The Way of The Pack: Understanding and Living With Livestock Guardian Dog through Amazon.com is available now through all books. Here's a chapter for one of the famous books. Read it about it, and I dare you to think...
Saturday, October 13, 2018
THE FUTURE OF LGD USE:
ASSETS OR LIABILITIES?
“But choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.”
— The Grail Knight, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade
I could not believe my eyes – or my ears – as I watched the Oregon news station interviewing the sheep producer. He stood petting two of his Great Pyrenees for the camera. Without a pause, he tearfully named off the three dead LGDs that had been shot and killed by mistake. But I knew something the public did not. As an expert witness hired in the high-profile case, I had read depositions and court documents that the press and public were not yet privy to.
Under sworn deposition, when asked repeatedly to name his guardian dogs, Gordon Clark could not name them. He hadn’t a clue what their names were. When pressed for details on how the dogs were trained, his replies were muddled, vague and as time wore on, increasingly surly and terse. Later in the newspapers his story morphed into a version of the dogs being born in his garage and hand raised by Clark alone as if they were pets. Now in front of rolling cameras and a public hungry for blood, there he was, naming off the three dead LGDs names for the photo op: Elvira, Tony and Jackie Chan. Under oath he couldn’t name them. Now? Suddenly, no problem. Although I was supposed to keep an emotional distance from this melodrama, I could barely contain myself. I was livid.
In terms of LGD knowledge, a totally clueless press corps engaged in pseudo-reporting of a trial centering around the tragic shooting of three Livestock Guardian Dogs by two elk hunters in Oregon wilderness. Only one side of the story ever made the press. No one questioned the bonafides of the LGD owner. Most of the public wanted the hunters hanged, drawn and quartered. And that was just for starters.
But as I waded through depositions and stacks of court documents, I saw the darker side of this litigious beast: the underbelly of what really was at stake in this matter became clear, and that was why I went to work for the defendants, notthe owner of the LGDs. At stake was the difference between raising using LGDs wrong and raising and using them right. LGDs as liabilities - or assets. What was on trial was more than two hunter’s error in judgment. What was really on trial was LGD management that could possibly dictate the future of LGD use on public lands in this country.
What made this case even more frustrating for me was the fact that the sheep operator was not only well known, he was extremely well liked in the sheep industry. When I mentioned his name to commercial sheep folks and wool industry mucky-mucks, I got the gushing pie-eyed rave reviews. As I had many large commercial sheep producers as guardian dog clients, this put me in an awkward position. This guy had practically had become a poster child for the wool industry. The nouveausheep man had been rewarded for his agriculture efforts with industry awards and praise in local newspapers. In an ironic twist, like me he was an expat Southern Californian. In fact, he was a former, very famous SoCal businessman with an interesting but very marred and controversial, past.
Years ago, Clark had suddenly, overnight, shuttered his long-time surfboard foam blank manufacturing plant after the suspicious death (reported in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere) of a 36-year-old employee due to long-term exposure to a deadly chemical in the plant; his widow sued for wrongful death. But that was not all. The newly minted sheep rancher had more pending lawsuits against him including one from another worker’s widow whose husband died from cancer. In his one public statement, quoted by The Times, the foam manufacturer admitted “…I may be looking at very large fines, civil lawsuits and even time in prison."
* * *
Well now, I thought as I poured over archived newspaper reports on the employee’s death, pending lawsuits, allegations of price cutting to stifle competition, and monopolizing the market. I looked at photos of Clark arrogantly flipping off the camera. One photo had him gloating next to a stuffed Mountain Lion that he claimed he had to kill to save his sheep - probably I chuckled to myself - because his dogs were no where around doing their jobs.Gossipy rants in surf magazines and online blogs and ‘zines cited his troubles with the Environmental Protection Agency.So we are not the innocent Boy Scout after all. Amazing how none of this juicy press made the Oregon newspapers during the trial, but considering the jury and the area he ranched in, I had to wonder if it would have even made a difference.
But surfboards? Well, damn, if this wasn’t a coincidence. Now I remembered. No wonderthe name Gordon “Grubby” Clark rang a bell. In the early 1970’s I was growing up in the then still sleepy, hippie, flower child and surf-bum infested southern California town of Laguna Beach where my mother worked 13 years for the Police and Fire Departments. The surf scene was not all Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon frolicking and singing on white sandy shores; there was a darker side to it that most outsiders didn’t see. It was during the last wild days of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, the international hashish trafficking, LSD manufacturing ring with ties to the Weather Underground blatantly run out of a seemingly innocent Laguna storefront. When a big swell came in and the surf was up, the high school emptied. Half the time the girl’s bathroom was so thick with marijuana smoke you practically got high just going inside to pee. Some of my track teammates were dating Black Panther Party members in Berkeley. Saffron robed Hare Krishnas banged cymbals and drums on street corners and tried to convert anyone who stood still long enough at the corner of PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) and Laguna Canyon road impatiently waiting for the light to turn green so they could escape the prospect of eternal bliss and a mandatory shaved head. John Wayne regularly drove by our Cliff Drive house on his way home to Newport Beach. The infamous LSD guru Timothy Leary had just been busted on pot possession in the canyon by my mom’s boss, “Super Cop” Neil Purcell. Ah, yes, Laguna Beach and the California beach and surf scene, like itusedto be. Like practically everyone else at Laguna Beach High School, I did my penance surfing, or as in my case, what passed as such. It was a sure bet that my battered old hand me down surfboard I paddled out and rode waves with, had been built on a Clark Foam blank. Back then, everyone’s was. Well, damn again.
After Gordon Clark abruptly closed his surfboard foam shop and split the SoCal surf scene, he headed north with bulging bank accounts and, with absolutely no previous agriculture experience, bought the historic yet struggling Hay Creek Ranch in Oregon. He proceeded to reinvent himself as a humble sheep and cattle rancher, and for a grizzled, cocky ex-surfer dude who once schlepped around the surf scene with his pants practically falling off, the Zelig did a fair job of it.
Of course, during the LGD trial, not an ounce of “Grubby’s” sullied California business history made it into the courtroom or the newspapers. I doubt the jury even knew. The news was all about the “poor” LGDs being killed by “bad guys” - it guaranteed a quick boost in readership and hits on newspaper websites. The press practically turned the hunters into a mix of Charles Manson and the Zodiac Killer. They may as well have shot Lassie.
* * *
The attorney who contacted me represented the defendants: the men were both ex-law enforcement and experienced hunters. They had been bow-hunting elk in season when out of nowhere, three huge white LGDs came racing towards them. The dogs had been chasing elk. The signs that Clark claimed were present were not visible to the hunters. When they blew on their elk horn, the dogs came racing in, thinking it was an elk. Assuming the non-identified dogs were feral and chasing wildlife, and not seeing any herders present let alone any sheep, the hunters shot them. It was against the law for dogs to chase wildlife. As court documents showed, the dogs were actually nowhere near their band of sheep, but far away from them. The band was being run on a large forest allotment with heavy tree growth where the line of sight was minimal, and it was easy for dogs, herder and sheep to be out of each other’s view in a second. Depositions further showed that the band of sheep was being run by a skeleton crew of herders. No wonder they didn’t know where their LGDs were when the shooting began.
Something else conveniently never made the news. Sworn witness statements and interviews revealed this was not the first time the former surfboard blank mogul’s LGDs had aggressively approached people while supposedly guarding their flock. Hikers, hunters and recreational ATV riders cited repeated incidents of Clark’s guardian dogs coming up to them with teeth bared and snarling; one woman narrowly escaped being bitten while riding on her ATV. In every incident, no herder was nearby to control or call back the LGDs. The witnesses did not see any sheep near the dogs.No signage warning sheep were in the area; no herders around, no sheep camp wagon. The dogs lacked any visible identification such as collars and tags. In other words, the LGDs were being poorly managed - if managed at all. The locals knew who the dogs belonged to. But some claimed this was the norm: dogs running amok. In other words, it happened all the time. Of course, the press chose to ignore this little inconvenient truth.
When I proceeded to describe what responsible LGD ownership, use and management reallylooked like to the defense lawyers, and how Clark was using outdated training and use methods now roundly frowned upon by most responsible LGD owners, they licked their chops in anticipation. So there were cracks in the facade after all. Yup, there were, in that he appeared to be a very poor LGD owner and operator and was cutting corners by not having enough herders with his sheep in heavily wooded, brushy country. No signage, no markings on the dogs, no collars. It was piss-poor, slapdash management of working guardian dogs and sadly, much more common in the commercial sheep industry than the industry likes to cop to. In fact, it’s often par for the course.
But would the jury see it the way we did? No, they didn’t. In the end, Clark once again, dodged a bullet. He got what he wanted: tons of feel-good press and a social media cheering section the size of Rhode Island, vindication for his dead dogs, awarded a hefty six-figure sum and a guilty verdict for the hunters. In a telling show of where their hearts really lay, sheep industry big wigs cheered the verdict of their wunderkindwoolgrower, and in doing so, praised bad LGD management practices. Whether or not Clark went on to continue using his LGDs in a less than responsible manner, with a minimal crew of herders, or improved his ways running his dogs, I cannot say. His three dogs paid the ultimate price for his unwise choice in how he reared them up and managed them in the end. The whole tragedy could have been prevented; instead, irresponsible LGD management practices were rewarded and politics won out. It made me very angry, yet I was not surprised.
A few years prior, the American Sheep Industry had rolled out a very well written and drafted paper on LGDs titled “American Sheep Industry Association’s Recommended Best Management Practices for Livestock Protection Dogs.”Done in mind to nip in the bud any mandatory government regulation of working guardian dogs that may have been in the works, the well-crafted best-use practices paper strongly advocated hands-on rearing of pups and socialization of working LGDs so they did not mindlessly attack people out of fear. It promoted using collars or means to identify dogs and posted signage. It promoted herder education in use of the dogs. Of course, I knew they were right. They were more or less advocating The Way of The Pack.It was sensible, responsible LGD use. I shared it on social media, printed off copies and pushed my dog customers to read it. “This is good stuff. Read it. Practice it.” I contacted one of the authors to voice my praise. They glumly told me over the phone that the general reception of their paper by commercial producers was “poor, lukewarm at best” and that most woolgrowers pooh-poohed the advice. The overwhelming inference was it was too much work. Why bother? The dogs were just disposable tools, anyway.
I went on the American Sheep Industry website, looking for the best management practices LGD paper to include a link to it in this book. It had been posted on the site for many years. Now, along with a link to a page of printable LGD signage and brochures, it was gone. Not a good sign.
* * *
The reality is, we live in a day and an age when ranching, agricultural livelihoods and our right to farm are under attack. But let’s look at the other side of the coin. Public lands users press for jerking allotments away from ranchers, and in some instances, who can blame them? We all know there are pockets in Ranching America where good ol’ boys wink and nod culture is the rule of thumb and “Shoot, Shovel, Shut Up” the mantra. Dishonest ranchers abuse the system by inflating calf loss numbers in order to be reimbursed by the government for faked “wolf kills.” Sheep industrymucky mucks oblige and conveniently look the other way at commercial sheep operations who starve their LGDs and don’t care for them. The last thing the sheep industry needs are dog bite lawsuits, but they are on the increase. The government would love to come in and tell us what we can and can’t do with these dogs. Closed minds and prehistoric attitudes in the stock industry that scoff at using best management and low risk use practices for LGDs will be the ones who spell the end of stockmen being able to run and use LGDs on public lands - and perhaps, even on their own properties.
Consider this dangerous dog case involving 21 LGDs in Massachusetts and the harsh, draconian restrictions - including mandatory put downs of several dogs - that were imposed on a less than scrupulous LGD owner who was using irresponsible management practices that included bad fencing and his frequent absence, while running high-risk LGDs: “Court date delayed in Richmond dangerous dogs case as farmer's attorney, town counsel seek possible settlement” : https://www.berkshireeagle.com/stories/court-date-delayed-in-richmond-dangerous-dogs-case-as-farmers-attorney-town-counsel-seek-possible,545249 What we do not need is more like him.
The Way of The Pack promotes coexistence with predators by the intelligent use of LGDs. Rearing and using a dog you can trust, and daily socializing and interaction are profoundly important. A safe, low-risk, stable, trustworthy, thinking dog that will assess people, not fear them; a dog that stays with his livestock, not off chasing wildlife; a dog that has confidence, and does his job well, is the ideal.
What it comes down to is this: the choice in how you raise your LGD is yours: you can raise up and use an asset, or you can raise up and use a liability.
Saturday, September 29, 2018
When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made! Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!
— Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Charge of the Light Brigade
Where I once was - in terms of my perception of wolves, and the use of LGDs in keeping stock protected from them - and where I am now, are perhaps worlds apart. When I finally took my “wolf hater” hat off, the more I learned about wolves, the more I admired them and began to learn from them. The more I realized their distinct similarities with my large pack of Livestock Guardian Dogs, the more difficult it became for me to hate, despise or fear them. I finally stepped over the line into the realm of complete respect, admiration and compassion. I cannot hate wolves. I could understand how they could hate us, but they don’t have the capacity to hate like we humans do. Perhaps in some sense that makes them even nobler and more evolved than we are.
The use of Livestock Guardian Dogs to deter wolves is ancient in history and use; many breeds come from countries where the wolf was their main foe. Spanish Mastiffs in Spain, for example, regularly fend off wolves from cattle and sheep and goats; the increase of wolves in France now sees Great Pyrenees tackling the predators. LGD use in America for non-lethal protection of livestock against wolves has experienced its share of some successes and plenty of failures where the LGD owners were not present or participating in backing up their guardian dogs.
Yes, they were here before most people say they were. Three wolves spotted on a ranch outside of Wells, Nevada, in the early 1990’s.
Long before the USDA and Wildlife Services were hyping “bigger and more aggressive LGDs are better” and bringing over exotic, rare samples to America from abroad to “test in America,” I had already trod that path, long before they began whistling that tune. I’d received a call from USDA’s Julie Young that was more of a “pick her brains” kind of contact, because that was all that transpired.
Talking to her, it didThe not take long for me to surmise that at the time, she knew very little, if anything, about LGD use, breeds, unique guarding differences, and more - and to use one of my favorite lines, I’m being generous.
I tried to clue her in on the basics, and why I was using giant Spanish Mastiffs and other breeds that were considered rare. I knew the breeds already worked, and I also knew some were not all they were cracked up to be as was the case of the fake Turkish fighting breed I got suckered into bringing over.
The bottom line was this: these breeds didn’t need “testing” per se, as much as American ranchers and farmers needed serious training on how to correctly raise, own and use them. Ah, but that was not a very sexy line for the USDA and Wildlife Services to try to sell to Joe Rancher, so my advice went ignored by “the Gov.” Train the owners? Pshaw - that’s impossible, was the overall impression I got. More fun to spend thousands of dollars bringing over dog breeds that already work, and have worked for eons, so the government can test them to see if…they work. Right.
* * *
Thankfully, more intelligent and appreciative life forms came forth later on.
One day out of the blue I was contacted by Winston Thomas, PhD, a representative from the organization Living With Wolves, I was turning from the “fear and hate wolves” mindset over to “consider them with noble regard” phase with wolves.
Thomas was interested in promoting the use of LGDs for non-lethal predator control and protection of livestock. He had heard of my dogs, read some of my articles, knew of my “hands on” training methods and pro-co-existence program, and came out to my ranch to learn about why I had the breeds I did, and how they were working out on customer’s ranches and farms in wolf country.
Winston Thomas, PhD, Living With Wolves representative, making friends with my pack.
Winston gave me the book Living With Wolves published by National Geographic, detailing Jim and Jaime Dutcher’s wolf studies, and reading that book really began to turn my mind. Their insights to wolf pack family life and behaviors were like nothing I’d read before and struck a chord: they were so much like my pack of LGDs.
The coup de grace was reading the chapters on wolves in Carl Safina’s book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel; there was no more wolf hating for me after reading the epic, awe inspiring saga of the famous wolf “21.” The Dutchers also summed it up profoundly:
Wolves are capable of not only emotion but also real compassion. This is the view of the wolf that we want to share—a wolf that is neither saint nor sinner. Instead, they are intelligent and highly sensitive animals that are at once both individualistic and social. They care for their injured, protect their family, and instinctively need to be part of something bigger than themselves—their family, the pack.
— Jim and Jaime Dutcher, Living With Wolves website
* * *
Washington State’s Living with Livestock and Wolves: Wolf-Livestock Non-Lethal Avoidance: A review of the literature, lists many non-lethal measures that are advocated in wolf country. Herd composition, i.e., mixing breeds and species, human presence and the use of LGDs are just three of the measures discussed.
From the paper, this jumped out at me:
Guard dogs are used effectively in Europe and northern Asia where shepherds and ranchers work direct with the dogs. North American ranchers use guard dogs less frequently. In addition, dogs are often left alone to guard livestock, and some evidence suggests that this makes guard dogs less effective.
Note their observance on how American’s penchant for not staying with LGDs lessens their effectiveness. Bingo! Was it finally sinking in?
As I wrote for sheep! Magazine in 2015, when it comes to using LGDs in wolf country, there “just ain’t no magic bullet.” Don’t be conned into it as I was, once. Against wolves, LGDs are pretty much lambs marching to slaughter, on the level of the Light Brigade. One LGD is useless. Two means nothing. The worst scenario I can recall is an entire pack of 8 or so Maremmas being killed by a wolf pack. What does that tell you? It says a lot.
It tells me that in order to effectively run LGDs in wolf country, you - yes YOU - must participate fully and back them up. Depending on dogs alone is a death sentence for the dogs and your flock.
This means you get off the couch or come home from the coffee shop. You stop being the social gadfly about town, jetting off to woolgrowers meetings, or spending half the day on Facebook, and instead, stay home and camp out with your cattle or goat herd if you have to. You bring your sheep into a barn at night if you have to. You make the rounds three times a day, not once. You urinate on fenceposts and defecate on rocks. Don’t laugh: that is a powerful way to send a message to all predators. Don’t come here: this is mine.
Wolves kill to survive; they have to. Our domesticated LGD breeds on the other hand, eat dog food and don’t have to kill something twice a day to fill their stomachs. They lack the fighting skills of wolves. Even if they did have them, a wolf pack decimates most LGDs because of their keen tactics and eons of practice that our trusty guardian dogs lack. The ballyhooed designer breed I bought over from Turkey turned out to be a flop, and it had a solid fighting background in the sport ring. But the truth hurts: it’s pretty hard to fight off a wolf if you are crippled up with elbow displaysia or a prolapsed uterus - just two of the horrific genetic diseases the supposed “wolf killer” breed unfortunately came with; it was the kind of baggage that doomed that experiment for me and many others.
Granted, size matters to a point. LGDs have never been meant to be medium or small sized dogs. Likewise, the “micro LGDs” I see regularly popping up in backyard hobby farmer for sale ads, won’t cut it. It is debatable if some of these stunted, poorly bred dogs could even stop a raccoon, let alone a wolf. Bulk, power, muscle, agility, must be there to just survive a wolf attack.
As for breeds, for every person crowing that “Great Pyrenees are not tough enough” I can point to a verifiable example locally, of a male “GP” that singlehandedly killed a mountain lion attacking his flock; I can point to people running Maremmas who keep bears and feral dog packs away. Breed bashing won’t cut it because in every breed you’ll find super heroes; in every breed you’ll find the shrinking violet.
Grit, stamina, courage, bottom, heart and a level head - this is what makes a great guardian dog. Pack raised dogs do fight harder and have more combat sense because they had to have it in order to come up in a large pack. So it is, the rancher in wolf country should keep that in mind when he shops for his next pair or trio of guardian pups. You won’t get dogs who can grow up to deter apex predators if you buy from a green homesteader who’s worst predator is an occasional owl or fox, and who is pumping out puppies to make a quick buck and raises them and their pygmy goats in micro-pens. Sorry, but that won’t cut it.
To a large degree yes, it is about running the right numbers in wolf country; surely in Spain, I know many pastors who run livestock in wolf country with minimal losses thanks to a huge pack of lumbering Spanish Mastiffs. But even in the right numbers, dogs must be tested - tough and true. They need the mind and the heart and the resolve to tackle apex predators.
But what is also important to remember is this: LGDs are not bred to kill predators. They are bred to deter them, run them off, bluff them and send them packing to dine elsewhere. They are not bred for bloodlust but for nurturing and protection.
The following article published by sheep! Magazine goes into what I feel the best bets are for using LGDs in wolf country. There is no cure all; those of you reading this hoping for some magic elixir that will solve all your problems will be greatly disappointed. For those of you reading this who think you won’t have to be involved at all, and not back your dogs up or keep tabs on what is going on, may as well hang it up now.
Because this much I also know: you are doomed to fail.
* * *
Using LGDs in Wolf Country:
There Is No “Magic Bullet”
Published in sheep! Magazine, January/Febebruary 2016
That wail of anguish you recently heard coming from the direction of Northern California, was most likely from sheep producers, cattle ranchers and hobby farmers upon hearing the news that the wolf is back in California. As evidenced by recent game trail-cam photos of “The Shasta Pack” - so named due to its proximity to the legendary snowcapped peak that dominates the Siskiyou County skyline - the pack, consisting of five pups and two adults, is the first “official” sighting of wolves in the state since 1924.
Of all the large predators sheep producers must learn to deal with, perhaps none are feared more than a wolf pack. Their complex and intriguing pack hierarchy has been studied and written about extensively. Because they run in packs, wolves present a special and problematic issue in terms of what really works to keep them away from livestock, and this includes Livestock Guardian Dogs.
The use of Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) as a deterrent to wolves was not considered back in the 1970s when the first trials of LGDs began in Idaho at the US Sheep Experiment Station. This was of course, “pre-wolf reintroduction” times, and the wolf population was not on the rebound. LGDs in their home countries had an impressive track-record of being useful in keeping European wolves, coyotes, bears, fox, badgers and stray dogs away from sheep, goats and cattle. But in 1970’s USA, once poisoning and trapping had been outlawed, producers were scrambling for alternatives to deal with the burgeoning coyote population. Soon, one began hearing the term “non-lethal predator control” meaning the use of methods that kept predators at bay without killing them. As word got out from the Idaho Sheep Station LGD experiments, the use of LGDs gained acceptance and popularity as one of the several “non-lethal” methods available to farmers in the USA.
Since the wolf re-introduction program in the 1990’s, now sheep producer’s guardian dogs must often face wolves. Many LGDs have been killed in the line of duty by wolves. Why were they not more successful? There has been much speculation, heated debate and grant funded experiments with “new” LGD breeds to see what works best in terms of the use of LGDs to keep wolves away from livestock. What is regularly left out, unfortunately, is serious, practical advice and training for the owner and solid information based on experience instead of wild speculation about “magic bullet breeds”. And what is often missing is the “missing link” itself: in wolf country, LGDs should never be considered to be the sole and only line of defense for the stockman’s herd or flocks.
The “Magic Bullet “LGD Breed Fallacy
The “more aggressive LGD breed” idea is currently the theme song for USDA’s Wildlife Services. At no small cost, they’ve been busy importing exotic breeds with hard to pronounce names over to the USA in an attempt to prove that a much more aggressive LGD breed will be the elixir and salve for the wolf-strapped sheep rancher in the USA.
Some of these breeds are heavily bred for and fought in the dogfighting ring in their native countries. Others are popular for use in military and police work and only lightly or recently used as stock guardians.
This is where I, head bowed low in guilt, confess to being one of those duped early on (many years ahead of the USDA) by this same “meaner is better” theory. I was suckered by an overseas breeder of a designer fighting Turkish breed who conned me into thinking that his dogs could out-fight and out-last any pack of wolves. I was gullible enough to swallow the bait. At huge expense I imported specimens here, but quickly learned the more aggressive breed came with an ugly price tag: questionable temperaments, extremely dicey when living in a pack of other LGDs, and health defects so severe they quickly turned this much ballyhooed breed I brought over, into a high risk failure and a depressing money pit.
In other words, be careful of what you ask for. You may get it.
What is wrong with this “the more aggressive LGD breed will solve all your wolf problems” theory? Several things.
What the USDA is not confronting is the very obvious added risk that comes with uber-aggression in breeds that often lack conformity in temperament because of their turbulent past as Molossers and “landrace” breeds. What often goes along with many of these hyped “better” aggressive LGD breeds is an alarming lack of predictable temperament stability; intense, sometimes highly complex and complicated personalities incapable of being safely run with other LGDs; and the kind of edgy or iffy temperament that requires the owner to be constantly vigilant and on his toes around the dogs. Again, I write this from actual experience – not armchair speculation.
Is more aggressive what you really want? Moreover can you and do you want to handle that kind of grave dog ownership responsibility? Is this what is really needed for Joe Hobby Farmer and his family on five, ten or forty acres? Or can they do better by milder and more popular breeds already in use here? The aforementioned issues can be especially problematic if the owner/operator is a rank newcomer to LGDs, not experienced around dogs, or of the “hands off, don’t socialize your LGD” mindset.
Let’s not forget the larger commercial sheep, goat or cattle producer running on public lands. Is a potentially vicious LGD what he really needs? When recreationists come bounding across his public accessed allotment or forest area, startling his flock and LGDs, is he prepared to deal with a dog bite lawsuit should one of those foaming at the mouth Eastern Bloc breeds he is using decides to turn a hiker’s thigh into an appetizer?
There is no “magic bullet” LGD breed out there, no matter what Internet blowhards may be claiming. Sheer aggression is not all that is needed in a well-rounded, reliable and serviceable LGD. In a wolf vs. LGDs battle, no matter how aggressive the LGD breed, a wolf pack is probably going to make mincemeat out of your protection dogs, unless they have back up and many other support factors are in place to help give them an edge. It takes more than just increased aggression from “the right breed” of LGD to succeed with these dogs in wolf country.
Multiple Protection Efforts Key to Reduced Losses
Some of those support factors include you being a hands-on shepherd and keeping vigilant eye over what’s going on in your fields, not just casually checking every other day or once a week. You may need to be bringing flocks closer, using electrified fence to “night pen” them or bring stock entirely in at night instead of playing Russian Roulette when a wolf pack is moving in. You should regularly check on your dogs, making sure they are fed and watered and healthy and no one is sick or too stressed or exhausted to perform their job.
Using protective or spiked collars on your LGDs in wolf country is strongly recommended. They are still no guarantee the dogs will survive an attack, but can help give them those extra seconds to perhaps cut loose when attacked, and run and live to see another day.
Most importantly, and an area where most American farmers fail miserably at, is that the operator must be running enough LGDs to make them a viable deterrent, not just a wolf’s next easy kill. Regardless of the LGD breed, they don’t have a chance if there are not enough of them. This means you don’t expect two LGDs to do the job of nine or ten. Running LGDs in the right numbers is crucial for their success; it’s a topic I have previously discussed in sheep! Magazine (The Numbers Game: Guardian Dog Pack size Affects Success, May/June 2013, Volume 34, Number 3).
Prudent selection of LGDs in wolf country should entail other factors besides amped up aggression. Lets also talk about guarding style. What has been shown in studies is that wolves are brilliant tacticians. Wolf packs can and do, strategize. As if they’d lifted a tactical maneuver out of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, wolves have been known for sending in a few of their ranks to decoy and lure LGDs off from their flock, while the rest of the pack sneaks in the other side to raid and plunder the sheep. Meanwhile, the few LGDs lured away from the sheep, typically suffer a cruel, quick and bloody end at the paws of the wolves that duped them into leaving their flock.
On that note, is it really that smart in wolf country to have only LGD breeds that assertively patrol hundreds of yards if not miles away from your flock, hunting predators, while leaving the flock open to attack? If you are a smaller homestead or hobby farmer in wolf country, are you better off with breeds that are predisposed to close guarding and not continually wandering miles away?
Ideally, the producer should build a stable, solid pack of LGDs made up of the breeds that best suit his farm or operation, which in reality may include a combo of far off patrolling dogs and calmer, but more closer guarding breeds. Each sheep, goat or cattle set up and situation merits its own in-depth “study” by the producer for the right solutions, and no one should consider the results of a grant funded government experiment to be a blanket end-all-problems solution to their own situation. What works for one, may not for the other!
Let’s look at some proven and recommended livestock management protection solutions that – used in conjunction with LGDs – can increase your success rate, help out your guardian dogs and help reduce depredations in wolf country.
Handy Handbook for Reducing Depredation
Some years back I befriended Steve Primm, Field Rep for the People and Carnivores organization that works with ranchers to help them co-exist with and find solutions to, live and farm side by side with predators. Subsequently my Livestock Guardian Dog operation was featured in a film produced by Primm and Conservation Media called “Working on Common Ground: Livestock Guardian Dogs” (you can watch this short and educational movie online by accessing this link here: https://vimeo.com/60354527).
Recently People and Carnivores teamed up with wolf specialists Nathan Lance, Kristine Inman and others from the Brainerd Foundation, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Wildlife Conservation Society to publish Wolves on the Landscape: A Hands-on Resource Guide to Reduce Depredations.
The handbook has a permanent link on the MFWP page. It is in a PDF format easily downloaded and printed from your computer for your reading ease and pleasure.
What instantly struck me about this handbook was its comprehensive and realistic approach. This handbook is full of some very practical measures the producer can take, all the while reminding us that just like with LGD breeds, there is no one, singular “magic bullet” solution. What resonates here is the acceptance of the fact that just LGDs alone, won’t be enough. Just fladry won’t be enough. It takes more than one device or practice, and YOU must be part of the solution. The farmer with the capacity to think out of the box and be flexible and realistic, is the one who will prevail.
Each chapter in this booklet goes into enough detail to give the producer a good start to implementing more proactive measures against wolves, and hopefully, sparks some ideas that they can enact and thus, reduce losses.
Here’s a quick rundown of some of their prescribed methods and management tools presented in their guide that can be used in addition to LGDs in wolf country:
Management Intensive Grazing (MIG)
Livestock Guardian Dogs
Livestock Guardian Donkeys
Riders and Herders
Managing Livestock on High Risk Landscape
In Nevada, they have a saying: if you shoot one coyote, three will come to its funeral. Wolves are no different in that their complex pack hierarchy and family structure means that if the wrong wolf is taken out of the equation by being killed by the sheep producer, it can in reality, actually increase depredation and problems for the rancher, not decrease them. Think on that before you pull the trigger. “Shoot, shovel and shut up” is not always the best answer.
The reality is: like it or not, the wolf is here and not going away. How you and your sheep operation fare in the end, will entirely rest on your willingness to think out of the box and to become more involved. And this includes your Livestock Guardian Dogs.
In the Old World, the shepherd interacted daily with his flock and his guardian dogs. The American “hands off” training and owning of LGDs was not practiced in Europe where dogs slept with their owners and flocks and sometimes ate from the same dish. LGDs were treated as workmates and with respect. LGDs were never reduced into a disposable tool to be tossed out in sheep and left on their own to try to save the world - especially when a pack of wolves comes calling. LGDs need your back up, strategy and help, too. They can be a successful part of many methods to deter wolves, if you are willing to use them in the best ways they are meant to be used: with plenty of support and an open mind for using other means as well.
LGD use in wolf country: pointers
• Don’t make a puppy do a grown dog’s job
• Run LGDs in the right numbers
• Run LGD packs that are built on a core of older, seasoned dogs along with younger and middle aged dogs; never leave old timers out on their own to fend off wolves as wolves will sense when a dog is incapacitated or weak from age
• Breeds: no “magic bullet breed” when it comes to deterring wolves
• The dog’s rearing up and exposure to predator threats are what counts; you want pups out of parent dogs with the “Three T’s”: tested, tried and true
• Your LGD pack must work together and back each other up; a fragmented pack won’t cut it; buy pack raised puppies from knowledgeable breeders with proven track-records of strong working dogs; this is no time to buy cheap pups from a backyard hobby farmer with no predator load and minimal ranching and LGD experience
• Owner must be present and back dogs up; dumping dogs in sheep or cattle and then leaving will typically result in dead LGDs if a wolf pack attacks livestock
• Run a combination of close guarding breeds and breeds prone to go further from livestock; i.e., heavy breeds and lighter breeds running together
• Light breeds can run faster to the perimeters and sound the alarm; the heavyweights meanwhile, remain imbedded in the herd and are there to tackle any wolf that may have gotten through the first line of defense
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