BRIAR, LIVESTOCK GUARDIAN DOG
by Rick McKinney

I've finally made time to relate my story about my new livestock guardian dog Briar.

At 11:30 in the morning on Friday February 21 1997, I was supposed to leave Winston-Salem NC to drive to Burlington Ontario to meet and hopefully pick up Briar.

I was nervous to say the least. I mean it was a heck of a drive, and what if I got there and the dog hated me? Besides, a person who knew about Briar, didn't think she'd be suitable as an LGD, because she lived with two sisters in a small house and small yard all of her two and a half years.

On my way into work that morning, I noticed the abs and parking brake warning lights on in my mini-van. So I skipped work and took the van to the shop (after all, what's more important, the job or the dog?). When I got there, the mechanic told me the brakes were almost gone, they were back ordered, and there was no way he could get it done that day. I was angry to say the least. They also wouldn't offer me a car, which I felt was the minimum they could have done.

So I called up the boss and talked with her about it. Her comment was, "it looks like you aren't supposed to go anywhere today." I finally talked her into driving me home to get the other car so I could leave anyway. The only problem was that the threads were starting to show through on the tires, and who knew what I would face up north? So I had to stop and put tires on the car. Finally by 2:30 I was on my way.

I drove to Buffalo NY that night, (10.5 hours) and went on to Burlington the next day. When I got to Briar's house I was extremely nervous. I walked up to the door expecting this explosion from inside, but everything was quiet. Briar was at the vet's getting her international health certificate. So I went inside, drank some tea, and waited for her to get back.

Her owner had asked a friend to bring over Briar's playmate, an Akbash named Bailey, who was the biggest dog I have ever seen. (Briar walked under Bailey's belly once). Bailey and Briar showed up at the same time.

Briar was the picture of a Kuvasz. She was 33 inches tall, and had the softest hair imaginable. She also had a different look in her eyes than my Golden. It made me wonder if she'd accept me, rather than me accepting her.

Bailey was very friendly and walked right over for a pat. Briar was a little standoffish at first, but soon came over to me for a scratch. Then she walked by and rubbed my legs as she passed.

Briar's owner Patricia and I sat at the table and basically ignored her while we went over all the paperwork and Briar's history. The vet had written some fairly nasty things in her records concerning Briar's aggressiveness and biting. I was becoming more and more nervous and overwhelmed by the minute. Then Patricia gave me a couple of biscuits to see if Briar would respond to commands from me. Of course she didn't, and I'll never forget the look she gave me when I said sit the first time. I think that is when I felt it... you know, that feeling inside... the one that says you're in trouble.

After about an hour I was considerably more relaxed around her, and it was obviously decision time. Patricia took a deep breath and asked me, "well do you think you'd like to take her home." That's when a feeling erupted from deep inside to the middle of my throat. There was no way I was leaving there without Briar.

Once I got Briar loaded into the car, we pulled out of the drive and set off for our long trip home. She just lay in the back seat snoozing and occasionally nuzzling for a scratch. We also shared my Cheetos, as she was a cheese fanatic, and definitely noticed when I got the munchies.

My first experience with a full grown LGD-type breed came at the checkpoint for entry into the US at Detroit MI. The guy in the booth was loud and talkative. At the first sound of his voice I had 95 lbs of snorting, snarling, ferociously barking dog in my ear. I had to roll the window halfway up because I was afraid she would jump out to get him. Of course after his initial reaction, which was to jump back into the safety zone of his booth, the guy had to put on a tough appearance. He asked for her papers and wanted to know what she was. I explained everything to him, much to the annoyance of the drivers behind me, and Briar. Finally the guy must have had enough of the barking, because he yelled out, "OH BE QUIET!" I jumped right into the passenger seat. It was a good thing the car was in park, or we would have rolled into the barrier bar. I have never heard anything so ferocious in my life. I slowly eased back into the driver's seat, gently pushed Briar back far enough to close the window, and pulled away from the idiot.

That set the scene for the next 500 miles. Every drive-thru window caused the same reaction, although not as strongly with the women as the men. By the time I stopped for the night in Ohio, I was amused, impressed, and overwhelmed all at once. I couldn't imagine what I had gotten myself into, but Briar really settled in that night.

When she needed to go out she didn't scratch the door. She walked over in front of me, sat down, and barked once. Then she walked to the door and looked over her shoulder at me. One time I woke up in the middle of the night to find a big furry white head in my face. Obviously she needed to go out again.

We set out the next day for the remainder of the trip. The drive-thrus got the same reaction from Briar, and she may have been even a little more ferocious. One time I had to pull ahead of a restaurant window, get out of the car, and walk back to get my lunch.

When we arrived home Briar and I were greatly relieved and excited to get out of the car! She pulled me around the yard smelling everything. All of a sudden my three children realized we were home and burst out on to the porch. I kind of froze for a second, but Briar simply walked behind me and lay down, peeking around my legs at them. My 18 month old could not control himself and escaped from my wife. He came running down the sidewalk. There was absolutely nothing I could do. I was afraid to react strongly because I didn't want to give the wrong impression to Briar, so I just held out my arms and caught him. Briar sat up, sniffed his foot, licked him once, and then ignored him. He on the other hand was fascinated. My two daughters were more restrained but got the same reaction from Briar. Then she looked up at my wife and wagged her tail.

I felt great! My wife was definitely impressed. I just couldn't imagine a creature like this.

I was extremely pleased with how she accepted everyone, but I was not prepared for the adoration Briar would develop for my wife. She literally worshipped the ground my wife walked on. When I walked to the barn, I could actually see the disappointment on Briar's face when she realized Katie wasn't with me. And my kids... she hovered over them. She acted like I did when our first daughter was born... you know, afraid to let them out of your sight in case they might get hurt. Of course my 18 month old son didn't particularly care for this, as Briar sometimes circled too closely and that big tail whomped him in the face.

Anyway, for the first few days I left Briar in the garage. I figured this was close enough to the house for her to gradually be weaned from being an inside dog, plus she would get more attention than she would at the barn.

Every night I took her down to the barn with me to meet the goats, emus, and chickens. She treated each animal as she did everything... I gotta smell this thing! My life depends on it! Of course trying to smell a goat which is trying to be brave but run at the same time, is kind of complicated. And those big birds... they wanted to peck her nose every time she stuck it through the fence to get a whiff of them.

We did really well with the goats and emus. Briar and the goats got used to each other in about two days. Briar would follow me into the goat field on a leash, smell the goats, then pointedly ignore them. The emus would occasionally get more interest, as they would run up to the fence, hiss, and run away. Briar must have thought this was emuzing (Sorry<G>).

The chickens were another story. The first night we frightened a hen who had decided to roost in the barn. Usually when I turn the barn lights on, the chickens in the barn fly down and go to the chicken house to roost. I could imagine the surprise one hen felt when she flew right down on to Briar's back. Briar on the other hand yelped and ran behind my legs. The hen being half beserk, ran into my legs, and then to the corner of the barn, where she cackled so loudly all the roosters started their warning cries. This in turn made the other hens cackle, the goats run away, and the emus race around their pens. I looked behind me at Briar. I wish you could have seen her face! Her head was ducked, her ears were drooped, and I swear she developed eyebrows and had them raised! She looked at me, looked at the hen, then lay down and put her head on my feet, all the time with that comical expression on her face. I laughed so hard all I could do was sit down and rub her big ol' worried head.

Well, the hen finally lost her fright and started toward the chicken house. She had to walk past Briar and me, and as she did Briar lunged for her. This of course started the whole thing all over again. To this day I don't know for sure, but I think Briar was just trying to smell the hen. However I didn't take any chances. I jerked her collar, said a firm NO, and made her look into my eyes. I had to turn my head though, because she got that look again and I started laughing. She really is worse than a child.

The chicken introduction story had a good ending. Later we went to inspect the hen house, and as we were standing in the doorway in the partial darkness, the hen walked under Briar's belly and between her front legs. Briar only looked down, sniffed, then watched the hen fly up to the roost.

The first bad experience I had with Briar was with the electric fence. I had her on a long lead so she could have a little more space to explore the goat field and the goats. She walked up to the fence, and yep she sniffed it!  Wow!  I saw the sparks jump to her nose. Well she kind of lost her head and backed right around into the fence. I never heard such yelping before. Finally she ran into the middle of the field and just sat there crying. I slowly walked over. She couldn't decide if she wanted to run away or toward me. I knelt down about three feet away and called her over.  She came, laid her front legs on my legs, and tucked her head under my arm. I swear she actually started sobbing. She was also still yelping slightly, and kept producing these heart-wrenching sobs. She kind of gulped air in, then forced it back out with her closed mouth, which made her lips blow out. It was awful... just like my children!

From that point on she didn't want to go into the goat pen. I was worried, because she had become shy and less confident. But I finally got her back in the goat pen the next day, however she ran from the goats and emus and wouldn't go near the fence. I was really worried then. It looked like I had done what I feared I would... screw up!

The following day two men came to look at my emus and my setup. From the driveway one of the guys said, "Hey look! A Great Pyrenees." I just chuckled and corrected him, but was impressed these guys knew something about LGDs. I explained that I had no idea what she would do as I'd only had her a week. But they were fairly confident, so we walked to the barn. The guy who had a little more LGD knowledge walked up to her and offered the back of his hand. Briar immediately tensed, her eyes went flat black, and that tail eased up slightly. I said "nice" and told the guy to turn his hand over. She walked to him, sniffed his hand, then walked about three feet away. She sat down in the doorway of the barn and it looked like everything was ok. When the guys started to walk in Briar stood and growled. They couldn't walk backwards faster. I of course beamed with pride. She hadn't been ruined by the fence after all, and they were not going into her barn!

The following Monday my vet came out to demonstrate disbudding for me on my new buck kid. I explained all that had happened with Briar, but my vet assured me she could handle anything Briar dished out, so off we went.

I was convinced Briar was slightly prejudiced against men, because when my vet came down, Briar walked right up, sniffed, and started wagging her tail. I was happy, but also a little anxious, because being a male of the 90's and slightly pressured by society <G>, I reasoned (defending myself and all men) that a woman could walk off with my livestock as easily as a man, and so I needed to work on this with Briar.

Anyway we went in to confirm my does were pregnant. We were standing in the feed room and Briar was on the other side of the fence. The feed room opens into the goat pasture, so of course when I'm in there, the goats want to be. One doe did sneak past me, but the vet caught her and pushed her out of the barn. You would not have believed the change in Briar! She ran over to the fence giving her warning growl. Her head was down, tail raised, and her eyes were flat black. My vet just laughed and said, "well she knows what her job is!" I told her "nice"and she went off a little way to sit and watch. She was a little anxious while we were bumping the goats, but she continued her watch with no more warnings.

I know you people know the feelings I had; pride, love... I kind of had that feeling in my stomach that I got the first time I saw my wife. I know it's not the same thing, but I don't know how else to describe it.

I mean think about it! This dog had been raised from the time she was 8 weeks old in a small house with an even smaller back yard, by two sisters. I took her 800 miles away. I put her in a garage for a few days, then in a barn with all kinds of loud obnoxious creatures, let her walk into the electric fence, and she took it all in stride and did just what I wanted her to do.

Of all God's creatures, are any better than these dogs? I think I have an idea what those ancient shepherds felt like all alone out there with sheep, goats, and their dogs. Now I'm not a person who could survive without my family, but with Briar around I could come close.

The story continued... Briar was still convinced the fence was out to get her, but she had been on her own in the goat field several times.

One Saturday night she found her voice and barked for 2.5 hours, but I just smiled and turned over to go back to sleep. My wife on the other hand kept waking me up with; "there must really be something out there. Are you sure you don't need to go out? Are you sure she can handle it all alone?" This is the same woman that three weeks earlier said, "are you positive you know what you are doing?"

Things are working out great.

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