Yes, that very large dog giving me a smooch is Aaron, our second Maremma livestock guardian dog. And he is, at 8 months of age, still very much a puppy! In early December, when we last weighed him, he clocked in at 104 pounds, and he's grown quite a bit since then. Over on the right is our original Maremma, Gina, who I wrote about last June. In that blog post I spelled her name "Gena," but since then I've decided -- for no reason I can recall -- to spell it Gina instead. (She says, "Hey, I don't care how you spell it as long as it sounds the same to me.")
We got Aaron last August when he was almost 3 months old, and he looked like a polar bear cub. Cutest thing I've ever seen. Because Gina was already pretty well advanced in years when she came to us (she's 9 now), the plan all along was to have her "train" the next generation of Maremmas for us. Although there are two excellent books on livestock guardian dogs -- see this and this -- the best way for an LGD puppy to "learn the trade" is by pairing him or her with an experienced dog. They are born with the instincts, because they've been bred for this duty for centuries. But to hone those innate skills, there's nothing more effective than having an adult to show the youngsters the ropes.
Even at just a few months of age, it was clear Aaron was going to be a great livestock guardian dog. We'd take the goats out to the browse paddock in the woods first and turn them loose, then go back and get Gina and Aaron and take them down to the paddock. We'd watch this big, white fluffy puppy go bounding through the woods, racing up to each group of goats, observing for a few seconds, and then running off to check out the next group. We swear it's like he was counting noses to make sure all the goats were accounted for at the beginning of his shift.
Both Gina and Aaron are incredibly sweet, sensitive and affectionate dogs. Aaron is a pure lovebug and a real kisser. They are very wary -- but not aggressive -- with strangers who approach the goat pens or browse paddocks, but with Alayne and me, they just want to be loved up. Here's a close-up of Aaron:
In the first shot, you can see we've already been at it and he's circling around to come at me ... while I'm clapping my hands, which is the signal we've worked out to tell him it's okay to jump on me:
Even so, he's so quick he catches me off-guard, as you can see from my expression (I had to laugh when I saw this shot on the computer):
I grab the big lug and start trying to wrestle him to the ground:
The rules say you can't do this, but he decides right then and there that this is as good a time as any to sneak a kiss in:
I go back to trying to get a bear hug on the polar bear:
We house Gina and Aaron in a large fenced pen adjacent to the goat pen. When we first got Gina she stayed with the goats, which is standard practice for livestock guardian dogs, but we discovered that some of the dominant goats were head-butting her. The livestock guardian dogs have been bred to be submissive to livestock, and Gina simply wouldn't protect or defend herself, let alone give one of the offending goats a nip. This happened only in confinement in the pen, and not out on the browse paddocks, so we set Gina up with her own quarters. Here is where Gina and now Aaron live:
That's a 12' wide by 14' deep Quonset hut -- very cheap, portable livestock housing that will last for decades. We constructed a hay bale "house" inside (think "straw bale house" and you get the idea). The walls and roof are made of hay bales, and the floor is made of several pallets covered with rubber stall mats, and filled with several bales of loose hay for an extra soft and comfy bed that's about a foot thick. We created a narrow "tunnel" in the front for access into the deep interior of the house, which keeps out any wind, snow or rain from getting inside:
The double-envelope design of the hay bale house inside the Quonset hut makes it surprisingly warm.
But the Maremmas go crazy if we don't take them out. The exceptions are if it's raining, sleeting, or snowing hard -- in which case we want them to stay in and have shelter, even if they think they'd rather be out in the woods. If it's below zero but otherwise calm and clear weather, we'll put them out for a couple of hours before bringing them back in early. It's like they get cabin fever!
Here's our beautiful Gina:
Bear in mind that Gina is a big girl in her own right -- she weighs 94 pounds herself -- so you can see how much bigger Aaron is than she is at this point. And I don't think he's done growing!
New Shelter Challenge Contest -- Please Vote for the Farm!
The latest Shelter Challenge started Monday, January 7 and ends on April 28. Grand prize in this round is $10,000, $3,000 for second place and $1,000 for third place, plus $1,000 for weekly winners and $1,000 for state winners. There are also other categories ... please see the Shelter Challenge website for details.
*** You will find us listed as Rolling Dog Farm. The state is NH for New Hampshire. ***
Please remember, you can vote every day ... consider bookmarking the voting page to make it easy.
We just won $1,000 as a weekly winner in the last contest, and thousands more in the previous contests. The Shelter Challenge really does bring in a lot of money for the animals here!
You can vote in the Shelter Challenge here.
Thank you for your votes!