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The making of a barn dog

By Leslie Potter | Friday, September 21, 2012

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Brit, my Black Lab/Pointer mix, entered my life just over a year ago. I’d been toying with the idea of adopting a dog for some time, but money and time were always tight, so I held off, occasionally browsing the kennels at the shelter, just in case my canine soul mate showed up. And then one day she did. Life hasn’t been the same since.

Puck the Husky
Puck the Husky, the dog by which all future potential barn dogs will be judged. Photo: Leslie Potter
When I lived in near my parents, I used to bring their Husky, Puck, out to the barn with me regularly. I have many fond memories of taking to the trails aboard Snoopy with Puck running along behind, occasionally diving into the bushes and jumping back out farther down the path. If he got ahead of us and took the wrong route at a fork in the trail, I could yell, “Other way, Puck!” and he’d wheel around and take the other path. Fortunately, Snoopy got used to Puck’s antics pretty quickly, and hardly took any notice when he’d pop up in front of us. In the winter, I’d go out and school Snoopy in the indoor when no one else was riding, and Puck would dart in and out the doors or sniff around the footing while Snoopy dutifully ignored him.

Needless to say, Brit had big shoes (paws?) to fill. My boarding barn seems to have as many dogs running around as horses, and I pictured Brit running along the trails behind me the way other boarders’ dogs do. What a great life for a dog, to be able to visit the farm, run and explore, and play with other dogs. I was excited.

Alas, not every dog takes as easily to that kind of freedom as Puck did, or as my co-boarders’ dogs seem to.

Brit the Barn Dog
Brit keeping an eye out for squirrels and cats at the barn. Photo: Leslie Potter
Brit is an explorer. Even at the dog park, she seems to prefer chasing whatever scent she picks up over playing with other dogs. And once she’s locked in, nothing distracts her. She’s also a hunter. I’ve been dragged into the bushes on multiple occasions during our walks when she spots a cat hiding out nearby and lunges in after it.

We went to obedience classes, and she’s good at “sit” and “down” and will even respond to “heel” (sort of.) But the all-important recall, a cheery, “Brit, come!” is a little unreliable. Practicing it in the house and our small, urban backyard is no challenge at all. Even at the dog park, she’s pretty good about it. So I took the next step and practiced on the trails around the farm. I had her on a longe line and gave her that 30’ of freedom. Every so often I’d call her, and she’d come running over to get a treat.

During one of these practice sessions, we moved off the trail to allow a horse and rider go by. Two dogs were running along behind, and when Brit saw them, she took off, yanking the line out of my hand. My heart dropped and I quickly called her. To my surprise, she slammed on the brakes, wheeled around and came right back to me. Success!

A bit farther down the trail, with new confidence in my dog, I dropped the line and tried it again. She turned to look at me, realized she was free, and took off at a trot. I called her again. Suddenly, she was deaf to my voice. She continued down the path and I followed at a brisk walk. I called and called and she ignored like a pro. When she stopped briefly at a fork and looked back at me, I called her and then turned and walked the other way in hopes that she’d join me, but she didn’t take the bait. If she hadn’t eventually stopped to greet a rider, who kindly dismounted and picked up the dragging longe line, this story might have had a tragic end as she was headed toward the road.

I still bring Brit out to the barn with me sometimes, but only if I’m just going out to groom or visit, not if I plan to ride. And she stays tied up in the barn where I can see her. At 2 ½ years old, I’m told she’s still young for a Lab and she’ll mature…eventually. In the meantime, we’ll keep practicing at the dog park and on the longe line. Maybe my dreams of adventures on the trail with my horse and hound could still come true.

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Cheryl    Centuria, WI

9/25/2012 1:21:41 PM

I had a great barn and trail dog many years ago. Her name was Sadie, and she was an Irish Setter. It took a lot of getting off my horse to get her out of peoples' yards and one time she got zapped by a fence getting into a pasture, and it was almost impossible to get her back out. Back then, I used to ride everyday, so we got in a lot of practice. Eventually, I could ride her down the center median of a four-lane highway and not worry about her going into traffic. She was by far the best dog I ever had that way. I think the reason I haven't had one since, is that I don't road ride like I used to and maybe don't want to work as hard to have my current two dogs go with me.

Fern    Versailles, KY

9/24/2012 10:30:31 AM

My human lets me come on trail rides with her, but my brother Ozzy and my baby sister Lita have to stay at home. They are just too terrible on the trail.

kygal    rural, KY

9/23/2012 6:19:56 PM

dogs selective hearing gotta love it have 3 dogs my red heeler mix is great at the barn she stays out unless I am grooming or the farrier is there but when I am riding she is usually nearby keeping an eye on me my border collie is another story she has to be in on the action and my mutt just doesn't care

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