Modern Americans love their pets! They are often pampered and indulged as much as children are. This is a departure from the not so distant past when the animals we now consider pets were required to be useful workers on the homestead. These animals had jobs and were carefully trained to fulfill their duties. But how do you teach today’s pets to get along with something they might instead consider to be dinner? There are some steps you can take to make the transition from city dog to homestead dog a little easier.
- Introduce your pet to new animals slowly and in a very controlled environment.
- Discourage your pet from playing with livestock. Cats and dogs are predators and your livestock is a prey animal. Instincts are difficult to suppress and cues from your livestock can quickly trigger predatory behavior.
- NEVER leave your pet alone with loose livestock unless they have been bred and trained to be guardians.
- Consider ahead of time what you will do if your pet simply cannot be trusted with livestock. Can you keep the pet isolated from them? Do you keep the livestock and find a new home for your pet?
I rescued a pitbull puppy several years ago. I did not have livestock at the time and didn’t consider whether he’d be good with them or not. He has turned out to be the best dog I have ever had and is very good with all the livestock, even baby chicks. I’d have to say that it’s about half nature and half nurture. Hank has a calm, gentle disposition. He is obedient, eager to please, and has always been easy to train. I can take no credit for this.
The nurture part I can take some credit for. Because pitbulls have a vicious reputation at the present moment, I decided when I rescued Hank that he would be a good representative for his breed. I began his training the first day I got him, and have carefully established and maintained my dominance in our “pack”. We went to obedience class when he was a puppy. However; I think the most important part of his training is that he was NEVER allowed to roughhouse with anyone or chase anything. I know it’s fun to wrestle and “mock fight” with a puppy. But, they soon grow up and this “game” gets much less fun. If Hank has something in his mouth I want, he’s to give it to me and tug games would teach him the opposite.
All that being said, while Hank is a very good dog, I never leave him unattended with the livestock. He is still a predator and they are all prey animals. He did not grow up with livestock (he was two before we got the goats and the chickens came later than that). When I am out there, he looks to me as pack leader for direction. He mimics how I behave with the livestock. But I would not be surprised to find that if he was left alone with only his instincts to guide him, he would soon be having chicken dinner. Even when I am there, there are moments that a sudden move or loud cackle will pique his interest. His demeanor will change and I can see the hunter there, right beneath the surface.
That is his nature….