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'Rocky' and child, hanging out in Georgia. (Bruce Kirkby/Bruce Kirkby for The Globe and Mail)
'Rocky' and child, hanging out in Georgia. (Bruce Kirkby/Bruce Kirkby for The Globe and Mail)

'Rocky' the sheepdog: an unlikely hero in the mountains Add to ...

This summer, the bestselling travel author is deep in the Georgia Caucasus, with family in tow. This is part of a series: For other instalments, click here.

Possibly the greatest danger to hiker’s in Georgia are the famed Caucasian sheep dogs. Trained to defend their flocks, the dogs are as vicious as they are enormous, the largest rivalling ponies in size.

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Mangy-looking, with ears and tails clipped off (so marauding wolves can’t clamp on), they bark incessantly.

We have found most can be avoided by simply giving a wide berth to all sheep and other flocks. Some mutts still give chase and howl determinedly on our heels, but counterattacking with a walking stick seems to back them off.

Aware that dogs would be an issue on this journey, we decided to immunize the entire family against rabies before flying to Georgia. Nonetheless, we remained cautious. When I spotted a white mutt lurking in the grass near camp, I chased her off with a fusillade of rocks. An hour later, she was back, and once again slunk off when I launched an attack.

Some time after midnight, a ferocious barking erupted just outside the tent door, and before I was properly awake, Christine had bolted out. With arm cocked, she was just about to pelt the dog with rocks when she noticed that the animal was standing beside our pack horse, barking into the shadows. Could she be protecting the horse?

We watched from the tent door for several minutes, and indeed it appeared that this mangy mongrel had taken our white horse under her protection. The next morning, she was still there, sitting under a nearby tree, watching us eat oats. When we struck out on the trail, she happily trotted before us, bounding over streams and occasionally chasing birds or the locusts that are the size of hot dogs and the colour of cooked corn. Whenever we passed shepherd’s huts, she furiously raced toward any barking dog, teeth bared, and silenced the aggressor. She chased cows and pigs out of our way on the path. By dinner, when she ate our leftover pasta and then rolled onto her back for a belly scratch, it was clear that she was part of our small caravan.

For two days, I watched her closely. Could I trust her around our small boys? She continued to be unflinchingly gentle, never begging for food or rooting through unattended packs: the perfect travelling companion.

Now known as Rocky (she has darkened rings around her eyes, like a boxer), she has travelled with us for weeks, covering more than 200 kilometres, and is a key member of our small, close team. I have no idea what will happen to Rocky when our journey ends. The thought pains me, as we already love her dearly. Like her sudden, unanticipated appearance, I am confident a suitable conclusion to her story will unfold. But for now, we all sleep more soundly at night, knowing that the camp is under her watchful guard. And we can’t get enough of the friendly nuzzles at each snack break along the way.

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