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  • Reyna Bradford

The Sport of Fencing (written 6/5/22)

Raising any puppy is a lot of work. Raising this particular puppy has been an absolute nuisance.


Where to begin with Valor? The last four months with her have been a patchwork of irritation, worry, frustration, and disappointment.


But let's begin with the good stuff. Because, like every other dog, Valor really is a good one. The difficulty comes when I consider all the expectations attached to her.


For those who can't quite keep up with all of Reyna's dogs, a quick refresh. Valor is the latest addition. She is an Armenian gampr, a breed specifically developed for living with and guarding livestock. This, of course, is why I got her. I need a younger dog beside eight-and-a-half-year-old Drifter to watch the goats, and for various reasons, I decided to branch out and go with a new, largely unknown breed.


To give her credit, Valor is already a very vigilant dog who only barks when there's a reason. She has a good bark, too, even at only six months old. It is loud, intimidating, and surprisingly forceful. Very different from Drifter's droning monotone.


She is also friendly. And that's where the first problem pops up.


She is too friendly. Waaaaaay too friendly. She absolutely adores people. And here's where we come to the delineation between house dogs and guardian dogs. I want my house dogs to be friendly. I would much rather have them be super friendly and ultra people-oriented than have them be shy or fearful with strangers. But guardian dogs need to be judicious. Not unfriendly, but discerning about new people. In other words, you don't want them rushing over to a complete stranger and flinging themselves all over the person in question, and then throwing themselves down in front of the newcomer for a belly rub. Not naming names, of course, as to which guardian dog is actually doing all those things.


Valor was raised by a family in Arkansas who had several younger children. And really, how are you supposed to keep the puppies and kids away from each other? I understand how it happened, but my opinion is that she was cuddled and handled far too much as a baby, and is now much too interested in people. At this age, we want her to recognize the goats and Drifter as her family group, rather than longing to come into the house and live with the humans.


Then there was the fence climbing. Like many large, strong, athletic guardian breeds, it didn't take Valor long to realize that fences were optional. Her first conquest was the gate between pastures. Because she was still too young to mingle freely with the goats, my strategy had been to keep her separate in that pasture during the day, then open the gate adjoining the pastures and let her run with Drifter overnight while the goats were penned up. Integration would come slowly, and in the meantime, she had a calf hut, a water tub, and an acre of land to call her own during the day. Until, that is, she learned to climb the gate, and then she was in with them whenever she wanted.


Once she learned to scale that gate, then it was on to climbing the pasture fence itself. That's when I took drastic action. When I found her whining and wagging at the front gate on the driveway, I hardened my heart and decided lockdown was in order. We needed a good, old-fashioned electric fence. And until I could locate someone to install it, I secured her on a thirty-foot tie-out chain.


It has been decades since I have tied out a dog, and I have never done so voluntarily. But when you have one that can't be contained by standard fencing, there isn't much else in the short-term you can do.


We were both unhappy. She, naturally, became even wilder and more desperate for human contact, and I became more morose and unwilling to interact with her. All I had wanted was a steady guardian with a lot of work ethic, who would use Drifter as a role model. No, strike that. I hadn't even wanted her. I had needed her. And there is a major difference. A new puppy really hadn't been high on my wish list. But with Drifter aging, it was a necessity. Why did everything always have to be so hard?


Honestly, I should have installed a hot wire before even bringing Valor home. But it was winter and cold, and it would have been tough to find anyone willing. Plus, just to rub salt in the wound, the gampr is reputed to be a breed that is less likely to challenge fences. Drifter has also never challenged a fence in his entire life. So, what with the gampr's good reputation, and with Drifter standing in as a mentor, I had hoped. And of course, I got the sour apple.


Today, I at last have the final kinks worked out and the hot wire is in business. The basic wire was strung about two weeks ago, and Valor has been loose in the pastures ever since. But I was still eager to add some electric to some new places. And, just to make things interesting, it turned out that not all the existing wire was hot.


All it took was Amy bringing her collie over this morning.


Amy is one of my dog friends. She loves dogs and horses, and she's really good with both. She's also really good at putting up fence. So when I explained our situation, she was happy to come over and help.


Up to this point, Valor had stayed in. But I wasn't quite convinced. There was one section of fence, between the north pasture where Valor stays, and the home pasture where the goats stay, that I didn't quite trust.


And this time, intuition was right on.


When Valor got a load of Amy's collie cavorting on the driveway, she came scrambling over that dividing fence and hurtled across the home pasture like a small freight train. Four times the same thing happened, as we put her back, tinkered and tweaked and tested, put her back, tried again. And then again. And again. Amy was starting to wonder if this dog just didn't really care about electricity, and if we were fighting a losing battle. I was starting to wonder a lot of things.


Then, finally, success.


"Your fence isn't even hot," Amy told me, after heroically touching it with her bare hands multiple times. (I am a wuss and wear gloves anytime I'm around the hot wire.) She went back to the fence line and tinkered some more.


Valor lay in the shade, panting and proud of herself. She was having a really fun day. I practically ground my teeth. Seriously, why does everything have to be so hard?


"Okay," Amy called, "let's try it again!"


When Valor hit the fence that time, you could have heard her holler a mile up the road. I hollered, too, for slightly different reasons. Victory! The wire was working. At last. Little Missie was staying put. At least for this round, I wouldn't have to worry about her, wouldn't have to worry about the goats, and could get on with the process of living with and maybe even loving this pig-headed pup.


So for now, that's where we are. One step forward, two steps back, another two forward. I'm having to work on my attitude. I'm having to remember why she's here, who she really is, and who she will become. I'm having to put on my patience cap and dust it off a little more than usual. I don't always do very well. But I'm not giving up. Something tells me that she's worth it. We'll just need some time to get there.


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