Monday, June 14, 2010


Writing on this blog five days a week is work. Make no mistake about that. Coming up with fresh and new ideas is always a challenge, especially for someone like me. I’m very self critical about my writings. It always amazes me about the articles that get the most responses. Sometimes the ones that I’ve spent the most time on are not necessarily the ones that most people respond to. Sometimes the ones that I’m not the fondest of are the ones that people respond to and like the best. Go figure!

One of my favorite things about writing on my blog is the people that I get to “meet” that respond to some of my articles. There are worlds of fascinating people out there that share their love of the German Shepherd Dog and what makes it even more fascinating is the way they live and share their lives with their dogs. Not everyone that reads this blog is a show person, an obedience person or a dog trainer. But one thing that they are is a lover of the German Shepherd. Writing this blog brings many different German Shepherd people together and makes us realize that it’s not just about you and me. It’s about them and those as well!

One such person that I’m delighted to have made an acquaintance with is one of my newer readers. He’s responded to some of my articles that I’ve written and I was drawn to look him up on his own blog that he writes. I was taken with this mans lifestyle that he and his lovely wife have chosen to live with their three dogs that they adopted from rescue……two German Shepherds and a Border/Collie mix. These German Shepherd lovers have chosen to live their lives with their dogs in God’s country….in the wilderness. His pictures on his blog tells the story of how they live in their beautiful cabin and of their “neighbors” that happen to trespass on their property from time to time…… bears, mountain lions and wolfs to name just a few. Do check out Bruce and Carol McElmurray's blog and look at their pictures of their cabin and their  lifestyle. Bruce is a down to earth kind of writer…….hmmmmm similar to his lifestyle. You can check it out here: Oh yeah and Bruce just wrote to tell me that one of his articles was just published in “Mother Earth News” in the Aug/Sept issue that comes out on 7/20. I can’t wait to read it.  I hope everyone gets a change to read it as well.

I asked Bruce if he would write an article as a guest writer for my blog. I am thrilled that he did just that and I share it here with you now. Okay Bruce, take over…..


We live in the mountains of S. Colorado at 9,750', in a rather remote area with our two German Shepherd dogs and our Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix. Bozwell is our 95# male GSD, Sarah our 65# female GSD and Gypsy our 60# mix. All are rescues. Our property is heavily wooded and has two springs on it which attract various forms of wildlife. We see and encounter bear, mountain lion, coyote, wolves, lynx, bobcat, deer, elk, and a host of other animals on a fairly regular basis.

When we lived in Central Pennsylvania within the city we had totally different circumstances to deal with. When we walked (our now deceased) dog Ben (GSD) in the city we had to watch for different dangers like traffic, weird strangers, children on bicycles and so forth. We had sidewalks but sometimes we had to cross busy streets and a mini mall parking lot where there was a Pizza Hut that delivered. We trained Ben to look both ways at intersections which he always did. Being run down by a Pizza Hut delivery vehicle can ruin your day so we trained for specific risks peculiar to our area. When we would come to an intersection or corner like the mini mall it was best to peek around the corned of the building to see if a pizza delivery vehicle was screaming down the alley. Ben would stop, sit, look both ways, (as would we - except the sit part) and if safe we would proceed. As to weird strangers, I was out walking Ben one night and this spectral image came floating down the other side of the street semi illuminated by the street light. It turned out to be someone wearing a pill box hat and silky flowing robes dressed in traditional African style. We were on the dark side of the street and Ben went on alert and gave a low guttural primitive growl that sounded like it came from the pits of hell. The person stopped instantly and made a 'U' turn and wasted no time getting out of Dodge. That growl was so compelling my hair stood up. I heard it twice in Ben's 13 years.

Now we live where there are few people, (we have one seasonal neighbor 300 yards away - our next neighbor is one mile) and more animals than anything. Our dogs have been and are continually trained to cope with animals that would endanger them. Instead of Pizza Hut deliveries and city risks we are now concerned with predators. Since we rely on our dogs instincts of smell, hearing and sight as well as our own limited instincts, we certainly don't want to train any of the natural instinct out of them. When a bear and her two cubs come up out of a ditch on our dirt road we don't want our dogs to mis-behave and create a crisis. That happened last year right in our driveway and Bozwell our male GSD conducted himself perfectly. He sat down next to me and watched the bear with her cubs 20' away, and when the mama bear realized we were no threat we all maintained our places for several minutes and then went our separate ways. The key ingredient is the human staying calm and in control. Those situations do not occur often but when they do if the human jumps around flailing their arms yelling "Oh my God, a bear" you will have an excited dog and ultimate catastrophe. Both GSD's are trained to take their cue from either myself or Carol. Last year for example Carol was walking Gypsy down the road in front of the house and 8' away on the down hill side of the road was a bear munching grass. Bozwell and I were on the deck and he did not bark but went on full alert. I waved to get Carol’s attention and when she looked up told her calmly not to panic but she was standing 8' from a bear. She looked over and there was the bear not paying any attention to her or Gypsy, simply grazing along the road. She promptly made her way up to the house without causing any incident. She did put new meaning to the word promptly however. Had I yelled or Bozwell started barking the bear would have instantly been on alert and it could have turned into a nasty situation. Instead the bear just watched her walk away in the opposite direction.

Our dogs have been trained to expect the unexpected. Bears are curious and only one out of a hundred is aggressive. Even then they will leave you an escape route. Wild animals have instincts that we probably used to have but have evolved away from over the years. They know immediately if we pose them any danger and if you stay calm you will be all right 99.9% of the time. Even mountain lions will avoid you especially if you have two or three dogs with you. Wild animals are a whole lot smarter than people give them credit for. We have examples and stories to prove that but will write more on that later should anyone be interested.

Maybe the most important element is that you need to have excellent rapport between you and your dogs. You are the pack leader and you want them to look to you first for who is in control of the situation. They also need to be flawless on walking on leash right beside you. If they are out in front of you that is an open invitation to disaster. Training is an ongoing process with us because no two situations are ever alike. The only time our dogs are off leash is in our fenced in back yard. We have a 6' steel fence which is an area for them to be relatively safe but still we are always with them, even in the back yard. A mountain lion can leap up to 15' and a deer can vault a 6' fence without any trouble. They also need to respond well to the command 'come'. Ours do and even when there are deer on the other side of the fence, given the 'come' command they will immediately come. That proved itself last year when a bear head suddenly appeared over a small hill just past the back yard. Bozwell did not see the bear but when given ‘come’ he came instantly.

How dangerous are these wild animals you may ask. Not dangerous at all as long as the human respects them and their territory and most of all remains calm. It also helps if you understand their ways and traits and know the potential danger sighs. Coyote's will lure a dog away into an ambush where it stands no chance. A swat from a bear will break bones and kill a person or dog. Wolves have much more powerful jaws than a domestic dog. Mountain lions will avoid humans but will track and stalk a dog by itself.

How close have I come to wild animals? I have been 8' and 30' respectively from mountain lions. Up close it is easy to see they are killing machines. When they curl that lip back, snarl and hiss at you with those yellow teeth it can be hard to stay calm but if you want to walk away you have to be calm and in control. You also have to look big and face them. Cower or run and you are dinner. Another time we were about 50 yards away walking behind a lion that was also walking down our road. I have been within 4-5" of a bear; nose to nose, with a flimsy pane of storm door glass between us. Had our GSD standing right next to me barked it could have been an ugly scene. Both the bear and I were surprised to see each other that way and up close. Always the key is to stay calm. Deer account for the injury and death of more dogs than most other wild animals. Those hooves can be deadly. It is foolish and very unwise to not have your dogs on leash where we live. Those who do allow their dogs to run loose invite disaster. We love our dogs far too much to put them at any risk.

So depending on where you live you should train your dogs to your environment. In our case basic commands are important but many times you need to improvise. Our dogs look to us for leadership and we need to meet that need. We are constantly on guard and aware of our surroundings. Different situations require different tactics. I can not express in words how much we love our dogs and we want them to have long and healthy and safe lives with us. By staying vigilant that will be the case.

Coghlans Bear Bell W/Silencer: Attaches to clothing or pack with a velcro strap. In the bag, the magnet eliminates any noise. Out, movement will cause a steady ringing to warn animals of your presence.

My rating: Living among animals and the wilderness: (4), Having guest writers: (4)

1 comment:

  1. This was a great article Bruce and Barbara. I don’t live in the untamed country as Bruce, but it still can be quite wild at my house as well, or not too far away where I walk my GSD. My husband wants me to carry my gun on my walks. I told him, “I want to relax!” He said, "You're not going to relax if you run into something dangerous some day." I’ve walked down a side walk with my GSD and had two coyotes run right across my path like I wasn’t even there. Another time I’m walking down the side walk and thought I saw a kitty up ahead of me. As I got closer it became a gray fox. I was only some yards away from the fox and it didn’t run from us. I felt there was something wrong with it, so I turned around and went the other way. I also have Javelina (wild pigs) often crossing my front yard. In the spring I have to be careful because they can’t see well and would attack without hesitation. They can kill a GSD quite easily. And I know at night when my dog growls or barks at something out side it’s not always just a little kitty. We have lots of wild life here and I respect that. And I want my dog to do this as well.

    I live in Northern Arizona and it’s once again hot and dry. And that means the wild critter’s need food and water. And I have to say, we have our share of wild dangerous animals coming off the mountain to our homes looking for what they need. Forest ranger’s just removed a young hungry black bear from my sister and brother-in-laws next door neighbor’s yard a few days ago. It ate all of the coy in the neighbor's pond. They live right in the middle of a housing project. Now, if those people would’ve had a dog/s would they have chased that bear away? And another man was attacked by a cougar fifty miles from us. I don’t know why he thought he could out run the cat. Yes, cougar’s love slow prey. The man survived the attack thank heavens. Then there was a black bear walking around our grade school a mile away. And to top it off, we have rattle snakes. We have special people who will train your dog to stay away from the snakes. I hope my dog remembers that. There’s a variety of serious situations that confront you, or your animals. When the monsoon’s come in the beginning of July we have toads that come out of the ground that make our dogs sick if they mouth them. And in the Phoenix area there’s another strain of toad that can kill your dog. Of course puppy’s can be the ones that will probably go after the toads more than an adult.

    I know people that run donkeys with their different herd animals for protection. If you’re not aware, a donkey will attack a cougar, bear, even strange people, dogs, coyotes or what ever threat they might encounter ($department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex9396). There were a number of photographs circulating the internet some years ago of a donkey pounding a cougar into the ground to its death. He saved his two owners on horse back, plus their two hounds. They are amazing animals! Who would ever think a donkey could be so brave?