Tuesday, July 21, 2015



A group dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the working Spanish Mastiff, this website is in Spanish, but a valuable resource.

Not all working Spanish Mastiffs are thin, lean and of little skin and bone, in spite of what some people claim.  Even in Spain there are factions fighting over what is the "true" Mastin Espanol.

Further adding to the arguments out there, some of my best guardians have come from what are considered show lines.  Heavier, loose skin - yet tenacious, protective and nurturing with my livestock.  What too many people fail to take into consideration is HOW the dogs are raised.  It is not all physical conformation that counts!  What is in the dog's mind is just as important.  You want stability, intelligence, perception and heart.  Without these attributes, the dog is just a dog.

Amaya Dartibo, known as "Baby Pia".  From a non-working line of SM in the Czech Republic, this huge, heavy girl is no less a guardian that my pure working lines.  She was raised to be a guardian.
The rearing of the pup is just as important as its pedigree.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Forget the Old Dogs: Teach the Rancher New Tricks

Forget the Old Dogs: Teach the Rancher New Tricks

Brenda M. Negri
Cinco Deseos Ranch Livestock Guardian Dogs
Copyright 2015

Only the USDA could be so stupid as to leave out the Spanish Mastiff - the biggest Livestock Guardian Dog breed there is - 
in their much touted "research" on "bigger LGD breeds".  

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks" --- Old American Proverb

In 2013 Wildlife Services (WS), a branch of the US Department of Agriculture typically tasked with trapping, shooting and otherwise doing away with “problem” apex predators, began a multi-year study and research project testing different breeds of Livestock Guardian Dogs on select farms and ranches in Idaho and Montana.  The “testing” of breeds of dogs not typically in use here, was to find out if indeed, “bigger was better”.  

In the USA, Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) breeds usually found guarding flocks and herds are the Great Pyrenees, Akbash, Komodor, Anatolian Shepherd and Maremma.  Although these breeds are no slouch in the size department – there are in fact Great Pyrenees out there tipping the scales at 200 + pounds – the USDA’s thoughts were that for some reason, these traditional breeds were no longer “cutting the mustard” in battling predation by larger predators such as wolves, bear and lion.

Since re-introduction efforts, the gray wolf population, on an up and down comeback, was now posing more of a threat to the traditionally used and supposedly “smaller” LGD breeds, and reports were coming in of guardian dogs being killed by wolf packs.  So, the USDA, thinking solely in terms of finding “better and bigger” breeds, imported Cao de Gado Transmontanos, a Portuguese breed; the Kangal, from Turkey, and the Karakachan from Bulgaria.

So why do I, a Great Basin rancher who raises LGDs full time, including the Spanish Mastiff that literally dwarfs the “bigger” breeds the USDA is presently “testing”, have a huge problem with this seemingly noble effort?

The issue with the USDA’s program is they left one key factor out of the equation: training the rancher.

What the USDA should be doing is not “testing” breeds we already know work.  Come on guys, they've been working for centuries in their respective countries!  The government paper shufflers should be training the rancher on using LGDs correctly and using them in adequate, that is ENOUGH - numbers. If those two are in place, breeds make some difference…yes, but overall, if run correctly, don’t matter as much as the USDA would like you to think.

Would you like me to repeat that?  Sure.

Lets look at the rancher.  Although many commercial sheep producers have been running guardian dogs for generations in the US, you also have an explosion in “back to the land” hobby farmers and small “boutique” ranchers in the last decade who are new - not just to livestock and farming - but LGDs as well.  They buy their flock of sheep, put them out in the pasture without doing any research on the local predator load and types that may be habituating the area, and voila!  Instant train wreck as Joe Farmer steps out one morning to find half his lamb crop either missing or dead.  So he runs out and buys an LGD pup, plops it in the field, and walks off, figuring “all is well” now.  No, not hardly. 

The correct rearing and training of LGDs is a far more complex effort than sadly, has typically been pontificated on Internet forums and blogs.  Socialization of the dogs is paramount to ensure they can be handled and don’t pose a threat to their owner or the public.  These breeds interact with their shepherds in Europe , unlike in the US where many new ranchers think the dogs are supposed to work on auto-pilot, and take little care, work or interaction.

Unfortunately the USDA does not have a program for training farmers and ranchers on the correct and responsible use of these dogs.  In my own experience and in my consulting, I find that 90% of LGD “problems” or “inadequacies” are human caused or human error, not the dogs.  And there is an increasing LGD use failure rate: one need only visit the many shelters and rescues who are overloaded with abandoned LGDs of all breeds – yes, even the “new” breeds the USDA has earmarked as “our saviors”.  They're showing up in rescue, too.

LGDs were not meant to be ran alone, but too many American farmers do just that. 

Part of the pack Abelgas/Ganadaria Fial runs in Spain, where the smart shepherds understand there are strength in numbers.  
Most Americans have not caught on to that yet.

In Spain, sheep producers regularly run anywhere from 6 to 20 Spanish Mastiffs with their huge bands of sheep in Iberian wolf country, and suffer very few losses, because they run their LGDs in a pack. (They also arm them with protective collars, something Americans are only recently catching on to). The advantages to running LGDs in a pack, and pack rearing LGD pups are plenty: the pups get a schooling no human could give them, are more self confident, savvy and capable at an earlier age.   There is strength in numbers, and less opportunity for a large predator to pressure the guardians.  Its a win/win when ranchers run LGDs in packs: usually no dogs are lost, and the predators move on to easier pickings elsewhere. If you are running 8 dogs, guess what?  The breed does not matter as much as the quality of each animal, and how they were raised.  If they are a cohesive pack of strong, good dogs from quality stock, working well together, who were brought up right, then you have success whether Great Pyrenees, Kangal, Kuvasz or Komodor.

Now on to the breeds.  Granted, LGD breeds all have similarities to each other, and differences.  Temperament, stamina, guarding style - all these plus the breed size, factor in.  

As my previous post discussed, many Americans choose the wrong breed to work on their farm or ranch.  They go with what's popular instead of really figuring out what it is that would best suit their situation.  

The problem I have with the USDA picking of all things, the Kangal, is plenty.  The Kangal in its pure state can be a very complex dog (I used to raise them), and not for the faint of heart.  Its the last thing you toss to a newbie, unless as my previous post indicated, you buy from show ring floozy with watered down, gentrified dogs - and there are a ton of them out there…in many breeds!

Instead of thinking about that, however, the good old US Government used this as an excuse to grease some political wheels and brought over, no doubt, the only Turkish "LGD expert" in Turkey who claims LGDs should "not be fed in the camp" (tell that to all the other shepherds who do that and do just fine, thank you).  To add insult to injury, the USDA picked one of the most nefarious, ill-regarded Kangal breeders in the USA to pimp their dogs out…a woman who regularly raised her dogs in cages and kennels with no livestock, no less.  Oh, but she went to Turkey a few times.  So she MUST be an expert.

The other breeds that the USDA "introduced" here?  Honestly, I don't think any of these "new" breeds will be "better" than anything already working here.  It will all depend on the owner and their abilities as to whether they succeed - or fail.  My point being?  You can put the biggest and the best of anything in the hands of an idiot and it will fail.  

And size?  Please.  None of these "new breeds" they are touting are as big as the Spanish Mastiff, and there are some Pyrenean Mastiffs out there who dwarf them as well.  I've yet to see a Karakachan that equals in size my two Maremma/Anatolian cross "Mafia Brothers", Pak and Pala….and I don't expect to!

Not so small after all: Pak, half Maremma, half Anatolian, 34"  (86 cm) at the shoulder.

In fact, one of the biggest dogs I ever bred here was (are you ready for this?) not a purebred Kangal, nope, but a half Kangal.  His mother was a purebred Kangal, and his dad was the previously pictured male dog, Pak.  Elk stood 37 inches (94 cm) at the shoulder and could run like a freight train.  I've yet to see a photo of a Cao de Gado Transmontano that even comes this close to "big".

Another "small" dog I bred here at Cinco Deseos Ranch.
Elk, half Kangal, 1/4 Maremma, 1/4 Anatolian. Almost as big as the heifers.  

LGDs should not be predator killers nor should they be sacrificial lambs to wolf packs, either. They should be deterrents to predation.  It takes more than just the right breed to make a good LGD team.  It takes YOU the owner and some savvy, responsible handling and training.

Sadly, the USDA failed to take these matters in consideration and the “bigger breed testing” is pretty much window dressing.  

Especially when the fools at USDA left out the biggest LGD breed of all:

Courtesy of Hollywood Spanish Actor, David Vega.  No photoshopping.  Just your average "tiny" Spanish Mastiff.  "Atila de Basillon from the breeder 'De Basillon' in Galicia (Celtic Spain).

400 pounds ( 182 kg) of big: Clyde and Gus, Spanish Mastiffs I bred, owned by Debra Cummings, California

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