So now I have ducks. Only three at the moment. They were the bottom three in a small flock in which, without enough ladies to go around, the drakes were destroying each other. These boys arrived looking like they’d slept in their clothes in a gutter for a week, but there is camaraderie in misery, apparently, for they get along with each other quite well.
There is a lot of complaining about ducks, among the Herding Fraternity. Messy, nasty, noisy, stinky: pigs with feathers. Frankly, I didn’t believe this. My mental image of ducks was that they were, more or less, aquatic chickens. However, I was wrong. They do indeed stink. Pound for pound, I would bet they smell a lot worse than pigs, which is saying something. Drakes are reputedly quieter than the females, and their nasal murmuring quaquaqua doesn’t bother me. But the main thing which is uncongenial about ducks, my ducks anyway, is their panicky personalities.
I also am raising a batch of replacement pullets right now, and with the sunny weather, my barely-feathered robin-sized chicks stay out all day in a portable wire run. The roof is only sixteen inches high, and they can hide out of reach underneath it when it is time to catch them to put back in the brooder for the night. But Bonnie is more than happy to crawl in there and nose them out for me. They don’t like to be caught and picked up, of course, but they are already calmer than my adult ducks. My grown hens treat Bonnie like a tedious boss—okay, okay, we’re going, all right already. They are not afraid of her.
Conversely, every night when it is time to put the ducks to bed—at the moment, while my duck house is being constructed, they make do with a plastic dog crate—they behave as though the Doom of Ducks is upon them. It is a two-person job, since they have to be funneled from the old vegetable garden, where they reside during the day, into another pen, and thence into the crate. Someone has to open and close all the doors while someone else drives the ducks. This someone else, of course, is my dog. She does not harass the ducks, but it makes no difference to their emotional state.
Then too, they are highly incurious. They have a large weedy garden sown to orchard grass, but they’ve never visited most of it. They spend all their time near their water tub, hiding behind the shrub roses. They don’t want to know anything about the world. They’re too afraid of what might happen.
The idiot fearfulness of my new ducks made me reflect upon fear in general. It was one of the main reasons I decided to not buy another Corgi and get an Aussie instead; the personality of the whole breed seemed to be becoming more and more timid. Fearful dogs are frustrating to train. Their confidence needs to be constantly bolstered, and one needs to be ever watchful to prevent them associating a frightening experience, such as a flapping tent, a loud noise, a lunging dog, with whatever you happen to want them to be doing at the moment. Once their fear is triggered, they learn nothing until they are calm again. In this, they are just like timid people: fear makes fools of us all.
Fear has a function, of course. I cannot really blame my fragile, slow, flightless ducks, without enough water to escape into, for being fearful of the world. Before I lost my marbles to the world of stockdog training, I auditioned Bonnie for the local search and rescue team. She flunked. Besides not being insanely passionate about either eating or playing, she displayed a reluctance to scramble to the top of a house-sized mountain of construction debris, and needed to be coaxed before crawling through sewer pipes. “Your dog thinks too much,” was the tester’s comment. And indeed, the young Labradors and German Shepherds in training were spectacular in their singleminded pursuit of those kong toys and hot dogs. I didn’t know at the time that, had there been a sheep at the top of that pile of debris, the outcome would have been different for my dog.