Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Grace's first visit to the barn

Yesterday evening was so nice, I decided to run out to the barn for a short visit. The dogs got really excited while I was trying to get my husband to come with me, so since he wouldn't, I decided to bring one of the dogs.

I chose Grace, our American white shepherd, because she and Panama both lived with my in-laws for a little while around the same time. My brother- and sister-in-law rescued her, but after a year of living with them she wasn't doing well, being a nervous dog and not at all suited for a chaotic household. So we adopted her instead.

Grace, our American white shepherd, on her first real visit to the barn

To my knowledge she didn't get outside often to interact with the horses at the in-laws' place, but once about a year ago we took her to the barn I was at then. She was on the leash, but she still ran right up to Panama — and he came right up to her. I'm certain they remembered one another.

Anyway, last night was her first visit to this barn, and her first long visit to any barn. She's been in the car before when we stop off at the barn, and she always gets very excited. Last night was no different. When I got there the horses were all eating hay near the fence, and she simply couldn't wait to get in there. I left my camera in the car because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to handle it and her (she's a big, strong dog). Too bad — it turns out I needed it!

Panama came right up to us when we walked in. When I turned around from latching the gate behind us, I was surprised to also find the big new horse — Panama's new girlfriend — coming close to inspect Grace. Some movement either Grace or I made startled her, and she wheeled around and ran off. But even though she was the most scared of Grace, she also proved to be the most curious about her, and kept coming up to us the whole visit, timidly sticking her nose way out to sniff Grace from afar.

I took Grace with me into the tack room, a building with the access door on one side of the pasture. While I was standing there, Grace kept pulling toward the door, and when I finally turned around to see why, I found that Panama was standing in the doorway! He and Grace sniffed each other's faces all over, and she didn't seem scared at all. I wish I'd had my camera on me, because it was adorable.

But then — alas — Panama decided to be a typical not-quite-4-year-old, and see what would happen if he mouthed Grace's back. The first time she didn't respond, so he tried a bit harder... and a bit harder. The third time, I could tell he actually bit her, and at the same time as she jumped around to face him, I chased him off. I don't think he understands that she's not another horse, because what he's doing is exactly the same half-playful, half-affectionate nips that the horses give one another.

Overall, though, Grace was doing really well, so after about 20 minutes I took her off the leash and let her go. First I walked with her into the back pasture, where we greeted the neighbors' horses.

Then we started walking back to the front pasture. Grace knew we were getting ready to leave, and booked it toward the gate — only to realize that the horses stood between her and freedom. I called her back, but the horses came too. I'm not sure if Grace had any plan for herding them, or if she thought she was protecting me from the big bad horses, but it was funny to watch her little dance. She seems to be torn between her shepherd instincts and a healthy fear of the horses' feet.

I decided to put Grace back on the leash and try one more time to get her and Panama to make friends again. Unfortunately, she was skittish around him (having been mouthed a few times by now) and he was NOT helping matters any when he mouthed her rump again!

I think Grace will be a very good barn dog eventually, but in the meantime I have my work cut out for me, as I have to teach both her and Panama to do the opposite of what they want to do. He has to learn that she's not another horse and he can't bite her, and she has to learn not to try to herd them out of nervousness.

Have any of you taken a dog that was completely unfamiliar with horses, and taught it to cohabitate with them? If so, how did you do it?



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