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January 16, 2012

Whatcha doin' with them big dogs anyway?

Sometimes folks ask me what we are doing with all these big dogs.

My Number One Dog, Titan, on patrol. Isn't he something?

They ask, aren't they a lot of work? Expensive to feed? Provide jaw-dropping vet bills? And what about having those curly tailed bear killers with livestock - aren't they just gonna eat the goats? Is it worth it?

The answers are... yes, yes, yes, I hope not, and ohmigolly, yes.

Yes, I spend my days repetitively issuing commands, pointing in the direction I want the dogs to go, telling them "don't touch that", and standing there glaring while a stubborn pup walks painstakingly slowly toward me. I've probably only slept in past 8:30am twice in the last 16 months because one of them needed to go out and pee (who's idea was it to get a pup two years in a row?).

And I've had more than a few hair pulling, hat throwing moments punctuated by flying tackles to save a flappy hen from certain death at the hands of an over interested pup. But the training pays off when I'm watching Titan hot stepping a bad rooster back into the hen house, or when I send Kai around to "go bark" at something.

We go thru a 50 pound bag of expensive dog food a week - even with all the meat and stuff we supplement from our barnyard. As for the vet bills, well, I had an expensive truck repair and I tell you the truth - that pup gets better mileage... or should I say "smileage" than that truck, for sure.

As far as the livestock goes, any one, and definitely any two or more of those dogs working together could easily kill any of the goats. But so far the goats aren't stupid enough to get out of their yard and I haven't been stupid enough to leave the gates unlocked so the dogs can get into the goats. And we are working on carefully shaping those bear killer's prey drive...... without being fooled for a moment that their biggest joy in life would be to release their inner wolf and to pull down one of them meat bags... I mean, goats.

But even so, folks ask, isn't it dangerous having high-prey-drive-dogs with obviously-prey goats?

You know what's dangerous, friend?  Living out here in the country. Time was that you were safe living in a small town. Now things are different and this small town has seen its share of big time city violence. Living out in the country with the crazies and the ol' wild cats used to be manageable. But now, hell. Now you've got pot growers, meth labs, and just plain, no-damn-good folks with nothing but violence in mind. Throw on top of that the cuts in public service - many of the local sheriff and law enforcement agencies have had to lay off some of their officers - and at best we are 15 to 20 minutes from a 911 response even on a good day.

So while it would be sad if the pups went on a rampage and killed some hens or the goat - what I'm really concerned about is who is gonna show up here looking to do harm and what I'm gonna do about it.  Four enormous, barking, snarling, territorial dogs who work together are our first line of defense. Aside from, you know, the actual fence... and the gate, of course.

Big dogs are reliable, never jam, and are always loaded.  Unlike bullets, I can always call the dogs back. And I don't have to be around for them to work. Large barking dogs, like gunfire, are disorienting and tend to scare off opportunistic ne'er-do-wellers.  Or at least slow them down. Not that I'm against firearms. In this part of the world "gun control" means hitting your target and making it look like a defensive shooting, even if the offender is running away in a slow, arching pattern.

Having big dogs in the yard is also a good deterrent if thieves are out looking for their next robbery. If your house can't be seen from the road, a couple big dogs behind your gate are a great way to send bad guys to the next house. I didn't think this would actually happen to us until one day I had a guy pull into our drive "looking for directions." We got the gate the next weekend. And yes, the dogs kept him in his truck. I've never seen anyone roll up a window so fast. Just so's ya know, out here no one in their right mind would drive up to a house they can't see just to say "hi" and ask where Timmy's house is located.

Of course, having big dogs has its downside. The mail man and the UPS guy hate delivering out here. I tell them to hold our packages at the post or just throw the deliveries over the gate. Mostly the delivery guys are good sports about it. But I'd rather have the inconvenience of having to drive down to get whatever I ordered then to have a couple of Labradoodles out there scaring exactly no one.

I know a guy who lives in civilization. One night not too long ago a couple of them clipboard carrying types knocked, then pushed their way into the house when this guy opened the door. This guy's wife and two small kids were in the kitchen having dinner. This guy is man of action, so he got the bad guys shoved right back out. But this guy said to me that it was the first time he "got" the dog thing. Yep. Even if someone makes it down the drive, I only answer the door with at least two dogs at my six. Bad guys might be able to push their way in, but friend, I am here to tell you they wouldn't enjoy what they would find inside.

To be sure big dogs aren't for everyone. And families should have family dogs... but I am glad I've got all this mouth and teeth around me. Sometimes folks ask if Dog#1 is really just a big teddy bear. Nope. He loves me for sure, but the rest of your son's-o'-golly-whats are on your own.

We had a situation nearby that could have very easily gone even worse than the tragedy that was left when the smoke cleared. The dogs started howling at the sirens but I didn't think too much about it until the Good Neighbor Mom called and asked if I'd seen the warnings on the news. Suffice it to say we all locked the gates, got the guns, and put the dogs out. Mercifully the situation was contained but innocent lives were lost for no good reason.

After we got the 'all clear' I called the dogs back in and we all sat there. Me and the big dogs and the curly tailed pups. I'm not foolish enough to think that if home invaders made their way into the house that it would be like a movie scene with the dog saving the day. But I do know that it wouldn't be too easy for them bad guys to get inside in the first place.

That night, as we sat and watched the news report, Titan put his huge head on my chest and gave a big dog sigh. If it came to it I knew that he'd stand with me. I'd seen him stand in the splash zone and not flinch when the shooting started for our hog harvest, watched him get that pig turned when it was charging right at me, and scare back another pig who was coming over the fence.  And heaven knows my Dog#1 and I have battled that gander more than a few times.

I don't know exactly what would happened if violence came our way.  But I do know that me and the dogs, well, we'd  put up one hell of a fight.

Keep an eye out for malfeasance, friends, and keep the gates closed. You just never know what's gonna happen. 

Does everybody have today off? Everyone gets a holiday but the chickens never get a day off and neither do I.