Thursday, January 17, 2013

Building Unity Farm - Managing Willful Dogs

Great Pyrenees are a strong willed dog breed.   Historically Basque shepherds left their dogs alone to guard flocks.   The dogs had to make decisions for themselves, sound the alarm to scare away predators, and defend their own food.   This tradition makes them very independent thinkers, frequent barkers, and are rather protective about their food.

The Great Pyrenees that guard our Alpaca sleep much of the day, patrol the paddocks at night, and bark at the threatening sounds they hear, which include marauding raccoons, howling coyotes, deer crashing through brush, teenagers having a distant party, and the wind blowing through the willows.  

They are wonderful dogs, amazing companions to their charges, and very friendly to humans.    I run several miles with them a day, always keeping them on a lead built for two, since they are very willful and are likely to run for miles to keep their territory safe.

Just as raising children can require patience and agility, so does raising dogs.

Just as being an IT leader requires equanimity and consensus building, so does living with Great Pyrenees.  In my career as a CIO. I've learned that raising your voice, diminishes you and accomplishes nothing.  The same holds true with Great Pyrenees

If it's 3am and the dogs are doing their job - barking at sounds that seem threatening.  What do you do?  Yell at them to stop barking?   Lock them in the barn?  Lift them by the scruff of the neck and tell them they are bad dogs?

None of these approaches work.   Yelling is the human equivalent of barking and the dogs think you are raising an alarm.     Willful dogs do not understand punishment or force.

Instead, I use an approach that recognizes them for doing a good job and puts them at ease.    I put on my boots and head out to the paddocks.    I greet the dogs and thank them for raising an alarm.   I walk the fence lines, checking for threats and watch the behavior of the llama and alpacas.    If the threat seems to have passed, I tell the dogs that they are good dogs, doing their job.   I thank them.   I pet them by rubbing their temples.     I nuzzle their heads underneath my neck and tell them the all is well.

Once they understand that I am satisfied with their guarding and have now taken responsibility for the threat they identified, they stop barking and return to their patrols.

This approach of love, reassurance, positive reinforcement, gentle touching, and communication works just about 100% of the time.

Although some believe that management by intimidation achieves results expediently, it does not build loyalty and is not sustainable.     For 15 years I've managed by creating trust and loyalty.  The same approach works with willful dogs.

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