We bred Sheila at the request of my sister and her husband with little anticipation of what we were getting into. As with having children, it was a good thing we didn’t know. Knowing about the trouble and disruption we would experience might have prevented us from plunging into a project that has been delightful.
Watching Sheila expertly mother, and later, loosen the bond to her puppies has been instructive. It’s too bad so few parents have experience with proximity to rearing animal young. What a great teacher with potential to reduce anxiety and error! Sheila was vigilant in attendance to their need for nourishment and security, giving of her own life substance for the time necessary; she watched over them from her nightly perch on a storage container on the front porch, forsaking her preferred position near the door we normally use. Gradually, as their capacity increased, let them operate from their own resources and puppy food, the nursing times getting briefer and briefer before she shook them off. Finally it was little more than a quick latching on before she skipped back out of their enclosure. By the time they were ready for moving on to other households they were fully weaned. We still have two of them, and her interactions with them are interesting to watch. Where she once deferred to their needs, allowing them precedence in scraps, treats and bones, they are now just competitor dogs for the goodies. She disciplines them and plays with them from time to time but mostly is back to seeing to her own needs, and attentive to the needs of her humans.
The two puppies are incredibly cute, tumbling and tussling or heaped up together sleeping. Their occasional encounters with hot fence lines are necessary but heart wrenching. Fortunately they learn quickly. Unfortunately, we have to persuade them then that the world, for the most part, is safe. They illustrate daily the power of mimetic mammal interaction and learning. I wish I had a photo of the time they ran up to the front yard proudly, literally shoulder to shoulder, each with one side of an old leather glove they had found firmly between teeth, discovering by necessity a kind of cooperation. There is a large shoulder bone in the North pasture too big for them to lift, that they occasionally encounter and settle in to gnaw, each at an end, growling ominously at one another the while.
Frequent treats help them learn their names and simple commands. They have learned to respect the boundaries of the property for the most part now, so we can often let them be on their own while we are inside. But a prerequisite for that obedience is plenty of exercise first! These are necessary lessons that make all of our lives tolerable. Eventually we hope they can learn signals and words to help with herding animals. It’s interesting too, to see the definite hierarchy among the big dogs which the puppies must become part of. Abby is old and not so agile and I am occasionally surprised when she takes exception to Sheila and Blue’s rough play, always disciplining Sheila (not Blue, who is second in farm dog seniority) by towering over her growling. Evidently Sheila steps out of line in their play and needs to be put in her place.
Abby tolerates quite a bit from the puppies, and the one I call Akino’ tests Abby’s patience by yipping in her face. If Abby gets tired of it, at first she often moves to avoid the irritation or just barks once in exasperation and Akino doesn’t feel too threatened by her. But sometimes she snarls, scaring him, and sometimes she has had him on his back on the ground in submission.
I am reminded of my own misplaced attempts to manage toddlers and preschoolers with reasoning, and my misgivings about fairness with them. Now I see how much overthinking I was doing! Much better for everyone to learn as quickly as possible the hierarchy. There is plenty of time and a lot more incentive to learn reason later.