Anyone who has taken a walk or gone on a bike ride in the country knows that farm dogs are dogs with a mission.
Whether they meet and greet the harmless passer-by in a polite fashion or bark viciously at her, they know they are there to keep an eye on the farm and to alert their owners to unusual activities in their territory. Marauding raccoons, hawks overhead or pilfering coyotes must be kept away from livestock – and who knows what to make of people on bikes?
To do his job, a farm dog is usually allowed to roam the premises without restrictions. A responsible dog owner, therefore, will not expect his dog to face his many chores without a proper education.
When we acquired a new Leonberger puppy in the spring of 2011, we intended to enroll her in Puppy Kindergarten, offered by the Hutchinson Kennel Club. Leonbergers are big dogs when fully grown since the breed was designed to resemble lions and contains strains of the St. Bernard and the Newfoundland. We wanted to have our “lion” trained before she reached man-eating proportions and I, for one, knew I would need help in the endeavor.
When Misha arrived, she was a woolly bundle with a friendly nose and curly black ears. Everyone immediately commented on Misha’s huge paws, and as she grew rapidly through the summer months she put them to good use: They were a great help in digging holes the size of buffalo wallows in irrigated flower beds and left welts on bare legs when the puppy tried to encourage her human companions to play.
Misha’s baby teeth were as sharp as needles, and she harassed anyone stepping out the back door by nipping at hands and boots until our children, close to tears, declared they did not like the new puppy anymore.
Clearly some manners had to be taught to the exuberant young lion, and where better to learn how to play nicely with others than in kindergarten? By the time we had our dog enrolled with a helpful volunteer at the Hutchinson Kennel Club, it was early October and Misha was no longer a woolly bundle but a strapping young hooligan with lots of energy and no knowledge of the world beyond the farm and the inside of a farm pickup truck. With her propensity for digging, she was usually dirty and a leash to her was another interesting object to grab at and chew on.
Before we loaded her into the family van to take her to her first class, Misha had to have a bath. We bought some dog shampoo, put her in the children’s wading pool and, with my daughter holding the leash, I lathered the furry, squirmy big puppy, rinsed with the garden hose and tied her to the garden fence to dry. By the time we had loaded the excited kindergarten student and driven out to her class, we were a little late. Misha added to our disheveled and breathless appearance by sturdily refusing to be rushed past the interesting smells outside the small Kennel Club building.
Finally we were duly registered and seated on a bench by the small arena where Misha’s kindergarten buddies were assembled: a stout young Golden Retriever, a tiny Chihuahua, a black spaniel and a scared-looking puppy of indistinguishable origin, whining and squirming around their owners’ legs as the volunteer group leader welcomed the new students and explained the aim of the class. Misha, all eager nose and straining at the leash toward her new classmates, paid no attention to what her teacher had to say about socializing dogs at an early age to help them learn the proper etiquette in dealing with other dogs and unfamiliar people. But when we were given the signal to release our dogs so they could play and get to know each other, she shot off like an arrow and bowled over the Chihuahua in her eagerness to sniff out all the dogs present at once. Wagging furiously, she dove at one and then another, sending some sheltering behind their owners’ boots and others running around the arena in excitement while creating total chaos in the ring.
We were soon encouraged to put our dogs on their leashes again.
The class was ready to start our first exercise, which was to be walking around the ring, dogs by our side, in an orderly fashion.
Misha loved Puppy Kindergarten. She paid very little attention to voice commands or tugs on the leash while being led in a circle around the arena. She sat absentmindedly when asked, took treats when they were offered, and dropped them on the floor while gaping at the mirror that made up the west wall of the training room.
There were dogs in there, too! Her eyes were constantly on the other dogs, and she now inhaled a thousand smells, ancient and new, all of them telling her about the real world, the dog world. However, much as I came to dread our weekly sessions, much as I hated being dragged around the ring and ignored in my attempts to focus my puppy’s attention on me, I learned how to train our dog to walk on the leash, sit, lie down, stay and wait and to pay attention to her owner.
While Misha was not going to waste any precious minutes on performing these tricks at kindergarten, she was a willing student at home on the farm, where treats were not as plentiful and visiting dogs a rarity.
At the end of the two-month class, Misha had learned all the required commands. Her performance at Puppy Kindergarten was inconsistent, but Misha graduated without serious mishap to the Chihuahua or the excitable spaniel. I had learned much, and our dog had made many new friends.
Most importantly, I was confident that our farm dog would never pay the least attention to any pedestrian passing by our lane in the country – as long as they had a dog with them.
Originally from Switzerland, where she was an English teacher, Andrea Nisly came to Kansas 20 years ago to farm and dairy with her husband, Calvin, in Reno County. They have four children. For more farm blogs, visitwww.kansasagland.com.