Thursday, May 19, 2016

Why Most Should NOT Breed Livestock Guardian Dogs

When I began my program of importing, raising and breeding Livestock Guardian Dogs in 2009, you actually had to hunt hard to find good, reputable breeders of LGDs.  Oh, they were out there, but not in droves and it took some serious looking.  Fast forward to today, when now every hobby farmer on two acres or more with a pygmy goat and some chickens, has added a male dog, a female dog and presto: they consider themselves an instant LGD breeder.  Facebook is overflowing with secretive LGD groups manned by egomaniacs and self-labeled experts, and the "for sale" pages have exploded.

Of course, as I've blogged about in the past, anyone can breed dogs.  The real question remains: should they?  The answer for most is no.  Whether hiding behind bogus addresses so their local sheriff won't bust them for operating an unlicensed business and kennel;  producing fake made up breeds and passing them off to gullible buyers; presenting mixed LGD breeds as purebreds and/or mixing non-LGD breeds with LGDs, the glut of dubious, unprincipled, evasive and dishonest LGD breeders out there is continually exploding.   Hobby farmers have turned LGDs into backyard cash crops and in doing so have demeaned them as a whole as they try to make silk purses from sow's ears.

For those of you thinking about sticking your toes in the breeding pool, read this article from sheep! Magazine I wrote last year, first.   I used to be shocked at some of the strong language spewed by rescue people towards dog breeders in general. You want to know something?  I'm not shocked anymore….and I'm beginning to agree with them.  We don't need more LGD breeders.  We don't need any more "St. Pyrenees" crosses out there or Red Heelers crossed with an Akbash.  No one should be supporting an "accidental" breeder who produces a closely inbred litter out of related parents, then brags they'll repeat it.  We don't need anymore made up "Spanish Ranch Mastiffs", designer fighting breeds like the "Boz",  or dubious 3/4 and 7/8 "percentage crosses" being passed off as purebreds that will eventually degrade pure lines. What we need are smarter, more responsible buyers and owners who stop looking at this as though it was a popularity contest or a social event, enabling puppy mills, dubious breeders and fly by night operators.  Breeding dogs is not easy.  It requires a passion, an inner core and a concept, and if you can't find one, then don't breed dogs.  Period.

***ADDENDUM:  The new crop of self-appointed LGD 'breeders' out there share a few things in common, and they are red flags any responsible buyer should scrutinize.

1.  Low or zero expectations: of course for some people, it's easy to "like" a breeder who does not care what you do with their dog, lies about their parentage, has no vetting process, or has such low standards that the caliber of people they sell to is ghetto gutter low.  Of course everyone "likes" them - they don't expect anything from anyone, and make excuses for bad customers instead of standing up for principles and integrity and calling out bad choices.  To listen to them, they've never made a bad placement in their career (total bullshit) or pissed off a customer (ha, yeah right).  I have some customers pissed off at me.  And you know something?  They pissed me off for a myriad of reasons, ranging from outright lying to not ever keeping in touch, to blatant cover-ups to outright copycatting my breeding program down to the last hair and bloodlines while giving me zero credit for their very beginning (kind of hard to cover up the fact that someone bought their very first six dogs from me, but believe it or not, there's a person out there doing it), or marketing crosses as purebreds.  Thankfully there are intelligent people who see through the ruse.  Problem is the idiots seem to be procreating in this country faster than the smart ones.  Kind of scary.

2. The latest crop of newbie LGD breeder's websites give minimal if any information about where they got their dogs from, the parentage, the bloodlines,  the WHY of anything, diddley squat.  They make it appear as if they just dropped out of the sky one day, ala instant expert breeder.  Yet the old hands can just chuckle at how they were no where to be seen or heard from just three years ago….  And again, low expectation customers just suck it all up because they are too lazy to ask the tough questions or do more looking around. I've busted more than one Johnny-Come-Lately "breeder" bragging they are breeding dogs out of my bloodlines lately, yet give no specifics as to who the dogs that they have pups out of, are. Of course, most of them came out of dogs a customer of mine in Nevada bred (the nefarious "Hoof and Fang" farm) as she's selling to anyone who shows her the cash (and passing off ¾ Spanish Mastiffs as "purebreds").  But don't piss on my leg, kids, and tell me it's raining. There is a reason you had to buy from her: I would have never sold a pup to you. Period.

3.  If a breeder has dead dogs up on their site making out like they are still alive and actively being bred, run in the opposite direction.  Ditto for the breeders with blogs that haven't been updated in over three years.  When a breeder has time to update about puppies for sale or breedings but ignores everything else (for months if not years), this is a deceptive breeder who does not have all their cards on the table.  Steer clear.  There are a few out there who have turned this into an art form. Perpetual smoke and mirrors, Queen of Vague Lois Jordan of "Fall Creek Farm" - where by the way, she has not lived for years, having been kicked off of it and another farm for various reasons ranging from defaulting on loans, diseased dogs and livestock, and more - leads the pack in this travesty. Yet you'll see gullible, lazy shoppers line up for her pups, then bitch about them on Facebook a year later for diseases, lack of guardian instinct, and more. In this instance, who is the real scumbag? Jordan the breeder, or the dumb lazy buyers? You feel free to make that call….

4.  Everyone has to start someplace but be honest about it - don't trust a breeder who comes out of nowhere trying to make out like they wrote the book on LGDs when all they have done is lifted the art of plagiarizing and copycatting to a new level.  If someone can't make it on their own with their own ideas and proof that they know what they are doing, that tells you a lot.  I am used to seeing my stuff copied and ripped off by those without the gumption to figure things out on their own or find their own way in this, mostly because for them it is nothing more than a popularity contest. Right now there is a couple in Bakersfield, CA bragging that they are "Spanish Mastiff breeders" when they don't own an SM who's a year old yet. The Clarks are your consummate "wannabe" fad breeder. Short on experience, classic cramped little hobby farm set up with screaming toddlers and kids running around all over the place. Disneyland breeders who bought a dog from Laura Swindler. Gentrified LGDs. The dumbing down of LGDs. That's what this really is. Excuse me? There's something called "paying dues" that you have to go through before you get to wear that "breeder" crown, but perhaps this caliber of "breeding" is what can you expect from Oildale trailer trash working at a pistachio packaging plant, masquerading as an LGD "breeder." Yes, it's come to this...

5.  Which brings me to my last point:  too many hobby farmers are breeding LGDs as a cash crop sideline alone with goats, pigs, you name it, to be liked and glorified.  They have no real reason to be bringing litters into the world other than they are doing it to be popular and line their pocketbooks.  As they do this the shelters and pounds and rescues fill up with unwanted LGDs.  Do the math.  The explosion in popularity of LGDs has come with a huge price tag.  The dogs are being devalued by cut rate breeders putting out inferior stock or stock from dubious crosses and lines.  In a few years trust me, many of these breeders are the ones who will bail on their customers.  Lazy buyers only contribute to this phenomenon that is getting worse by the year - buyers with zero expectations.  Go back and read point 1.

Things To Consider Before Breeding 
Your Livestock Guardian Dog

Brenda M. Negri
Cinco Deseos Ranch 
Livestock Guardian Dogs
Copyright 2015
Brenda M. Negri and sheep! Magazine
March/April 2015 Vol 36, No. 2

The increased popularity in the use of Livestock Guardian Dogs over the last several years has brought with it a side effect of a less positive note: more and more unwanted LGDs showing up in rescues; as strays; dumped off in local shelters and in some extreme cases, entire litters and their mother, abandoned to fend for themselves.  This burgeoning population of unwanted LGDs can be largely attributed to the huge increase in numbers of people breeding them...with or without good reason.

Breeding LGDs should never be done irresponsibly on a whim, or without due cause, purpose, plans and goals on the part of the breeder.  Honestly, it is best left to those who are able to fiscally afford to do it right, have goals and plans in place, and who are physically set up properly to handle it.  There are enough established, reputation LGD breeders in this country to provide good working guardian dogs to people.  These are top quality reputation dogs you won’t find on local Craig’s List ads for $50 or being given away for free.  As in most things in life, you get what you pay for.  Adding unwanted LGDs from questionable stock into the gene pool only weakens breeds and lessens their effectiveness, and degrades their overall value. Indiscriminate breeding practices, only adds to the problem.

I’m a state and county licensed breeder of LGDs and have owned and bred working breed dogs since the early 1980’s.  In order to be licensed and permitted, I must pass rigorous scrutiny by my local sheriffs department and go before my county commissioners; provide insurance and liability coverage; pay state and county fees and licensing costs, and in general, show governing authorities that I am a serious, honest, responsible breeder.  

I am struck by the large number of people suddenly now breeding LGDs.  Some do so with good cause - say for instance, they live in an area of the USA where LGDs are few and far between.  Some have truly great dogs, and wish to perpetuate a good line.  However, just as many lack reason, goals or purpose.  These motives, which I don’t feel merit reason enough to breed, include:

Cute Puppy Syndrome:  It would be ‘fun’ to have a litter of ‘cute puppies’ around

Easier than Winning the Lottery:  They think they’ll be able to make their mortgage payments selling LGD pups

Pre-spay Litter:  They want their female LGD to have one litter before being spayed because they think it will be “good” for her

Replacement LGDs:  They want to breed their own replacement guardian dogs


Lets go into detail why these are usually not sound reasons to breed LGDs.

Cute Puppy Syndrome:  No puppy stays a puppy forever.  That hard to resist, bright eyed ball of perkiness is going to mature into a 150+ pound serious adult dog of muscle, bone and strength, often with a voracious appetite, and at times costly requirements that include regular vaccinations, de-wormings, training, spaying or neutering, and...did I mention they can eat a lot?  

The typical lines I sometimes hear are that a would-be one time breeder wants a litter around “So the kids can have something to play with” or worse yet, “Witness the miracle of birth”.  Neither are ever suitable grounds or excuses to bring a litter of pups into the world.  Rarely does the would-be breeder think past the immediate gratification of a litter to the future. When those pups start eating and growing and costing them money, they quickly loose interest.  When they find they can’t sell them, they are often given away to less than suitable homes, often under 8 weeks of age - illegal in many states - just so the breeder gets off the hook feeding them and giving needed vaccinations, de-wormings and training.

Unfortunately many less than scrupulous breeders play on people’s weaknesses to succumb to cute puppies. Never breed your LGDs just because you want to have a “litter of cute puppies”.  Those puppies will grow.  Faster, in some cases, than your eyes can believe.  If you can’t handle the accompanying responsibility and afford the expenses of owning the grown dog, don’t use the lure of a litter of cute pups as an excuse to breed.

Easier Than Winning the Lottery:  There are some LGD breeds in this country who regularly sell for thousands of dollars due to their rarity.  Some are legitimately worth it; others, are the product of price gouging hopefuls who pander to the less educated buyer.  People look at pricey LGD pups and see dollar signs and think they can pay off that pesky car payment with a litter.  Guess again.  Don’t put a litter out for money motivation, because nine times out of ten, you’ll be in for a rude awakening.

What people rarely think about is what it can cost to bring a litter of pups into the world.  What they almost never think about is that most LGD breeds are infamous (or famous, depending on your point of view) for having very large litters.  I have had two litters here match world records for their respective breeds at 16 pups each.  Typical LGD litters from healthy dams can run 8-12 pups.  But before you start counting your profits, what does it cost to bring those pups into the world, rear them and get them going?  

Right off the bat, unless you are one of those people who just don’t care (and therefore have no business breeding dogs to begin with), you had better plan on feeding good to high quality dog food and/or raw diet to a pregnant bitch who will also require de-worming and vaccination boosters prior to delivery, and in some cases supplements.  Hopefully, her delivery goes well and does not require a C-section (this can run from $800-$2,800 depending on your vet and what part of the country you are in).  Once the pups arrive, assuming no other costly vet bills come your way (the dam dies, gets sick or shuns the pups and you must bottle feed the entire litter, for instance), you have a couple of weeks at most before they begin requiring more than just mom’s good milk.  Then, the feed bills really start, and a responsible breeder who truly cares about their litter does not feed cheap, low quality dog food, or expect mom and litter to fend for themselves.  And keep in mind, while mom is caring for the litter, she’s not working, so you can write off having her as a guardian of your flock.  Were you prepared for that side effect?  Many people are not.

Now, since no one knows who you are, or anything about your dogs, you have to advertise your litter to sell it.   That is a cost responsible breeders absorb in their program on a regular basis, running regular monthly or quarterly ads in respected farm, livestock, ranch and trade journals such as this one, and more.  Keep in mind, you will be competing with already established breeders of renown with proven dogs and pups out there and usually a long waiting list of potential owners.  Are you and your unknown dogs and untested pups up to that?  Most are not.  The popular advertising venue called Craig’s List is sadly often a dumping ground for cheap and often unhealthy pups, born out of sometimes questionable parent stock, and bred by shady breeders and puppy mills.  I personally shun such an avenue for advertising, and would only recommend known and trusted avenues that reach out to agriculture based readerships.  

And what if you don’t or can’t sell all those pups?  Are you financially prepared to keep them?    Then what?  Sadly, this is when many quietly dump them in shelters and local pounds.

Pre-Spay Litter:  Perhaps a kind reader can enlighten me to where the old wive’s tale of “you should let a female have one litter before getting her spayed because it’s good for her”, began, because I personally have no idea where this fallacy started.  But it sure is a commonly heard excuse!  I have females here who were spayed without ever having litters, and they are top notch guardians - one is my female pack alpha and leader.  Not ever having litters did not stunt or stifle them in any way, nor will it stunt, harm, or stifle your female, either.  Vets usually now prescribe putting off spays until the female is close to a year old.  LGD breeds typically don’t have their first heats until close to a year of age - in giant breeds, they can sometimes go to 18 months before they have a first heat.  Although I’m a personal proponent of leaving male working Livestock Guardian Dogs intact, if it is going to be too much of a problem or responsibility, then get your boy fixed after he turns one year old so he does not accidentally sire an unwanted batch of Great Pyrenees x Labradors, or some similar nightmare.  Remember: an intact female has a heat once or twice a year.  During that time, you can’t use her in the field.  She’ll need to be sequestered so she is not accidentally bred.  Are you up for that?  Most people are not!

Replacement LGDs:  

The only people who have any business raising up litters of LGD pups as replacement dogs for their own outfit are either professional LGD breeders, or larger, usually commercial operators, with hundreds to thousands of head of sheep or goats or cattle, who use and need so many LGDs for protection against predation, that they literally can bring up and use an entire litter of home-bred LGD pups.  An outfit like this typically will own and run so many LGDs that having a bitch out of the line of duty for two months with a pregnancy and rearing of the pups, won’t negatively impact their operation and livestock’s safety.  On the other hand, the small hobby farmer with a handful of show goats or club lambs with a male and female LGD, risks losing half of their protection team when the bitch is out of the stock in order to whelp her pups and care for them.  A small operation like this does not show need for breeding their own LGDs.  Smaller operators in need of new blood or younger dogs to augment what they already have, are far better off going to and buying from established, trusted, reputation breeders for their LGDs - not risking that they won’t be able to find homes for the pups left over that they don’t want to keep.  

And let’s talk about puppy placement.  Finding good homes for pups is not easy especially if you have ethics and truly care where they end up.   Vetting potential owners out can be incredibly frustrating and time consuming.  Are you really ready for that aspect?  Are you also ready to provide continual support to your new owners - health guarantees, and advice when needed?  Finally, are you ready to take back pups if they don’t work out?  If not, then don’t breed your dogs.


Breeding any kind of dog is not for the faint of heart.  It should never be done on a lark, yet people seemingly do such every week. It is a constant learning process, it is costly, time consuming and labor intensive when done correctly.  Although full of joy and excitement there is tragedy and heartbreak involved as well. As our shelters nation wide burst at the seams with unwanted LGD breeds, crosses and “Designer Breed” fiascoes, many of whom should have never been brought into the world to begin with, this only weakens the gene pool and puts inferior dogs out there working on the ranges and farms of America.  Please don’t add to this problem.  Stifle your desire to let ‘Suzy’ have “just that one litter” and instead, buy from reputable, trusted breeders.

If you do embark on breeding LGDs - do your homework, do it right, with a plan and goals, for the right reasons, with proven, healthy, great dogs - or don’t do it at all.  Ethically speaking, there is no wiggle room.