barely got her on the right side before she fled my grasp. Now she is in a stage of not trusting me again and I can’t catch her. One step forward, two steps back. But, this is ok, I can work on the taming. The good thing is, I know she’s religious about the electricity now, and that’s the most important lesson of all.

Thumbs upRespect for the mature dogs: She very much likes both Bronte and Moses. Moses is more patient with her, but both dogs are quick to correct her for too much silliness, or trying to steal food from them. She definitely views both of them as mentors and elders, copying everything they do, and feeling most comfortable when she can follow in their footsteps, literally.  Sitting

Thumbs upRespect for the border collies: She’s met them, and they ignore her, as they do most dogs. I don’t anticipate a lot of trouble here. The protection and herding dogs don’t mix much, and when they do, it’s usually a working occasion, not a social occasion. So they mostly just “pass in the hallways” rather than spend time on one-on-one interaction.

Fingers crossedRespect for the sheep: This will likely be a work-in-progress for a year or more. The first few weeks, she ignored the sheep completely, focusing all her attention on the dogs and people. Now she is starting to notice the sheep, and waffles between being afraid of the more assertive adult ewes and scuttling away from their pressure, to tentatively chasing and barking at the ewelambs. I had been hoping Bronte would correct her for the latter, but so far I haven’t seen that happen. But, I’ve only seen the chasing from afar, and only a few times, so I don’t quite have a bead on what’s happening there. This, I will continue to monitor. If she gets too obnoxious with the sheep, I can put a long chain on her to curtail her chasing, or I can put her in with the adult rams for a while to  further calibrate her respect meter. I fully expect the silliness to continue for a long while, so it’s a matter of managing it until she becomes mature enough to settle down. In the spring, I will likely not have her in with the lambing ewes, or only for short, supervised periods.

Fingers crossedExperience in all our pastures: she’s been in most of them already, always paired with one or both of the bigger dogs. The continued rotation through the fall should give her adequate comfort with being everywhere on our property (and ideally, no more!)

Fingers crossedHandle-ability: this is also a work-in-progress. I try to touch and pet her twice daily during and after she eats her meal. I give her a lot of petting and massage that she enjoys, to positively reinforce touching. But, I sneak in other kinds of touching, just small moments of the slightest unpleasantness, to acclimate her to things she needs to be comfortable with: touching her feet, her tail, her belly, tugging on her collar, looking in her ears and mouth, and sometimes a small pinch to her toes. Then I go back to nice petting. There are times when we have to do things dogs don’t like, for their welfare, like trimming toenails, treating wounds, grooming, or addressing other veterinary concerns. So I think it’s important that they learn to trust us even when we are doing something that may be uncomfortable or painful, and this takes training and reinforcement.

EatingFingers crossedLeash and tying: Eventually, I will work on having her walk on a leash, though it’s not important to me that she does this very well, as it’ll rarely be needed. I need to remember to practice chaining her up to the fence, as I do occasionally need to do this to keep the dogs out of the way of some short-term activity that only lasts a few hours.

Fingers crossed Being solo with the sheep, and bonding with the sheep: Eventually, I’ll want her to be able to be with a group of sheep where she is the only dog present. I feel like I’m treading carefully here, I want her to bond enough with the big dogs that she can get along well with them, and learn from them. But I  want her to learn to be independent, and not need to be with another dog. Ideally, I’d like her to feel happiest when she is in the company of sheep as her primary social group. Very soon, I plan to put her in a small Electronet pen with one group of sheep while one of the other dogs is adjacent with a second group. That way, she can feel that presence of a stronger dog still in the vicinity for confidence, but start to get experience of having the sheep group be her primary company. I am still thinking on this one, I may regress her back to being in a small pen with some lambs, so that she can start to socialize more with sheep that are her size, learning to interact with them in an environment where she can’t do damage by chasing. This is where there is a small gap in her earlier rearing, she didn’t spend enough time in close contact with small ruminants, where she would have already learned to view them as peers.

Fingers crossedLeveraging fear: One interesting aspect of Bronte’s personality is, she’s actually a rather fearful dog. And, when she is feeling afraid, she tends to want to run towards her sheep for a feeling of security. I honestly think she doesn’t quite perceive herself as the sheep’s protector as much as part of their gang; and that when facing a threat, she assumes they will fight it together. This fearfulness has been useful over the years, if she ever did stray through an open gate and try to explore, I could chase her with the ATV. When frightened, she would quickly return to her sheep. I’m hoping the same will be true with the pup, that she will learn to see the livestock as her safety zone, and always return to them in times of fright.

She’s not quite there. The last two  weeks, I’ve had her in three-wire enclosures with Bronte and all the ewes and ewelambs, on our south property. That area is rather remote, with coyotes lingering at the edges. I think she felt very vulnerable there. I had fenced them in an area with some scrub brush, and she took to hiding in that brush. Especially after “the incident” where I shoved her under the hotwire and she lost trust in me. When I moved them out of that area, she followed the group anxiously, but eventually fled back to the brush before I could get all the hotwire up behind her to keep her in. I could not lure her out, even for her dinner. So, I left her there ‘til after dark. I figured she wouldn’t stray, she’d hunker down in that brush, or linger near the group, afraid to leave what little comfort she has in Bronte and the presence of sheep.

When I visited her after dark, she was woofing in alarm over wedding music down the road, clearly feeling very insecure and alone. She was very  tempted to come for her dinner, doing silly belly crawls and cooing to me, but wouldn’t come into my proximity. I waited a while, then said, fine! and turned on my heel with her dinner and walked away. She followed at a distance. I decided to lure her near the pasture where Moses was, and then brought him out to greet her. She fell for it, collapsing in flailing, silly, squealing relief to be with her friend and patient mentor. I led them both into the middle pasture, the one she’s most comfortable with. She ate, I petted her, everything was fine. So, a sign that I was pushing her too fast, she fell apart, and regression is needed. In the next few days, I’ll put her, with Moses, in with Bronte and the ewes, to make a smaller step forward.

Fingers crossedBarking at the right things: this is an evolution over time. Right now, she’s barking a lot, which is a good sign that she has an instinct to alert to strange things in the environment. But, it can be annoying since she’s alerting to everything, including us walking around near the barn, and things like wedding music in the distance. She is also sometimes woofing in anticipation when I bring her dinner. I don’t want this to translate to “demanding barking” so I’ve been trying to make sure she is quiet before I deliver her dinner. If it escalates, I’ll shift to walking away from her whenever she starts up demanding barking, so she doesn’t start to perceive it as something that hurries me to deliver what she wants.

Fingers crossedEating hand-fed treats: this is something I never taught Bronte, and I regret it. Hand-feeding treats is a really nice tool. For one, it makes dogs come when they’re called more reliably, if they know a treat is being offered. It can help mitigate when you need to do something “mean”, like trim toenails, if you can feed a bunch of tasty cookies afterward. And, it’s a good way to feed medication, snuck into cheese balls. So, I’m going to try to be more diligent about getting this pup to know what it means when I offer a handout, literally.

Crossing my fingers these latter milestones can be achieved in a timely fashion, and that Bronte has enough months left in her life to give good overlap.