We teach our children how to obey at a young age. In our case, we used their farm chores and our lifestyle as that backdrop. The farm gave us several opportunities to teach them the value in following rules and learn about consequences when there is noncompliance.
Our kids are old enough that they now thank us for the responsibilities they lived by. Making them follow the rules, even though they did not necessarily understand the need for those boundaries, was not easy or fair. But it proved to be a great life lesson they now respect.
As employers, Duane and I also encourage our employees to follow the guidelines that we set in place at Ar Joy Farms. Although we do not go as far as a sticker chart, like we did when our children were young, we do set up Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) charts that help all of us manage compliance.
Obedience expectations on this farm do not stop with employees and children. I had two opposite experiences with training animals to obey this past year. The first one was a heifer that we consigned to a sale.
This sale required the animal to be halter broke. For those of you who frequent the showring, this is not a big deal; you do this all the time. But we are not typically in the showring, and this was quite the undertaking for me. Cornering her to get haltered, training her to hold her head high, and convincing her to follow my lead took time, energy, and patience.
This particular heifer had a strong stubborn streak. I was almost convinced that this task was beyond my pay scale, and then she turned the corner. Somehow, someway she gracefully began to follow my lead. Her submission made the entire experience enjoyable and gave me confidence that we could possibly start showing cows again. (Sorry, Duane, I didn’t know how else to tell you.)
However, there are times when obedience is as far away as the moon. Like in the case of my father’s dog, Yeller. Yeller came to him as a puppy; a sweet, yellow lab that was more round than tall and more mellow than not.
Over the months, Yeller changed. He grew stronger, wilder, and uncontrollable. Some of it had to do with the fact that Dad did not want him running around on the farm as road runs between the barn and the calf hutches. Part of Yeller’s unbridled behavior came from his type of breed and his constant need for attention.
We tried all sorts of methods to make him listen, and in a last ditch effort we tried obedience school. Class instructors make a lot of promises, but we soon realized that the promise of “learn to listen in six short classes” does not necessarily apply to farm dogs.
Our son Kelby offered to help me with the class, and after the first night it was reported that Yeller misbehaved badly. He did not listen to any instructions, he was totally distracted by the pet store merchandise, and he made it difficult for the owner to control the class. Farm dog mayhem.
The following week it was my turn. Getting him into the store was the first hurdle. The huge, beautiful dog that waltzed past us was not the issue; it was the tiny fluff-ball that Yeller wanted to keep out of class. He barked like he wanted to eliminate the fragile, little dog. I held him back with all my farm girl strength, and we gingerly entered the store.
They stuck Yeller and I in a corner, far away from any other dogs. The problem with being cornered away from animals meant we were surrounded with merchandise. Lots and lots of stuff. Some of it squeaked. Some of it squished, but most of it had tooth marks before we left that night.
He ripped price tags off of T-shirts, tore a bone out of a box, and knocked shampoo off of the shelf. Yes, we purchased things that night that I never envisioned buying.
The sweet trainer was determined not to give up on him. She told me that it is okay, “He will come around and will eventually be a different dog.”
The next week was his last at obedience class. Yeller had more fun that night than he did the week before; he went after the rack of rubber chickens, grabbing three in his mouth at one time.
Because of Yeller’s size, behavior, and my father’s age, we made the tough decision to find another home for his beloved misfit. Thankfully, we found a fellow farmer to take him. A farm that let him run free, away from the road, and around other dogs with equal amounts of energy. I am pretty certain Yeller thought he died and went to doggie heaven, given the fun, freedom, and love he receives from David and his family.
Obedience came later in Yeller’s life than is normal for dogs, but his new owner is out to prove that there is hope for even the most unruly of farm animals.
Common Threads is a regular column in Hoard's Dairyman.
The author and her husband, Duane, own and operate a 550-cow dairy in Cochranville, Pa.