18 July

Farm Dog: Dropping The Leash. Go Be A Dog.

by Jon Katz
Dropping The Leash

Perhaps the biggest difference Maria and I have had about training Gus is whether or not to keep him on a leash while he is in the pasture. There are, for sure, some dangers there. The sheep sometimes bolt in one direction or another and could easily trample him, even our sweet and patient donkeys could bite or stomp him in a heartbeat if they thought he was a threat to the farm or the sheep.

For the first few weeks, I walked him into the pasture on a leash and kept him there. Day by day, I have been giving him more freedom – to explore the pond, sniff around the pasture, come and lick Fanny’s nose, as he does now once a day. The donkeys show no signs of hostility or unease to Gus, their earsĀ  are down or sideways, they approach him slowly, carefully, nose down to sniff. He is no threat to them.

The sheep mostly stare at him, I know they would like to get closer for a better look – prey animals need to know who is around and what their intentions are, but Red keeps them away.

Today, Maria urged me to put Gus on a leash when we shovel out the manure in the Pole Barn. No, I said, it’s time for him to be a dog and figure out how to handle himself out there. He is smart and fast-moving and cautious, he studies things and takes things slowly.

Okay, said Maria, but I can’t bear to look, you just do it. She admitted it was a good idea, but she said she just couldn’t bear to watch, it made her nervous.

“Go be a dog,” I said.” And he did.

I like the way farmers train their dogs, they let them be dogs and smart dogs, like smart cats, figure it out. As a small dog, I feel strongly that we need to treat Gus as a dog, especially around an active farm. When the sheep nearly trampled him last week, he squealed and started paying attention to them and where they are. If they move toward him, he gets out of the way.

I’m not worried about the donkeys. Once they know an animal lives here, they embrace him or her. Gus is winning them over, and I notice he is not trying to do that with the sheep. Gus is small, but he doesn’t know that. He can handle himself and move like a rabbit if he needs to.

So Gus was off leash in the pasture for a half-hour this morning while we did our chores. He is getting to be a farm dog, and I am determined to let him be a dog. He can’t learn how to live her if we don’t let him, and if we see him as a fragile little stuffed animal with big eyes, that is exactly who he will become.

We need to give him a chance to succeed as well as fail. Maria says she agrees with the idea, she just can’t bear to look. We have to let Maria be Maria, too.

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