“BAAAAD, BAAAAD DOG!!! NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!”
I almost didn’t want to set foot into our farmyard. I knew exactly what had happened. I took a deep breath, looked out the window, and saw nothing – they were out of view. Curiosity, however, won the better of my judgment and out I went, peeking around the corner of the smoke house. There was Scott, wrestling with Bear, our formerly all-white Anatolian Shepherd dog. He was angrily reprimanding the blood-covered dog, with one hand firmly holding him by the collar and the other wearily yielding a formerly living adult hen, now dangling by its one remaining leg. “BEAR!!! Naughty DOG!”
Ten months prior… Tiny day-old chicks arrived by the dozens – nearly 1,000 organic chicks at one point! Bear was in heaven, pulling on the leash “just to look”—all the time. We’d take him on walks near the chicks, tie him up near them, in the chicken coop, in the field, all within feet of the little fuzzy creatures. We’d cuddle the chickens in front of him, hold them, talk to them, “training” via showing Bear that these chickens were our friends, and therefore, not food. He respected this ritual for some time. We honestly thought he got it. Sort of. Only once did he put his big black nose too close to the solar powered electric fence. The subsequent howl was enough of a deterrent – for a while. Bear was never allowed to run free – ever – near any chickens, so he was tied up, typically far away from them. He hadn’t shown us his proper protection instincts quite yet, so we kept the big guy at bay and the chickens behind electric wire—at least until they were big enough and trained to return to the coop at night on their own.
The extended electric fence initially kept Bear and the free-range chickens separated from one another. However, as the chickens grew and expanded their pecking range, we took down the fence and Bear’s curiosity grew. The chickens, however, were oblivious to Bear’s temptations and continued to unintentionally torment him, drawing ever closer—often drinking out of his water bowl, right next to him!! Oh the courage—or folly, as it were!
Stomp, stomp, stomp Scott went, away from Bear, with focused thoughts and a mission in mind.
“Go AWAY!!” he yelled at me.
What, ME? Really?! I thought, but quickly complied, not wanting to be anywhere near the dead chicken and the dog, much less “The Prosecutor” at this point.
Three years earlier… Bear is a one-year-old Anatolian Shepherd puppy from Wayside Waifs. We’re trying to train him, to no avail. On advice from trainers and websites, we’d full on body press him, flip him over to show our dominance, give out extensive treats, affection, hugs, positive reinforcement, you name it. Nada. Not even official dog-training worked. Would he sit? Sure, for meat. Would he come? No way. Stay? What the heck is that?
Have you ever met an Anatolian Shepherd? Training is something you vaguely attempt before age 2, and expect these dogs to hear nothing until age 4, apparently. At some magical point, somewhere near 4 years of age—from what we’re told, but we’re still waiting, clearly—they begin to hear you and occasionally pretend to obey – if you offer the proper incentive. Anatolians are fiercely loyal, highly protective, strong as a horse, and traditionally used as livestock guardian dogs (LGDs). They have been around for 6,000 years. Anatolians are the top LGD in the world, when trained. So good, in fact, that a Turkish farmer passed away in the summer outfield during an extended period living away from the main farm. The dogs continued to guard the sheep, even giving birth to a litter of puppies and raising them in the field with their flock for several months. Were there any sheep missing from the flock when the farmer was discovered dead many months later? Not one.
Anatolian Shepherds have recently been given to farmers in Africa as part of an extinction prevention program for the cheetah. (See David Letterman show.) Farmers, frustrated at the massive losses due to cheetahs and other livestock predators, have traditionally shot and killed the big cats. The Anatolians, however, some weighing up to 160 pounds, have been specifically trained to chase off the cheetahs and protect the flocks. It is important to note that these canines have to be trained properly, from birth, living with the flock as their family. “Frenemies for Life” by John Becker is an excellent children’s book, published to help the Cheetah Conservation Fund and raise awareness for the fastest land animal on earth.
Our thinking was that we’d eventually have live animals at our farm, and Bear was to be a part of that plan. Of Scott’s plan, that is. I got a call while last-minute grocery shopping, on the day before Thanksgiving, that went something like this: “Hey, you need to come to Wayside Waifs! I’m about to adopt our newest family member!” “What?!” “YEAH! Hurry and get over here before they close!” Uh oh. Eighty pounds later, at just a puppy, we brought him home.
While training Bear, I discovered he had learned the word “chicken” to mean treats. “Chicken” became the greatest food on earth to Bear, the perpetual dog-in-training. Did I think proactively, consider the possibility of us actually acquiring living chickens at some point and use a different word? Of course not. “Chicken” became our go-to word. It was used to lure the beast in from the back yard, when chasing him down for 45 minutes didn’t work. It was used to get him into the car, when car rides were not yet fun. It was used when he’d tear a chunk of the fence off and escape into the woods behind our home. We used “chicken” for getting him to sit, stay, lay down, come, “get out of the kitchen”, “off my bed”, and so forth. It meant food. Pure and simple, delicious, lovely, wonderful food. It worked. And now we had nearly 1,000 live chickens all tempting fate. Oh boy!
Back to the present. Minutes that felt like hours passed as I recused myself back inside the cottage, not wanting to interfere with whatever method had been stirred up by the Prosecutor to punish Bear for his misdemeanor. My curiosity won out and I ventured outside again, only to see Scott walking with the chicken in hand, now firmly attached to something. He was headed directly toward Bear.
“Could it BE?” Bear thought. I watched the dog begin to grin and immediately sit down with an instant THUMP, thinking his dreams had come true. He sat and stayed so sweetly, imagining that Scott was bringing him his prized treat BACK to finish it off! “What a joyful moment this is! I can hardly believe my luck! I can’t believe it! What a great day this is!”
Carefully and methodically, Scott tied that dead chicken around Bear’s neck. Firmly and securely. At first, Bear couldn’t believe his luck as he quickly attempted to finish it off, licking at it from odd angles, attempting to eat the rest of it. “Wow! I am the happiest dog alive! This is awesome!”
After a few minutes of this flawed logic, however, he realized something: he couldn’t really reach any more of the meat. And the thing was still attached. Somewhat firmly and rather permanently, mind you, and it wasn’t going anywhere any time soon. “WHAT?! Really? Now what? How do I get this thing off? Hey, can you get this thing off my neck? What’s the deal? (Roll, roll, stretch, flay about.) Why is it still hanging here? Wait, where are you all going? Are you LEAVING ME?” He began to crazily roll around on the ground, attempting to free himself of the chicken, but no luck, as we all walked away, back to our work. The chicken just stayed, attached, just out of reach, but close enough to be torturous. The Prosecutor had handed down the sentence.
Our kids had activities that night, so we left Bear at the farm, chicken and all, and went to the kids’ events. We came back, of course, to Bear sulking, wearing his Chicken Necklace. He’d rolled around desperately, attempting to remove the necklace, unsuccessfully. He couldn’t get any more meat off the bird and it was still hanging there. Dang it. And it was beginning to really stink. Did you know that a dog’s sense of smell is 600 times more intense than ours?
We briefly considered leaving Bear at the farm to pay for his transgressions. We’d heard from other farmers that “the necklace method” was highly effective at removing any future desire to kill the family flock, but that it had to stay on for 48 hours. Holy Moley! We quickly realized, however, we couldn’t leave this domesticated Akbash Anatolian alone, tied up at the farm, without any means to defend himself. So we took him home, in the car, with all the windows down. Did I mention it was December, and there was a dead chicken still hanging around the dog’s neck?
After clearing out an entire garage bay, placing a blanket on the floor and supplying food and water, we hooked Bear up to a leash, closed the garage doors and went to bed. Bear and his stinky chicken were banned from the house.
5 a.m.: Scratch, scratch, scratch! Oh dear, our Houdini dog has done it again. Bear is an expert escape artist. He can open locked doors, even a dead bolt, necessitating kiddie locks at the tops of exit doors. He’s let himself out of hotel rooms, down halls, and into closed stairwells. Now, he’s knocking on the door to his house. “Let me in! I know you’re in there. Get this chicken off my neck. It smells bad! I want my regular bed!”
Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, down the stairs. How on earth did you get this leash detached from the garage beam, Bear? It’s not even broken. Are you sure you’re not Houdini reincarnated? We reattached the leash to the beam and went back to bed.
6 a.m. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Seriously? What in the world? He needs to go out, Scott said, so he let him outside, in our back yard, and went back to bed. Untied. With a chicken around his neck. In our back yard. In a residential community. With neighbors that already think we’re a bit on the weird side. And our dog too. He’s big. And sometimes loud. And scary, to some.
6:30 a.m. BARK, BARK, BARK!
“He’ll stop, don’t worry.”
“He might escape – please get up.”
A few minutes’ more barking passed. Then silence. Silence usually means trouble.
I flew downstairs, scanned the empty back yard, only to discover a brand new gaping hole in the fence! Luckily, I caught a glimpse of our Houdini dog, still with chicken necklace tied around his neck, (how?), wandering along the fence line toward the street. The STREET!
Thinking quickly, still in full-pajama mode, I ran to the front of the house, flung open the door, and called out to Bear. Ordinarily, he simply glances over, laughs at me and runs off in another direction – “You’ll never catch ME, ha ha!” This time, however, he immediately heads toward me. “OH BOY! You’re going to let me IN THE HOUSE? Oh yeah! Here I come!”
Bear is focused and heading directly to the front door, complete with dead chicken hanging off sideways. How is this so easy, I wonder, but the luck was short-lived. Just as I was lunging to grab Bear by the collar, I glance at a figure on the sidewalk. Really? Oh no. Not now. Not ever. Please, Dear Lord, make this moment, with me and my chicken-necklaced dog, disappear – and fast.
There, on our front sidewalk, walking with a happy-go-lucky stride, is one of my lovely neighbors. I know he can see quite well, thank you. He is walking his two adorable and sweet little fluff-ball doggies. They are not too fond of Bear, to be honest. He’s roughly eight times their size, with his 110 pounds. As I glance in the neighbor’s direction, and just as I grab Bear by the collar and yank him away from Sweet Little Doggies, my normally quite-composed neighbor comes to a dead stop in front of my house. Staring, mouth gaping open, he begins to slowly, ever-so-slowly, back up, pulling his darling doggies along with him, backwards. “What the BLEEP?!” I’m quite sure he thinks to himself. “Did I just see that? What WAS that? Some kind of bird? What is going on?” I don’t even give my neighbor a second glance, too afraid of what could happen next. I quickly slam the door and disappear, grabbing/dragging my Chicken Necklace Houdini dog back into the house and straight through to the garage.
Did I explain anything to my lovely neighbor? Um, no. I’m kind of hoping he thought he hallucinated prior to his morning coffee. One can only hope! At some point, I realize, I owe him an explanation or two, but for now, I’m still and forever in the Weirdo Neighbor category!
Bear wore that Chicken Necklace for nearly 36 hours. Did the dog learn his lesson? Absolutely-we will say confidently. Does he still lick his lips when he sees chickens? Sure. Does he lunge at them? No way. The next few weeks were full-on training mode. Our free-range chickens were wandering within 2-3 feet of him, still drinking out of his water bowl, and Bear simply stared at them, remembering…
—Jennifer Ward, Be Free Family Farm
*Credit for the title goes to Amy Muehlhausen, my friend who knows a thing or two about dogs and chickens