Saturday, November 12, 2016

Livestock Guardian Dogs are Pack Oriented, Not Solo Operators

Livestock Guardian Dogs 
are Pack Oriented 
- Not Solo Operators
Brenda M. Negri
Copyright 2016
I'm re-posting a note I put up on my kennel/ranch Facebook page, which now has over 10,000 followers, sharing insightful comments and observations from a man who contacted me about what he is seeing out there in LGDs and what their owners are - and most sadly are not - doing:
This past week I was contacted by a man who had read an article I wrote nearly 40 years ago for a national magazine (Dog World) about Catahoula Leopard Dogs - a colorful working breed from Louisiana, that is renowned for it’s stamina and herding instinct as a cow dog and a hunting dog for wild pigs. It seems my article so influenced him that he went on to buy and raise and use Catahoulas for 18 years:
“Hello Brenda. I wanted to thank you for such an informative, honest and helpful Website. You actually influenced me many years ago- you wrote an excellent article on Catahoula Leopard Dogs. That article cemented my interest, and I worked, owned, and hunted with Catahoulas for 18 years. After living and working all over U.S., I'm going to settle and have a little place. I have to decide on Oregon, ( currently live here) Texas, or Appalachia North Carolina. and I'm not looking for a pup now, doing my homework. I had 3 dogs, one recently died at 14. However, I know when I get my place I will want 2 or 3 dogs to join and be our family/guard/multipurpose dogs. I have been looking at LGD the past month, your site was extemely informative. It's a bit scary looking and talking to some folks. I've looked at Anatolian, Pyrenees, Komondor, Caucasian, or mixed. Some dogs are overworked, wild, over aggressive. I think vast majority of folk don't have history or sufficient time with working animals, or realize how important training, exposure, etc. I visited a place but when asking about the stud was told he had turned feral and wasn't around, but would come in to breed, eat, a site like your is a touch of sanity and real world. My goal is to have a dairy goat herd, I made cheese for over 13 years, and am going back to it. My dogs are an intergral part of family, farm and home. Like you, I have lived, worked, learned from dogs all my life. And still am every day. I'd be lost without them. Also, I enjoyed your personal thoughts and philosophy. My father is Buddhist, and many of its teachings help me daily. I love the looks of your dogs. And I can see you " are there" for your dogs literally. They look secure and calm. People sometimes see these massive strong dogs and literally leave them on their own to face the whole world, totally isolated with no backup. How much better for 2 or more dogs to support each other. Especially when facing people ( thieves) or growing numbers of wolves in western areas. Anyhow, I am reading reading reading, looking and listening. I am keeping your site and contact info, this was a great find. Please keep on doing your fine work. Saluds, Lou V.”

Lou and I have continued to exchange E mails and he is sharing with me, his forays into researching LGDs. He has visited many farms and ranches to see working Livestock Guardian Dogs, and his insight and observations have been priceless. I have his permission to share them here. For those of you not convinced that Livestock Guardian Dogs should be run in the right numbers, here is yet more argument for it:
“BTW- I had a nice talk with a guy who has sheep and goats-and an Anatolian pup out there with them. I told him beautiful pup, etc....gonna be a big nice dog...etc.. I told him in the future I'm interested in an LGD myself, and asked why he got his.
He said he'd had bad troubles with coyote, and other dogs, killing his livestock. He also said wolves were appearing more and more and it was only a matter of time. I told him I'd been doing some reading, about just this situation, and about your articles.
He got nasty at 1st, asking me if I was a rancher, if I trained dogs etc. I told him I wasnt a rancher. But that I'd had and owned and trained dogs over 40 years. I know canine behaviors, and I know hunting tactics. And I know how math works, as well as psychology, people and dogs. I told him he has a great pup there. But that pup, as big as he was, was still a soft, tender pup. He was inexperienced, didn't know how to bluff, use body language or voice. Wasn't grown. I told him imagine an 8 year old boy or girl trying to guard a home all by themselves, with multiple gangs roaming and studying every move.
Scary. And inevitable failure. I told him that coyotes and wolves are very keen observers, and they want advantage. They want easy. They want quiet. A single dog isn't going to impress several wolves very much, especially far out without backup. Even several Coyotes or dogs can take advantage of only 1 dog. It's a numbers thing-4, 5,7 of us, 1 of you. Not good.
But imagine, any canine, or group of canines, Dog, Coyote, Wolf- imagine them approaching and thunderous barking erupts from several massive, cooperative dogs. A pack of giant, aggresive dogs. They know how to fight, and bluff and sound out a challenge. A united, fearsome challenge, and charge up loud.
Maybe lights from the house come on, people's voices join in. Wild canines are not going to hang around for that. That's a battle, not a hunt. I told him I totally respect him, and really admired that pup. But that like he said, sooner or later the wolves will come in. He then told me he'd been told LGDs work better alone or at most a pair.
I wanted to say even I know that's not really true. But instead I showed him your site, and told him when he has some time to read up. He turned out ok again, and said he was thinking of partnering his pup with another LGD or 2. I hope he does.
I'm seeing a common theme in the LGD. They want to do their part, and job. They are trying with all they have. But in America, it just gets so muddled. Old world dogs meet up with tech savvy yuppie wanna bees, or people that just take other people's advice and don't research.
These dogs are incredible. They will face weather, bears, wolves, coyotes, dogs, human intruders, and other challenges. They will think on their own and do their best.
But they can't succeed with ignorance. They can't do their job if abandoned. And like all of us, they need a team, family back then up. They need some security so they can perform their security. I keep thinking of that pup alone with sheep and goats. And how much better if he had an older dog showing him the ropes, and knowing he's not alone.
Well, we can only share info…..I've spent the last few months looking at LGDs, talking to different folk. I'm no expert on them, but I know dogs, and meditate on what I see. Unfortunately, I've seen some frustrating, sad situations.

Finally, one more:

"Hi Brenda, another experience I had while looking at LGD's
I went to look at "Boss" because I was told he was father of some pups for sale.
Boss was in the rolling foothills of Oregon, nestled against the Cascades.
The area he lived in was an isolated one, and we reached his herd by truck.
When I saw Boss, I was awestruck by his size and demeanor. He literally was the biggest Great Pyrenees I've ever seen, unusually big boned and massive.
I am 5"11, and when he leaned his head again me ( surprising both myself and owner) it easily pressed up against my sternum. He was just huge.
As I talked with owner and watched Boss, his story was told. He was literally raised with sheep, and nursed on a ewe until he was 4 months.
He lived with this free ranging herd his whole life. He was the only dog in the flock. His owner visited every other day to check and feed, etc.
In his 1st year, Boss held off Coyotes during lambing season so well not a single lamb was lost, though he grew very lean and would hardly eat for weeks.
Boss was well known for his protective nature. He would stay with weak lambs or any sheep left behind. He would not leave his herd, ever.
Once, the owner found the sheep huddled against a hill and Boss terribly wounded.
He almost had been scalped, and had broken ribs. All sheep were accounted for.
The vet said it appeared from claw and bite marks, a young bear must have tried to grab livestock and met Boss. Within 2 weeks, Boss was back with his herd.
Boss had many, many scars from encounters no one has seen.
He has slept out his whole 5 years. He is very friendly, but will not approach buildings readily.
The owner said in pride of his loyalty and hard work : "The vet said he's the most stoic but exhausted dog he'd ever examined"
Same week, another dog visited. A Komondor with goats. He lived on a pasture within site of farm and home.
He too, was alone, but was very relaxed, yet intense. I could not approach him or goat pasture.
7 coyote skulls on a tree attest to his protective skills.
He too, was 5 years, but full of energy
and not tired at all.
I thought about both dogs alot. And how they looked, were kept, and their health.
These are just my imperfect observations
and opinion. But I will remember them in how I keep my dogs.
The Komondor was alone but in top form because he wasn't truly alone.
The pastures were all within sight or sound. His owners had other dogs. None of these were LGD. But ironically, all we're connected to the LGD.  If the Komondor barked, the Beagle kennels sounded off, which prompted the house dogs to sound off, which alerted the people. The fences were strong. And the sheep came into lean-to at night, with dog.
The dog was visited, inspected, and cared for daily. He was secure in BEING PART OF A GROUP OR FAMILY WHO BACKED HIM UP.
Back to "Boss". The Pyrenees of great size and character was more impressive then the Komomdor, which is quite a feat.
Yet for all his fantastic traits, he was in sad shape and exhausted. Why???
Boss was largely unsupported. Whatever he faced at night, all those years, he faced alone, out of sight and sound of help. No one came to his barking, no help when he growled a warning.
He literally carried on alone facing all threats. I rarely have met such a brave, loyal dog. But I also feel the mental and emotional strain weighed heavily on him.
Coupled with lack of sleep and scores of old injuries, I could only curse the ignorance that creates such a scenario.
All Boss needed, and it would have relieved him in so many ways, were some other dogs to help. Even just one more LGD would have shared the load, and been his partner in arms.
It hit me again- dogs are pack animals. Group living, and emotional. Especially dogs that face real dangers or challenges. What I see whenever I see an LGD out in fields and pastures is instant-I'm either seeing a dog that is supported, cared for and happy, or a dog living under siege physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Guarding is an ancient, and challenging skill for dogs. Eons ago they learned to stick together.
And I will always support my dogs with myself and other canine partners.
Your dogs are lucky Brenda. They have you, each other, and feel secure.

Thank you Lou for your insights, observation and comments. I hope others can learn from them.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Do You Really Need a Livestock Guardian Dog?

Do You Really Need a Livestock Guardian Dog?

LGD Fad Fallout: Shelters and Rescues Overloaded with Dumped Guardian Dogs 
& Unwanted Litters that Binge / Puppy Mill / Fad Breeders Can't Sell;
Are Good Fencing and Responsible, Attentive Shepherding What You Really Need Instead?

Brenda M. Negri
Copyright 2016

It's been "unofficially official" for sometime now: Livestock Guardian Dogs have become a fad, a fancy and a fiasco in the United States.  

Yes, I said a fiasco.  In terms of overall wellbeing of the dogs and the precious gene pools of these great breeds  - a total meltdown fiasco.

Their popularity has soared through the roof.  Their usage in this country has probably quadrupled - and that is a conservative estimate.  

In a saner world with level heads and common sense, that would be good news, that more farmers and ranchers are trying non-lethal means of predator control with the use of these wonderful dogs.

Unfortunately, much of America's ag world is anything but sane these days.  

It is slowly being taken over by a whole new generation that sends shivers down my spine.  It is becoming more and more devoid of common sense with every generation, and - to grab a brutal but most accurate moniker from Clint Eastwood - the present and quickly upcoming "Pussy Generation" of "ass kissers and politically correct" types, has a glaring void of practicality about it, and a huge dose of self-entitled "it's all about me" running through it.  Arrogant. Impatient.  Detached.  Spoiled.  Okay, and I'll even say it: pompous, demanding, know it all assholes.  

Mix this kind of person with that kind of attitude with agriculture and animals, and it's a sure fire wreck in the making.

Okay, granted, I'm soon to be 61 years old, a hardened, experienced rancher and dog hand with higher than most expectations.  But my dismissive attitude about the present day "Gen X-Y", ad nauseum, is shared by many in my age group and older.  Honestly, on the whole?  These "kids" have done little to earn my respect when it comes to ranching and how they approach the LGD subject; and dear readers, these are the people flooding Internet LGD forums with more stupidity than you can toss a bone at.  It is why no one of credibility is on those Facebook groups anymore - they're run over by the masses of clueless clowns and armchair wannabe experts.  

Even noted French LGD breeder, farmer and now author of a wonderful book on the Great Pyrenees Livestock Guardian Dog, Mathieu Mauries, has bailed off of and is shunning the 100's of LGD forums and Facebook groups, who are loaded with gushing  "Valley Girls" but low on intellect:

Mathieu Mauries I left all the groups they drove me crazy !!!!

But back to the "Pussy Generation": their profound lack of vigor in doing research and asking the right questions - if any at all - is appalling; they are easily buffaloed, they take everything and everyone at surface value, not bothering to even investigate many LGD breeder's bonafides (Me?  Glad to show you  mine:  I list them on a whole page on my website, which is way way more than most do on their's…maybe because…uh…they have no experience worth writing about….).

Because these types of pseudo "experts" have now flooded the hobby farmer/homesteading world, they've created what many of us older hands wink and call "boutique agriculture" - and that is precisely what it is. Noah's Ark.  Got the cow, the pig, two chickens and a mini-goat.  Whoohooo! Martha Stewart does Bonanza; Facebook Farming; Twitter Ranching; Vogue Meets Farmer John and Chicken Little.  You know what I mean - well, you older folks do, anyway.

But back to the poor dogs…and the question of do you REALLY need one or not.  They are the ones paying the price for this binge hobby farmer outbreak.

Our national rescues, shelters and county and city pounds are overcrowded with every Livestock Guardian Dog breed and/or cross imaginable.  From exotic rare breeds (that practically lost their rareness overnight due to fad breeders rushing in to make a quick buck off of them) to the tried and true popular breeds, LGDs have become a casualty of the latest fad hobby farm, "sustainable" (my ass they are) agriculture craze.  Never mind it's their husband's huge paycheck, earned from doing something decidedly NON-agriculture based, in town, that floats their five acre boat.  It's rarely their lamb or kid crop that pays all the bills.

These are the types flooding the LGD world.  And it's getting worse in terms of the damage they are doing to the dogs, overall.  (The few good ones are buried under the failures and flops).

It is no longer enough for a person to own one or two LGDs; now, they think they have to breed them, too.  (Be warned, the posted link will likely make some of you want to puke - breeding a five - 5! - years old Pyrenees 'just because' they want one - 1! - replacement puppy - and they don't even know how to discern when the dog is in heat - oh, boy.  Real brain trust here…and this is what is flooding the ag/LGD world….).

That's nothing but - pardon my French - bullshit.  And a fawning chorus of bobble headed goofus armchair experts and "yes men" just cheer them on in that nauseating thread of backslapping buffoonery.  

How many people out there are binge buying LGDs when what they really need is tight, good, strong fencing to keep their stock in, and predators out, and most importantly, maybe get the hell off their $800 smart phones, stop playing video games, get their fat asses off their couches and outside with their livestock and be responsible shepherds who are alert and in tune with what is going on, on their property, farm, ranch or homestead?

Lying to yourself and caving into binge buying a puppy from a shady puppy mill only contributes to a growing problem that few are willing to look at in this country - except of course for the good souls providing rescue services.  They will tell you the horror stories of chained up dogs, starved dogs, whole litters left to die, and worse; the stuff you don't want to listen to.  But should.

Over the several years of breeding and producing great guardian dogs, I've pretty much come up with a list of 'red flags' that will kick someone off my potential puppy or dog buying list.  These are road markers, if you will, that help me ascertain if someone really needs, or most importantly, is going to be a good home for, one of my dogs and/or pups.  

Here's a short list (there's more I look into but won't delve into it here) of the things that I use to determine if someone really needs an LGD and/or will be a good match for one - or not.  If you see yourself in this list, then listen up and look at it hard.  You probably  have no business trying to buy an LGD (let alone breeding them) and you need to re-assess your reasons for trying to get one.  

1.  Did you research into your local predator problems before you bought livestock?  
2.  Did you attract predators by putting out scads of predator magnets (geese, chickens, tiny critters) without appropriate fencing or containment?
3.  What shape are your fences in?  Are they dog/coyote/wolf proof, or easily scaled or dug under?
4.  What is your budget like?  Are you going to balk when it's time to de-worm, vaccinate and spay/neuter your LGD, or have accidents that require extensive vet bills? Because if you are, you have no business owning these dogs.  Are you buying junk for $200 and then wondering why they fail?
5.  How many times a day do you check on your sheep, cattle, goats or fowl?  
6.  How far is your residence from your livestock? If it's too far away, how do you expect to know what's going on with your stock?  How do you plan on backing up your LGDs if they need help?  And how do you expect to keep your stock safe if you can't see or hear what is going on and you hardly go see them?
7.  Have you tried several means of predator deterrents such as fladry, range riders, noise makers etc. first?
8.  Are you fighting a losing battle?  That is, did you foolishly decide to plop your huge, multi-100's of birds, cage free open grazing poultry operation in the middle of a coyote or lion hot spot noted for it's huge predator load?  Did you basically set yourself up to fail and go out of business in six months?  
9.  Are you one of those people (sadly, increasing by the year) who foolishly expect the LGD(s) to carry the entire load on their own without any participation or help from you?
10. Did you cave in to "cute puppy syndrome" and bring home some crossbred fluff ball that's half Border Collie and half Great Pyrenees and are expecting it to guard your stock?  (It won't.)
11.  Are you setting your LGD experience up to fail by buying a fake made up breed (bogus "Boz Shepherds", "Colorado Mountain Dogs", "Spanish Ranch Mastiffs", "LabraPyrs" to name but a few), put out by opportunistic backyard breeders, or junk bred dogs off of Craigslist or the local Pennysaver ads?  Did you go cheap instead of quality?  Did you balk at a breeder who required an application because "you don't have the time" or you don't "think it should matter" who they sell to?
12.  Are you aware that large LGDs eat a lot and require good quality food to do their best, not Ol'Roy junk and filler filled cheap dog food?  Can you afford to feed them what they deserve?
13. Are you already swimming in pet dogs and Heinz 57 crosses and expecting to integrate a real working LGD dog into this circus you've created?  Do you know how you are going to do that?
14.  Are you short of patience?  Are you expecting too much from a pup and already dumping it at 12 weeks old because it didn't do what you thought it should - which is no failure of the pups, just stupidity on your part?
15. Are you supporting bad breeders by purchasing from them instead of reputation breeders with proven track records of producing top working, healthy, Livestock Guardian Dogs?
16. Finally, have you tried all means at your disposal - this includes fixing and improving fences - to prevent predation on your stock before getting LGDs, which are a life time commitment and a huge responsibility?

Food for thought, and some serious self-introspection, folks.

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