Friday, 29 March 2013

Chantal, another story

One of the very few photos of Chantal and I back in the mid nineties.
Photo by M.Laarhuis
Except for the very first story about our first livestock guardian dog, Chantal,
none of the other stories will be in any form of chronological order.
I do not "do" chronological orders as I do not know myself,
where I am on that whole timeline thing,
 I need facebook to help me out with that.

OK so, a while back in my blogs I hinted about a story that I would share with you;
how some legends talk about the sarplaninac's ability to "feel" the predators approaching
though the vibrations in the earth.

Many breeds of LGD have traditionally had their ears cropped to prevent them being ripped and torn during a confrontation with predators.
  Both ear-cropping and the use of spiked collars were described as a defence against wolves by Jean de la Fontaine in Fable 9 of Book X of the Fables, published in 1678.

However some cultures believed in doing the one ear crop.
Generally the sarplanianc was not cropped, however in some areas a one ear crop was done.
Legend surrounds this practise
and the belief is that they could better "tune in" to predators this way.

Now, other legends say that some sarplaninac can "feel" the vibrations through the earth when predators approach the flocks.
Now, I know that elephants have these abilities.

I do not know whether or not dogs or sarplaninac can "feel" this,
we all know that they have excellent scenting abilities,hearing and vision.

So, to get to my story;
while out shepherding our sheep, Chantal would be on a lead with me.
I did not want her chewing some poor hikers sweet poodle.
So, when we were out and about with the sheep, I kept her on a lead with me.
Should things go haywire with some killer dogs, then all I needed to do was slip the lead.

This did not happen often as regular walkers and joggers in this area knew about her,
and if they did not,
within a few minutes she greeted them in a typical sarplaninac fashion...
So, her reputation and respect grew and people would always put their sweet pooch on a lead while passing through and around our flock.
And, that was exactly what out goal was,
operant conditioning of the public that used this area!
Remember, these are public lands and I could not have her chasing off visitors to this area.

Now, on quiet days, the flock would be spread out at quite a distance grazing.
I could often be found sitting on a bank or higher vantage point overlooking the grazing sheep.
A collie or two or three would be waiting for a signal from me to be able to go and tuck in the corners of the flock.
Or, if the sheep crossed "the line" to be able to push them back.
Chantal would be sleeping, like every self respecting guardian dog should,
next to me.
Every now and then she would lazily open one eye, cock her head, glance around and would continue on with her sleep.
However, as soon as she spotted something out of place (all livestock guardians are "order nerds"),
or see a dog, or jogger, she would give such a low level rumble growl that only I could faintly hear it or feel it through the lead.
She would stare intensely at the direction where she saw something.
As the people or dog approached closer her level of growling would intensify.
The closer they came the more her body language changed.
From a soft rumble while lying down, she would sit up, eventually stand, going from a rumble to full on barking.
Grazing sheep on the Maashorst, Netherlands
As the people or dog passed by, she would quieten down and would go back to snoozing next to me.

Now, on more than one occasion she would seem to me to have it all wrong.
We would be sitting under a tree, I would be reading a book, the collies will be hoping for a sign from me and Chantal would be snoring away.
When Chantal would suddenly lift her head, stare very intensely into the distance, giving her trademark growl.
She would keep staring at a point in the distance, sometime sitting up to get a better look.
I would look, sometimes I had binoculars with me and I would gaze at the spot in the distance, and would try and see what had caught her attention.
Nothing, no movement, no sound, nothing that I could detect.
I thought she was seeing ghosts.

Sometimes she would lay down again but every few moments she would look again and mumble somewhat.
This could go on for at times as long as 15-20 minutes.
The distance that she would be looking into could range anywhere from 500m to over 1 km away.
Always, and I mean always, if we hung around long enough, she would always be right.
Eventually, either a cyclist, or a hiker, or someone walking the dog would  appear from the exact direction she would be staring at.

I could not believe this, that she "knew" that someone was coming from that direction.
Sure, perhaps she smelt them at that distance, but I checked for wind direction more than once.
Sometime people would approach from different directions at the same time and she would inform me about both.
Never, did she get it wrong and I was amazed at her ability to know that someone was out there, even though they were more than a kilometer away and certainly not visible.

In her manner of growling and barking ( she was not a big barker),
I could distinguish friend from stranger. My friend Toril would often come and visit me while shepherding.
Chantal would warn me that someone was approaching, yet her look was one of recognition.
Her demeanour was softer and more welcoming.

I could easily doze off to have a nap, and my early alert system would let me know if someone or something was approaching the flock.
She knew what her job was and what we needed her to do.

Perhaps, the legends where right,
perhaps she would feel the vibrations through the ground as someone started approaching us.

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