A reoccurring theme these days, splattered all over Facebook LGD groups, Internet forums and continually coming up in my own consulting work, is how darned "tough" it is to prevent depredation of livestock. And how much more work running LGDs has turned to be out than the farmer/operator/rancher, thought it would be.
So I am always mildly surprised, and very happy, to read articles such as this one, where a farmer admits, "there is no silver bullet" (not unlike my own recent article about LGDs and wolves in sheep! Magazine). I continue to have hope that all is not lost, when reading a common sense, practical article by cattlemen, rather than some flaming rant against wolves and predators from the SSS crowd.
Instead of setting themselves up to succeed, too many new LGD owners set themselves and the dogs up to fail. They are in a rut, and won't think out of the box. Their expectations are outlandish. Their preparation is nonexistent or so shabby that all is bound to fail.
The biggest culprit of failure seems to be inadequate or non-extant fencing. The next biggest complaint is dogs who don't stay put in their livestock or on the farm, and prefer to go wandering miles away. Now some of this is breed related - sorry, but some breeds are just prone to wander more than others, a topic I have repeatedly touched upon in this blog over time.
However, I also note that often - not always but often - this "AWOL" activity is linked to LGDs who were reared with little or no socialization with humans. They were barely if ever touched. If they were raised hands on as pups, they go on to a home who then tosses them out in stock and ignores them. The dog is shocked. They are used to respect and acknowledgment, not being treated as though they had the plague.
I have a theory about this.
The dogs - being smarter than most of us - are soon bored, and not happy with their being relegated out in the back 40 with nary a hello from their always "too busy to look or pay attention" owner. The dog expects the owner to be participating in this as a good shepherd. Alas, good shepherds are sadly becoming hard to find. Because too many people out there seem to be too busy working town jobs trying to support their stab at farming. Being gone a good part of the day, leaves stock and dogs, unattended. This opens up the Pandora's Box of predators who also quickly sense there are no humans about, and come calling. In addition to that, bored LGDs look around and say more or less, "The hell with this. He could care less about us or the sheep. Let's see what else is out there."
I don't care what the fancy pants "LGD experts" out there crow about "the necessity of bonding the LGD to stock and stock alone, never humans", in their eternal promotion of no handling of LGDs and minimal socialization.
I'm upping the ante on them. I claim, and from experience, not from books or from listening to armchair experts, folks, that these dogs will guard better for you if you DO establish a bond with them, and interact with them, and respect them and yes, brush them, hug them and play with them.
They will be more inclined to WANT to protect your stock because it is no longer just "their" stock.
It is OUR stock.
These dogs recognize love. They acknowledge respect and they also recognize ignorance, ambivalence, laziness and they recognize an idiot too. And they recognize when they are being treated like shit. And they damn sure also know when you don't care enough to spend the time with them….or your livestock. When you flunk the grade, guess what? They show you, in the end, who's really the boss.
They leave you.
And why not, when you've made it so easy with inept or non-extant fencing, or spotty feeding schedule, or perhaps not feeding them at all, and never checking on them and your stock because, "you're too busy". "So much going on". Priorities that are always pressing, always out there, always all the time, all over, anywhere, except but what's staring you in the face, and under your nose.
Researching for another article I just finished, I stumbled upon a lovely paragraph in a great paper from an ag extension agent in Montana. He is more or less, telling people to spend more time with their sheep OBSERVING THEM:
Now that may sound ridiculous to some of you, but I am here to tell you, there's a whole world of you back to the farm types out there who are too busy pontificating on Facebook, screaming at presidential candidates on TV, running hither and yon to every ag class out there or county fair, or craft bonanza, or - fill in the blank. And you aren't spending enough time in your sheep, goats, cattle or hogs. And your LGDs know this. You're also not spending enough time with your LGDs.
You don't look at them. You don't check them. You don't know if they are in heat. You are clueless about the laceration that is festering on their inside thigh. You don't notice they are pregnant. You don't see the pus filled ear or ingrown dew claw.
Because you are too busy.
Because taking the time and effort to check on your LGDs is - well, an effort that takes time.
Ruminate on that for awhile. We all are guilty of this to some degree, now and then - some way worse than others. Maybe your resolution for the new year can be taking more time to spend the time you should with your LGDs and livestock.