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.