In April 2021 I began going through a relentless coordinated attack on my business, my reputation and me as a person by a few very cruel individuals. I love what I do and have worked very hard to get where I am so this experience was extremely difficult and caused me unbelievable stress and severe PTSD symptoms. Eventually I had to hire an attorney to help me fight these people but even with my attorney it was a very hard battle that I often felt I would never win. It was truly the most difficult experience I’ve ever been through, and I am a stage 3 cancer survivor so that’s saying a lot. (At least cancer isn’t personal.) During the middle of this experience my good friend, Cindy Benson, encouraged me sign up to attend the Across All Species clicker training course at the Karen Pryor Academy Ranch in Washington, with her. The course would be held in August so the timing was perfect, as kidding season was over and I had no young puppies to care for. It would be a great way to further my education with training my Maremma Sheepdogs as well as my dairy goats. I had long been interested in learning to clicker train goats but I'd never really tried it. This course would be focusing on all different types of animals but the main practice would be goats, so I knew it would be perfect for me. I really wanted to attend but I was concerned that I should not invest the money in this course, in case I needed the money for legal fees. The course itself was $1200 and there would be airfare, hotels and a lot of other expenses. So although I really wanted to take the course I was very torn. In June I received an email from Cindy, in which she "pestered me" in her words, to attend the course. She reminded me that this course was being held at a perfect time for me and that might not happen again because it is not always held at the same time every year, and it's not often that things line up so well for me to be able to get away from the farm. Then she told me about a similar circumstance she had been in where she was going through a tough situation and was having trouble deciding whether to attend the KPA Professionals Course or not. She said that she thought about it and there were two things that she decided:
1.She needed the distraction. 2. She refused to have her goals be a casualty of her situation. She told me that she fought HARD for every shred of that coursework and looking back, it means more to her to have earned that certification because of it.
What she said really struck me. I knew that I DEFINITELY needed the distraction and that, despite what I was going through, I had to put my animals' needs, my education, my business and my mental health first. Like Cindy, I had goals to improve my skills and knowledge as a trainer so that I could better serve my animals and my customers and I was NOT going to let anyone stop me from achieving those goals. I had to step out in faith, spend the money to go to this course and let the other stuff take care of itself.
So off I went to the beautiful state of Washington, where I have never been. Some of my "issues" were still going on as I was leaving on the plane to fly out, and some of them were still going on while I was there. I really had to fight to keep my focus on being in this course and not letting these other distractions ruin what I was there to do. It was not easy, I will tell you that. I had turned off commenting on my blog before I left home, to prevent further attacks there and so I wouldn't be compelled to reply. But staying off of social media in the evenings was super hard and I didn't always manage it. But every day I went to class and was surrounded by people who live to train animals in positive and kind ways. Not only was I learning how to train through hands-on training with all different types of animals, demonstrations on different types of animals and in-class instruction and videos, but I myself was being immersed in a positive reinforcement environment. Everyone there was encouraging and kind and truly focused on not only helping animals but on helping each other. There were people from all walks of life, different parts of the country as well as out of the country. People from different backgrounds. Dog trainers, people who work with sea mammals and zoo animals, people who train chickens, dog breeders, doggy daycare owners and all different kinds of people. What we had in common was our love of animals and dedication to helping them and the people who care about them. Thirteen students and several instructors and assistants together for 10-12 hours a day, for 5 days in a row and no drama whatsoever. The longer I was in that environment the more I began focusing on what really matters, instead of worrying about this other stuff. I began to get excited about all I was learning and all the ways I could see myself implementing what I was learning into my breeding and training program (dogs and goats) as well as ways I could help my customers and others learn how to be more successful with training and communicating with their animals. By the time the last day of class came to an end I was more excited and optimistic than I've been in months.
On Saturday I drove with Cindy to visit her ranch in Oregon (another state I’d never been to) on the way back from WA. On the drive I told her that I know without a shadow of a doubt that if I had not let her "pester" me into taking this course I would still be immersed in all that other drama and stress, in a bad place and not able to get out. She had been absolutely right. I had NEEDED this course, in more ways than one, and like Cindy, refusing to let my goals be a casualty of my situation will pay off, big time. And I will value what I learned even more because of what I had to go through to get here and because of how hard I had to work to stay focused.
I spent Saturday afternoon visiting Cindy's beautiful 360 acre Oregon ranch. I met every single one of her 27 Maremmas, meaning I petted, talked to and spent time with each and every one of them. Twenty-seven Maremmas! Twenty-seven smiling "White Dogs", as Cindy calls them. I also visited her companion dogs as well as the three Maremmas and several other dogs owned by our friend, Kathy, who we visited on the way to Cindy's. It was a day filled with dogs, as well as goats (including several of my Mini Nubian wethers that I had given Cindy a few months ago), mini donkeys, mini cows, mules, horses, ponies and sheep. It was a great day and a great ending to a great week! And tomorrow I'll fly back home to California where all my smiling Maremmas, goats, horses, companion dogs and other animals will be waiting for me, along with my family and friends. And I'll go forth and use what I learned this week, as well as my newfound focus, to make the world a better place for all of them.
Me with my training partner, Corgi, on the last day of the course. I learned so much working with this smart little guy and can’t wait to implement what I learned with my own goats! I already have 6 training platforms waiting for me at home, to use with my goats and dogs, because as soon as I used one with Corgi I knew they would be invaluable tools for training my animals. Of course I ordered purple! 💜
Me getting a Maremma fix with Hannah and Milan, two of Cindy’s wonderful dogs. Milan (the one who climbed on the table with me) is the sire of two of my dogs, Marisa and Pax, so getting to meet him as well as all of my Benson Ranch dogs’ parents was so great. 💜
Visiting Benson Ranch
On the way home from the Training for Professionals: Across Species course at The KPA Ranch I got to visit Benson Ranch. This was a dream come true and equally as exciting as the course. I met each and every one of Cindy's 27 Maremmas, as well as her other dogs, her donkeys, goats, cattle, horses and mules. It was a great day!
Doing a little grooming table training with dried chicken. The dogs love this game!
There's so much to see on the ranch, and so many wonderful dogs and other animals to meet!
Spend any time patrolling the internet and you will find people complaining about the "problems" they have with their LGD's. Some are committed to making things work and are just reaching out for advice and help. Others not so much. There are people who are dumping their dogs in rescue because it doesn't live up to their expectations. They see LGD's as cheap, expendable "products" and are happy to throw their dog away and start over if things don't go according to plan.
Others are calling their dogs "a failure", "bad dog" and "a disappointment". They seem to revel in criticizing their dogs to get attention, which is disgusting and sad. What makes this even sadder is that these are often PUPPIES that are being called failures. Everyone knows that LGD's can take 2 years or sometimes more to reach maturity and to be totally safe with stock. So why is it ok to call a 9 month old puppy a "failure" for being a puppy?
The first step in setting the puppies up for success lies with the breeder. Puppies have critical learning periods in the first weeks and months. If breeders don't take advantage of these periods the dog will never live up to its full potential. It might be an "ok" LGD, but not likely a "great" one. Puppies should have intensive socialization with stock from as early as possible. At our farm every dog and puppy we own lives with other dogs and livestock 24/7. Dogs are social creatures and they need to have their needs for socialization met in order to thrive.
Puppies should also be trained with positive socialization methods and only allowed to be around other dogs and stock that are kind to the puppies. Using harsh training methods or harsh treatment by other dogs and stock on puppies teaches puppies to be either fearful or to bully other animals, or both. Neither is what you want to nurture in a LGD.
But no matter how careful and conscientious the breeder is in their socialization of their puppies the job doesn't end there. The new puppy owner has the responsibility to continue this nurturing training and treatment of the puppy once it gets home. Other than the first few days the puppy should be with livestock full time asap. Of course with poultry, accommodations will have to be made to keep the birds safe, but the puppy should have another dog as a companion and some type of mammal to guard if at all possible. The puppy should not ever be locked up by itself for extended periods of time. This is counterproductive to what you're trying to accomplish with your puppy. You will only frustrate the puppy, which will lead to "bad" behavior.
If you are experiencing problems with your puppy the first place to turn is your breeder. A reputable breeder will provide lifetime support to their customers. They can tell you how your puppy was trained before it left their farm and can give advice on how to integrate the puppy with your new stock. Good breeders love their puppies and their customers and want everyone to be happy so don't be afraid to reach out to them.
If you need more help I suggest you seek professional help. And by professional help I don't mean some self-described "expert" with no real background or training. I mean a professional trainer with certifications in dog training and behavior and who specializes in LGD's and positive reinforcement training. Hands down the expert in this area is Cindy Benson, of Benson Maremmas. She is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, former Maremma breeder and author of books on training LGD's. She can do zoom training sessions with you and your dog and get you back on track asap.
I would like to challenge everyone who owns one of these wonderful dogs to never, ever think of your dog as a "failure" or a "disappointment" and to challenge others to do the same. Advocate for these dogs. When you hear people blaming the dog for human failure, laziness and ignorance speak up and set them straight! Dogs come to us as clean slates. It's our responsibility to help them live up to their potential. It starts with breeders and continues with owners. And if there is any "failure" along the way it is not our dogs who have failed. It is us who have failed our dogs.
These are six of Marcella's puppies, at 4 months old, enjoying a fun game of tag with their puppy mentor, Marisa. LGD puppies need to have at least one LGD companion in order to be happy and healthy and so that they can channel that boundless energy in an appropriate manner.
Hi I'm Kim. I have been an avid animal lover all my life but goats and dogs are my favorites so I built a business around them, breeding registered Mini Nubian & Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats and MSCA registered Maremma Sheepdogs. I love sharing my passion and knowledge of these amazing creatures with others.