Homestead Dogs

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, standing with Cinderbunny the Holland lop. These are the oldest two animals on the homestead, Cinder being 7 and Persy turning five nine days from now.

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.

A complete 180 from Persy’s calm collection.

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.

The face of a killer!

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.

Persy, watching the hens with a calm interest. Persy leaves the chooks alone as long as they are on their side of the fence. Always.

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8 thoughts on “Homestead Dogs

  1. She looks like our Husky. He doesn’t show much interest in the chickens – yet. He is very protective of the goats and cries if I go in their pen and leave him in the kennel. Like yours, he is a companion animal not a farm dog.

    • Well, Nukka sure does. She just killed one of our baby bunnies growing out for meat today too. She just picked it up and gave it a good shake; broke it’s ribs and popped it’s lungs. I imagine she’d get on with goats; they’re too big to be good chew toys.

  2. What method do you use to keep them in the yard? We have a beagle and a rottie mix. Mr. Rottie stays in the yard, but the beagle is four counties over if he gets half a chance. We have 3 foot fences set up but he clears those with little effort. I am curious if you need an inground fence, or if you have a better solution that I have missed.

    Thanks

    • You said three foot fence and I just had to laugh a little. I can only think of a handful of breeds that couldn’t clear 3-4 feet. My dogs hop that with no effort at all. To put it in perspective for you; most of my rabbits can clear 3 feet, so of course a 20lb dog can. We have a six foot solid wood fence around our whole yard. My dogs probably COULD get over this but it’s not worth their effort. Since they’re house dogs, going into the back yard means getting to run and play. They like it and there are fun things in the back yard and so aren’t motivated to leave. If a dog is motivated enough they can escape 6 feet, or dig under it, or climb it… I saw a video once of a beagle bracing it’s four feet in the corner of a wire pen and scaling straight up and out a gap near the roof. Beagles are motivated dogs. I’d suggest looking into a tall wood (wood is harder to climb than wire) fence with a dig guard and maybe a coyote roller for your beagle.

        • Well, for a while I was looking into owning a dog that was part wolf and they can clear 8 feet. But they have to touch the fence and scramble over the top to do so. So if the fence is high enough that your dog has to scramble over, a coyote roller would work. But on a 3 foot fence, well, my sister’s 20lb beagle mix jumps four feet straight in the air from a standstill. It only works if they touch the top. Good luck!

  3. This post really resonated with me. Our farm dogs Buddy and Kya are a constant work in progress. Buddy is older (around 6) and is a Border Collie/Aussie mix. He’s smart as a whip but since he was rehomed with us from a “city family”, he has had a big learning curve to learn “don’t eat chickens-I get in big doodoo for that.” Right now all of our poultry are in runs with 6-7 foot fences and “roofs” on the runs as well, so they are ok, but I know given enough time and solitude, he’s going to try some funny business, which concerns me. Kya, our puppy is just shy of a year old and is equally smart, but still in the mustgoinmymouth stage of growth. She shows far less interest in the chickens but does still chase our barn cats from time to time. She’s a pound puppy, so not sure of breed, but she has a tremendous bite force. Sigh. We have tried just about everything, but we’re finding that time, vigiliance and consistent reinforcement is helping…slowly, but it’s helping. I wish I could say glad to know that we’re not alone, but I want someone to figure out this whole training the farm/homestead dog thing and then give me that silver bullet so I can do it too! 😉

  4. Pingback: Composition is Hard | quarteracrehome

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