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A good farm dog knows when it's time to come in from the cold

More and more, Cocoa has realized that spending time inside isn't so bad when the temperature drops. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)1 / 3
Cocoa has some days where she stubbornly refuses to come inside to warm up until it gets dark outside. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)2 / 3
3 / 3

When we bought an Australian Shepherd puppy in the 2015, my older daughter was in a phase of naming things with random syllables. The little black and brown puppy was going to be "hers," and she wanted naming rights.

After running through a variety of sounds, she stumbled onto "Cocoa." We immediately agreed, since it was an actual word and not a hodgepodge of letters. It also fit her coloring and was easy to scream.

Cocoa, these days, is a fixture on our farm. She mostly has stopped chewing on things she's not supposed to chew on and chasing vehicles that drive through the yard. She's a good help in rounding up cattle in pastures and in getting loose ones back into corrals. She's less of a help in sorting, though that's more the fault of the humans who ineptly have tried to train her.

These days, Cocoa most certainly is not to be confused with the hot drink bearing her name. The temperatures have dipped well below zero. Snow covers the ground. And still, Cocoa has balked at going inside.

Cocoa's first winter with us was an uncharacteristically warm one. We had little snow and mostly above-normal temperatures. We'd let her in to the garage or the barns when necessary, but her little doghouse was snug enough much of the time.

So last year, when an early December blizzard struck, she was quite offended when we tried to shuffle her into the garage. She stood at the doorway and hopped around and wouldn't let us grab her to put her in. The doghouse, she indicated, was good enough for her.

The next morning, snow had nearly filled the little kennel in which she spends her nights (less to keep her in and more to keep coyotes away from her). For the rest of the winter, she begrudgingly retreated to the garage at night when we bid her do so. But during the day, she'd look at us in disdain in all but the coldest temperatures.

When the temperature again dipped this winter, as it inevitably does in North Dakota, Cocoa would stand at the door of the insulated garage, where she has a cozy, self-warming dog bed and a full dish of food, and look at us as if we were crazy to think she might want to come in during daylight hours.

But New Year's Day seemed to spark a realization in our beloved doggy. That was the day on which North Dakota was the world's coldest place, when the temperature never even approached zero.

On that day, even Cocoa had enough. At first, she did her dance at the door, refusing to enter. But, as the day wore on, with no warm-up in sight, she sprinted past us into her little snug bed.

When evening dawned, Cocoa's teenage rebellion and belief that she was invincible seemed to end. During one of her outside breaks, she darted through the feedlot to the heated building that serves as shop and cattle working facility. When my husband left for the night, Cocoa refused to come with him.

She finally realized there's no shame in a good farm dog staying in the warmest building open to her.

With any luck, the temperatures will rebound soon and Cocoa will be back in her doghouse, howling at whatever raccoons or coyotes or squirrels or shadows she spots in the night. In the meantime, she'll spend her nights, and parts of her days, in one of the cozy confines we provide for her.

As much as I hate to think she's lost all her puppy-ness, there's something to be said for a dog smart and mature enough to know when it's time to come in from the cold.

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