Friday, March 13, 2009

At That Age

Titan will be one year old on March 23rd, which is my least favorite age for a dog. Like human teenagers they are constantly exploring their independence and pushing at the previously-established boundaries. Although Titan remains a sweet and companionable character on Farcical Farm, some of his behaviors over the past month have been more challenging than what we have come to expect. First amongst these is chasing cars.

It's important for you to understand that a livestock guardian dog (LGD) is not a pet dog, and treating one as such can ruin its working ability. Raising a good LGD requires a fine balance between interacting with the dog and just leaving it alone with its stock and its instincts for company. With too much training the dog will start looking to people for leadership, but with too little training the dog will not learn to respect its human handlers. Overall I think we have done a good job with Titan. He is completely independent in his decision-making about threats to Farcical Farm, yet he maintains a biddable attitude with people he knows. He has a nice "sit" command, he waits politely at gates, and he mostly comes when you call him. Tilley, Willow and Watson are absolutely convinced that he gets special treatment (they would never get away with 80% of the shit he can pull), possibly due to his lesser intelligence. He is not, after all, a herding dog.

Sometime over the past two weeks Titan decided that it is fun to charge the fence when he hears certain cars coming down the road. He completely ignores people-only cars, but he recognizes the engines of the ones that sometimes contain dogs from a good 200 meters away. Until now we haven't intervened because he is safely fenced and we aren't around enough to correct him consistently. But last night I just happened to be moving him and the goats back home from the horse paddock when his #1 nemesis pulled around the corner. Titan was off like a shot without a thought in the world for the screaming maniac behind him. Fortunately the driver saw him just in time (it was dusk -- thank goodness of daylight savings time) and we were very lucky. Until we figure out some solution (probably an invisible fence across the driveway) he will have no off-leash privileges in non-fenced areas. I had five or six horrible, bloody dreams about him getting hit last night, and I was probably too hard on him today for two fence-rushing car chase scenes. There was not, however, a third when the #1 nemesis went by this evening.


9 comments:

The Border Collies said...

Oh that's a scary one, and can be so hard to break, so good you get on him now! At least one of our former fosters who was a renowned car chaser went on to get killed by a train, and Sandy had a heck of time retraining her car chasing beast!

When Piper was younger, before I enacted the "no stepping off the curb" rule, she dashed into the road and narrowly escaped a speeding minivan. I had horrible nightmares about it forever!

Funder said...

I'm no expert, but I've read a lot about LGDs and it sounds like you're doing a great job with him. Good job correcting the car chasing!

My childhood dog, a GSD/St Bernard mix, got hit by cars not once but twice. He lived through both of them, actually. I still have nightmares about Cersei getting hit. :(

Black Jack's Carol said...

The thought of seeing a dog hit by a car is such a fearful one for me, it rarely leaves my mind when on walks with Black Jack (or any other dog in my care). Way back when I first met Jean Donaldson she agreed to do an interview/debate with another trainer who disagreed with her views. I still have a transcript of that interview. She advocated then, and still does, positive re-enforcement as a training method, but I'll never forget one thing she said, which loosely quoted, goes like this: "If you've tried everything in your positive re-enforcement arsenal, and are now going to go with an aversive, make it quick and harsh, and you should only have to use it once." I'd say, with a hormone-driven and maybe breed-driven? behavior like chasing cars, you did incredibly well to reverse it in only two corrections. I'm very glad Titan survived to learn the error of his ways.

Note: This is my first time doing a link in a comment. Hope it works.

dp said...

The link worked great, Carol. I have always been much quicker to turn to negative reinforcement than Jean Donaldson would like, but I can deliver a harsh correction with speed and efficiency. That said, I highly doubt that Titan is cured. He may be cured when I am standing nearby, but I actually doubt that too. Maremmas are notoriously slow to learn because it takes a lot of effort to overcome their instincts. And, for the record, my overall goal is not necessarily to stop him from chasing cars. That would be a great outcome, but we can't be with him 24/7 so if he's going to chase when we're not around there is nothing I can do about it. My primary goal is to keep him safe in light of the knowledge that he has a car-chasing habit. That means correcting him when I happen to be around, and probably a radio fence/shock collar combination so that he thinks twice about going down the driveway and so that I can correct him from the house.

oregonsunshine said...

I don't have LGD experience. Can you recommend any books?

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Runaway dogs can be a nightmare. Our Shelty recognizes the engines of various vehicles too, and he really wants to eat the UPS driver. One time he busted out the front door and circled the UPS truck as the driver was trying to drive down the street. The UPS truck used to only come by twice a week, so we only had to tolerate the barking two days a week, but with all the people in the neighborhood who are now running businesses out of their homes, we have UPS trucks drive up the street 2 or 3 times a day. The barking is obnoxious. If the dog weren't so old, I'd have his vocal chords removed.

dp said...

OS: This is pretty much the only book out there, but I found it very helpful. I have also relied heavily on the working maremma group @ Yahoo!. All the good breeders are there contributing to the discussion and answering people's questions.

Carole said...

I have recurring dreams about my dogs getting hit by cars. It is, literally, my worst nightmare. I even occasionally relive a close call that I witnessed involving a friend's dog - and that dog's long dead of natural causes!

Glad that Titan's okay. :-)

oregonsunshine said...

Thanks! I just find there's always more to learn. And you never know, I may just end up working with one someday.