Communicating Complexities

Kavi Stalking

We have limited communications with our dogs. They understand hundreds of words in our speech and sign language that we use on the farm for herding and other things. The dogs are also able to talk to us using some of their language that we understand as well as some sign language and common words we’ve worked out. It is a pidgin that suffices for farm work and perhaps a little beyond.

There are some complexities that we can not communicate. Questions I would like to ask on issues of philosophy and logic. The perceived why’s of the universe and our shared experience that we can not bridge with our limited common language.

One such question came up recently. Kavi likes to hunt porcupines. He also likes to go down to the end of the town like James, James.

Kavi is the leader of the pack of canines who work on our farm. They all grew up here, maturing into the job from birth. Being the leader of the pack, the others will pretty much follow him everywhere. Given his occasional desire for a walk-about and investigating interesting smells like prickly pincushions he wears a radio collar which tells him where I want the boundaries to be for his journeys. Marking his territory and patrolling are important parts of his work so I don’t want to stop him from doing it – just limit the range.

The manual that came with the radio collar we got years ago makes a big deal about not letting the dog know about the radio collar and what it does. But let’s be real – Kavi knows exactly what it is and what it does. He calls it his free collar. That’s his name for it – an appropriate description.

Without the collar he gets chained at night to prevent walk-abouts. With the collar he gets to be free roaming. The collar beeps when he gets near the boundary of the ring of our farm pastures. This reminds him to keep his roaming to the 25 acres right around the farm center leaving a buffer of pastures beyond that which is no-man’s-land. Since he stays close the lieutenants stay close too, following his lead. That’s the deal – wear the radio collar and get to be free.

Recently I wanted Kavi and Sirius to stay in a particular area at night to guard some new litters. Kavi was not happy with this – perhaps he felt better able to do the job roaming. After a few nights he simply refused, vanishing when it was that time of the evening for him to go on duty at the assigned spot. He showed up the next morning with two quills lightly attached to his nose which he showed to us and allowed me to remove.

At first I didn’t put two and two together. Perhaps you haven’t either, yet. This evening he set out of reach of the chain and then vanished into the darkness. I realized that in his logic, which is quite reasonable, I had violated the terms of our agreement. He put up with this rudeness for a few nights but then took things into his own jaws and went off a hunting. Specifically he went hunting porcupine, something he hasn’t done in a long time. It was not that he couldn’t hunt them – the collar is just a suggestion. He had the free collar on when he did it and can go beyond the line if he decides. He had just been upholding his end of the bargain, until now.

Why would he do this all of a sudden? Why a porcupine of all things? An interesting question and one I would like to discuss with him. Unfortunately our shared pidgin does not allow for the expression or answering of such questions.

Katya, speaker for the dogs, who has much more expressive language and is much more talkative than Kavi is keeping mum on this. Most likely he has not confided in her. He has expressed his feelings to me as best he can and is now waiting for me to get the point.

Katya Gambling
Porcupines & Stock Car Racing
Communicating Complexities
Bilingual Dogs
Makes Me Want to Gag!
Speaker for the Dogs
Dog Names

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Daily Spark: “Whoever claims the ‘right’ to ‘redistribute’ the wealth produced by others is claiming the ‘right’ to treat human beings as chattel.” -Ayan Rand

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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19 Responses to Communicating Complexities

  1. Jarad says:

    You say limited communications but your dogs and how you work with them and how you communicate with them simply amazes me. I think your average person and average joe dog are lucky if they have a few shared communications. You speak of hundreds of words and sighs and you’ve given so many examples so many photos of them working over the years. I would love to see a movie of them and you at work. I nominate you and Katchya as ambasidors if we ever make contact with alien civilizations!

  2. Ellen Bridgeporte says:

    Spooky kavi! You are one spooky fellow! Love those eyes. I wouldnt want to be a coyote prowlying around your territorial borders!

  3. Accidental Mick says:

    Hi Walter,

    You have such a good relationship with all your animals that I hesitate to make a suggestion. However, here goes.

    Do you think that this behaviour is related to what we were discussing on “Starving”? In the wild, it is very seldom that the alpha male stays home on guard. It is usually assigned to lesser animals either male or female (how that assignment is allocated I have no idea!). Perhaps, by forcing Kavi to stay home you were undermining his authority?

    • Could well be. And then in part he was explaining that he’s willing to accept the 25 acre boundary but the chaining is uncool.

      Hmm… After thinking about it more I don’t think this is the issue, that I had undermined his authority, because there are times we use the chains and he was alpha of his pack back when he was on the chain before the free collars. This also would not explain why he goes and gets a quill to show me – prior to the free collars that was a big problem.

  4. David B. says:

    Do the collars give a shock if he goes over the line? Our dogs run free but we can’t let them stay out too long or they go too far, so we tend to either be outside with them or it is a 10 minute jaunt. We have training collars on them to call them back when needed, and rarely have to give any shock, just the vibration to alert them.

    • It will if he goes to the boundary but it beeps about 20′ in from the boundary which is the line the dogs use.

      • Sue K says:

        I have a male who learned to jump as high as he could, on a dead run, as soon as he heard the tone to lessen the shock he would receive. I’ve heard it said that dogs can’t reason, but I’m not convinced of that as there have been many times he (and his sisters) seemed to be debating the cost vs. benefit of running through the shock zone.

      • Sal says:

        We no longer use perimeter inground fencing- our huskies and malamutes weighed the cost of the (dancing, swearing, parts grabbing) level of shock and decided freedom was worth it. We have a small slope at one point and they’d start at the top, dead run, leap at the tone and FREEDOM. We finally moved to galvanized kennel fence panels. Infinitely more secure – although we only fence in about an acre. No way would this be cost effective for larger farms- although we scavenged a lot of ours used on craigslist. Saves our relationship with neighbors and the local ACO.

        • The shock is definitely not sufficient since our dogs can hit the zone at very high speeds and would just blow right through it – but that isn’t the point of it. The fence and associated free collar is a way to communicate where the boundary is. They use the beep to know where the boundary is. Previously we had trained to boundaries but in the last several years we’ve been moving boundaries as we bring new fields into use so that system broke down.

          The area the dogs work in is about 70 acres with an outside perimeter measured in miles which is far to large a fence line to use with the heavy cattle panel, kennel panels, etc. The top dogs stay within the 25 acre free collar zone in the center of that. I am considering someday combining two units to make a 50 acre area. The 70 acre area is fenced with multiple livestock fence energizer.

  5. Emily says:

    He certainly looks intelligent. Kavi has that huge head and huge paws that are associated wit h the big guardian dogs of the old north lands and with wolves who are reputed to be far more intelligent than typical dogs.

  6. Mikey says:

    A fascinating topic to be sure. If we are ever to communicate with aliens from outer space regions then we had better start learning to communicate and live peacefully with the other intelligences on our own planet. Wolves…..Whales…..What else? Interesting how they are all predators. What does that mean for when we meet intelligences from other star systems?!

  7. Miriam says:

    I love the stories and photos of your dogs! They are so beautiful, hard working, and intelligent. I will bet that their living like they do in a pak is part of why they are so smart because they pass on the knowledge from generation to generation. Dogs in modern society are isolated and don’t get that social history with their families.

  8. Dawn says:

    I am in awe of your dogs and your training. I have a questions I am going to email. I hope you don’t mind.

  9. Daniel M says:

    Beautiful dog. I was sure tis was going to be a story about a wolf in your pastures. Fantastic how you work with your dogs.

  10. Dee says:

    What an awesome post! You have such awesome dogs!

  11. T.J. says:

    What is the brand of your radio collar for your Alpha dog? I think it is hinted at, but it is the type that works based on where you lay out the boundary wire, right? I was hoping maybe you had found one that could be set to a certain distance from a home transmitter, but I’m not sure they exist (even better would be one that works with a a programmable GPS map ; )… On a related note, do you know of anyone that has every trained pigs/cows/goats or any other livestock to stay within an area by giving a few matriarch/patriarch animals a collar like that (with animals trained to see flags on posts or trees that are put up along the boundary)? I can fence the one road that goes near my land, but most of my boundaries are forested, with friendly maple-tapping and hay-making neighbours that might not mind a “soft” boundary. Just a thought…

    • PetSafe made wire based radio collar and I’m not pleased with them. They offered a lifetime warranty which they abandoned by discontinuing the product line and then simply saying the can’t honor the warrantee. The collar bands are cheap and break easily. The radio units die on a regular basis. It isn’t surprising they abandoned the product. When it works, it’s great, but it doesn’t last.

      I’ve seen advertisements for WiFi and GPS based radio collars and that makes a lot of sense. Currently they’re still quite expensive but I expect the price to drop to $100 within a few years. The GPS component is now down to about $15 so the parts are within that range and competition will help.

      Like you I’ve considered having a herd boss with the collar would be a good idea. Pigs don’t form the same large groupings that sheep and cows do but rather form many small cohorts so one would need many herd boss collars. Additionally there is training time. Perhaps injecting chips like into our politicians and bureaucrats[1, 2, 3] would be a good solution, at least into the breeder animals so we can keep track of them and lobbyists. Sorry, I digress. :)

      • Farmerbob1 says:

        Am I a bad person because I got a huge smile on my face when I thought about putting politicians in electroshock collars, so we could shock them when they break campaign promises?

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