Friday, March 11, 2011
Tib was still a bit of a puppy when she came to live with us. She'd belonged to a student who tried to bring her to college. It didn't work out so Tibby went back home to the student's farm to play with the horses and to fight snakes. She was smart and got into a lot of trouble. She missed the student.
At around the same time, it became apparent that our old dog was getting far to old to do his job.
He napped and the deer came up to the yard and ate the entire bed of hostas - 6 feet away from the dog. Also, racoons got into the chicken coop. Also, the dog couldn't see three feet in front of him. Also, his back hips were giving out and he had a hard time getting out of places he got into.
We needed another dog. One day, Eric and the Ks were at the feed store. Eric had been keeping his eye on all the local pet boards on the off chance we might find something. Lo and behold, the woman behind him in line happened to overhear Eric talking about getting a dog and mentioned that she had one - Tibby. We met her and it was a done deal. Tibby came to live with us.
The dogs did not get along at first. No surprise. The cats did not like her. No surprise. She got into a lot of trouble. No surprise. We did all the things you're supposed to do to get new animals used to the other animals and in time a truce was declared. There were still two pretty big problems. Tibby was a chaser and Tibby didn't listen.
Tibby loved to chase the chickens. That wasn't a problem most of the time because the chickens stayed in the coop. However, right about this time, the chickens started getting out of the coop. One minute they'd be in; the next they'd be out in yard, digging up the gardens. One chicken scratching around the garden is fine. Twelve chickens scratching around the garden kill everything except crab grass. We couldn't figure out how on earth they were getting out. We live pretty close to a Navy weapons testing facility and I wondered if our chickens were being used to test out some sort of Star Trek transporter device. I kept waiting to hear that little zinging sound that signaled a transport, but I was never around when it happened.
As soon as Tibby saw the chickens were out, she'd go check them out; then they'd run away; and then Tibby would chase. When she caught up with them, it was not a good thing for the chicken. We lost half our chickens pretty fast. You'd think the chickens would have started to defy the transporter experimentation, but oh no, they kept getting out.
One day, I happened to be outside when the chickens got out and Tibby started chasing. I started chasing Tibby. The chicken was headed into some long grass and managed to escape just as I grabbed the dog. Tibby never touched her. We tied Tibby up and put the chickens away. The chicken she'd been chasing was still hiding in the grass and when I went to get her I discovered that she was dead. Tibby had scared the chicken to death.
That was a problem. It's one thing to have a dog that catches and kills chickens. Lots of dogs do that. But this dog has superpowers. She can kill a chicken without even touching it. Something had to be done.
We had a choice. We could get rid of her or we could train her.
We didn't want to get rid of her, so we invested in a mountain of doggie treats and training commenced. Now, anyone who watches The Dog Whisperer already knows that dog training isn't really about training the dog at all. It's about training the pack leader. I was going to be the pack leader. And I'd never even heard of Cesar Millan.
Confession: I am not a dog person.
I had a lot to learn. Using some good practical advice from Eric, who is a dog person, and by setting down some specific behaviors we wanted her to have when around the chickens and the kids, who were pretty small then, we started working. In just a few sessions it was apparent that she was eager to please and loved the doggie treats. In a few weeks, she had stopped jumping on us and would sit, lie down and stay.
Then it was time to tackle the chicken problem. And tackle it I did. Eric and I spent an afternoon at it. I had Tib on a lead down on the grass. Eric let a chicken out and I made Tibby lie down with me. If Tibby got up, I made her get back down. Most of the time, I had to tackle her to get her down. By the end of the session, she had learned to be Calm Submissive to the chickens.
She is very smart. She knows by how we treat things whether they are fair game or not. She still chases rabbits and blue jays [the jays eat her food and she hates them]. She leaves anything that we have in a cage completely alone and one short session introducing her to new ducks, kittens, etc. is enough for her to leave them alone when they're out in the yard on their own. We have nine ducks that roam the yard and she has never bothered them. Last year a strange dog came into the yard and went after the ducks. Tibby took him down before he touched one - and he was bigger than she.
She does, however, let the ducks know who's boss. Every morning when Eric lets the ducks out, they grab a snack of chicken feed and then head down to the creek. Tibby waits until they're happily settled and then charges down to the creek, splashing and making as much noise as possible. The ducks freak out, charge out of the creek, wings and water everywhere. Tib shakes herself off, gives me a grin and lies down on the hill for her morning nap.