Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Maia Chronicles

As I've noted before, I am new to livestock guardian dogs. One thing I've discovered is that a controlling personality and a maremma aren't necessarily a good match. Since I can't expect a 5-year-old experienced LGD to change, that means I'm the one who must adjust.

You see, I think everything has a place, and I'm happiest when everything is in its place. The problem is that what I consider Maia's place and what she considers her place are two very different things.

On Monday, I let her off her tie out and set her loose in the main pasture with just a drag line (parachute cord). As I was told she'd do, the first thing she did was examine the entire perimeter, apparently looking for weak spots. My LGD mentor said she'd be looking for places where danger could come in, but I have to wonder if she wasn't also looking for places where she could go out!

Shortly after her perimeter check, she got her drag line hung on some branches in the big gully, and got herself loose by pulling out of her collar. Then, according to Jimmy (I was in the house working at the time) she charged straight through the flock and then chased them till she had them "pinned against the fence," at which point she sat down and watched them. The sheep are funny about Maia. When she was on her tie out, they would all go hang right with her, and one of the tunis ewes would stand pretty much right against her. But when she's off the tie out, they feel a need to move away from her. Clearly it's not a panicked sort of moving away, but it's still interesting to watch.

So I went out and got her collar and drag line, removed the line, and walked up to Maia and put her collar back on her. That went well. I mean, here's a dog who lived on her own for six months, had little human contact the four and a half years before that, and a little more than two weeks after being captured is letting me walk up to her in the pasture to put her collar on! I was feeling good!

I had also let the ewes and lambs out of the mixing pen and in to the unfenced field to graze. Not long after the collar incident I heard the border collies barking and looked out to see Maia strolling among the ewes and lambs. Oh no! She's supposed to be with the rest of the flock, not wandering around with the ewes and lambs (says the controlling side of me). I took Twist and got the sheep back in, but Maia had different plans for herself, and off she went to the creek for a dip. She was happy when I talked to her, but it was clear she wasn't planning to let me catch her. Now I was feeling not so good....

Well, it was nearly dinnertime (for Maia), so I went back to the house and made her dinner. I brought it back out and went back behind the creek to see if she had wandered off further, but no, she was still right in that area. With a bribe in my hand I was much more interesting in Maia's eyes, and she came up to me and let me catch her and put her back in the pasture. I put her on her tie out again simply because we had a vet appointment the next morning and I really didn't want to have to call them and cancel because I couldn't catch the dog!

I'll keep the story of taking Maia to the vet short. I'll just say that she was quite against getting in the van, but throughout the struggle (okay, outright fight) to get her in, she never once made an aggressive move toward me. I finally lifted her in and tied her snugly to a crate and off we went. At the vet's the was a very good girl. She's up to 78 pounds now. I got her microchipped (I kind of had to since I had gotten her a collar the day before, along with a nameplate, which stated she was microchipped). She got a clean bill of health for her spay incision and her anal gland infection. I'm thinking that the next time she needs vetting it might be worth a farm call to have the vet just do it here. LGDs don't like to leave their flocks, and Maia at least doesn't think riding in a vehicle is something a dog should ever do.

My next step in the "taming of Maia" (you know, bringing her under control) was to put her in the round pen with seven sheep, including the two young tunis ewes who seem to like her. According to my plan, these sheep were going to be the "core flock" who would accept Maia and through their acceptance, help the rest of the flock to accept her as well. I put wire over the gate so she couldn't crawl through there and left her with her core group of charges. She and they seemed quite happy last night and all was well this morning when I went out to feed.

I went ahead and let the ewes and lambs out to graze and then came in to feed the inside dogs. Maybe half an hour after letting the sheep out I look up from the kitchen sink to see sheep moving purposely and Maia out there strolling among them. So much for my "climb out proof" round pen. Well, my mentor had told me just yesterday that Maia would insist on checking the boundaries and keeping an eye on all the sheep, so I took a deep breath and decided to let it be (those of you who like to have control over your animals will know just how difficult this is).

Maia moved among them for a while, checked the boundaries over by the horse pasture, and then strolled up to where the sheep were grazing out front. Next thing I know, all of the sheep are moving back toward the gate at the bottom of the field, with Maia bouncing along in the middle of them. (This is when my mentor's words struck: Jimmy had said she was chasing the sheep, but my mentor had said that it probably wasn't chasing but Maia asserting her control, and sure enough here she was running with the ewes and lambs, but clearly no one was in a panic--they were just doing what Maia wanted.) She put most of them through the gate and then lay down in front of it. I thought perhaps her drag line had caught on the log at the base of the gate, so I walked down there and called her.

She came bounding up to me. Yes! I told her what a good girl she was. In the meantime, the rest of the sheep went through the gate. So I walked to the gate and called Maia to come along. She had other ideas and headed to the creek (FWIW, this same creek goes through the main pasture, but isn't as deep there). Instead of going after her to try and catch her (that's my natural inclination after all), I shut the gate and went to feed hay to the ewes. I could see Maia at the top of the road that leads to the back of the property. Oh, I was just itching to get her to come back, but my new, noncontrolling self told me to leave her be.

A while later I looked up from my computer and could see a white shape just below the ewe pasture, between the fence and the creek. Yep, it was Maia, and she was watching things from outside the fence. Because I just can't let go entirely, I got a couple of dog treats and headed down through the ewe pasture, through the gate in to the main pasture, and then through the gate at the bottom by the road. I called Maia to me and she came up all wiggly and clearly pleased with herself. She let me catch her and lead her back into the main pasture. I didn't really see the point of trying to put her back in the round pen, so I just gave her some scritches and told her she was a good girl. She was so happy with my praise that she did a couple of crazy runs (you know, running in a big circle with her tail part way out and then dropped). She went right through the sheep in that pasture, who just scattered out of her way and then regrouped. She did a couple of crazy runs and then sat down to the observe the sheep. That's where I left her.

In another few months, she just might have me trained!

On another note, the last set of twins from the first lambing group was born to Khayyam in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. One of the twin ewes is quite a bit larger than the other, but they both seem to be healthy and strong.

Here's the bigger lamb:

Woops! "Little Bit" gets stuck in a hole in the straw!

But she didn't waste any time getting herself up and getting to the milk bar....


Anonymous said...

I think about the only thing cuter than a Pappy zoomie is a LGD zoomie. ;) I totally cracked up reading this account - I could just totally see how this must have unfolded, and your reactions to it. lol


Robin French said...

I can feel your pain on the control thing - that would make me crazy too.

Julie said...

I suspect that I'm just going to have to learn to let go. It's gotta be good training for something! Last I checked Maia was back out at her preferred post outside the fence keeping a close eye on the ewes and lambs. I'll be interested to see her reaction when I let the gang of nine out for their afternoon walk as they're likely to mow her down on their way by....

~~Sittin.n.Spinnin said...

I so look forward to your posts! Your life is never dull is it!?!
Maia seems to know what her job is, and I would say, since she can get off the property or out of the fence, and she didn't go anywhere, she has decided to keep your flock! And by default you :)

Laura said...

Zen and the art of life with a LGD?

That's a great account, Julie! It sounds like you're building a nice working partnership with Maia...

Julie said...

No definitely not dull around here. In fact some quiet time (and no rain) would be very nice!

I think working partnership may be a stretch--it's more like Maia's doing what she wants, and I'm learning to accept it! :-)

Luisa said...

I'm so glad you have a blog! Maia is beautiful -- I hope she works out [without giving you the fantods].

[Also: you're a peach to give such a good home to Farleigh.]