Monday, February 24, 2014

Workers Gotta' Work

   Last Thursday through Saturday were pretty good days, all things considered. If you looked at the entirety of each day, they were pretty darn good days. Awesome weather (sunny and hitting the 50's!), good company, full work days... You know how it goes. But there was one thing that was really throwing a monkey wrench in things and making me miserable. One thing. Want to know what it was?

   Gyp. My dog.

   We hit one of those dark points in life, and we're only juuuuuuuust starting to come out of it. It's been rough.

   To explain a bit more, I've been seeing before my very eyes what happens when you get a high-drive working dog and you deny him any work. You have a mess on your hands. An animal that is one inch away from snapping and going haywire. 

   When I bought Gyp last year, I had a very pointed reason for getting him; I needed a stock dog that was high-drive and brave enough to help me with cows and hogs. A tireless worker who could tramp about all day with me and not be afraid to be working with very large animals that weigh a minimum of 600 lbs and a maximum of 1,500 lbs. 

  Gyp was a super mellow pup... He showed an incredible amount of natural talent in herding, but gosh was he laid back! I can't even count the number of times I wondered if he would really have the steel to be the worker I needed him to be. But what can you do? Gyp and I just went along with life. And then I brought my mellow canine to Missouri. All seemed great... For the first two months. 

   Then the beast erupted. I spent three years searching for an *extremely* particular bloodline of English Shepherd before I bought Gyp. I'd done my homework and knew what bloodlines had the best herding instinct. To be dead honest, I was looking for a dog that would be as similar to a Border Collie as possible, without it actually being a Border Collie. And I found those bloodlines... I got myself a pup that I knew would one day be a dog that could work from sun-up to sun-down and still want to keep going. English Shepherds are a great breed; they really are. But you get what you pay for. Most of these dogs remain mellow and relaxed all their days, but when you specifically seek out a dog that will be a working machine... You get it. 

   I brought Gyp to Missouri, thinking that he'd get to spend his days following me around and helping out. That we'd just keep trucking along like we did in Oregon and we'd be inseparable pals. Plunk down to reality: My host family has a Boxer/Lab cross that hates him, so he stays up with the extended family's two Rough Collies. Sure, he's got a roomy place to run, and he's got two playmates to romp with; but he's denied a job. I take him up there early in the morning, before milking time, and then get him late at night when it's time for bed. I really don't see him at all during the day. But I hear him bark... And bark... And bark. He used to be a very quiet dog. Not any more though. Phooey. He goes bananas being locked up and not being able to socialize with people. So he does the most logical thing he can think of: Bark. 

   By the time I let him out at night, he's a wound-up, hyper little troll; he used to be a well behaved boy during the walks to and from the dog pen but now he ignores all but the harshest voice command as he chases after unsuspecting barn cats and guinea birds (which is a huge no-no around here). He and I eventually get down to the main house, and I used to let him run around in the dark for a few hours each night since I knew he never wandered from sight. Now? He runs off. Like, really runs off. Poof! That dog's gone. I can't blame him too horribly much since I know he's just trying to get energy out, and he's dealing with tracking instincts. But it's still not okay. Not only am I ready for bed, but who knows what trouble he'd get into. Not to mention the fact that his working drive is coming on so strong these days that all he wants to do is herd the cattle that are around here.

  So to keep him from running off, I've done the most logical thing I could think up. I denied him those 2-3 hours of running time and brought him inside immediately, where he stays in my bedroom (dogs really aren't allowed inside the house, but he's allowed in the bedroom at night). Imagine trying to sleep, but all you can hear is what sounds like a hyperventilating dog. He's breathing so hard and fast from pent-up energy that he doesn't know what else to do with himself! After grumbling at him two or three times in a half-asleep state, he finally shifts to the only other thing he knows to do. Pace. Okay, now we're not sleeping to the lullaby of an increased respiration rate of a spastic canine, but instead to clicking claws on hardwood floor. Take your pick. The clicking claws may not seem as bad, but after about four hours of it... You start thinking up really dark thoughts towards the maker of offending noises. 

  The pinnacle of all this is when you realize that your life is changing, and this could very well be your last year of farming. That energetic working dog could be facing a life in town for the next few years... And that is where I'm finding myself right now. I bought a herding dog, and now one year later I'm finding that I don't need one... My time of cows and hogs is possibly coming to an end. I'm okay with this, but my dog is not. 

 All of Saturday and half of Sunday was spent agonizing what to do about this problem. I love that dog, but this current situation isn't fair for him and he's too good of a dog to ruin. I'm only three months into this internship and he's slipping into becoming a rebellious wreck that no one wants around. I thought about it, prayed about it, sought counsel... By that point, I was okay with giving him away to a good home that would give him the work he needed. He means enough to me that I was willing to set aside my selfish wants and see to it that he had an outlet for his energy. But deep down, I still knew I'd be bawling if/when someone came and took him away. 

  Gyp needs a job. ANY job. He just needs to know he has a daily purpose, and has a way to use all that energy in a positive form. I thought about starting up running again, since spring is coming, but I can't keep up with that dog! Shucks, back when he was a pup he could go about 5 - 6 miles before he started to get tired. He can go a heck of a lot farther these days, and I'm no marathon runner.

 Sunday morning dawned and in the midst of church (I promise I really was paying attention. This idea just kinda' came out of nowhere), I had a sudden inspiration. Urban mushing. Duh. Why didn't I think of this sooner!?!? I looked into this a few months ago, but had totally forgotten about it! It was a total light bulb moment. Eureka!! 

  Not familiar with "urban mushing"? Here's what it is:

  Yeah, it's dog sledding on wheels. You use a specially designed scooter, and special racing harnesses, and once your dog is trained, then you're off and running (pun intended)! LOL. Urban mushing is pretty popular in some circles and you'll see all sorts of dogs doing this... Hounds, retrievers, pitbulls, border collies, poodles, spaniels, and of course huskies. This is an awesome sport to do if you've got a dog with too much energy, and you're not a runner. The back country roads that surround this small Missouri farm would be perfect for Gyp and I to cruise on, and hey, if we do end up in town, then we'll have all the roads we could dream of racing on. It's a win-win if you ask me. Gyp will finally have a job and an energy outlet, and I will have the coolest looking rig to ride on.

  The harness for this stuff is only $25, so hopefully that'll get ordered in the next couple of days and the two of us can start ground training and working on voice/whistle commands. It may be that in some later time in life it will become more apparent that Gyp needs a working home, and I will once again have to face the possibility of finding a new owner... But I'm not going down without a fight. I'll exhaust all other options first.

 And so... The bow-hunting, tractor-driving, truck-loving, airsoft-playing, crazy, country girl is now going to take on urban mushing.

Just when you thought I couldn't get any weirder. 


Erin Waterbury said...

I know how easy it is to bond to a wonderful dog like Gyp but if you're not planning on really letting him work I think he'd be happier in a home that will.

My mom has two border collies that flunked herding so bad the farmer was gonna shoot them if the rescuer hadn't picked them up and even so they had a rough time adjusting to city life and scheduled running time.

It may be fun for a time but I don't think it's fair to take a dog who was born to herd and make him a sled dog.

On another related vein... you might not be farming after this adventure? You've been so dedicated and driven, I'm really curious as to why you might be changing your mind, though I do understand that's a pretty personal question.

Anonymous said...

We have two border collie/aussie shepherds, and my mom taught them to pull a cart. Something to do, and it tires them more than just a walk. And I totally get the gotta work or else gotta bark thing.

Goat Song said...

Anonymous, glad to hear a success story like yours! :D Good to know that it's possible to give these herding dogs a different job that they still enjoy. Gyp loves to pull stuff (okay, namely me at the other end of his leash. LOL.), so I think he'll do well with this type of thing. :)

Goat Song said...

Erin, to answer the more personal question you asked... Well - ah - to put it plainly, I'm in a courtship/relationship with someone, and the two of us have agreed that if it's God's will that we get married someday, then we'll spend the first few years in town so we can try to avoid as much debt as possible. We're both very muchly country people, but avoiding debt is more important than keeping a preferred lifestyle.

gz said...

Brilliant!..and all being well, in time you'll be back in the country, and not in debt. Very wise.
Blessings Be xx gz

Little Homestead In Boise said...

I hope you can work that out. It's sad that he had to leave his former home, and be cooped up. Maybe running will settle him down...

Erin Waterbury said...

Well, I suppose if I have to give up my favorite farmer love is a wonderful thing to lose you to. :)

I can definitely understand the desire to avoid debt and applaud your practical planning.

Best of luck to you two however it turns out!