31 August 2013

Farm Dog Smarts

I have this dog. Jute.

She's different than any dog I have ever had.

Smart in ways that make me wonder.....

An example:
The horses gather at the gate to wait for whatever is going to happen; could be food, could be trimming, could be a cool rinse off. They stand there and sometimes get anxious because I'm taking too long or they don't like that it's not their turn yet. Occasionally, Ziggy and/or Berlin will bang on the gate or put a foot on it. To which I do not respond. Any attention I give to something I don't want will cause a horse to do it more. Ignoring behavior I don't want will cause a horse to stop that behavior, or at least stop them from associating what they are doing with something I might do.

When I go to the gate where the horses are all gathered about, I expect them to move away, so I can open it. Sometimes they would rather reach for me to be rubbed, than back up and allow me to swing the gate in. Sometimes I rub those overhanging heads, but not often. A rub at the gate, teaches them not to move when I arrive. If they don't move, then I have to back them up, and because they're all bunched up there, the ones closest to the gate have no place to go, so they have to back into the ones in the next row, who then must back into the ones in the third row. Looks a lot like a train wreck, all piled up.

Back to the dog.

Jute is always with me and she watches stuff. A few months ago, I noticed that when I go out to the barn and the horses start gathering at the gate, she lays down on the outside about five feet from the gate. She lays facing the horses. She doesn't do anything, she just lolls her tongue out and pants. If the horses hang their heads over the gate, she maintains her position. If they start shuffling around, she will stand at attention - no movement, no sound. If they settle, she lays down. If one of them reaches a hoof toward the gate, she's right there, but she waits. If they put their foot on the gate, silent and quick, Jute nips the pastern. When they put their foot down, she lays down again. If one of them presses their chest against the gate, Jute turns on her rabid-dog bark to back them off. When they stop pressing, she lays down.

Here we go with the smarts. Now she watches them and she watches me. If I head toward the paddock with a halter, or the feed cart, or the buckets and they are all gathered against the gate, she goes in and backs them off, one at a time until they are all standing about 10 feet away. She grins over her shoulder at me and then bobbles and wags her pleasure in her newfound horse trainer abilities.

It gets better. When I enter with a halter, she observes me and figures out which horse I intend to catch. Now most of you understand the difficulty of bringing the low horse in the herd through the ranks of the upper echelon, without the low horse becoming somewhat concerned about their safety. Walking through the gauntlet like that can be unnerving for the poor horse who always makes it their business to stay far away from the leaders. If Jute sees that I'm heading for Danny Boy, she dances and flitters about - getting herself all worked up. This is her big chance! I halter him and start walking toward "the big boys". Danny Boy is on high alert, wondering how he's going to make it through such a tight spot without some teeth or feet or body slamming. Danny Boy knows that he should not be going close to another herd member without their express permission. Danny Boy also knows that he must follow me. Jute dog to the rescue!

She gets busy clearing a broad path. She's figured out how wide that path needs to be for Danny Boy to feel comfortable. Several of my horses will challenge her about moving them, but she insists, sometimes causing quite the ruckus before the way is paved to her liking. Once the job is complete, she invites us through by leading the way with her tail-in-the-air happy trot.

Smart dog!


  1. Holy Florida Cur, Batman, that's spectacular! Brilliant dog, wow.