Gardeners often ask how we keep gophers, squirrels, and other predators out of the crops on our wilderness farm. We use an old-fashioned and highly effective technique: a good dog.
Our farm dog has at least 11 distinct barks, and I can instantly tell the difference in each one.
He has one bark for deer and a slightly different bark for raccoons, and he will not tolerate any of them in our gardens. He has one bark for hawks when they attack our chickens, one for coyotes, and yet another bark for foxes. And we rarely, if ever, lose a bird.
He has a bark for wild hogs when they tear through the yard, and a completely different bark for our domestic hogs when they dig out of their pens and run loose on the farm.
He has one bark, more of a deep-chested growl, for poisonous snakes, and he has a slightly different bark for alligators. I learned the subtle difference in his alligator bark as a shocking surprise, directly at my feet on a dark night, and my dog lunged at the alligator and fought him all the way down to the water.
Our farm dog is named Bando. He is a black-and-white Border collie mix with a big bushy tail. Bando has an important job on our farm, and he is brilliant in his work.
There are many hard-working dogs like Bando on the farms and ranches of South Texas: dogs working their cattle and goats, protecting gardens and homesteads, and they are the unsung heroes of small-scale agriculture.
Dogs served in exactly the same way 200 years ago on the American frontier, helping their pioneer families cultivate a civilization.
And probably the greatest masters of dogs were Native American Indians. Before the arrival of Europeans, Indians did not have livestock: no horses or cows, goats, sheep, or pigs.
But Indians had dogs. Indian children and puppies grew up together into warriors and pack leaders, sleeping, hunting, foraging, and fighting together in the closest proximity; protecting one another in a partnership of survival.
It is difficult to imagine how well Native Americans understood their dogs; how a certain kind of bark, or a slow rise of the hackles, could speak volumes. Recognizing this language, at a primitive level of survival, could mean the difference between death, and life.
Every dog has a powerful desire to serve his master in some way. For some dogs, it is to hunt; for others, to protect; and for some, it is simply to lay in the laps of their masters. The greatest gift we can give our dogs is to let them to fully express this instinctual desire—to let them work to their hearts’ content, whatever their job.
If predators are stealing from your garden, the solution may simply be a good dog. And your dog might just love the work.