I Love My Livestock Guardians

Watching my dogs work is always so amazing to me. Many people see the big white dogs laying in the sun and think they are pets. This is true and false, they are more like co-workers, the farm’s security detail. They are like a super sensitive alarm with built-in theft deterrent system and a quicker response than any hard-wired system on the market today.

This afternoon we came home from some shopping to find our gentle giants basking in the sun near their sheep. We lugged all our bags and packages inside and set about putting things away. Once that was done Tom went into the office while I resumed some decorating in the living room. I didn’t hear a thing until Tom called calmly as he was headed for the door. Al, our male Maremma had just gone into high gear.

Mia, the female, is a sentry type. She barks A LOT, at everything. She spends an incredible amount of time just shouting to the world “we are hear so just keep walking” even when there isn’t anything out there, yet. Her job, as she sees it, is to deter predators by letting them know they will meet resistance and it’s really not worth it to stop by.

Al is a lot more laid back, he rarely barks, and prefers to watch her overzealous antics from the comfort of his favorite basking spot and only act or react if she indicates there is a real threat.

This afternoon HE went into full bark mode, loud meaningful barks, charging along the fence line into the corner where the shed and camper block our view from the house. We watched Mia immediately back right up to the sheep and stand watching him, one body length in front of the sheep who froze in place right behind her.

Given that we have seen this before we know the only time she goes to the flock, quietly and in reverse, is to be on defense – so this behavior means it’s “Go Time”. And go we went, right out into the cold. It was a crisp clear day, -10F, so we stopped long enough to gear up for the cold. By the time we stepped outside Al was only mildly agitated but Mia was still pretty wary.

We knew the threat had passed but needed to check on things anyway. Al came to the gate without being called, greeting us and then trotting happily beside us as we investigated the corner. We found no tracks in the snow outside the fence nor signs of anything out of the ordinary. The neighbors horse was milling about in his winter blanket, completely relaxed and unconcerned. And Mia was back to being a playful energetic dog, her way of saying “All Clear”. Whatever it was had the good sense to move away.

The way these dogs communicate is amazing. You can read them like a book, they have no poker face, no subtle gestures. And I’m sure they would be a deadly force if it ever came to that. Lucky for us, so far, they have been such effective deterrents they haven’t needed to actually attack anything. To me that is a win-win. No predators have died (that we know of) and we’ve suffered no losses since getting the Maremmas.

And because we know these dogs so well, all my husband had to say to let me know there was an emergency is “Mia just backed up to the flock” The fact that Al was barking is not nearly as alarming as when she does that. You see, she is all bark, until he steps up. Once he moves forward her job changes, if anything ever gets past him, she will be the last line of defense. Even Al is afraid of her when she gets in that defensive frame of mind. Makes me glad I’m on HER side <grin>. 

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