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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

Homesteading With Canines


Homesteading with dogs makes good sense as their enhanced senses are very useful around a remote homestead. Our breed of choice is the German Shepherd Dog but which ever breed or mutt you happen to choose to live with on your homestead is strictly up to the individual and the type of homestead involved. All three of our GSDs are rescue dogs; we prefer to adopt from a rescue as opposed to raising a dog as a puppy. Those who have raised a dog from around 8 weeks old to adulthood know how demanding that can be and how those milk teeth like to find something to chew on frequently. That something may be your favorite boot/shoe or as large as your sofa. This is an appropriate time to write about rescuing a canine companion because some who buy puppies for the holidays will in about 4 to 5 months be turning them in to a rescue or shelter because they find they can’t deal with them. Puppies like to chew and they do not come with family skills so the new owner will have to do all the training. It takes a tremendous amount of patience and skill to raise a puppy.

Since I’m not familiar with other types of homesteads each person will have to determine their own needs and choice of a fur friend. Our homestead is situated in the mountains at a high elevation and surrounded with thick woods. Our goal was to incorporate into our family our four legged fur friends that will fit our lifestyle needs since we frequently see bears, coyote, mountain lion, bobcats, and sometimes wolves. We don’t particularly need our fur family to protect us although I’m sure they could. We just want to know when something is around so we can exercise reasonable caution. This is where our GSDs work well because of their high intelligence, keen smell, hearing and eyesight. Humans generally communicate by hearing, seeing and lastly smelling. Dogs mostly communicate by smelling, seeing and lastly by hearing. When dogs are born they are born blind and deaf. They manage for the first three weeks with their sense of smell and the other senses then develop. We also wanted a breed with traits where we could also meet their needs.

Dogs have a sense of smell - depending on the dog which is 1,000 to 10,000 times more acute than their human counterpart. Dogs can break the smell down into parts and can tell which direction it is coming from. Coupled with a dog’s acute hearing which is about 4 times the distance that humans can hear they can let us know if there is anything around that we should be aware of. Our dogs have peaked ears and when they hear something outside one or both ears will turn in the direction of the sound. Dogs also have keen sight but lack the ability to see things clearly close up or at a distance. With those two exceptions the remainder of their sight is excellent. Dogs also have the ability to sense fear and can quickly detect the emotions of humans.

Having now covered the keen senses of dogs it should be apparent why having them indoors with us on our mountain homestead is practical. They are excellent family members who keep us entertained and give us support, comfort and companionship. Beyond being family members who love and constantly display loyalty their senses help us to relax more by knowing they will alert us if anything comes around. When we see a nose go in the air or ears suddenly perk up we know there is something that may need our attention. They are also good judges of human character. We have consistently found when they remain aloof with people or display clear indications that they do not like that person that we should be equally cautious of that person.

Our preference is the German Shepherd Dog breed because of their intelligence, loyalty and family adaptability. They can solve problems, and are careful and calculating in evaluating situations. They rarely back down when confronted which is why we keep ours on leash because wild predators are also not likely to back down. That combination can create a dangerous situation and we want to keep our fur friends safe. We have seen how a pack of coyotes will try to lure a domestic dog off by taunting it and then running from it while leading it into ambush. I once took one of our dogs out after dark on a leash before we put in a 6’ high fence around our back yard and suddenly he stopped dead still and gave a low growl. A few minutes later I went back out with a flood light and found 8’ from where we stopped the fresh tracks in the snow of a very large mountain lion. That sudden alert by our GSD and his quick judgment saved us from a nasty situation.

Another time I was walking one of our dogs down the driveway on leash and less than 20 feet away a mother black bear with two 8- to 10-pound cubs came up out of the ditch suddenly. I recognized the mother bear and was not alarmed as I knew she meant us no harm. She had used our home in the past to raise prior cubs and train them. Our GSD did not sense any fear in me and sat next to me on command without any problem. We stayed in place while she trained her cubs on how close they could venture to us for about 15 minutes. When her lesson was over we all moved on safely. Had I shown any fear that could have turned into a nasty situation because our dog would have immediately sensed it and reacted to the danger.

Our dogs play a vital role in our lives as valued family members but they also have their work in alerting us when there is something outside due to their constant vigilance. In summary homesteading with our canine friends makes our family complete and provides us with a level of safety that can’t be duplicated in a home security system. Our security system can think for themselves and evaluate potential situations and alert us when needed. Besides, our family of canines are very well trained plus their size alone can intimidate other animals. I don’t think any homestead is complete without our canine friends to complete it.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their canine family go to McElMurray's Mountain Retreat.

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