Friday, December 13, 2013

Cattle and Spanish Mastiffs: A Natural Combination When Done Right

The working Spanish Mastiff is used heavily in its native country of Spain to guard not only sheep, but cattle as well.   Selling the idea of using LGD's to protect cattle in the USA with larger cattle producers has often been a tough sell, however, these dogs can and will guard cattle if raised right.  The failure, if any, is usually on the part of the owner/operator, or in the way the breeder reared the pups up.

Spanish Mastiff pups in their heifers with adult dogs near by.
I happen to think the relaxed and more low key demeanor of the SM and also,
the Pyrenean Mastiff, makes these two breeds
superior choices for guarding cattle.

As with any LGD breed, and not just the SM, what matters is that the pup comes from proven, good working parent stock, and is raised from birth in a livestock environment.  Being raised up in a pack of LGDs makes for even more advanced, capable pups than those who are not.

The transition here at my ranch, from sheep to cattle, has been seamless and quick.  My heifers are not afraid of my dogs and welcome the pups into their area, curious but non-threatened, and the pups likewise, quickly realize cow time is good times…..and they are settling in fast.  The size of cattle always demands more respect from any LGD, and pups find out quick if they nip or act up, the heifers will reprimand them strongly.

Placid scene: Spanish Mastiffs bed down near their cattle, on guard.
Ready to defend, there is no constant fence running and barking or un-needed
activity, as other lighter, more hyper LGD breeds would exhibit.
Calm dogs = calm cattle.  Win/win for both, and the rancher.
In a larger operation covering more ground, combining Spanish Mastiffs with some lighter, faster breeds such as Kangal or Akbash, would be good choice for 
perimeter patrolling and enhanced coverage.

Pups coming out of pet stock that has no exposure to cattle, goats or sheep, cannot be expected to pick this up as fast, if even at all in some cases.  Therefore, its crucial for anyone looking for  true, working Spanish Mastiff pup, to get one from real working stock, not pseudo farm 'pets' or show ring conformation breeders.  Unfortunately in America, the gentrification of the SM has already begun and is in full swing, with backyard breeders now churning out litters of SM, who are not raised on stock, or around livestock at all, yet being mis-hyped by nefarious breeders as "working LGD pups".  Likewise, these pups go on to be mediocre if not poor LGD's, through no fault of their own, but due to that of unscrupulous breeders and puppy mills.  And worse yet, now those pups are having pups.  The cycle of degradation will only continue as the breed is gentrified and the working instinct bred out of it by slap dash pet breeders and puppy mills.

At 8 weeks of age, my "C" Litter of Spanish Mastiffs are now headed to their new homes over the next several weeks, some staying here through into January.  We've had an exceptionally harsh winter of 26 below temps and -41 wind chill factors.  Through out this, my pups have been raised in the barn with heat lamps, and out on the ice and in the cold and snow daily, and in and out of the sheep all day long.

On their 8 week old birthday, when let out of the barn, they surprised but did not entirely shock me by heading directly to my heifers, and asking to go into them…..

This comes from their supportive rearing here, where unlike some LGD breeders, nothing is ever forced or rushed, and the Pack leads the way for the pup's learning experiences.

I am not a fan of penning pups up with sheep and making them live with them 24/7 for days on end if not weeks, in what I refer to as 'forced bonding'.  It is a popular training and bonding exercise used by many in the US, and was promoted by the first LGD researchers as being the 'best way' to get pups to bond to stock.   I'm not saying it won't work, but I don't like it for several reasons.

First of all, I find it extremely limiting.  It prevents the pups from experiencing other things they need to experience in order to grow up into a well balanced, courageous, confident dog.  They may be bonded to sheep alright, but they are also sometimes scared out of their wits by loud noises, other dogs, and sometimes even people.  I don't consider this intelligent rearing of LGD's; to me, it is more of a shortcut for the owner.  The pup is narrow focused and has much less depth than a pup allowed to roam about, be in and out of stock as it wants in puppyhood, and getting enough exercise to blow off steam and playfulness that otherwise would be taken out on the stock.

Secondly, my way takes longer but plants more seeds of bonding and confidence in the end.  I have had enough customers tell me by now they swear my pups are more advanced than others they have bought who have been reared up in a 'forced bonding' situation.  But of course they'd be this way, not having been held back.

Finally, I prefer to let the litter's dam and sire and the Pack, dictate to me when the pups are ready, and when they are, I always know it by the supportive role the other dogs take in the pup's progressive steps.  I feel this way is more natural.  I feel this way, the dog tells me when it is ready, not the other way around.  This is not about making things convenient for me.  It is about letting the dog show me when it is comfortable and ready to take the next step.

Raising dogs this way takes more time and patience to achieve the end results but I have found it is more than worthwhile doing it this way.  And now as my pups progress to cattle from sheep, and show such excitement at meeting them, it only further confirms that their way is indeed, the smart way.

I can't speak for any others in the USA, but I sure know MY Spanish Mastiff pups can leave here to guard sheep, cattle and goats, one as well as the other.  They will be healthy, of sound mind and body, keen and sharp and courageous, and like I tell them all when they leave here, they'll grow up to be "Straight and Strong and True".