Monday, September 14, 2015

Causes of Conflict Between LGDs





Causes of Conflict Between LGDs

Brenda M. Negri
Cinco Deseos Ranch LGDs

Copyright 2013 Brenda M. Negri
Published in Sheep! Magazine





Running a very large (20+) pack of Livestock Guardian Dogs for several years now I have observed and learned what can cause conflict between individuals in a pack environment, and upset an otherwise calm dynamic.  I would like to address them in practical terms so that the average LGD owner out there can reflect upon this information and use it to enhance his/her own LGD experience, and hopefully do a better assessment of their dogs and situation to enable a more peaceful and healthy existence for their dogs, thus increasing performance and utilization.

I have found conflicts between Livestock Guardian Dogs can usually if not always, be attributed to one or more of these issues being present:

Physical Pain
Food and/or Water Deprivation
Lack of “Personal Space”
Lack of Purpose/Mission/Duty
Fear/Psychological Trauma
Lack of Compatibility Between Individuals/Breeds
Hierarchy Changes/Addition(s) to Pack/Death of Pack Member
Bitches in Heat



Physical Pain


Any time a dog is feeling pain, he is not his usual self.  Just like humans, no dog likes to feel pain.  Whether it be a bruised shoulder from a ram butting him, a stone bruise on a foot pad, a collar that is too tight and digging into his skin, an untreated cut or sore, a rotted tooth, or chronic pain from an injury, a disease such as cancer, or genetic defect such as hip or elbow dysplasia, pain can definitely make your dog feel uncomfortable, grumpy and vulnerable.  Feeling vulnerable, he may become more defensive of his food, surely, or edgy.  You may notice him posturing around your other dogs over food or an area that he previously did not try to ‘claim’ as his.  His patience around young pups may be tested or completely gone, and he may take to snapping at them whereas before he tolerated their gentle playing at his side.  Regular inspection of your LGD from head to toe need not be a major effort.  A quick look at his eyes, inner ears, opening his mouth to inspect gums and teeth, running your hands over his body, legs and feet, inspecting any signs of blood or pus, can usually tell you where the source of the pain may be.  If need be his temperature can be taken to assess whether he is running a fever.  Of course, vet care is recommended for maladies beyond home remedies and first aid.  Usually once the pain subsides, or what ails him is cured, you can see a marked improvement in the dog’s demeanor as he returns to his normal self, and is now less inclined to pick fights with other dogs based on his anguish and pain.


Food and/or Water Deprivation

The lack of adequate nutrition and water can drive any living being to do things they normally would not, and your LGD is no exception.  In a dog pack, it is extremely important that each individual dog can eat while relaxed and calm, and not have to be looking over his back every other second to make sure he is not going to get jumped for taking his time to eat or drink what he needs.  What many people fail to realize is that dogs, like people, don’t appreciate being rushed to eat.  It is not normal for a dog to gulp down his food out of fear of it disappearing into the jaws of another dog.  To facilitate a more relaxed food and water consumption environment with a pack of dogs, I always free choice feed my pack so that no one is ever deprived of food, or the time to relax and eat it.  This means facilitating it so that livestock does not come in and eat the dog’s food before he can.  This means placing many food bowls around, spread apart from one another, so multiple dogs can eat without conflict.  This means having copious amounts of clean, cool (not tepid or scum filled) water available at all times for the pack.  This means that both water and food bowls are at a height accessible to young, up and coming pups who cannot reach the tops of high sided stock water troughs.  This means keeping an eye on dogs that might try to run other dogs off of their own food, and restraining them or moving them to another area so they alone do not cause food based conflicts.  A full dog is a content dog, much less to pick needless fights with his workmates. 

Lack of “Personal Space”

I have a saying, learned the hard way from personal experience: Don’t run a 100 acre dog on ten acres.  Some breeds of LGDs are more content with smaller areas to roam and work on than others.  The more hyper, high strung or nervous the breed, the better chance it is that the dog will require more physical space to be content on.  Heavier, more lethargic, calmer breeds can get by on less land and stay content.  Any time two or more dogs meet in a confined area there is chance for confrontation.  This can manifest itself in fence fighting, where two dogs who normally get along well, will suddenly run and charge the fence barking and snarling at one another when separated.  This cause of lack of “personal space” for any dog could be a small area between two buildings, a breezeway between your house and the garage, an alley for working cattle, or a small pen.  When you reduce the space the dogs have between one another, it can be successful up to the point where a dog begins to feel crowded or cornered, or it feels it could not escape from a threat or danger.  Then, it will be on guard, nervous, and if things escalate, act out in a negative fashion of frustration and fear.  If an LGD is not used to being handled much, he should never be cornered to catch without giving him a way to get out of the situation, or he could turn on you, and pack mates.  Dogs running together who can have enough space to get away from one another for naps in the warm sun or ‘quiet time’, will co-exist better together as they each have the option of spending time alone.  It can be a separated field, a barn, the front yard; as long as your dogs each have enough space to call their own, they will not feel crowded and lack of space will not cause conflicts amongst them.  Adequate room also ensures your dogs are able to exercise enough to ‘blow off steam’.


Lack of Purpose/Mission/Duty

Many LGD breeds may be found throughout the world being used as pets and companions.  Unfortunately, many as well can be increasingly found in shelters and rescues because they did not ‘fit’ their home situation.  LGD breeds have been bred for hundreds of years to guard livestock from predators.  This inherited trait and drive they possess to work, is not something that can be denied without paying a price.  An LGD without stock to guard can many times be turned into a pet, but I for one, am not a proponent of this, unless the dog has enough physical exercise and mental stimulation to make up for his not fulfilling his genetic path.  Contrary to some people’s opinions, it is not necessary to own thousands of acres and hundreds of head of livestock in order to keep an LGD content with his duties.  One can accomplish it with far less if the dog is raised up knowing his job, and encouraged in his guarding duties, on a daily basis....not just once a month.  An LGD with no purpose will become bored, restless and/or depressed.  He may try to dig out or escape his confines to venture elsewhere where there is stock for him to guard.  Feeling frustrated with no purpose, a dog may turn to lashing out to fellow pack members or act out in other negative mannerisms to compensate for the absence of a mission or purpose the dog is feeling.  Making sure your LGD has work and purpose in his life is paramount for a happy dog, who is less likely to cause conflicts with his pack members.


Fear/Psychological Trauma

Abject and constant fear of humans, loud noises, vehicles, an animal, an object, can be a source of great stress and trauma to an LGD, and in turn cause him misplace his frustrations and fear by attacking other dogs and humans.  Particularly if your LGD was not handled much as a pup, they can grow up with a marked distrust of human contact and consider such, a threat to their wellbeing, let alone the livestock they are guarding.  Likewise, if an LGD has been subjected to injury, humiliation or trauma at the hands of his owner or another person, the damage done can be terrific, and cause the dog enough angst and psychological disturbance so that he then turns on his fellow pack mates and takes it out on them.  The owner must always discern what the root cause is that causes the LGD fear or trauma, then work to eliminate it so the dog is calmed and focused once again.  It is common knowledge that some large commercial operators and ranchers run nearly feral LGDs out with large bands of sheep or goats.  These dogs, having never been shown any positive treatment or reinforcement from humans, observe them only as a threat or danger or source of pain, confusion and/or trauma.  A socialized LGD, who is handled from birth, of course eliminates this problem, and raising socialized LGD’s who can be handled safely is recommended as good practice by the American Sheep Industry.  I know from experience that the handling of pups in no way, shape or form ‘ruins’ or lessens their guarding abilities.  Self assured, confident dogs who are not afraid of their own shadows, skittish or continuously nervous and afraid, are safer to be around for not only humans but fellow working LGDs as well.

Lack of Compatibility Between Individuals/Breeds

Every now and then comes a pair of dogs who just don’t like each other, just much as humans can manifest this as well. I have had two sets of dogs in my experience who just did not want to get along, no matter what was done to accommodate their needs.

In my case, I have a male Pyrenees who cannot stand a Maremma/Anatolian male, resulting in fights; thus the two boys must stay separate.  The worst case of hate between dogs I had was a female Kangal and a female Pyrenees; the latter was nearly killed by the Kangal in a gruesome fight once, which entailed me, and two of the Pyrenees’ siblings, trying to pull, force and otherwise get the Kangal off of the failing female Pyrenees.  The fight was so intense, that the Kangal drove one of her canine teeth through her own upper lip, yet was oblivious to the pain.  Bad blood cases between two dogs like this are more common than most people know, or in some cases, care to admit.   Also, dogs (like sheep and goats!) can be ‘racist’ to a degree, and breeds more times than not, prefer the company of their own kind.  I have seen it here, where my Spanish Mastiffs hang out together, my Pyrenean Mastiffs hang out together, and my Pyrenees do the same. The crossbreds seem to find a niche of their own, and much of this segregation seems to be color based (i.e., white dogs will hang out with white dogs, dark colored dogs, with dark dogs).  The best one can do in cases where you have a “Hatfields and McCoys” situation with your LGD’s, in order to keep the conflict from damaging the whole pack dynamic, is to always make sure the two dogs who have an intense dislike for one another, are not allowed to be in the same space, at the same time, so there is no fighting.  In worst case situations, as I have done, you too may find you must either put down or re-home one of the dogs in order to re-establish a continuity and peace in your dog pack.  It could be in another environment the repeat offender will become a model citizen of calmness and teamwork with others; I have seen this in many situations, so there is certainly hope for a dog like this.  The bottom line to remember is, some dogs just do not fit well with certain other dogs, and responsible LGD owners will keep that in mind and work to find the best solution so that rivalries between two dogs don’t upset their whole guarding team.

Hierarchy Changes/Addition(s) to Pack/Death of Pack Member

LGDs like all dogs, prefer to live in a pack and thrive as pack dwellers.   The level of depth and complexity in relationships between a pack family is mind staggering at the least, and profoundly touching in its devotion and tenure.  When a pack member sickens and dies, or must be put down, or is killed in an accident, fellow pack members will immediately respond to varying degrees.  The pack will mourn.  Some dogs will mourn longer and more intensely than others, depending on their relationship with the deceased dog.  The owner should be sensitive to this and never pressure a mourning dog into doing more than it can handle at that time, until it has healed, which will come in due time.  The gap left by the dead LGD now must be filled by another pack member, and this could entail conflicts if two dogs figure on being the new pack Alpha. Likewise, additions of newer dogs to a pack can be the source of great conflict if not managed properly or done in a cavalier, hasty manner, particularly if the addition is an older dog, out of its puppyhood.  Pups can be usually easily added to a pack with no strife or issues past a few quick lessons on who is the boss.  Older dogs however, come with their own past, baggage and preconceived mindsets and rules, and these may not blend in with the existing pack’s idea of what is acceptable.  Being alert, perceptive and responsible in adding another dog to your group is mandatory for success.

Bitches in Heat

The urge to procreate in male and female dogs can usurp even an empty stomach in a dog.  If you run intact male and female LGDs together, it goes without saying eventually, anywhere from seven to eighteen months of age, your females will come into heat, and your male dogs will know it.  All forms of friendship and affable teamwork between ‘the boys’ will very quickly go out the window at the first inkling of a female’s coming in, and should be responsibly dealt with by the owner, lest he want a bloodbath.  Females can stay in heat for as long as six weeks at a time, and unless breeding plans are afoot, they should be securely put up as far away from your working males as possible to lessen fights and conflicts.  Even then, you may be looking at moping male LGDs parked in front of your gooseneck or barn where the female is sequestered for her cycle.  The bottom line is: by not spaying your female and having her go through heat cycles, you are looking at a lot of down time for your LGDs as their minds are on other things rather than guarding your flock.  Fights over bitches in heat between males can be particularly vicious and bloody, entailing serious and even life-threatening injuries, often running up huge vet bills.  Responsible LGD owners will either spay their female dogs (thus completely eliminating the cause of the conflict) and leave the breeding of LGDs to professionals who are set up to manage such things much more efficiently, or not run females at all in their working pack.  


Reducing conflicts between LGDs takes effort and dedication, but is possible with observant, responsive and sensitive ownership, patience and understanding.  It is my hope by sharing some of my own observations that these points can help others in more successful LGD ownership.