J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 4-2-12 | TheFencePost.com

J.C. Mattingly: A Socratic Rancher 4-2-12

J.C. Mattingly
Moffat, Colo.

Every dog who lives in the country has to learn about skunks.

Some learn the easy way, others the hard way.

Either way, the master of the dog must be alert to chances to teach the dog about skunks, or be ready with tomato juice when the inevitable happens.

Skunks are mostly nocturnal scavengers, which makes it a little hard on dogs when visibility is reduced. But dogs have good eyesight and a sense of smell that, once they have understood the skunk’s defense, they will learn to leave the skunk to his business.

Of course, skunks are clumsy, and easy to catch, but that’s where the fun stops. Once a dog engages a skunk, the superiority of the dog is quickly neutralized. Some dogs get it pretty fast, others take a while.

Don’s dogs, the two large dogs I have mentioned in earlier columns that Don inherited and kept in memory of his twin, deceased nephews, these dogs never learned the basic skunk lesson. If there was a skunk on the farm, those two dogs would find it. One spring, when those dogs were into skunks once a week or more, we began to tease Don, calling them skunk dogs.

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Don smiled, and bought tomato juice by the case.

It was as if The Two Dogs did not perceive skunks as having a defense. The dogs would lie for hours at the lip of a culvert, waiting for a skunk to come out. On one spring afternoon, I saw a good-sized skunk empty everything it had into The Two Dogs, who took it strictly as an invitation to fight on. The skunk fought valiantly, but the dogs had it outnumbered two-to-one, and out-weighed by several hundred pounds. The large mammals won. The dogs shred the skunk in two and brought the pieces to Don as a present.

“I thought that’s what cats did,” Don said when he told me about it. “What does it mean when a dog does this? Why are The Two Dogs doing this?”

My thought was that the dogs understood that Don wanted to be rather constantly bothered by them, that he needed to be reminded of them often because he wanted to be reminded of his nephews who had passed away. Somehow, the dogs understood this, and thus behaved in ways that caused regular disturbances.

“Those two, those twins,” Don finally told me one day, “those two had a way with critters. They had turkeys, and they had peafowl, and they had goats. Heck, they even had an emu somebody gave to ’em. Burros, guineas, calves. Them two had it all. And dogs. They had two of about everything. Like the Ark.”

It was easy to see why Don loved the nephews, and I understood it would be a hard day when he chose to talk about what had taken them from the good earth.

The good news for the farm was that the Law Of Territory prevailed and Don’s two dogs eventually killed off all the skunks within their roaming range, so Don had only to deal with the dogs when they headed off the occasional skunk who wandered into the wrong territory.