Tomorrow Tavish turns one. In celebration of this, we thought we would reflect on the good, the great, and the terrible of our year in training a working farm dog.
Like many wonderful additions to a family, Tavish was a bit unplanned. We had intended on getting a dog from our breeders at Highland Glenn Ranch THIS year, not last. This meant that we were completely unprepared for a puppy (i.e. no fencing, and no idea what we were getting ourselves in to). This lack of preparation accounts for some of our difficulty, but not all.
Tavish's life started out a bit rough. He had a rare disease called puppy strangles that could have killed him. Instead he was drugged up on steroids during the worst heat wave of the summer and a pivotal time for training. For the record, this is not something our breeders had anything to do with, It was bad luck if you will.
Well we got through that and the many traumas that life brought us that summer and entered doggy adolescence. Anyone who has raised a puppy knows what I mean by this. I think his "difficulties" were exacerbated by the fact that he is an incredibly intelligent dog who was trying to deal with well intentioned but ill equipped parents.
He also has insane amounts of energy and high prey drive. Prey drive is what makes working dogs good shepherds, something we bought Tavish for. It also means, though, that until he is trained, everything is a "meat" to him. And meats are for eating.
This is a good place to drop a quick note on the difference between a herding dog and a livestock guardian dog. Tavish is primarily a herding dog, though his breed was developed for well rounded work on a diversified farm. Herding dogs will often have the family as their pack. Livestock guardian dogs will tend to view themselves as part of the livestock and will often live outside with them. They are invaluable if you have vulnerable livestock or a lot of predator pressure. We chose a herding dog because it was the best fit for our needs, and we wanted a companion animal that would be a family dog as well as a working one.
Back to the meat: feeding Tavish has been a really wonderful experience. Luke and I had a bit of an ethical dilemma in buying a dog if we're honest. We pass no judgment on anyone else who has dogs just for pets, but with the ethics of sustainability we have driving much of our decision making, dog food was a concern of ours.
Natural Rearing to the rescue! Natural rearing was the reason we decided on our breeders. They do only raw feeding (meat, bones, and organs only). They do all natural health care including limited or no vaccinations (except those required by law) and delayed interventions such as waiting to neuter (or not neutering) until bone and muscle have developed. We were definitely on board with this.
We found a GREAT vet (Dr. Ulbrich at Holistic Pet Vet) after finding a not so great one. Our vet is on the same page with us and marvels at Tavish's teeth, coat, and general wellness each time we visit him. Tavish is a 3rd generation naturally reared dog, and our vet has said that one of the most notable changes in dogs over successive generations is the improvement in the health of their teeth.
We raise a good amount of Tavish's food at this point and will someday hopefully raise all of it. Many of the parts of animals that we or our customers are not interested in eating (many organs, pigs feet, duck necks, etc.) go to Tavish.
Tavish is such a sweet dog. He is incredibly in tune with our emotional needs and will be an outstanding therapy dog one day. He loves people, other dogs, and anyone who meets him comments on his loving and outgoing nature. When he sees somebody it's his whole back end that wags vigorously, not just the tail.
Without prompting he started herding the pigs when we move them, He rounds up the poultry like a champ as long as we keep him from eating them. Despite the hardship and trials in learning, we have found raising and training him to be very rewarding (as much as it has been enraging at times.)
We have a long way to go still which feels daunting some days, but we're looking forward to it more than ever before.
Happy Birthday Pup! We love you.
*In a future post we will share more of the history of the English Shepherd breed and some of the incredible things about these dogs.