farm dog

Farm Dog Misbehavior

Wendell Berry, author and environmental activist, is known for challenging the status quo by vocally protesting situations in the world that he believes are unjust; and Wendell our farm dog is proving himself more than worthy of his namesake. 


As I’ve written about previously, Wendell is a shelter dog that spent almost the entirety of his first year of life in a noisy pound with little life experience and even less socialization. Our hearts broke when we first saw him quivering in his small cage,
trying to make himself as invisible as possible. “He will never be an outdoor dog- too scared!” we were told. Despite these warnings, we adopted him without a second thought, knowing that he would take a lot of work and patience, but filled with optimism that our home on the mountain was one of the best places for this troubled dog to be. 

IMG_4697The first week must have been hellish for him. Barely breaking out of his statuesque trance in the house to eat a small bite of kibble and trembling at every shadow and crunchy leaf on his outdoor walks, Wendell seemed positively miserable. But slowly over time he began to warm up to us and his new home. Now he runs around the property with abandon, barking and chasing every stick not still connected to a tree, tormenting the chickens and accompanying us on long walks through the woods. In so many tangible ways he is a new dog, but one thing hasn’t changed. 



He still hates the house.

So much, in fact, that he refuses to go in. We’ve had different ways with dealing with this throughout the past weeks. At first we would coax him in slowly, one leash length at a time, in an arduous process that often took over an hour. When we tired of that, we would chase him into the chicken yard, relying on the fences as an aid for cornering him and then scooping him up. But now he has wised up to our tricks and gives the chicken yard and us a wide berth as soon as the sun begins to set. It’s really not safe to leave him outdoors in the cold with coyotes so prevalent, so we go to great lengths to get him inside the house. His behavior is aggravating because he seems to enjoy every second of freedom; running circles around us and yelping with glee, always just out of reach. 

IMG_4674Last night was the last straw for us. After trying for hours to coax him into the chicken yard, we decided to let him to come in on his own terms, leaving the front door wide open and his food just inside the doorway. We even moved his bed and toys to the very entrance to give him something to look forward to. But instead of coming in, Wendell stood mere feet from the door, looking in at us and barking his heart out. Collectively, Ian and I spent hours sitting in that doorway, our hands outstretched with a spoonful of peanut butter, but never once did Wendell come close enough to do more than lick tentatively at it. Not until 2am did he settle down from his aggressive barking enough to let us sleep. 

IMG_4661At this point, we are completely stymied. The bedtime routine in the home is the same for Wendell every night, so we are at a loss for why he is fighting it so much. We would feel better about him being outdoors if he retreated to his dog pen to sleep there, but instead he endlessly circles the house and barks at us. It’s obvious that the fun of being free had long worn off for him, but he wouldn’t let himself calm down enough to come inside or even let us touch him.

His behavior cannot continue and every attempt Ian and I have made to outsmart him has been matched and beaten. If you have any idea or suggestions, PLEASE let me know! We can use all the help we can get! 

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7 thoughts on “Farm Dog Misbehavior

  1. It sounds to me like the dog was given freedom before a good bond was formed with you as his leader, and before he had a good foundation of obedience. If he hasn’t been taught to obey you, and isn’t looking to you as the leader of his family, then he will choose to do whatever feels best to him, which in this case is to stay outside.
    At this point I see two options. You can decide that you want him to continue to have freedom to do what he pleases, put his bed on the patio, and let him live as an outdoor only dog….accepting the risks that come with that (cold, coyotes, running away, etc).
    Or, you could catch him and give him a good solid foundation of obedience by taking him to a weekly dog obedience class to learn basic commands. The class will help with bonding and leadership too. And at home he is not allowed to run free until you have established the bond and obedience that will mean you can trust him off leash. Until then, he is constantly on a leash with you around the farm (it can even be a long 20 ft piece of rope so he can run, but it guarantees he has to come to you when you call). If he is not on a leash he is in a secure area where he can’t get away.
    Some dogs learn all these things very quickly and it could be just a couple months before he can regain farm freedom safely. But most of the time it will take 6 months or more of work to get the bond solid. Consistency on your part will play a huge role in how fast it goes. But in the end you will have an awesome, obedient member of the farm family who finds joy in pleasing you and brings joy to your life instead of frustration and sleepless nights.

    1. Take him for a walk with him on your left side and every time he steps in front of you, step in front of him with your left foot. Limit the first few walks to about 15 minutes because, warning: you will be going around in a circle for awhile and you will get VERY dizzy. The idea behind this little “exercise” (pardon the pun) is to get him to focus on YOU and to teach him to heel when he’s on the leash. When you give a command, give it once and only once and when he doesn’t behave say, “No!” and his name. When he DOES do it, INSTANTLY reward him. If a scratch behind the ear is a huge reward for him, do that. Otherwise, use a small amount of his favourite food treat. I’d start with ‘SIT!’

      Yes, I’ve done a little dog obedience stuff by virtue of the fact that I married a guy who had been an MP Dog handler from West Virginia. (And that’s how I know what their living conditions are, including being lucky to graduate from high school, never mind college…)

      1. Your comments make sense! It’s been a few weeks since I wrote this, and in that time we have been doing a lot of training that aligns with the “Dog Whisper” Caesar. We’ve noticed that changing the energy we are around him from anxious to assertive and relaxed has done wonders to calm him down. As a progress report, now Wendell can sit, stay and come while off leash and distracted! He even follows my husbands hand signals. 🙂 We are still working on getting him comfortable with the house, but at least the nights are no longer so cold out that we need to worry about him freezing.

  2. Absolute Ditto to the above post. Keep him leashed and close (not even on a long leash) and be consistent with everything…meals, walk times, play times, sleep times.. Just like the kids in the schools where you tutor, he’s starving for structure. He’s never had it! He’s either been caged or allowed to run wild. Neither makes him feel safe. He needs to know YOU are in charge..and he WANTS you to be in charge. The barking and stubbornness is his way of telling you he thinks HE needs to be in charge because you’re not doing what he needs you to do. This causes what we think is bad behavior but it’s really anxiety and frustration. Without the structure, he’ll stay an outside dog and he’ll only perceive you as his pack when you go out into his domain. To aid in the bonding, if he’s food driven, give treats just big enough for a quick bite and swallow. Give them immediately when he does something right whether you asked him to or not. The minute you give up or give in, he wins, and you’ll be back to square one. Wait him out on everything even if it takes until 2 a.m. He will eventually fold and he’ll let out a big, deep sigh of contentment. Finally safe. THAT”S when you give him the affection, and ONLY then. Don’t feel sorry for him. Don’t baby him. He’s already totally forgotten about the dog pound. He lives in the moment. You didn’t adopt a poor little puppy…You adopted a teenager who has never lived with rules. He needs exercise, structure and affection and ONLY in that order. Think of it this way…Food + Affection = Energy. You’ll need to burn it off of him, and since he’ll be on a leash, you’ll be burning it off, too!! As was said above, if you stick with it, he will definitely “get it” and eventually you won’t need the leash ALL the time. It will definitely be worth it in the end. Only you can change Wendell’s life around. It’s totally up to you.

  3. Thank you both for your comments! They are good ones. 🙂 MtnMom, I wish it was realistic for us to take him to obedience training, but due to our very rural location I can’t imagine there is anywhere within an hour of us to go. Looks like all the training will be down to us! You both have great suggestions with being careful of when to show affection. I know I personally am guilty of quite a bit of coddling, so I will try to reign myself in and only reward correct behavior. Training has been going great and I can tell that he loves it when we take control, so that is behavior for us to strive to stay consistent with. This is all a good lesson in patience and a great crash course in dog psychology! Over the last two nights Wendell actually has been coming in on his own, though it still takes a lot of coaxing, treats, and until 1:30am. Thank you for the encouragement and I will continue to work on my patience. 🙂

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