Sunday, August 7, 2011

Need Dog Advice

In a departure from my usual regaling you with our quirky anecdotes around here, I'm seeking some advice from you, readers. Please put on your "Dear Abby..." caps.

We have four dogs: This is Sadie, who we adopted from the pound. She's 6.

Then there's matched set, Jaxon and Missy, who are brother and sister.

 (This is Missy. Jaxon was off and running elsewhere, avoiding the camera. Apparently, he's on a the wall of a post office somewhere and doesn't want anyone to make the connection.)

Jaxon and Missy are co-creators of Beauford, the puppy. (Yes, Missy is getting spayed as soon as she's done nursing. No more Deliverance puppies for us.) Beauford is 10 weeks old and a bundle of love. He's the image of Jaxon's bright eyes and markings, with a side of fluff.

Ostensibly, he'll be finding a new home after he turns 84 days old. We'll see how that goes.

Here's the problem.

I grew up with one dog at a time...small the house. We had three dogs the entirety of my growing up years. When each dog died (one of epilepsy, one hit by a car, the other of an unknown cause after I'd left home and married), we mourned a member of our family. Mom and Dad have not been able to get another dog since Buffy the Toy Pom died. They can't face another loss.

Since Mike and I married, we've always had dogs. Because we lived in Flagstaff the Snow Village and then the Blazing Flames of Hades (OK, we liked it in the Valley, but it was a little warm), our dogs have always been indoor dogs.

Then, we moved to our little farmstead, with all its muddy glory during wet seasons. After about a year, I lost all patience with the mess and grime of dogs playing outside then coming in the house with muddy paws. I banished all animals to the outdoors. Even the guinea pig moved to the barn (in retrospect, I'm not sure that was the right decision. RIP dear Abigail.)


We only penned the dogs when we left the property, because for the first year they didn't roam much beyond our place, and always came home. But then, their horizons began expanding, and we developed a biter, then we noticed the dogs chasing the neighbors' vehicles....   In short, we had become inconsiderate neighbors.

When we really faced facts (which took too long, frankly), neither Mike nor I could live with the idea of being bad neighbors. We began penning the dogs.

I hate having them penned. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I have always been aware that Dad hates the idea of an animal being on a chain or left in a pen, and it rubbed off on me.

Granted, the dogs are in a nice big space  (probably 1,500 to 2,000 square feet) with two structures available to hide from weather and sun, and a platform they can jump on to be king of the world.  The problem is, their nice roomy digs ARE MY CHICKEN YARD!! My young chickens are free ranging near the barn and up at the front of the house, while the dogs look at them in slobbering longing from inside their crib.

Things are a little backwards.

A) I need my chickens in their once-lovely grassy chicken yard that is now a dust bowl from digging dogs.

B) I need to know how to provide my penned pups with the right level of interaction so they know they're loved and still a valued part of the family.

 We can take care of A: we'll get a new pen built, so the chickens can have their coop and yard back. (They haven't started laying yet, so they're not missing their nests.) We'll either repurpose one of the other existing structures on the property, or build the dogs their own space.

But as far as the interaction/exercise, I'm seeking your experience. My vision of success would be one or more of us working around the property or in the garden, with the dogs let out to wander around with us. The dogs would hang around the place, content to pal around with their human friends.

That's not exactly how it plays out in reality.

Right now, these sweet critters BOLT the minute we let them out, taking off for parts unknown....and getting up to their old tricks.

(By the way, we don't have our biter, Mia, anymore. We did what we could, but she was an increasingly aggressive biter, targeting children and adults alike. Ultimately, we had to put her down. It was devastating, because we loved her and we could feel the fear in her that drove her to bite. We had her from a pup and know she was never mistreated, so we don't know where the aggression and fear originated. But people felt unsafe coming to our home and people were getting hurt, so we had to make the hard choice. We're no longer contending with a biter.)

All that said, I'm looking for your advice. I'd imagine many of you have had to pen your dogs. How often do you let them out? When you do let them out, do you throw them on leashes and take them for walks?  How do you keep them on the property? Did you train them to stay close? Any ideas how to do that? Sturdily fencing our 3 acres isn't in the cards for at least a few years. Anything you have in the pen to keep them entertained? Besides each other?

I know this sounds like elementary stuff, but I'm just hopeful someone has had similar experience and would have some fresh ideas.

Bring on the advice!

By the way, if you have trouble leaving comments (I'm looking into why it isn't working for some folks), feel free to leave me a message on Facebook at "Love From the Farm." Just look for our old pal Gertie's smiling face.

I appreciate anything you can throw my way!

Love from the farm,

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