• Cindy Benson

Renzo and Kathy - A New Pup's First Days With His New Owner

Updated: Oct 30, 2020

Author: Kathy Flynn

I had no experience with livestock guardian dogs other than awareness of one dismal failure with a neighbor’s dog. Not surprisingly, the more I learned the more I realized the failure was not on the part of the dog. So when I made the decision to get LGDs for my motley herd of rescue goats, I read and researched and settled on the Maremma Sheepdog. I am lucky that I live two hours away from Cindy.

Although I had secured an experienced older dog from another breeder, Luna, I wanted a second dog and knew Cindy was expecting a litter of puppies. When I contacted her, she invited me to visit her ranch. I went there the day before I was picking up the other dog, which turned out to be a blessing.

Looking back, I realize how incredibly cheeky I was. I was getting an experienced dog (who turned out to be worth her weight in gold) and asking to buy a puppy without actually having met a Maremma. That all changed with the visit to Cindy, where we spent literally hours roaming from pasture to pasture meeting her working pairs. Thus started my education.

I learned from Cindy so much more than I’d read in the books and online. I learned about “calming touch” on the young dog who would get excited. I learned to watch their body language, and how to let them approach me. More than that, something that seared into my very core, I learned that these dogs had incredible souls. There was an intelligence and wisdom that was hard to put into words but filled my heart. I can honestly say that day changed my life.

The older dog, Luna, came to live with us and adapted quickly to her new life with her new herd. As I spent time watching her and her amazing ability to calm any situation, I learned even more. The goats had not been around LGDs and some were older. But she deescalated every situation and was soon doing her job seamlessly. I was intrigued.

Cindy’s puppies were born a week later, and within a few weeks Cindy invited me to visit. Soon afterwards I found myself making a weekly trek to her beautiful ranch to help train the puppies. I will tell you, I was actually the one getting trained. Cindy was using a program called “Puppy Culture” which I’d never heard of before. She loaned me her videos and workbook, which I watched and read. The entire concept was fascinating and made perfect sense. The puppies thrived.

I watched as they started doing perimeter checks every time we put them in a new field. Cindy patiently showed me how to watch them and their body language in order to know when they were “working” and when they were just being puppies. I assisted while Cindy exposed them to new things. We took them to the local feed store and to other areas of the ranch. Cindy pointed out when how to tell if they were ready for such exposure and how to recover from little scares such as happen from time to time. These pups were maturing into confident, inquisitive dogs. She had talked about making the puppies feel confident and curious versus fragile and dependent.

By now I had read some of Cindy’s writings, some of which broke my heart. I was determined to soak up as much as I could from watching her so I didn’t mess up our little one.

And then it was time for our puppy, now named Renzo, to come home. Cindy had already visited and suggested how to set it up for the safety of the puppy and to best integrate him with the goats and Luna. So I had an area of the barn adjacent to the goats and Luna set aside for him, with a farm gate turned upside down so that he could get in but Luna couldn’t. I had attached cattle panels that I lowered at night to lock him in.

Cindy brought him, and we introduced him to Luna, the older dog. Not surprisingly, she was accepting and to this day there have been no issues between them. We walked him around his new pasture, and got him settled in. After Cindy left, I snuck into the barn and found Renzo curled up against the gate next to a young Nigerian Dwarf wether who would become his friend. The puppy was calm and starting his new life with us.

The next day, I brought out my two most friendly goats, the wether and his mother. Renzo licked the wether’s nose and he was fine with that. When Renzo licked mom’s nose, however, she gave him a butt. It was an appropriate butt but Renzo yipped , sat on my feet and looked up at me. I looked back but didn’t comfort. He recovered quickly but I didn’t want to shake his confidence so put the goats away. In retrospect, this was WAY too soon to try to introduce him to the goats. He had been in with livestock, and they had their adult dog. But there were bound to be some adjustments at introduction, he’d been there less than 24 hours, and he was 14 weeks old.

I have a small property, only 7.5 acres, and the pasture the goats are on is a little over an acre. Their pasture is bordered on two sides by the yard around the house. One side is our neighbor’s property. And the fourth side is a fence line bordering the horse pasture and barn.

On our walk around the pasture, two of our “pet” dogs were outside. They were rambunctious but not barking. Renzo was not ready to approach them at the fence and I allowed him to choose his distance. Then the neighbor, probably unable to resist meeting this adorable ball of fluff, came out with her dog. I stood at the fence talking with my neighbor with Renzo loose. He again kept a distance and was wary of the dog. At one point he startled and ran with tail tucked back to the barn, which was already his safe place. I started to walk toward the barn because he was clearly scared, but Renzo came out and greeted me before I could go inside. I told him “good job” when he came to me and watched while he created a distance he was comfortable with from the scary thing, in this case the neighbor’s dog. I wanted him comfortable in his pasture, “owning” it. Once he was settled, I returned to the fence and again spoke with my neighbor. After a few minutes, Renzo decided to approach the fence and interacted with the neighbor’s dog. It took a couple more meetings where Renzo would initially move away, but he now approaches the dog without hesitation.

Another incident on this first full day with us occurred when the horses were kicking up their heels and kicked some gravel against the side of the metal barn. This startled Renzo and he ran toward the barn. He did not tuck his tail. This time he stopped prior to going into the barn, looked at the horses, looked at me, then chose to return to me and we continued our walk around the pasture. Later in the day, on his own, he sat near the fence and watched the horses. The older dog stood near him. Cindy had always described him as “deep waters” and this was evident as he sat and watched and pondered the ponies.

I reacted differently to the two spooks from Renzo. In the first he was clearly frightened, tucked his tail, and ran for safety. He was praised for coming back out and allowed to create whatever distance he needed in order to feel safe. In his other spooks, Renzo didn’t flee so much as he created what felt like a safe distance before turning and looking at whatever had scared him. In those cases, I didn’t go after him. If he didn’t shift his focus away from the scary thing within a short time period, I moved or spoke to him to remind him I was there and to break his focus on it. Each time this happened, he did shift his focus to me, wagged, and approached me. I told him “good job” and we got on with what we were doing.

By the end of his first full day with us, Renzo was more confident. He settled in to his stall that night sleeping against the gate where he could touch his favorite wether.

The next day, Renzo’s second, was excellent. He spent three hours with the little wether and they were both relaxed and appropriate. Renzo had two minor spooks that were small and he recovered right away. He spent time in the pasture exploring on his own. I started to teach him “touch” which he picked up immediately and enthusiastically. It was raining and gutter was clogged, so I brought in a ladder. Renzo, having been exposed to new things throughout his upbringing, responded to the ladder with a wagging tail as he watched. By the end of his second day, Renzo was spending time out in the pasture with Luna while the goats were still locked in the barn.

By day three, Renzo was running up the hill to greet me. He’d met all three pet dogs through the fence and touched noses. And he had no “spooks”. Before long the two friendliest goats were with he and Luna full time. Then the other goats were added, in order of friendliness, until they were all living together.

A month later, Renzo decided he should play with the goats. He was now four months old and being a playful puppy. His chasing was not malicious, but was also not acceptable. A long phone consult with Cindy later, Renzo was dragging around a long cord which we could step on while out with him. I was actually amazed at how quickly he understood and stopped.

Renzo’s calm and confident behavior at the veterinarian’s office prompted my vet to buy Puppy Culture, and recommend it to her clients who get puppies. Now at eight months and 100 pounds, Renzo is taller than Luna. He occasionally needs a quick verbal diversion from interacting with the goats, but they are calm and their behavior tells me there is not a problem. I have seen the little wether with the zoomies and Renzo walk quietly past. I watched one day when Renzo was running around and almost ran into one of the adult Kikos as he turned a corner. Her reaction was to rear up and threaten to butt him. Renzo plopped his butt on the ground and looked away from her, which deescalated the situation and she walked away. Later I saw her lying down and Renzo went over to her and quietly put a paw on her as if to make peace. She lay there with this big dog paw on her and never stopped chewing her cud.

Renzo is still a puppy and no doubt will have moments where he needs guidance, but I have learned from Cindy how to deal with him in a way that cultivates confidence and cooperation. Plus Cindy is an ongoing resource and wealth of information. Renzo is a valued partner and is quickly becoming a trusted guardian.

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