Friday, April 23, 2010

Desperation and the Dog

Somewhere in the barn, a chicken is dieing. I hope she's already dead. She probably is. Few can survive a dog attack. Although attack is not the right word. It sounds mean, and Trouper doesn't have a mean bone in his body. His tail was wagging, and I never heard a growl as he pounced on the chicken. I wonder if he liked to play with squeaky toys when he was a puppy.

When I walked into the kidding barn yesterday, Trouper and Porter were on my heels as usual. Scratching in the straw in front of the kidding pens were four New Hampshire red hens and a rooster. They're not supposed to be in there, because their poop is as slippery as a wet bar of soap on the concrete floor. My plan was to circle around behind them and shoo them out of the barn. Two hens ran into a corner, so I picked up one and let her fly out of my hands towards the door.

I looked to my left as Trouper pounced on a chicken. I screamed, "No! Stop it! Bad dog!" over and over again. His head was bouncing up and down as he tried to keep his hold on the chicken and she struggled to escape. Chicken feathers were flying in all directions. I kicked him as I continued screaming, "No! No! Bad dog!" Then he let go of the chicken, sat up, and looked at me. I was too hysterical to do anything other than continue screaming, "Bad dog!" He realized it had been a mistake for him to help me catch chickens, and he headed for the door. I ran after him, continuing to scream in case he suddenly changed his mind and decided to grab the chicken again.

After he was outside, I stared at him for a moment as he sat there looking at me so innocently. I wanted to slam the giant door dramatically in his face, but being 12-feet high, I only managed to slowly slide it closed. I ran back to where I had last seen the hen, but there was no sign of her. Another hen paced and clucked. I looked at the junk stored in the barn. It was not far from where Trouper had grabbed her, so she probably ran into a tiny space between a couple pieces of furniture or machinery. I dropped down on my hands and knees but couldn't see her in any of the spaces. It was quite dark after only a few inches though, so it is possible that she was sitting in the dark watching me. If she has already died, she won't start to stink for two or three days, which is just in time for a weekend activity -- sorting through our junk to find a dead chicken.

But the dead (or injured) chicken is the smallest half of the problem. The larger problem is that Trouper thinks most of the animals here are his play things. This is the first time he has attacked a chicken, but he killed two geese last month, and every time he is on the same side of the fence as a goat, he tries to play with it. When Pearl, the 8-month-old bottle brat, escaped from her pasture, he grabbed her by the neck and was shaking her. Amazing as it seems, she was not hurt at all, but what about next time?

When Sarah was visiting, we took Little Man out of his stall for halter training. I had forgotten that Trouper was running loose outside. As he snapped at the young llamas legs, three humans intervened to avert a tragedy. A couple days ago, Katherine got the goats out to milk, forgetting that Trouper was loose. She was able to stop him with her voice, and he went running out of the barn. That incident gave me hope. Perhaps we could teach him to be a farm dog. Now, I'm not sure. How many additional incidents can we handle?

Unless this is the first post you've read on my blog, you know how important my animals are to me. If I have to choose between a stray dog and my goats or my sheep, the answer is obvious. Sadly, I feel like I do have to choose. I emailed an all-breed rescue yesterday, and the woman responded that they can't take pit bulls or anything mixed with a pit. That's what I'd heard. It is why I had not even tried an all-breed rescue yet. Her only suggestion was to continue looking for other pit bull rescues.

If I'm honest with myself, I'm scared that he's going to hurt one of the goats. But then I go outside, and he's my buddy. He sticks to me like glue, on my heels everywhere I go. And if I notice that he's about to pounce on something, and I yell "No!" he stops. But once he lunges at an animal, he's deaf for at least a few seconds. He is very smart though and a real people pleaser. He just wants to be loved and praised.

Why did he have to be dumped here on my road? Why did we have to come along and find him? I don't really know how a human being ignores an injured animal on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I tell myself that we never should have stopped. We should have just kept driving. But how?

Yesterday, I just wanted him dead. I told myself that there are so many perfect dogs out there in rescue who need homes that there simply is not room for a dog who is incontinent. I convinced myself that he should be put down because I haven't found a rescue to take him, and he can't stay here because he could wind up hurting or killing my animals. It really is irrelevant whether he wants to eat them or just play with them -- the result is the same.

But in the light of a new day, I'm thinking that he can be trained to respect the other animals that live here. We just need to work harder on this. I keep remembering how he didn't touch a chicken until I did. As long as I was moving them with my body, that's what he was doing. As soon as I caught one, he did too. This is not the first time I've noticed that he watches me intently and follows my lead with the animals. Katherine researched pit bulls and learned that long before they were used for fighting, they were cattle dogs.

I believe that every animal that is born on this farm is a gift. It is here to feed us or provide us with income when we sell it or to teach us something. My brain keeps thinking that Trouper showed up on my road exactly when I was passing for a reason. I've already learned a lot by having him here, but does he have a permanent place on Antiquity Oaks? Or is this just a stopping point on the way to his forever home? Am I simply meant to be the matchmaker between him and his new family? I can't believe that our role in this story is simply to end his life.


girlwithasword said...

My farmer friend has successfully used a shock collar to train her dogs not to kill chickens. Regardless of your feelings on shock collars, her stance was this: I want this dog to remain on my farm and as part of my family. Therefore it is NOT allowed to kill chickens, and we must figure out how to instill this in the dog. It worked for her. So, there's an idea.

Deborah @ Antiquity Oaks said...

Thanks so much for that suggestion. When I read your response to Katherine, she reminded me that when we first moved out here we bought an ultrasonic trainer to stop our standard poodle from killing chickens. She's already found it, so all we have to do it put in fresh batteries, and we can try this! It emits a sound that is supposedly very unpleasing to them. We can't even hear it, but it worked with that dog, as well as the barn cats, which it wasn't even advertised to do. It's worth a try.

Christine said...

I applaud you for trying. I hate to be a naysayer, but I have serious doubts all your efforts will prevail though. Pits can be beautiful companion animals, and can be well trained. But something in their nerotransmitters goes berzerk every once in awhile. It's just the way they are and why they have such a bad reputation. It might be better to keep your feelers out for a home without livestock for him. Sounds like a farm is just too tempting, like an alcoholic living above a bar.

Goodwife said...

Good luck with this. We had a male boxer once that we raised from a puppy. This dog lived in the house with us and we loved him very much. He started running the neighbor's cows. We penned him up, he got out, ran them some more. We made the pen stronger. He got out and took one of the cows down, hamstringed it just like on National Geographic. He was chewing on it's ear by the time we got to him. We penned him up again. He got out again and went back to the cows. Needless to say we took him to the vet and had him put down. It was a hard decision but the only one that could be made. He had no life living in a pen and couldn't be let loose. I hope you can break Trooper of this, but I think you are setting yourself up for heartbreak. Pit Bulls are a whole different animal. Did you read that when Pit Bulls were used as cattle dogs they were bred to handle bulls, not "cattle"? If a very large 2000lb bull got out of line, the dog would clamp down onto the bulls nose and hang there until the handler got there. Bullies are wonderful dogs, but they are bred to be very gamey, to not let go, and by trying to acclimate Trooper to your farm as an adult dog not a puppy you are swimming upstream. I admire your determination and hope it works out for you. For your sake, I hope you don't have to watch this dog kill a goat kid or take your llama down in play. It has nothing to do with his breed, it has to do with his age and the fact that he wasn't socialized around farm animals from puppyhood. I love dogs and have four of my own. They get a one shot deal around here. You kill one chicken, you get the benefit of the doubt. You kill the second one and you go away. Harsh? Maybe, but that's the way it goes around here. If they ever killed a goat or a goat kid, there would be no second chances. Again, good luck.

Chef E said...

Oh no again? I have heard once a dog taste blood you cannot go back on their training, especially pits- almost instinct I have heard, trying a shock collar may be worth the effort, but if they roam about it might be too late.

gini lester said...

loose muzzle

Tammy said...

Hi Deborah,
I had no experience with bully breeds, until in a similar situation as yours, I came upon Boone,-- starved, wounded, mangy--by the side of the road. Could not say no. He is a Dogue de bordeux (think pit bull on steroids..ha). One of the first things I did was contact the DDB rescue and ask questions. I was very upset after the conversations--high prey drive being chief on the list. try to keep this short, there followed a year of me learning to handle a dog of such massive size who DID have a high prey drive. Cats were my chief concern, as I can pretty well keep him contained (fenced yard) from the sheep, chickens etc. One of the things I learned after awhile, was to divert his attention. Instead of screaming no, I would call to him to come (after teaching him about treats etc), or have him sit. It was hard for about a year. He would just totally blast off after the cats (thankfully they were never harmed). I thought about a shock collar--ALLOT, but couldn't afford one with all his medical bills too. Here three years later, he is much more mellow. Listens most of the time when I call him or tell him no. The cats can walk around him and near him and even the house cats waller on him. NOT something I ever imagined would happen. However, I don't think I would ever leave him alone with chickens or sheep. One thing I did find extremely helpful and what probably turned the corner for us, was the clicker. He really tuned into that noise, and with special treats, I was able to work with him on the prey drive issues. When he would look at a cat, I would get his attention, click, treat. Pretty soon the minute he put his eye off the cat, click, treat etc etc. It sounds as if Trouper does not have an overwhelming prey drive,(like the sad story of the boxer) but perhaps one that needs redirection. Good luck in whatever you do. It does take more vigilance and work for awhile though, and sometimes it seems more trouble than it's worth, but that is only something you can decide.

angie said...

Lots of good ideas from other posters - if anyone can do this, you can.

Our dog (the love of our life) was a Chicago-Brown-Dog-pitbull-mix. She had a strong prey drive. It did mellow as she got older and once she lived with us over the years. I think once she had a stable home it did help - it was a constant struggle though - and I was only trying to keep her from pouncing on the cats.

Again, if anyone can do this, you can. However, if you do have to make the grim decision - I am sure most of your readers would understand and support you.

thecrazysheeplady said...

What about putting a muzzle on him whenever he's outside? That way he hopefully couldn't grab anything WHILE you teach him right from wrong. Good luck.

Ann Duncan said...

Our friends love their pit bulls. And their chickens. They told me they that if a dog goes after/kills a chicken, they fasten the bird to the dog's neck and leave it there for several days. And that the dog never goes for chickens again.


Boni said...


Grabbing a goat by the neck and shaking it is not play behavior. It is predatory behavior.

I also adopted an older puppy who had not been well socialized and may have experienced some abuse, certainly neglect. We socialized her but she was never completely trust worthy. She had many run ins with other animals that we attributed to territorialism but when she killed a cat that she had lived with for a couple of years, we made the decision for humane euthanasia. We were heart broken by the loss of the cat and then the dog that we all dearly loved. In hind sight, I wish that we had made the decision to put her to sleep long before. We would have avoided a lot of worry and stress.

I wish you the best.


I need orange said...


He could still hurt critters by running them over, but at least his killing power would be lessened while you work on helping him learn the rules?

kpf said...

Such tough decisions you have. I wish I could help you make them. For what it's worth, I believe nothing really dies so I don't think it would be the worst thing if you had to put her down. You have to take care of yourself, your family, your commitment to your lifestyle and livelihood too.

pedalpower said...

That's going to be so would be great if he had a home where his prey drive wasn't being sorely tested. Your commenters are right that genetics plays a huge role here, and he's doing what nature has programmed him to do. Such a hard decision Deborah. Maybe you were the one meant to save his life, and someone else is meant to be his forever home?

I know you probably get this a lot out where you live. Joe and I have brought home 2 strays from just around the corner from you. We had to find new homes for both of them because of Joe's allergies, but they were such sweet dogs. If only people would be more responsible with their animals!


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