Flora, my 8-month-old rescue pup, knows when there's a stranger outside the house. When a new person walks by the house, she'll bark. If it's someone she knows, she's quiet. I have no idea how she knows, but she does. But I do know how she knows which toys are hers and which are mine; why she carries her pink stuffed pig to me to toss but leaves my slippers alone.
Ever since she first arrived, I've spent lots of time teaching my furry friend what is mine and what is hers. For instance, a paper that drops to the floor is mine; shoes are mine; and, of course, the chickens are mine. (Wild turkeys are still a work-in-progress.) The stuffed pig and bully stick are hers. I taught her by standing between her and my item or animal, just like a dog-pack leader would. I blocked her with my feet until she accepted my ownership and walked away.
Am I power-hungry? No, I'd rather not be pack leader. But that is what makes a happy home for everyone.
Every dog instinctively knows a pack needs a leader, and if the human doesn't take the role, the dog will. Like most dogs, Flora doesn't want the job, and it would be unkind to impose it on her. So, when I brought Flora into my home, I had to become the leader. The good news is that because I'm pack leader, she respects my things. A pack member would never take the leader's slippers. She would never steal food from the leader's plate (still working on that one, too).
It's taken time and patience to become her leader. Flora used to pull on the leash, lunging and barking at passing dogs, as if to say, "I'm in charge, and I'll protect my human from this threat." To correct this, I would stand between her and the other dog, facing Flora. I never spoke a word. I didn't have to. She understood. Now she walks by other dogs without even a second look. She doesn't need to be the leader because I am.
Another way to cultivate doggy happiness is with a loose leash. A tight leash encourages excitement; a loose leash induces calmness. When Flora pulls on the leash by walking ahead of me, I'll stop, correct her and expect her to walk behind me on a loose leash. A calm dog is a confident dog, and I want Flora to be confident and calm.
As we learn together, Flora and I enjoy each other's companionship. When we check for calves each evening, I'll walk while Flora dashes here and there, always keeping me in sight. She sniffs out the buffet of odors in the pasture and searches for her favorite calves. Flora will give each calf a doggie kiss and turn her head so the calf can lick her back. To Flora, every day is a delightful day, and her joy is mine, too.
I love Flora and want the best for her, and that means working hard on our relationship. Sometimes it's a challenge, but keeping her happy makes it all worthwhile.
Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm, in Loudon, N.H., where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products.