Having dogs on a farm is tricky business. When that farm is in the suburb it’s even worse. Most people in farm country understand that farm dogs are just that; farm dogs. The dog does it’s job, and if it can’t it’s not a working part of the farm. It must either be rehomed or retired to the house or something else. A farm dog not doing it’s job is not a farm dog. Especially when it’s a danger to the animals.
But what about Homestead dogs? I let my dogs roam my back yard freely. In general they are good (except that one time Nukka dug up all my corn), and simply having them in my yard every day keeps other animals out through most of the hours, or at least on their toes. Both dogs love to chase birds, rabbits, chipmunks and other wild critters out and have done so several times with a gusto. If they have a job on the homestead it’s keeping the critters at bay. The difference is that Persy, the older and wiser, reacts very differently to the deliberate homestead critters.
Persy won’t get too close to the rabbits or the chickens if I am around. She has been bitten by both and she knows that I don’t approve of her presence. She and Cinder have been best buddies since the rabbit beat her up as a puppy. Persy will lay down and the lops will literally crawl on her. This happens less now that Cinder is ancient and having health problems.
Nukka on the other hand lacks self control to an extreme level. She’s not quite two yet, so she’s still technically a “puppy”, but she just can’t seem to behave well when she’s left alone even for two seconds. She has broken into the chicken pen to chase the birds, tried to defeather one of the Golden Girls that got out of one one day, she eats any food that is left out, and will go places she’s not allowed (like onto my garden beds) after being told time and time again not to. She does listen when she’s told she’s being bad. She backs, off, she walks away, but she never really submits and within two minutes she could be back at it. Not only is this frustrating, but it has cost us trips to the emergency vet more than once.
In part it is because she has separation anxiety; when left alone she just can’t handle it. She gets destructive. In part it’s because she has a high prey drive. Huskies do and we got her knowing that.
But today she found a nest of baby rabbits. She killed them, all three, before settling down to a snack just as I came out. I was gone for about 3 minutes refilling a water bottle. I’m used to dead baby bunnies by now, even ones torn apart. I have seen far worse out of hamsters that literally rip each other apart. Compared to that these puncture wounds were neat and tidy. But I was not sure how I felt about this.
These were rabbits. I raise rabbits. The way they were colored, these could have been Kibble’s kits. They looked to be the same age as Purinas’s new litter. I wrapped them and the fur their mom had left in cardboard and threw them on the compost; they would return to the earth and the cardboard would keep coons off of them. I soaked the location with my hose, flooding the slight burrow. Mother rabbits hate having their kits messed with. They have a profound sense of loss pre-weaning to the kits dying. So this was pretty depressing.
On the other hand, is this Nukka’s job as a homestead dog? What would I have done if I’d found the nest and the kits were alive? Let them eat my tomatoes and other vegetables the way the chipmunks do? Let them grow until they could run and suddenly find Nukka tearing after them one day anyhow, chasing them away before they are weaned and they ultimately die anyhow? Would I have done away with them myself? I let the dogs roam freely not just for their sake but so they can use all their instincts to chase after and dig out chipmunks and birds (though until now they’ve yet to catch one, only come close). How is this any different?
And the thing is, it was different. Because 80 feet away, my rabbit has a litter of kits just that age. Kits I now know Nukka will eat given half a chance.
What do you do when a dog is doing it’s job perfectly but also wants to kill your livestock? Nukka will gladly dispatch critters that would take my eggs, my plants, threaten my livestock with diseases, etc. She does the job of a terrier. She is protecting her owner’s food stores from animals that would hurt them. And maybe the mother rabbit will learn not to nest in a lawn reeking of dogs. And there are plenty of other rabbits out there too. Besides which, Nukka is a companion animal not a farm dog.
But Nukka will also gladly destroy the animals I raise, giving them neat little puncture holes in their sides with her teeth one at a time before settling down to snack. I tried training her out of this today. She got it… For about a half hour. Then she started staring at the baby bunnies, head down, tail low, mouth half open, not moving… She was stalking them as she watched them in their cage.
Is Nukka doing her job being a rabbit killer? I am really not so sure. And if a farm dog were a threat to the livestock they’d be moved away from the livestock. Rehomed. Retired to the house. Our dog is a companion dog, not to be rehomed. And she is retired to the house. The house and it’s immediate land is all there is on a homestead.
We’ll work on it. But it’s quite the conundrum, and I’m not sure what the answer will be until we have the land to segregate the animals more.