Saturday, March 15, 2008

Country Dogs

Dogs have been called man’s best friend. I’ve never really figured out why unless it is because of their devotion and loyalty – even when treated like a – well, uh, a dog.

Dogs are a part of living in the country. Rarely do you drive by a farmstead where there aren’t one or two dogs present. Sometimes they just lie on the porch or the yard and watch you drive by and at other times they chase you.

Country dogs are frequently treated very differently than city dogs. They are often left to roam about the farm with little impediment. Their city cousins are usually impounded within a yard or kennel or even more frequently, in the house. This difference in treatment must have an impact on their personality.

I have owned a number of dogs through the years. The first that I remember well was a Bassett/Beagle cross that used to accompany me as I trekked the pasture as a youngster. My father insisted that I always have the dog with me as protection against the occasional rattlesnake that I might stumble upon. She proved herself more than once in that capacity. Eventually she was bitten on the jaw by one of the snakes – although not while in my company. I was amazed at her recovery after a few weeks.

Some years later I acquired another dog while working as a Veterinary Assistant. She was a young Australian Shepherd who had been kicked in the eye by a cow. The owner gave her to me rather than “putting her down.” I removed the eye with the assistance of the Veterinarian and enjoyed her company for many years. She was a very intelligent and very gentle dog. Apparently, she also had a long memory. She never would go near cows again.

My one-eyed cow dog gave me a litter of pups one year. The father must have been a coyote – literal, not figurative. I kept one of those pups for a few years. She was one of the best hunters that I have ever seen. That hunting instinct was also a failing. She thought the neighbor’s cattle were game and had to be destroyed.

One of my favorite dogs was a Redbone Coonhound named Beauregard. He was a beautiful dog when grown, although extremely awkward as a pup. We lived near the Republican River in Nebraska and tried keeping him and our Chocolate Lab in a pen when they weren’t hunting. Beau was a master at escape though. If he got a scent in his nostrils he became obsessed with pursuit and would manage an escape. We always knew when he was out because he would start baying as he pursued the scent. I thought it was some of the most beautiful music in the world. He would take the Lab on his hunts. They made a great team. He would chase down the game and she would retrieve it. They constantly provided us with “offerings” left on the porch.

My newest dog is a tri-colored Australian Shepherd. He is extremely “intelligent” as far as his ability to learn tricks. That intelligence makes him a handful as well. He seems to have a mind of his own and requires constant vigilance to keep him out of trouble.

So, what do dogs have to do with agriculture? I think they are so deeply entrenched into the agrarian world that we overlook their usefulness. First, they keep us company. Often the lonely workday is eased by the company of a faithful companion riding along in the pickup. Second, they provide protection. Their alertness acts as a sentry for things that we often fail to notice – such as snakes or approaching strangers. The sometimes isolated nature of country life occasionally attracts individuals with malicious intent. Good watch dogs are important when you live a good distance from your nearest neighbor. Third, they work for us. If you have ever seen a good dog work cattle or sheep you know exactly what I mean. It is amazing to see the obedience as the dog responds to the commands of his handler.

I guess after reflection that it certainly is true; dogs are man’s best friend --especially out in the country.


Sue said...

Chris, I ran across the blog of a rancher/poet/folksinger whose work you might find interesting:


Janie said...

No sweeter dance than that of a good working dog and a herd of cattle and the dog's master calling the shots.

Poetry in motion, it is.

The Hermit said...

Dogs are an important part of my household out here in the mountains. They are loyal, as you point out, and they'll stick with you and take what comes along, good or bad. They never desert you in hard times.
I have hounds. They roam the national forest I live in to their hearts content. Sometimes they don't come back, but that's better than being penned up all their lives.
If I didn't have my dogs outside at night up on this mountain, I doubt I'd sleep a wink. I have electronic alarms on the few approaches to my home place, but I consider them far and away secondary in importance to the canine sentinels I have guarding my place.
I watched a show on History Channel not long ago that emphasized the importance of the dog to early man, and it struck me that at least has not changed over the years.

Plowing and Sowing said...

I never had a "good" or "special" dog growing up. It wasn't until I was a junior at A&M, that I had my first "special" dog. He lasted for several years and was a great cow dog. He loved to work cows more than I did. It wasn't until WD got Cooter, our hog hunting, cow working, rabbit hunting labrador retriever that I had my next special dog. I am enjoying watching WD with Cooter and now 3 Catahoula puppies.

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WomanHonorThyself said...

my doggie was the whole family's best friend!

ptg said...

The relationship between us and our dogs goes back for eons. We became what we are today with dogs close by our home fires, changing along with us. Not really domesticated, but free to associate with us or no. I believe the dog chose the man for a companion and partner, not the reverse.

i beati said...

I could name such a long list of farm dogs - faithful and true-- now on the other hand...??