J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 1-23-12 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 1-23-12

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

In one of my columns last year, I told of an encounter I witnessed between a young female dog named Pinto, of no particular breed, and two jackrabbits, who instead of out-running Pinto, which they could have done very easily, flipped over onto their backs and thumped Pinto repeatedly with their hind legs.

After taking blows to the head, body and tail, Pinto dashed home, tail between her legs, ears flat to her head. Thereafter, she fell into a deep melancholy and stopped behaving like a dog. She no longer chased rabbits and varmints, no longer barked at strangers. One of the men in the shop joked, “If she starts chasing mice, call Animal Planet.”

Personality disorders have been known to result from knocks to the head. Just look at boxers, football and hockey players. And we have known of cases where creatures from one species have come to think of themselves as members of another species.

For example, I knew of a runt piglet who was raised among dogs. The piglet nursed the mother dog along with the other pups and grew up thinking she was a dog, right down to burying bones and trying to bark when in the pursuit of various vehicles.

And we had a hen one time who set upon a litter of pups, taking good care of them while the mama dog foraged about. But the day came when the mama dog decided it was time for the hen to return to her cluckers. A fight ensued that was not beneficial to either party.

And there are stories of goats and ram sheep growing up with horses and coming to think of themselves in that grand regard.

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But in the case of Pinto the pup, she had been thumped in the head by rabbits, a species that dogs have always dominated. It’s difficult to suggest a comparison in human terms. It’s as if a linebacker was knocked over by a kitten, or a boxer felled by a mouse.

One of our neighbors, a kindly dog lover, suggested that for a pup to be beaten up by jack rabbits could cause such a severe trauma as to knock the caninity right out of the pup. She suggested that Pinto needed to hang out with other dogs for a while, and perhaps that would bring her around.

We didn’t have any other dogs at the time, and in fact we had about a dozen half-feral cats running around the farm. Concerned that cats might be the wrong type of role models for Pinto to be influenced by, our good neighbor took Pinto home with her, where she had a healthy pack of dogs.

A few weeks later, Pinto returned to our farm, once again a full-fledged dog chasing cats and gophers, and barking at visitors, which confirms the importance of being selective about the species you chase, and the species you hang out with.