Picking up where I left off 2 weeks ago. Denali got a parttime job when we added a little tiny baby German Shepherd to our home. This job was only parttime because as I mentioned before that tiny little baby was our daughters furbaby Hemi and she started him young in to training. After he received all his shots and vetting, he became a traveling pup, going with her to work at the trainer’s facility, plus doggie daycare. So, he was only home half the day. But looking back on it I don’t think it was a bad thing, in all honesty I think that it kind of gave Denali a break during the day. If you know anything about German Shepherd puppies, you know they are busy. And Hemi was busy – really, busy.
But as a part time job it helped Denali to stop obsessing over watching the neighbors’ children across the street because now she had to watch Hemi. She essentially became what we called the “no fun police”. If he was running in the house she barked, if he was in something – she barked. They played together hours on end and bonded. She loved him, he loved her, they still love and adore each other.
Here is a cute video that I never planned on putting online when recorded it 4 years ago so please excuse the quality.
During the times when Hemi was off at training and daycare Denali still needed to learn to acclimate from being a working Maremma and I needed to learn how to live with a Maremma. See how I worded that – live with her. That is important to understand. I am her person but if you do some research, you will see that Maremma’s are never really pets. We have a bond, I belong to her, she doesn’t belong to me. For some of you that might be hard to understand. Yes, if I call for her from another room she will come to see if we are going to share cookies or donuts. But she certainly is not going to do lower herself in to playing a game of fetch. I told someone recently that when we first got her, I tried to throw a ball for her in the yard and she looked at me like “if you want to throw stuff out in to your yard that is fine with me but don’t think I am going to clean up after you”.
But not wanting to play ball was just a minor thing that I needed to understand and overcome. Once a Maremma decides what their space is, home, area they are guarding whatever you want to call it they are not real fond of leaving that space. Because if you leave it, who is going to be watching it?
I couldn’t get this through my own head – we bonded, she loved me, I loved her and thought that she would want to go everywhere with me like dogs that I had owned in the past. I tried every day for months on end to take her for walks. I would get the leash and she would run from me. Eventually she would allow me to hook her to the leash and we would set out down the street. At the time I didn’t understand what was going on. She would do this thing where she was getting in front of me and stopping, gently pushing herself in to me. I would say “ yep, I am still here you can keep walking”. We would get less than a quarter mile from the house and she would stop, turn around and get on her hind legs and push me. It wasn’t aggressive and it wasn’t playful either. She would refuse to go any farther, and would bee line straight back to the house, around the side of the house and to the backyard. She would make a trip around the fence line and laydown on the deck. She wasn’t about abandoning her job. She took it seriously and my idea of a good time was not her idea of a good time. I did however keep after it and eventually after about 5 months convinced her that it was ok to temporarily leave the yard and it would still be there when we got back.
Livestock Guarding Dogs do not like change – that is what that whole staring out into the distance looking for changes and alerting is all about. So, we went the same way, same direction every single day, each day I tried to get her to go a little farther each time. I think that it became a perimeter check for her. We walked one mile, never changed streets. There was a church parking lot that you could see our backyard from. As soon as she saw the church, she immediately cut through the parking lot to the backyard. I accepted this and it became our routine.
Things would go well on the walks as long as neighbors didn’t make any changes to their homes, meaning and not limited to - additional cars in their driveways, garbage cans in front of their homes, no yard decorations or yard flags. You think I am exaggerating ???
When Halloween came around and the neighbor put a carved pumpkin on their front porch – she barked for 8 ½ hours straight until she was convinced that it was not danger. If you are not familiar with Livestock Guarding Dogs please do no think that I was allowing her to do this - it is not optional. There was a change, it had a face and eyes, and it was watching our house. She would sit in the corner of the yard all day and watch that pumpkin. If she was inside, she would look out the front window. She was quite relieved when the pumpkin disappeared about a week later. We also repeated this process with Christmas decorations, snowmen, and any other decorations they put out for various holidays.
What I started to quickly learn was her actions were not out of fear, or abuse like many rescue dogs suffer from, like our Pyrenees Winston and I will touch on that at another time. Denali was not abused; yes, the person that had her failed her and took her to a shelter when she failed at her job. But there was no indication that she was starved, physically abused etc. The behaviors that she was showing me were her 2000 years of instinctual behavior. I wasn’t going to train this out of her and neither was anyone else. I as her person needed to learn to adapt to her, we all needed to learn to adapt to her. I had to learn to accept that she wanted to lay out there in our fenced backyard and that her banging at the door to go out wasn’t because she needed to go out, it was because she wanted to go out and do her job. It wasn’t that she didn’t like me or didn’t like us. She loves us, she enjoys it when I grab a chair and join her in watching the sunset, or just starring out into the distance with her. It was a process of learning to live a simpler life style one more about instincts instead of expectations and perception.
Telling our journey of adopted chicken killer to running a coffee company is far from over. Heck in the story Hemi is still a baby.