Thursday, March 31, 2016

Springtime in Nevada: Sheep, Shearing, Snow and Sun


After a blustery week of wind and two solid days of non-stop snow (a new record set in some Nevada towns for March snow accumulation), it's time to dry out and start shearing a band of just under 1,000 head of sheep.  Spending a few days helping a friend's son's commercial sheep operation shear, sort and grade wool just outside of Winnemucca - lots of hard work but fun and certainly a learning experience.


Of course two of their LGDs had to inspect my truck and its "fragrant" odors from my 14 dogs.  This guy growled and snapped as I approached my truck, but I kept coming, turned my side to him, and after giving him "the hard eye" and my best Mr. Miyagi grunt/growl,  he backed way off, way quick.



Bummer lambs enjoying the sun.


Lots of wool, and this is just the beginning.  Sorted by length and grade.




A nice barn set up.  Wool sorting/grading table where we'd lay out the fleeces, pick and clean, and sort and grade.  The alley way is crowded with sheep next in line to be sheared.





The shearing crew going at it.



Everyone enjoying some badly missed sun after a stormy week.




Satisfied I wasn't a threat to their bummer lambs, the two sentries head back to the barn.  See you tomorrow, guys.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Livestock Guardian Dogs and Barking

Livestock Guardian Dogs and Barking




Barking is a language for dogs.  It is always done with a reason and a purpose.  Not all barking is the same, and once you begin to understand your dog more, you will note the variety of barks he or she possesses.  I have 14 dogs here. I am tuned into my dogs.  I can be sitting in the house, and if one barks outside, out of my sight, I can tell you who it is.  I can identify all 14 of my dogs barks without having to see them to do that; when I had 25 dogs here, I could do the same.  How you ask, could I possibly differentiate the barks of 25 dogs?  By listening to my dogs and watching them, and learning their barks, that is how!

When a dog barks, they are not doing it to be annoying.  The dog is communicating: with you, with their own kind, at a perceived threat, to express happiness or sadness or loneliness or out of frustration and stress.  Learning those barks is an important part of being a good LGD owner.

One of the many complaints I read about and hear about with Livestock Guardian Dogs has to do with barking.  Many LGD owners complain about their dog's barking.  Many say it is excessive or bothering their neighbors.  Many LGDs sadly, are dumped or abandoned or turned into rescues simply because they were barking, and their owners made no attempt to understand it.

The role of a LGD is to deter predators in a non-lethal manner from livestock.  There are many ways this is accomplished.  One is by leaving scent or sign by defecating and urinating around the perimeters of the dog's patrol area.  Another way is by barking.  By barking, the LGD ends a message to praetors to not come any closer, because this is their territory and they are protecting it.  Some LGD breeds are more vocal and prone to barking than others.  But, a person should always know that within each breed exist exceptions to every rule.  Some Great Pyrenees are barkers and some are not; likewise with other LGD breeds that are deemed less vocal, you will find individuals who are inclined to bark more than what is considered the norm for the breed.

I would like to briefly share part of a story from a customer.  She has four LGDs from me.  The other day, she asked for help regarding the barking two of her dogs were engaging in.  They had begun a habit of standing at a back fence line on the very large farm, and barking off into the woods.  The owner could not see anything, but she knew that herds of elk and deer often passed through that area.  She also lives in a high large predator area, with bear, lion and coyote packs.

Her two LGDs seem obsessed with something "out there" and would stand for long periods of time barking at a high repetitive pitch.  What ever it was out there was disturbing them.  

This is what I told her to do.  

I asked her to go out and put the dogs on a leash, and placing herself between the dogs and the unseen but perceived threat "out there" beyond the fence, to walk them along the perimeter.  The important thing was to have her, the owner, between the dogs and the perceived threat.

In just one day, doing this drastically cut back on the dog's repetitive and non-stop barking.  She was able to help them and give them peace of mind.  Why did it work?  Because she showed her dogs that she was involved in their dilemma and taking active action to help them.  By showing her LGDs she was part of the guardian team, it put their concerns at ease.  They were still vigilant, but they relaxed realizing their owner was not only aware of their guard barking, she responded to it, and showed them she too was concerned and cognizant of what concerned her dogs.  By putting herself between them and the perceived threat, she eased their minds.  By this simple act, she showed her dogs their guard barking was not in vain.  She showed them she was engaged and that they were not alone in this.  The dogs now have drastically reduced their incessant barking at the fence line.  They are still vigilant, and do their jobs, but they are no longer stressed or hyper concerned and needlessly worried.

Your guardian dog needs to know that YOU know what they are doing; they need to know you recognize what they are telling you and acting on it.  The simple act of participating in the perimeter patrol was all it took to show these two guardians that their owner was backing them up, paying attention, and vigilant to their concerns.  

Meanwhile, I suggest those of you who are experiencing a similar issue with your LGDs try what my customer did, and see if it can help you calm your dogs as well. Do not punish your dog for doing its job.  Never resort to using harsh and painful artificial methods such as shock collars, E-collars, ridiculous 'yokes' or muzzles.  They will only hurt and confuse your dog further.  Take the initiative to help them out by being engaged and participating.

Friday, March 18, 2016

A Tragedy of Three Dead LGDs

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” 
― George Orwell


In 2012, three Great Pyrenees Livestock Guardian Dogs were shot on public lands by bow hunters in the thickly wooded forest of Oregon's Ochocos, east of Prineville.  They and approximately 3 other LGDs belonged to Gordon Clark of the Hay Creek Ranch, and were traveling with a large band (over 1,000) of sheep on an allotment with a solo herder.

Initially, I, along with practically every other LGD owner out there, was swept up in the drama of the case.  How could these men shoot these poor dogs?    Off with their heads!  The press painted Craig and Paul Johnson out to be scumbag elk hunters on a killing spree.  When they were given probation, fined, and community service, the LGD community cheered.  There was some sense of relief.

But it wasn't over yet.

Fast forward to spring of 2015.  

I received a phone call out of the blue from an Oregon attorney, and the rest as they say, is history.  I was retained as an expert witness on this case.  But not for who you think.

This blog post is a story of how I, since 2009 a successful breeder, trainer and devout lover of LGDs, was convinced to become an expert witness - NOT for Gordon Clark, the owner of the Great Pyrenees, but rather for the defendants the Johnson brothers, who were now being sued for "emotional damages" and "losses" by Clark in a civil suit.  It is a story of the other side the media has covered up or neglected to probe from day one. It is a story of poor sheep management, of a grossly undermanned operation, and of dogs being reared in the now-dismissed and frowned upon "hands off/don't touch/toss them in the sheep and walk away" training methods. It's a story of undertrained herders and documented prior incidents of Clark's dogs attacking, chasing and threatening people on public lands in the Ochocos for years prior.

It is a story of why I chose to take the side of the defendants after being sent reams of court documents, pleadings and depositions to review.  Because I advocate for the dog, I took the risk of ridicule and getting hate mail, and advocated for the defendants.  Because this was a tragedy that could have been prevented…by more responsible operation management by Mr. Clark.  The dogs paid the ultimate price for his incompetence.

When shot, the dogs were no where near the band of sheep, but were chasing elk and deer.  No herder was in sight, nor were any sheep near the dogs when they were mistaken for feral dogs illegally chasing wildlife on public lands, and shot.  They wore no collars, no spray paint marks on their sides, for identification. No ID, no tags, no bells, nothing.

On March 10, 2016 the $250,000 verdict in Clark's favor was made public.

As an expert witness beginning in the Spring of 2015 I was given access to sworn depositions, summaries, pleadings, police reports, incident reports and statements, and other related documents in this case.  What I based my opinion on was what was handed to me - sworn testimonies and depositions from all sides and parties involved, and police and incident reports.

You may or may not change your mind after reading some of these statements, but you'd be brain dead not to begin to wonder if the media just pulled off a blanket character assassination of the defendants, and the "mourning" and controversial ex-surfboard foam manufacturer Gordon Clark was and is not what he's been painted to be by the press corps.  Again, I'll be taking my material directly from sworn court depositions and police reports.  This will be the first of two or three blog posts on this subject over this coming year.  They'll be short, just  to show you the other side.  I personally feel it needs to be heard.

~~~~~~~~

"Clark said the money and favorable verdict don't make up for the deaths of Elvira, Tony and Jackie Chan, the three dogs killed in 2012."
---- Associated Press, March 10, 2016

Sworn deposition of Gordon Clark, Monday, February 2, 2015, 2:45 pm 
Bend, Oregon:
21:9: Q: What were the names of the three dogs that were shot?
10: A (Clark): I can't remember.
11: Q: What were their ages?
12: A (Clark): I can't remember.
13: Q: Sex?
14: A (Clark): I believe -- I don't know the exact age.  I believe they were all fairly young.  
I can't remember exactly.
17: Q: And what about their sex?
18: A (Clark): Two were females, one was a male.  I might clarify that.  The dogs, when they are puppies, are named mostly by my daughter and others around, but when they go out with the herders they give them names, some that I cannot pronounce, and so they get renamed.  And we have some sort of naming system for the veterinarians and I can't remember what it is.
25: Q: But would I be correct in assuming, 
22:1: Mr Clark, that with respect to the three dogs that were shot you probably didn't go out and call them by name to get them to come to you?
4-5: A (Clark): When I saw them would I call them by name? No.



So let's get this straight.

In February of 2015, Mr. Clark cannot name any of his dead dogs he claims the loss of "caused him emotional duress", when questioned under oath, above.  That line rapidly changes for the bleeding heart press corps, however, in March of 2016 when he suddenly regains memory and can come up with three names for the dogs, "Tony", "Elvira" and "Jackie Chan".  But those weren't the names the herders called them by, as you'll read later from more sworn depositions….



"Photo by Holly M. Gill - Gordon Clark, the owner of Hay Creek Ranch, sits beside a mounted cougar he shot when it threatened his sheep. Clark lost three of his well-trained Great Pyrenees dogs last month when they were guarding sheep in the Ochocos, and were shot by hunters."

MY NOTE: One must assume that Clark was forced to shoot this cat because his supposedly "well trained" dogs were nowhere near their sheep doing their jobs when the cat came around…..


~~~~~~~~

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” 
― Aldous HuxleyComplete Essays 2, 1926-29

Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Livestock Guardian Dog Success Story!!!


I truly enjoy helping people with their Livestock Guardian Dogs. Below is a heartwarming success story from a client of my consulting service.  It's a touching E mail from a lady who reached out to me for my support, advice and direction.  

With patience and by following my advice, she was able to turn around and "salvage" and save, a completely feral, wild, frightened and unsure LGD, and help her turn into a fantastic stable, calm and loving protector of her flock and…a guardian for her baby son.  

By developing a deeper understanding of these great dogs, you too can experience a more fulfilling and successful working relationship with them.  These dogs are not merely tools  like a hammer or saw, or something to be treated with disrespect.  There is so much more to them than most people want to realize, or care to take the time to understand.  

I am so much in awe of these dogs every day of my life, and I learn so much from them.

You can too. 



Hi Brenda,
I hope you are well. I just wanted to let you know about all the progress I have made with the dogs since our consultation.  
Most of the progress is with Gigi, who would hardly let me pet her when I first spoke with you. I worked diligently on communicating with her using "calming signals," and they worked wonders. I was able to earn her trust enough that she allowed me to catch her (drug free) and take her to the vet (her first time ever). She is back home with us now, and loving all the love. She cuddles, rolls over, licks and can be just plain silly with us now. She is still a diligent worker, but not just for the goats she had been force bonded with her whole life. She's taken to gently protecting all our animals, fowl and even my 10month old son ;-). 

Formerly feral, untouchable Gigi on her way to the vet.  
Look at her calm eyes now! A relaxed, happy dog!

Alpha LGD Sheila and puppy pal Arwen.



Arwen with my son & her turkey training time.
It doesn't get any better than this!
Sheila (our alpha LGD) has really taken Arwen under her wing and is a great mentor. I'm very impressed by her guidance. Arwen is spending more and more time in the pastures at night (finding her bark) and every morning she seems so satisfied with herself. She is very astute with her fence checks. Also, Arwen is as tall & weighs the same as Gigi and Sheila even though she is only 6 months!!! Not once has Arwen EVER hurt one of our chickens or turkeys. She just loves them and seems to know I want her giving them special attention.
Thank you again for what you do! And thank you for your advice! Have a great weekend.
-Hannah

If you are interested in contacting me for a consultation, please visit my website here: 


With the huge uptick in the popularity and use of LGDs in America, sadly with it has come the flood of armchair experts and of course, the opportunists and people with no real background in these dogs, or any experience.

I'm sure you know who I'm referring to as these are the egomaniacal braggarts who usually fill up huge Facebook LGD groups with bad advice.  They generally possess zero understanding of these dogs.  They use and promote harsh, cruel and in many cases sickening training "tricks" and devices such as yokes, shock collars, staking dogs out, tying dead chickens around a dog's neck, refusing to give a whelping bitch support or a safe and comfortable place to whelp out a litter, and worse.  It is for that reason that you must be very careful who you take direction from, or you can have a very negative LGD experience and end up with an epic fail.

Choose who you listen to and take direction from very carefully.  

These dogs deserve your best intentions, not your worst!


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Livestock Guardian Dogs: Working on Common Ground






This 2012 multi award-nominated film by Conservation Media and People and Carnivores on the benefits of using Livestock Guardian Dogs to promote co-existence is a wonderful introduction to using Livestock Guardian Dogs. 

I am a very outspoken and strong proponent of co-existence with predators.  In fact, my refusal to waiver from this stance over the years frequently puts me on the receiving end of hate mail, vicious libel and slanderous comments on the Internet from other LGD owners and breeders, ranchers and those of the "kill them all" mindset who prefer the "shoot, shovel and shut up" method of dealing with predators.  

Using LGDs in the right way - with the right breeds from quality working stock and raising them right from puppyhood with livestock - can be an important component of a successful co-existence program.

My ranch and dogs were featured in it - along with some darling Pyrenean Mastiff puppies and gnarly looking  spiked protective LGD collars.  :)  I was honored to host Steve Primm and Jeremy Roberts for two days of filming here.

If you have not watched it yet, sit back and enjoy!