Adventures with Livestock Guardian Puppies
The mother livestock guardian dog (LGD) and eight puppies are kept in a stall overnight for warmth during the winter months. Feeding them is part of the morning chores at the farm I’m interning on, as well as afternoon. I have to feed her first in a separate enclosure, as she is food-agressive. A seemingly devoted mother in other ways — she tried to bite my hand off when I bent to pet the puppies on my first day on the farm — Princess would fight her own puppies over any available kibble bowl.
The full-blood Great Pyrenees second-time mother is still slender, putting on weight slowly after giving birth six weeks ago. The puppies are close to weaning time, and Mama looks more than a tad haggard when all four boys and four girls swarm around her. We let her in their pen at night after they have finished their food. She turns in circles, appearing to look for an out before resigning to her fate and standing her ground while eight sets of puppy teeth nip at her distended teats. Invariably one puppy can’t find a nipple to latch onto, and resorts to mewling and stepping on other puppies until they fall off a teat. Sometimes this triggers a wave of lost balance and yipping.
The look on Princess’ face as all eight stomp around trying to latch on makes me so, so, SO glad that the human mammal doesn’t have a litter that size without medical assistance.
I place her puppy chow mixed with yogurt (for extra calories) in warm water in the pasture that she hangs out in during the day. If someone is helping me out, I may have all four bowls of food with me; if not, I make two trips, sloshing warm watery dog food down the front of my already grimy shirt. Every time.
I make sure to place the puppy bowls where she can’t get to them – learned that lesson the hard way.
Extracting Princess from her pups is the real challenge. Do it right, and all nine dogs get their breakfast with no tears, and no escapes. Do it wrong, and I risk yet another dead chicken from the overzealous parent. As an LGD’s sole raison d’être is to protect animals — in this case, Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats — letting her get into the habit of eating animals on the farm could be disastrous.
If I open the top half of the front door, Princess leaps the three foot barrier and bolts. If I open the top & bottom together and grab Princess’ collar, a flood of puppies trickles out through the cracked door, eroding the gap until it opens entirely and I have eight fluff-balls to round up.
My latest method was this: after setting down Mama’s food, I entered the pups’ grassy enclosure leading to their stall from the back. I opened the back door. The plan was for the dogs to mosey out into the enclosure when I grab Princess and lead her to the gate. Instead, she sprinted for the gate, and before I could finish saying “what the…”, she had leapt through the eight inch gap at the top of the gate and into the next pasture. From there, she can perform that same trick into the chicken yard — through the main yard, around the older turkey tractors, down between the weeping willow and the road — and kill a bird. Which she did two days prior.
Princess must have wanted to make things easy for me, because she made a beeline for her nearby food bowl instead of chicken city. I bolted after her, snatched up the lead, and clipped her in. PHEW. That dog can sure move. Like lightening.
The puppies are another story (thank goodness). They are curious little beasts, and will run towards whoever is nearby.
The front stall gate is tricky to use for that reason – too many little bodies to push back inside. However, the roly-polys aren’t particularly coordinated, though their size and heft has led me to assume that they are.
I had a scary moment when I tossed one of the puppies back into its pen, and instead of landing on her feet like a cat of her bulk would, she just face-planted. My heart skipped a beat, and I cursed my habits from years of handling flexible-spined felines. Being a puppy, she got up, shook herself off, whined a tad, then wandered off.
Nevertheless, I won’t be doing that again.
After Mama is safety inhaling her portion, I balance all three bowls and manage to get inside the pen from the back gate again. I set the food down in the yard near the barn, and watch the puppies find it. Usually seven go to one bowl, one goes to another, and the third is left empty. I encourage with little nudges and manual relocation.
“Here adorable puppy, here’s your Very Own Food Bowl. If you stay there, you share with seven. If you come here, you get Your Very Own. Do the math, you little dolt.”
My walking towards the back gate stirs their interest again. They follow me in a sweet, tumbling herd. I make a 180° and walk away, calling out words of encouragement and love to the little idiots. Once I have led them almost to the other side of the pen, I pivot again and sprint to the gate, opening it towards me and clanging it shut with a hard pull. The puppies are still so uncoordinated that I can outrun them, even in my oversized muckboots and jeans. Usually one enterprising pup (perhaps the 14 pounder?) has waddled over by the time I’m on the other side, but none has yet beat me to it.
I am seriously hoping that they are all sold before they can outrun me, as I have no chance at wrangling eight fast puppies.
For all their bumbling awkwardness, the pups are already acting on their baser instincts, bless their fuzzy hearts. I looked over in the middle of the day to see seven of the wee ones clustered around something, heads down and tails out in a sloppy canine rosette. One little guy was elsewhere, worrying a branch. I walked towards the huddled gang, and pried one out of the way to find… a mangled chicken carcass. Mama Princess must have buried it there after one of her escapes earlier in the week. I could see grey feathers and a long bone.
Another intern went to remove the remains, as it was hanging out in a shared puppy/goat pen. Don’t want the goats getting a taste for chicken. The pups had completely eviscerated it. I recognized an uneaten gizzard on the ground nearby, and could see the inside of the rib cage. I returned to the pen to retrieve a missed piece of wing from a slavering puppy mouth. He dropped it to the ground, covered it with a paw, then promptly forgot it the instant I reached towards him to scratch his head. His paw came up to bat my right hand, and I snagged it with my left.
Alice: 1, Puppies: still a lot.
At five weeks, they can already gut a chicken. These little monsters are pretty amazing.
I feel like, at five weeks, a human baby couldn’t tell its own poo from finger paint. So useless. I suppose I will have to abandon my plan to corner the Livestock Guardian Baby market. Shucks.