What’s it all about, Alfie? Remembering our gentle giant

We were minding our own business in May 2012 when the breeder of our LGDs called, asking us to buy a six-week old male puppy who had tested as bold, fearless, stubborn and unusually assertive. The breeder thought the puppy needed experienced Anatolian owners to manage his outsized personality in what would become his outsized body. We were not in the market for another LGD, having just acquired Magdeleine (“Maggie”) a few months earlier. But the breeder was confident we could handle the puppy, the 6th Anatolian shepherd dog we got from her. And so Alfie joined Isaac, Jacob, Khloe, Luke, and Maggie.

A note about names. We had been on a roll with alphabetical Biblical names. But when we got to “N” and our only choices were Nebuchadnezzar or Nehemiah (Noah wouldn’t do because we always needed “no” in our arsenal), we opted to start over with “A”. When I learned the puppy’s coat was described as “brindl,” I knew we had to name him Alfred Brindl after my all-time favorite classical pianist, Alfred Brindl.

Hmm, so this is my new boss?

With his stunning coloring and huge white paws, Alfie always stood out from the other light tan dogs. He immediately and forever attached himself to Steve, or at least his boots, and Steve began putting him through his paces, introducing him to the other dogs as the first order of business.

Next in the Saltmarsh Ranch LGD Orientation Seminar was instruction on table manners, specifically, a puppy does not, on pain of a sharp nip on the nose from an older dog, try to pilfer the older dogs’ food. It took only one scolding from Steve and a couple of half-hearted tries at Luke’s bowl, to make the point.

Thou shalt not steal thy fellow LGD’s food, Mr. Alfie!

Lesson learned, lesson over

We were acutely mindful of Alfie’s reported temperament. From day one, Steve worked to get the message across clearly that Steve is the alpha dog on this farm and all dogs must acknowledge as much and behave accordingly. It was okay for Alfie not to be subservient, but he needed to be respectful in his fearless style. In our experience, nothing works better than dangling a puppy over your arm until he relaxes, a sure indication he trusts and depends on you for his safety and well-being.

Don’t drop me!

A little refresher course for Maggie while we’re at it

So far, so good. Our dogs also must get along with each other. They live in separate pastures, each with a set of sheep to guard. But we need to know if a gate is left open, or we need to deploy two dogs together, they will stick to the business of guarding the flock. Alfie turned out to be one of our most agreeable dogs in his relationships with the other dogs, perhaps due to his sheer size. He’s the height of a small pony and topped out at 165 pounds.

Alfie more than lived up to his advance billing as “bold” and “fearless.” At less than a year old he experienced a thunderstorm for the first time. Unlike all the other LGDs who preceded him on our farm, he ran right up the hill, looked up at Thor, the hammer-wielding god of thunder and lightning, and began hurling barking insults back into the sky. A few years back Steve found what was unmistakably bear scat in Alfie’s pasture but no evidence of a physical confrontation. Alfie obviously had presented himself to the bear in a fashion that sent Smokey looking for lamb dinner at some other farm.

By contrast, during the day when we were around him, he watched his flock with surprising calm and grace.

There never was a question in our minds nor, obviously, in his, about why Alfie was here — to guard our Soay sheep against the ever-present threat of predators. Nevertheless, he also was the most beloved of our large dogs, as evidenced by the fact that nearly everyone who visited wanted to pet this big Ferdinand-like softie, and lots of people could not resist a full-on hug. We lost him last week at the unusually old age of 11 years, but the memories of this gentle giant who shared love with all the humans he met live on in our hearts. Well done, good and faithful guardian.

Ida came for Lamb Camp twice but always gravitated to her big pal

Whitney followed in her mom Ida’s footsteps and also took time out from lambing for Alfie Love

And no one got Alfie Love more than his very best buddy, Steve.

Ah, gee, do I have to go to the vet, boss?

For now …