Monday, April 18, 2016

Humanely Slowing/Calming Down Livestock Guardian Dogs

A couple of weeks ago I posted a video on my Facebook kennel page of my Maremma / Anatolian, Pala, calmly walking about with a chain drag affixed to his collar as an example of what I jokingly refer to as "The Chain of Shame" (and yes, you heard that term here first, not from someone in Canada…).

Pala is the only dog of the 14 I own here who will go easy as pie, willy-nilly over my 6 ft. fence.  The clasping of a long 25 pound chain onto his collar is a humane manner to slow him down, make him think and prevent him from going over my steel bar and no climb horse fence while NOT impeding his ability to do his job, go piddle or potty, sleep, eat, rest, etc.

The chain featured in the photo above, is the shorter version I use on my younger pups if needed.  If need be you can affix a short stick on the end and voila, you have the "LGD dangle stick".

If I ran barbed wire fences, this chain and/or the longer version, could and would pose an issue as it could hang up in the barbed wire.  BUT - if I ran barbed wire, I'd also be very vigilant and checking on my dogs and stock frequently to make sure I didn't have a dog or stock caught up in wire.

In classic Facebook shallow, slash and run style, I had some yokel come onto my kennel Facebook page the other day and on the Pala dragging a chain thread, make a real smart ass remark about the chain getting caught in fence wire and blah blah blah.  Well, the woman never looked at my fence type in the video to see that I don't run barbed wire, but no climb horse fence framed in super heavy duty welded iron pipe that is round and can't catch or hang up Pala's chain.  Aw heck no that would have taken some actual effort on her part.  Sigh.

Speaking of Facebook, a place I spend less and less time on by the day since it has hands down become the Poster Child of all that has gone ghetto gutter bad with social media platforms - the other day I looked in horror at a Facebook photo of a dog that I bred and had sold to a goat farmer.  My poor dog was tied up to a huge auto tire in a large field supposedly to "keep her from chasing goats".

Well, what happened to owner participation, correction, praise and training?  Too much to ask?  Tying up an LGD for anymore than a very short period of time is wrong, and this includes tying them to an extremely cumbersome and heavy object such as a car or truck tire, that would impede their efforts to stop a predator from attacking their flock or herd.

It is amazing however, how many people don't stop to think about this obvious fact.  They are so consumed with containing or controlling the dog, they go to extreme measures that end up entirely defeating the dog's purpose.  This includes the ridiculous "yokes" (more on that later).

Using a chain drag can have the same calm-down, slow down effect without endangering the dog or being abusive and inhumane.

Tying up any dog for prolonged periods of time can incite increased aggression and frustration and it goes down hill from there.  Tying a dog to a heavy tire drag in complex or heavy predator load areas is pretty much signing off on the dog's death warrant.  No dog can defend itself let alone it's flock if it is trapped by tethering and/or attaching it in a semi-permanent fashion to a super heavy, large object or a wall or chained to a barn.  But look at all the people out there doing it…..yup yup yup.  Sickening.

As LGDs become a fad - and they are now - the average American hobby farmer is consumed and obsessed with controlling them.  These dogs - the good ones anyway - work off of instinct (unless of course daddy was a Labrador or a St. Bernard then you can kiss that goodbye).  Sadly more and more, people running these dogs - because they lack the depth of understanding needed to really run these dogs correctly - they think they have to control their every move.  Barking, moving, you name it, they have to control it.

No.  You don't.  You need to understand them better so you can set them up to succeed, not fail, or become the next lunch for a wolf pack because you staked them out to keep them on your property.  LGDs must be able to move, run and meet a challenge - not become a sacrificial lamb to a wolf, dog or coyote pack, or a marauding bear or lion. Trust me, my Anatolian/Maremma Pala can still kick ass dragging his 25 pound chain.  In fact, he's even gone over my fence with it….to attack a stray dog on the other side.  In other words, even with that chain, he is not so encumbered or trapped that he can't perform his function.  And on the occasion where he does go over my fence dragging a 25 pound chain in order to run off a potential threat, ya know something?  I cut him a lot of slack, because…he was doing his job.

In the book I am writing about Livestock Guardian Dogs I will go into this topic in much more detail and depth.  But for now, I'm trying to impart  just a few gems of advice in order I hope, to help stop the suffering so many poorly managed LGDs are being put through by too many lazy shepherds.

Let's back up - and look at just a few of the core reasons LGDs challenge and jump over or dig under, fencing.

  • Wrong Breed  - I've blogged about this in past posts. Instead of thinking through his LGD selection, the impatient and fad following mini-farmer has his heart set on a slender, light framed LGD breed or crossbreed that has the "roam-lust" genetics in him, prefers to patrol far away from his flock, and is easily bored on 5-60 acres without enough work.  If it is a cross - it is a crap shoot.  Close guarding or a roamer?  You cannot predict what the dog will work like until….you see what the dog works like, about two years later.  Hmmm.
  • Inadequate fencing - How many people can lower their heads in guilt to this point?  Most of you who are perpetually complaining about dogs getting out, that's who....  There's a reason why I dumped fifty grand into re-fencing my five acres - because I wanted this place to be Ft. Knox, and it paid off in the end.  Other than Pala, no one gets out.  Period.
  • Bored LGDs - The crux of more escapes than most people care to discuss.  Not enough threats to merit an LGD in the first place, or minimal owner participation and interaction with livestock and the LGD can lead to your guardian leaving for more interesting pastures and much needed mental stimulation and a sense of being needed and appreciated.
  • Mistreatment - How many LGDs out there just want to get the heck out of Dodge because they are cursed with an uncaring, flaky owner who does not participate, does not see, or care about, what is going on with his/her livestock and LGDs?  More than you care to know, dear reader.
There's much more to this, but again that's coming in my book.  You'll have to wait...

Back to the chain drag.  Below are some photos taken today of Cinco Deseos Ranch Bobo (Troy Farma Stekot x Sally Farma Stekot), a grand young Pyrenean Mastiff I bred, and Cinco Deseos Ranch Hermosa (Furiano de Puerto Canencia x Crisa de Abelgas), a beautiful young Spanish Mastiff I bred.  

Bobo has the longer 25 pound version of my "Chain of Shame" on.  He was fence fighting with Furiano this morning, and so he needed to "think about it" for a spell.  He knows the minute the chain goes on, he messed up…he gets that "aw shucks Mom I'm sorry" look on his face (that disappeared as soon as he saw the camera come out - he is the world's biggest egomaniacal camera hog and ham…as the photo below shows).  CHEESE….

But the photos show you clearly how the chain works.  Bobo can still boogie along with the best of them, but the cocky attitude goes out the window instantly when the chain goes on his collar.  He soaks and he slows down.  Really, it is that simple, if you allow it to be and open your eyes.  What is imperative here is that you are WATCHING your dog, his body language his eyes, his posture.  Yeah, Bobo's tail is still cranked up, but he's off his war wagon, and calmed, and not itching for a tussle with Furiano now.  And the chain comes off after he's shown me he's back on track.

Hermosa, below, has a short dangle chain on her collar today - not because she was chasing any livestock - she wasn't - but because she's been caught twice now in my front yard peeling bark off of young trees (!).  I admonished her for bark chewing, then when I put her out back in the stock, I gave her plenty of "atta girls" and hugs - important because she is not being punished by being put in the stock, mind you, but being rewarded - and I put the chain on her to let her "soak".  When the chain goes on the collar, just like Bobo, she knows she needs to chill, too, and this just reinforced it with her and made her slow down and think.  That's her half sister Gwangi bathing in the tub, left.  Note the chain just reaches the ground.  It maybe weighs just under 10 pounds and is the chain pictured at the top of this post.  Note the push in style clasp I like to use that facilitates easy on and easy removal.  The collar Hermosa is wearing is leather and not thick; if she ever did get that chain caught in something (attention: smart ass lady on Facebook), it would break instantly and free her.   Voila.

And no, you do not leave it on 24/7. The dog will tell you when to take it off.  Mine do and I always know.  How long, you say?  You don't know, you say?  Gee, I guess you'll have to read my book.

Meanwhile, Hermosa is happy, she's with her sheep and cows and no chewing off bark of young trees (there are none in the pasture, chuckle…).  She is hands down, one of the most promising guardians I've seen when it comes to wanting to stay close to my stock.  Encouraging close guarding behavior is something I foster here in many ways, but breed choice heavily factors into this as well.  Which is why I now run the breeds I do here - Spanish and Pyrenean Mastiffs - and why I also have cut back on my crossing my females with Pak and/or Pala - two incredibly great guardians who's style is more inclined to be "out there" like Anatolians, far ranging, intense and going to the problem, not sticking close (like Hermosa, below) and waiting for / daring it to come to them.  Big difference there.

These photos don't lie; here she is literally 'cheek to cheek' with my Mini Hereford Thelma.  That's what I want.  An LGD who is here with my cows and sheep, not 20 miles off chasing coyotes. Of course as if on cue one half of "The Mafia Brothers", my big white boys Pak and Pala had to photo bomb and make sure they are seen standing and lying "sooo close" to the heifers…instead of doing fence patrol as usual.  Dogs. You gotta admit, they are smarter than most of us!

Wrapping this up: please dear readers, shy away from the obviously inhumane extreme "yokes" being promoted far and wide by people on Facebook LGD groups by lazy shepherds unwilling to do the work that comes with owning these great dogs.  Don't cave into tying your dogs up for long periods of time, staking them out or dragging big tires (put one around your neck for half a day and see how you like it) or using these dreadful torture devices:  

Commit and run these dogs right, in a manner that shows understanding, respect and compassion.  Short cuts don't cut it.