Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Livestock Guardian Dog Protective Collar Basics

Livestock Guardian Dog
Protective Collar Basics

Copyright 2016
Brenda M. Negri

Protective collars for LGDs go by many names: Carlancas, wolf collars, Turkish Carpets, Tohts, Roccale, and many more.  An ancient tool used by European and Middle Eastern shepherds on their guardian dogs to protect them in an attack from a predator, their use in America has only caught on in the past few years. Here is a run down some of the basics for the responsible use of protective collars and answers to some of the oft-most asked questions I have fielded over several years:

1.     Life Insurance, Well….Kind Of: These collars are used to give a dog a fleeting chance in a confrontation or fight with a predator, such as a coyote, lion, bear or wolf.  Problem is, too many people think it is instant life insurance for their LGD and somehow makes them “invincible”.  It does not! It can help save a dog’s life, and buy it more time, but don’t kid yourself: the best spike collared-up LGD in the world is still no match for a well-oiled pack of wolves.  Do not put your spike collared-LGD in a situation that is a death sentence.  NO LGD should be run solo in heavy predator country.  The correct number of mature dogs is paramount.  In other words, don’t go slapping a spiked collar on one dog and expect miraculous protection of your stock from a huge pack of wolves.  This is a topic I’ve written on in sheep! Magazine, May/June 2013, Volume 34 No. 3.
2.     Pups and Growing LGDs:  I’m often asked what size of a collar to buy a pup.  My answer is usually the same: what are you doing putting a puppy out in heavy predator country, offering it up as sacrificial bait?  Although a pup can be fitted in a “starter” spiked, that pup should never be expected to hold its own without some serious back up from adult pack members.  Most LGD breeds grow by leaps and bounds, and usually finish off by two or three years; larger breeds such as the Spanish Mastiff may grow until four years of age.   No one collar can suffice an eight-month old pup until it reaches four years of age, so get over your fantasy of “one size fits all collar” for your LGD. The operator should plan on buying a puppy-sized collar and a collar for later use as the pup matures. 
3.     Measuring Correctly: How do you correctly measure for a spiked collar?  One of the biggest gaffes by most LGD owners I continually hear about concerns incorrect measurements.  Jim Hosse, a California buckaroo custom saddlemaker who has built over 200 custom LGD protective collar, says one of the leading problems has been people not understanding where to correctly measure the dog for proper fit. 

“The owners measure in the wrong place for the collar, which usually produces grossly inflated measurements”, Hosse says.   That has the collar maker shaking his head, wondering what kind of elephant dog the potential customer is running.  Hosse further claims that “Out of bounds measurements of 32” and more indicate that the owner is measuring his or her dog at the wrong place on its neck. You want your tape to be firm and snug but NEVER so tight as to restrict circulation or choke the dog.”  When you give this measurement to the collar maker, he in turn will add inches on either end of the leather for flexibility and adjustments. Where on the dog do you measure for a spiked collar?  Hosse has the answer to one of the most oft-asked questions: “Go to the bump on the back of the dog’s head, and go down three fingers/three inches.  This keeps the collar down below the ear canal, and it will sit on his neck while not hitting the dog’s ear.”

If the person requires a three-inch wide collar, Hosse further advises to add another three inches to the first measurement, taken three fingers or three inches down from the bump on the dog’s head.  The first measurement will be somewhere between 18-21 inches – depending on the dog – the second measurement that the collar maker should make, will be three inches more.  Measuring this way, affords the collar maker the perimeters to work within.   In other words, there will be “wiggle room” for the dog’s growth or hair shedding, the latter which will usually require the collar to be taken in a notch.
4.     Leather or Metal, or Both? The type of collar you are measuring for will also indicate how much wiggle room you have for weight gain or loss and the dog’s growth.  Leather collars with buckles and holes typically give more room for size fluctuation.  Some pronged or plated iron collars are made to be one-size only.  The LGD owner needs to discuss what type is best for their dog with the collar maker or seller and buy what is most realistically the best product for his particular situation and environment.  Keep in mind the terrain your dog lives and works in.  Flat, grassy pastures and plains?  Thick sagebrush?  Forest? Swamps?  Low moisture or high moisture?  Dry and arid or soggy and wet?  These will factor in to your collar choice as well.
5.     Dog Hair and Coat Types Play a Part: Always consider the dog’s type and length of coat hair.  Longer haired LGD breeds typically blow out their coats as weather warms.  That in turn will make for a looser fit of a collar was measured for when the dog was in winter coat.  For this reason, the owner of longer haired LGDs should opt for the collar type that gives them the most adjustable options, which would be an adjustable leather collar or perhaps a leather and metal combination.
6.     Full Time, or Part Time?  Does the LGD wear the collar indefinitely or part time?  There is no “yes or no” answer to this question.  Each individual situation merits it’s own “right or wrong”.  In thick brush and forested country where a collar can become tangled in branches, daily check ups are a must.  This is where common sense and sensitivity comes into play.  As touched upon in Point 4, climate can impact your choice. In the sweltering heat of summer, should a dog be made to wear a wide, thick, sweaty leather collar in the heat of the day, or should he be collared up at dusk and wear it only in the cool of night – the time when predators are more likely to strike?  In endless days of freezing sub-zero temps, perhaps a solid iron or metal collar is not the best choice as it could become frozen and cold and cause the dog undue discomfort.  COMMON SENSE.  Use it.  Stop thinking there is a “yes or no” or a black and white “this way or that way” answer.  Every situation is unique – use your head and THINK about what makes the most sense. Protective collars should be regularly checked. Terribly matted hair, festering raw skin, a collar left on too long growing into the skin: you name it, it’s happened because a lazy shepherd didn’t take care of or regularly check his dog.  Don’t be a lazy shepherd!
7.     Stay Away From Extremes:  Never use a collar whose spikes are so long that they prevent the dog from being able to drink, eat or sleep or rest without suffering discomfort.  Remember: this is not an end-all solution.  Do not foolishly think the more and longer and sharper spikes, the better off the dog.  Re-read point 1: don’t use the collar as an excuse to not run enough dogs!  It will backfire on the owner fast, and slaughtered livestock will only further drive that point home.
8.     Collar Care:  Leather collars should be periodically removed from the dog and checked for wear.  Lightly oiling them with olive oil or a similar non-toxic saddle care product that won’t inflame the dog’s skin will extend leather life.  Nails or tacks should be inspected to make sure one is not coming out or loose.  Metal collars require less upkeep but should be inspected for bent edges, rust or moving parts that are in need of repair.  While the collar is off your dog is an excellent time to brush out it’s neck coat and inspect for infection, mats or matter that could have been jammed between the collar and the dog’s neck causing it pain or discomfort.
9.     You Get What You Pay For:  Although there are cheap collars out there, don’t expect durable craftsmanship to come cheap.  Entry price for a basic, well made collar is now around $75.00, Hosse says, “and can go up fast from there, depending on the intricacy of the materials used, and the time and effort that go into it’s production.”

The correct choice of a protective collar for an LGD can help it perform its guardian tasks in heavy predator country by affording it one more layer of protection, that ideally could even save it’s life.  That layer of protection however, needs to come with back up and support – yours of course, and from other dogs run as a cohesive pack to protect your flock.

Jim Hosse’s website is here: http://www.hossecustomsaddlery.com

Brenda M. Negri has been raising and training Livestock Guardian Dogs on her Cinco Deseos Ranch in Nevada since 2009.  www.lgdnevada.com.  This article is an excerpt from a more lengthy chapter on the subject in her forthcoming book on LGDs, “The Way of The Pack: Understanding and Living With Livestock Guardian Dogs”.