Monday, February 5, 2018

Old Man Reno

Reno came to us as a 6-month-old puppy from a goat producer above Nevada City in 2008. In his first several years with us, we wondered if he'd ever grow up. He'd chase sheep and chew on lambs' ears whenever he got the chance. Fortunately, by the time he was 2, he'd figured out his job - and he's since become the best livestock guardian dog we've ever had.

As a young adult dog, Reno began to take the job of protection seriously. Not only did he protect the sheep from predators, he took it upon himself to keep an eye on our daughters when they were with me at the ranch as well. If someone Reno didn't know showed up, he'd be sure to place himself between the girls and the stranger. I could always tell when the ewes had started to lamb - rather than come to eat his dog food, he could be found watching over the lambing ewe. He never stole lambs, but he'd always make sure everyone was alright.

Like all working dogs (and like all people, I suppose), Reno has his quirks. He's offended by cats and raccoons (much to their detriment). He's the boss dog - sometimes he won't let the other dogs drink until he's gone off to nap. If he gets out of our electric fence (which only happens if there's a problem with the fence), we can forget about catching him - he always comes back, but on his own terms. If we call to him and chase him, he runs away - I suspect he'd extend a middle finger if he had one!

And yet despite his aggression towards predators big and small and his desire to roam when he's out of the paddock, he's a gentle soul. When I walk him on a lead, he walks beside me and leans against me. He's been known to let lambs climb on him. He has the most peaceful eyes of any guardian dog we've owned.

This is his tenth winter, and his age is showing. He's stiff in the morning (we're starting to give him glucosomine for his joints). He sleeps during much of the day. I think this will be his last lambing season - we've put Bodie with him with the hope that he'll learn from the best. I suspect that Reno will correct Bodie if he behaves inappropriately towards a new lamb or a lambing ewe. With age, however, Reno has also grown in knowledge (don't we all hope to do so?). Last weekend, I needed to put him in the back of the truck to take him to another ranch. He used to jump in the truck readily; stiff hips have made jumping difficult. As I climbed in to the bed of the truck, he watched me step onto the bumper and then the tailgate. He did the same thing, putting his front feet on the bumper. He then let me climb down and lift his rear end into the truck.

I know I've said this before, but I find it difficult to explain my relationship with my dogs to someone who has never relied on a working dog. As with any partner, I can sometimes be annoyed with Reno (and I'm sure he gets annoyed with me). I've loved pets; I think my relationship with my working dogs (herding and guarding) goes far deeper. Simply put, I respect them. I'm constantly amazed by their intelligence and dedication to their work. We share affection, certainly; we also share a love for our livelihoods.

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