After months of learning commands and socialization skills—our beloved Briards are ready to once again mingle with their adoring fans. We visited Director of Coach & Livestock Paul Bennett to get an update on their training as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the pups’ care and new daily routines.
Did you catch that I said “pups” as in plural? That’s right; we have not one, but two well-trained mascots as well as two experienced handlers who work with them. Liberty and Justice are brother and sister and joined the Foundation last summer. Together, they share a gig as our official mascot. And when they’re on the clock, they are each portraying Liberty. That means when you run into them in the Historic Area, no matter which pup it is, you’re officially meeting “Liberty.”
Why two dogs, you ask? The answer is simple. We don’t ever want either one to get overstimulated or overworked. They are official Colonial Williamsburg employees (paid in treats and love) and work seven days a week. Since Briards are true “working” dogs… this is their dream job! While their shift is 8-5, only half of their day is actual work. And for every hour of training they do, they get an equal amount of time to rest. That’s just one of the requirements of our Class C certification under APHIS and the USDA.
Since the pups work separately, they’re also trained separately. I hadn’t really seen either of the dogs since the end of last year and boy have they come a long way! They’ve outgrown a lot of their puppy bad habits and appear to better understand what’s expected of them. It was amazing to watch each patiently wait and ask for permission before going through doors, taking treats, or even greeting guests. And you can tell, the bonds between the dogs and their handlers are definitely strong ones.
Part of that bonding time happens during grooming. Each pup spends about 90 minutes in the “salon” —our tack room at the Stables. There, they are often washed, dried, and then brushed, and brushed…. and oh yeah, brushed some more.
They also get to play… a lot. The pups start and often end their days out in our pasture by the stables. The urge to run and expend their energy is in their blood and the wide open space is the perfect place to let loose before heading into work.
Both Liberty and Justice love water and the staff recently purchased a kiddie pool they use to cool off (a much better solution than the water troughs they used to get into as puppies!). They also love to play fetch and practice various commands for special treats. This keeps them from getting overstimulated out in public and allows our handlers to really hone in on polishing their skills to match them up with the best events for their personalities.
Speaking of personalities, Liberty and Justice are quite different. We asked Adam and Taylor (their handlers) the best way to describe them. Taylor, who works primarily with Justice tells us he’s super calm and loves to be around people—any people. He’s quick to roll over and beg for belly scratches and if you’d let him, he’d stay in that position all day long. He’s also apparently much like a teenage boy and loves to sleep in. His mornings don’t really get started until 11:30 so he prefers to work the afternoon shift when it comes to events and appearances.
Liberty or “Libby” on the other hand is an early bird and tends to tucker out by the afternoon. If she’s surrounded by a big group, she likes to greet every single person one at a time. She’s extremely social and Adam says she especially loves kids. Right now, the Art Museums are one of her favorite stops. She’ll often make surprise appearances after “A Dog’s Life” Tour—to the delight of our younger guests.
For now—the Art Museums are one of the most popular stops for Liberty. We all know how sweltering Virginia summers can be. In just the past two weeks, temperatures have soared into triple digits with the heat index. And because of their thick, double coats, our Briards can easily become overheated. So right now, Liberty is almost always indoors in the air-conditioning. She frequents the Visitor Center, Art Museums, our hotels, and Everything WILLIAMSBURG.
One of the questions I had for Mr. Bennett since I personally own Australian Shepherds (another herding breed) is how the pups react to the other animals at the stables. That’s where they’re spending a lot of their time and he tells me they’ve become pretty familiar with our chickens, sheep, horses, cattle… and even the barn cat Molly. Adam told me it’s definitely coded in their DNA to be curious about other farm animals but if it’s bigger than a sheep—they’re usually not fazed. In fact, we watched Liberty walk right up to our oxen Duke and Diamond while we there. She sniffed noses with one of them, and then quickly went about her business. It seemed like a typical day in the office and a brief check in with a coworker.
Adam went on to tell me that both dogs also tend not to be too interested in the smaller animals like our lambs who are brought to the stables right after birth. In fact, we’re told Liberty ended up forming quite a friendship with our sweet little Edmund. She apparently got to where she would go right up to his pen and affectionately nibble on his ears. (All I could think when he was telling me the story was—how did we not get that on camera!?!). Now when it comes to Edmund’s kin folk—the much larger sheep—that’s a whole other story. We caught her keeping a close eye on her neighbors during our photoshoot.
On days that aren’t too hot, one of the dogs will often make the short walk from the Stables to the Historic Area where it can socialize with guests and sometimes even catch the last carriage ride of the day as it’s heading back to the stables.
Last Wednesday, we were there when Liberty caught up with sweet Brooke-lynn and Leah to pose for a picture before Coachman Bob rolled back to home base.
At the end of their shifts, the dogs get some more TLC from the Coach & Livestock staff. (Side note: it appears Justice has a special bond with Animal Husbander Darin!). Then, they return to their premium off-site facility which is staffed by in-house veterinarians. Mr. Bennett jokes that after a long, hard day at work—they’re ready to eat dinner, drink a beer, and go to sleep. Of course, that really means a high-protein meal with a special treat of wet food mixed in, plenty of water, and a comfy bed.
After a good night’s rest, they start the day again where new adventures and new friends await them in our Colonial Capital. Maybe they’ll be lucky to bump into you during your next visit!
A huge thank you to local photographer extraordinaire Lisa Martin Lee for working with us on this assignment and capturing the majority of these amazing pictures!