Many potential buyers of Maremmas feel they need to begin with pups, or actually often just one pup, for the relationship to go well. I disagree, at least in the case of starting out with young dogs I have raised. I sometimes have started young dogs available. I almost always place them as pairs, and often bonded to livestock originating from here as well, such as Miniature Donkeys or mini cows. Santi and Sancia are two such dogs. The previous article (Acclimating Your Benson Ranch Maremma) was written as instructions for their new owners on the day of the arrival of the dogs to their new home. It is difficult for me to part with my dogs. I love them and consider them family. I don’t let them leave me unless I am convinced they are going into a situation that they will thrive in and be safe in. Sometimes the days preceding the departure of my dogs are teary for me. Not always, but with Santi and Sancia they were.
I delivered the dogs to their new home and stayed for an hour or so to observe them, and I have been in contact with their new owners several times. They have been so wonderful about providing me with updates and photos! I’m going to share a little of this journey here so that my readers can follow along in vicarious fashion. I hope you enjoy hearing about Santi, Sancia, and their new family! The dogs have been sold, and I have been paid for them, but I am holding the check to give Matt and Letty the time they need as they live with their new dogs to be sure the dogs are a good fit for their family. As with any animals I sell, if their new homes don’t work out for whatever reason, I want them to come back to me. So even though the dogs have been sold, in truth they are placed on trial. I have asked Matt and Letty to let me know when to cash their check! We’ll see how long it takes them to get comfortable with keeping the dogs, or not!
A little background…..
Matthew and Letty have two young boys and a very small boy! They live on well fenced acreage. They want the dogs to guard their two pet goats, chickens and ducks, and now two Miniature Donkeys. They purchased the two weanling geldings from me. For the two weeks prior to the dogs and donkeys leaving me I had them live together here. The geldings like the dogs so that part was easy. My biggest concern was doing what I could to make my dogs comfortable as quickly as possible in their new home. Since the dogs considered themselves bonded to the donkeys in a matter of days, and since the donkeys showed up in their new home, the dogs knew their job right from the start even though it was a brand new home. It really was amazing to watch.
Day One – Delivery of the Dogs – February 28th, noon
Matthew, Letty, and the boys arrived mid day to pick up the donkeys. I followed them home with the dogs in my car. We unloaded the dogs first, and then the donkeys. The dogs immediately left us and did repeated perimeter checks, while coming back to us from time to time. They kept an eye on their donkeys while they investigated. The little goats were safely behind a fence, as were the chickens and ducks. My dogs had never seen either so we were cautious when introducing them. Sancia was curious and went down low on her chest with tail wagging. Santi barked and retreated a bit, and then came up and did much the same as Sancia. Sancia definitely is the bolder of the two and they are a good balance together.
In this photo Santi is on the left, with Sancia on the right. In the far background you can see the goats. Right behind Santi is the pet pig. In typical opinionated pig fashion he voiced his displeasure at the arrival of new dogs. Santi retreated and barked. Sancia marched right up and gave him a big kiss on the nose, with her tail wagging. It was very sweet to watch.
I stayed about half an hour to observe my dogs, both to be sure they settled in well, and so that I could learn more about how adolescent dogs acclimate to new surroundings. I think it was helpful to these two dogs to have the donkeys go with them because it gave them an anchor of sorts, but I suspect they would have done well even on their own. They were never clingy and did not appear insecure, although they must have been, somewhat. I do believe either dog alone would have had a much different experience.
Day 1 – 5:41 pm
I received the following e-mail from Letty, with the photos:
“Hello, We’re exhausted! We’ve been outside all day. Everyone is doing great. The dogs are actually more gentle with the boys than they were when Matt and I walked in this morning to see them. No jumping at all. They both love Javis to pieces and followed him around. He got himself into a situation where if he stopped petting them they’d both lick his hands. I’m not sure what they love about him so much but he enjoyed every second of it. He kept saying ‘They love me, mom!’ One of the chickens was hiding up in the rafters and came down. Santi didn’t mind much but Sancia looked like she wanted to bow down but was so excited she sort of tried to pounce on it. Matt would tell Her it was okay from outside the fence and once she stopped he went in and gave her love and told her it was okay and that she was a good girl. I know she didn’t want to hurt it, because she easily could have! They are so loving and eager to please us. We went in for lunch (at 3!) and when we came back out they were waiting. When we went out to the donkeys they stayed close and you could tell that they were making sure they were okay, even though that know us they were still protecting those donkeys. We are very impressed. TC was trying to avoid us but as soon as he got some attention he was trying to get all the love. We had so much fun today I said we need some chairs out there. Day one was a success☺️
This was my response to Letty’s e-mail:
“Dear Letty, You are a kind soul. Thank you so much for sending me this wonderful e-mail that I know you didn’t truly have time to write. Thinking about parting with my dogs was much more difficult than doing it, as it turns out. As I watched them in your field I kept thinking, over and over, how very proud of them I was. I put a lot of time and heart into raising my dogs and it was affirming to see them shine so seamlessly in their new home. I’ve been smiling all day as I thought about all the firsts for your family with these wonderful dogs. As as for Javis, that comes as no surprise. You can tell him for me that the dogs know how to read people and that they know he has a good heart and that they can trust him. I find it especially joyful to watch my dogs with children. And though I worried a little about them putting their feet on the boys I have to say that not one of my dogs has ever knocked down a child, in any circumstance, even a child that was here who was only a precocious two year old. Summit is the smallest child to this point. It was interesting to watch Santi and Sancia process what he was. They treated them as they would any baby animal, and I base that statement on having watched many of these dogs with young animals here. They were so gentle and thoughtful. I think they are going to thrive in your environment. Mitch’s contribution to this was to wait to see how you feel about them through the night. The noise level can vary greatly. When I hear them I am comforted; when Mitch hears them he is annoyed. So we’ll see how you feel. Thank you, bless you, and please keep in touch. Hugs to you all! Cindy”
Day 1 – 7:13pm
I received this e-mail from Letty:
“It’s me again… 1. Now that it is dark they’re barking non stop. I’m sure they’re getting used to what’s normal out here. Should we go tell them it’s okay, or that they are good? Or is it best to just let them settle in on their own and figure it out. I’m not sure if letting them bark is encouraging it? Does that make sense? 2. Since you saw our set up more today, where would you recommend is feeding the Dogs? What we tried tonight didn’t work well, not for the dogs, but because our darn pig!”
At this point I phoned Letty. We decided it might be a good idea for Matt to go out and take a look around, and let the dogs know they were doing a good job and that all was well. Dogs in a new environment are going to bark at all sorts of things while they figure out what is common for their area and what they need to worry about. It typically takes young dogs longer to understand how to guard at night. Matthew and Letty knew this and were prepared to be tolerant, but also wanted to support the dogs if that would help.
Day 2 – February 29th – 9:07am
I received this e-mail from Letty:
Matt did go out to tell them it was okay before we went to bed and it was Santi barking. Sancia was just sitting quietly. You can tell he’s a little less mature about things than she is but he settled down just fine after a little bit. I only heard them barking handful of times throughout the night.
This morning we got each dog out on the leash one at a time and introduced them to the birds and neither of them seemed to care at all. They both sniffed and walked away like it was nothing. So far one of the ducks has made its way into the pen with the dogs and they’ve shown it no attention. It’s really amazing that they knew from that short introduction that they are okay.! They’re so smart! “
Day 3 – March 1st – 7:39pm
I received this e-mail from Letty:
I just sat to write you about the donkeys! I wanted to see if it’s an issue if they’re not interested in grain, or much hay. Should I maybe limit their access to the grass? We put on their halters and walked them around and tied them for a bit. They’re good boys!
The dogs started off quiet but mid night they barked for quite a while. I’m assuming there was something out there though. Do you have any suggestions for introductions with Hank, our lab? That’s the only issue were having. Would it be best to take each dig out on a leash to meet him outside of their pen? Because through the backyard fence it’s not pretty. He’s very gentle and doesn’t bark back but we aren’t sure what’s the best way.
That picture of Sancia was when we introduced her to the birds. She so badly wanted to please Matt that she stayed right there with him. Sweet girl. The birds were in there today and both her and Santi didn’t mind them.
Thanks for answering my questions!”
At this point I phoned Letty and offered to come over the next day to help transition the dogs with Hank. He is a sweet old soul and I wanted to be sure my dogs would be kind to him. In my instructions to Matthew and Letty I had asked them not to give any commands at all to the dogs for the first few days while they were building a trusting relationship with the dogs. They were honoring my request but also did not want to allow a detrimental situation to progress. Because of my background with the dogs I could offer the dogs direction in a way Matthew and Letty couldn’t just yet.
Day 4 – March 2nd – noon or so
I went to help with Santi and Sancia. It was just amazing to me how the dogs have changed. They didn’t get up and run over to see their long lost past owner who raised them! Oh no! They were sleeping in a corner of the field as close to the front lawn as they could get and were keeping an eye on Letty with the baby. They looked up at me but didn’t get up and come to me until I asked them to. They both had such a look of serenity about them. It really made my heart feel good to see this.
Matt brought Hank out and I encouraged my dogs to visit him through the fence while I got down on my heels and played with him. Both dogs charged at the fence and barked at him. They weren’t ferocious and I didn’t get the sense that he would have been in danger if the fence weren’t between them, but all the same it wasn’t friendly behavior. One of the key points about a guardian dog is that they be trustworthy, and that includes being able to trust them around other dogs, cats, etc., that already live on the property. Sometimes a little effort has to be made for the dogs to clearly understand that these animals belong there. So, when Santi and Sancia behaved in a way I didn’t want I growled at them strongly and said “no” quite forcefully. Then I called them to me. When they came forward I praised them and encouraged them to investigate Hank through the fence, all the while telling them with my voice and body language what a nice dog Hank was. Hank did great with this. He is laid back and trusting, and was enjoying the cuddle time with me, so he didn’t return the growling behavior. If he had it would have taken longer to work things out I suspect.
I worked with the dogs this way for ten minutes or so. Santi and Sancia became increasingly curious about Hank, and I praised them as they kissed noses, and tails, and checked each other out. Then, with both dogs on leashes, we brought Santi and Sancia out in the yard one at a time to get to know Hank. Even at this early point it clearly was no longer an issue. It was impressive how quickly Santi and Sancia made their peace with the situation.
I have not heard from Matt or Letty since I left them after working things through with Hank. I am sure no news is good news, as they know where to find me! I’ll keep you posted…..
I received this e-mail from Letty:
When you (you) feed them go in the gate in a way that you can get after the dogs without also worrying about dropping things. For instance, take the bowls in first, and then take the food in in something easy to carry. In this way you have all your attention to anticipate inappropriate behaviors from the dogs. Please don’t defer to Matt for these things. That means something is not working well with you and the dogs. Either you don’t understand them, which I doubt, or they are taking advantage of you as the smart puppies they are, as I suspect. Either way you are more than a match for them. I don’t think it makes any sense to own 100 lb dogs you personally can’t easily handle, and this is just tweaking training issues. Matt could watch from a distance and give you his take on what he sees but having to tag team these dogs absolutely should not be necessary.
Please feel free to give me a call. Stay the course – you can do this!
This was my response to Letty’s e-mail:
Well, that’s it! “And they lived happily ever after” comes to mind! But really, these dogs are young and there will be challenges along the way as they go through developmental changes. I love the evolving nature of raising Maremmas. They are such kind, sensitive dogs; Santi and Sancia typify the breed. As with most things, you get back what you put into it. I raise my dogs with consistent training and spend a lot of time with them. I have seen them make smooth transitions into new homes, as with these two dogs. Although it is difficult for me to let them go, it is also affirming to see them go out and be so successful. I am proud of my dogs – it is a privilege to live with them! I hope you have enjoyed this vicarious journey!