Tuesday, December 13, 2016

"No Mind": Using Livestock Guardian Dogs in Winter With Increased Predator Presence

"No Mind": Using Livestock Guardian Dogs in Winter
With Increased Predator Presence

Copyright 2016
All Rights Reserved
Brenda M. Negri

In most parts of the country, with winter's snow and chill comes an increase in predator sightings and activities as they forage and hunt for a decreased food supply.  The success or fail rate of many ranches and farms is based on how adaptable the rancher or farmer is willing to be in in times of drought, or extreme weather and winter's increased predator presence.  It is a matter of choice.

Many farmers and ranchers refuse to change old ways that have decreased effectiveness, and their enterprise and livestock suffer for it.  Not too many people like to hear this because it does not allow them to point their fingers at problems "out there".  First, you must look in the mirror, and point the finger at yourself, and say, "what can I do to make this better?"  "Can I change my ways and succeed?"  "What am I doing wrong?" - instead of always pointing "out there" and blaming the dogs or others.  Put egos on the shelf.

Successful ranchers and farmers are more willing to "empty their cup" and approach each challenge with what I refer to as "No Mind".  


"No Mind": What does that mean?  It means you empty out your "cup" of preconceived notions, habits, opinions.  You empty your cup, so that more and new information - and possibly solutions - can come in to it.  You empty your mind.

When your mind is full, just like a tea cup filled to the brim, you can't take in any new thoughts or ideas.  A full cup of tea overflows it's boundaries.  But nothing more can come in because there is no more room in the cup. But when you approach each situation with No Mind - your cup is empty - and you are open to new ideas, new techniques, solutions, and paths that will lead you to a satisfactory ending for your situation.  No Mind simply means you ditch your hardline approach and opinions.  You say, "Well, I have not tried this yet.  Maybe I should.  Maybe it will work."

That is what "No Mind" is.

If it works, you are that much closer to a solution.  

If it does not?  For the rancher with No Mind, it is never a failure.  You simply take a step back and try again, another way.  You do not consider yourself a failure because the one thing you tried, did not work.  You show more persistence than that.  You try again, another way.  When you have No Mind, you can do that.  When you close your mind to new ideas, you can't, and you suffer for it in the end.

Think of No Mind as no boundaries.  Think of what you could do with no boundaries?  Just about nothing would be impossible to you.

Let me show you a quick picture of a man with No Mind.  


Although he does not even think of it in those terms, this man is a customer of mine who lives in Minnesota on a 40 acre farm thick with coyote and wolf packs.  He has two "retired" older Spanish Mastiff females from me.  Zaca Tornado Erben and (Pia) Amaya Dartibo, left my ranch and went to live out their "sunset years" on Chuck Avila's goat farm.  But instead of being sleepy lazy old girls (one, Zaca, with HD in one hip!) lounging around the house, getting fat and sassy, what happened instead?  

Not what you would expect.  The girls went right to work, like they had done here, and prefer to stay out with Chuck's goats. These old girls have already deterred wolves (!) and coyote packs.  They are loved and cared for and get time to sleep in the house where they are handled daily, and groomed and fed.  They know they are loved.

Because Chuck has No Mind, this happened.  He did not limit the possibilities with these girls.  He did not go into this saying, "Well, it will be this" or "It must be that", or, "Only this will happen".  He went in with an empty cup.  He approached this experience with No Mind.  

Because he did, his cup has since been filled with wonderful things.  These two old girls, are doing a job beyond his - and my - wildest expectations.  They are also proving other "LGD experts" who say, "It can only be this or that", to be so sadly wrong. 

There is a constant ongoing argument in the Spanish Mastiff community internationally on what constitutes a "real working Spanish Mastiff" and what does not.  Unfortunately by doing this, by setting these boundaries with the breed, many people are closing their minds to the endless opportunities out there to take "show ring bred" Spanish Mastiffs and make them into outstanding guardians of sheep and cattle and goats, such as I have done here for years.

These are the ones who claim, "If a Spanish Mastiff is too big, or too heavy, or too much skin, or this and that, or came from a show breeder, they will not and cannot work".

Just recently two new LGD books have been published in America by two women who promote themselves as "LGD experts": Cat Urbigkit and Jan Dohner. Both women have advanced degrees I will never have. Both are published authors, as I am. However, I do not count myself amongst their followers or fans. I have been deeply disappointed in them both, and their books.  As others in the past have written, they are again saying in so many words, those very things said above, about this breed. The books are claiming that "show Spanish Mastiff dogs" are not considered working dogs because "they cannot do it".  

That is where they fail.  

Here is Chuck, with Pia and Zaca, absolutely proving both Urbigkit and Dohner very wrong - extremely and embarrassingly wrong.   All because he chose to have No Mind.  And because he did, look what he has accomplished: what those "experts" call, "the impossible".  Two old, crippled show-lines bred Spanish Mastiffs, one from an International World Champion no less, routing wolves and coyotes like there is no tomorrow, as if they'd come out of the top working breeders in Spain, instead of two respected show kennels in the Czech Republic.  Aged, crippled, heavy and "the wrong kind of conformation" to work.  

Really?  Don't tell them that.

This is the power of No Mind, when you have it.  Anything - within reason of course - can happen.  I am not saying, you can turn a poodle into an LGD because you can't.  There are common sense boundaries and limitations to No Mind.  You do not foolishly take your Australian Shepherd or Yorkie or any other non-LGD breed, and expect them to guard stock from wolves.  Use common sense.  With Pia and Zaca, there were sensible - doable - opportunities, and Chuck Avila and emptied his cup - and let it happen.  So another winter is here, and his goats are snug, warm and very safe because he chose to open his mind and "risk" using two LGDs other "experts" claim could never do what they are doing.  They only speak words.  Chuck, Pia and Zaca on the other hand, show you proof of what they can do.


Just after posting this, I realized, there were two other dog customers of mine, who I wanted to specifically name, who have the ability to have No Mind.  Both are first time LGD owners.

There is Diana J. in Pasadena, California, who had never owned an LGD breed in her life, and went on to own two Pyrenean Mastiffs from me.  This soft spoken woman blossomed with these dogs.  She soon took them beyond mere personal pets and companions, and they became therapy dogs, and mascots and keen obedience trained dogs that she could take anywhere, to large events, and public functions.  Whether mastering obstacle courses or giving attention and solace to a lonely elder, visiting firemen and policemen on duty, or greeting handicapped children, Mia and Audrey were and are a hit with the public, where ever they go.

There is Barbara Judd of Froghaven Farm in Washington.  A heritage Buckeye chicken breeder, Barbara did what most would call impossible to do for a first timer: she bought two Pyrenean Mastiff x Great Pyrenees siblings, Lucy and Patty, dubbed "The Pockets" because they were the runts of the litter, and single-handedly with my guidance, brought them up to guard poultry.  She was so successful in this endeavor, that Barbara and her dogs were featured in two published articles I wrote on training LGDs to guard poultry.  She later added "The A Team", Argenta and Agostin, two sibling Spanish Mastiffs I bred, to her pack.  They, along with "The Pockets, now guard her farm and flocks from predators.  She has had zero losses with her dogs.

In both Diana and Barbara's situations, neither woman put up blockades in their minds, or in their opportunities with my dogs.  They didn't listen to people who said "it cannot be done".  They achieved what most say is not achievable with first time LGD owners.  All because, they came into this experience with No Mind, and empty cups, and let them be filled with wonderful dogs giving them loyal and devoted service and companionship.


You think on this now, and winter, and what is happening now on your farm or ranch.  You reflect on what needs to happen to make your ranch or farm work, your animals safe and well, and yourself, happy and safe.  How do you set it up to succeed, and deal with increased predators?  There is no quick or single answer to this.  There are many.  What is on your list?   Here is some of what is on mine.

In the winter, I want my livestock safe.  
I want them well fed, with unfrozen water.
If it dips into subzero temperatures, I want them to keep warm enough as not to suffer.
I recognize in winter, the coyote population around my ranch, tends to increase and threats increase.
I recognize they are hungry, looking for food, and more apt to test fences and measures I have in place.
I recognize my dogs are not made of stone, and that they need food, warmth and comfort in winter.
I do not expect my dogs to work 24/7 without a break in bad and extreme weather.
I put my sheep and cattle up in a barn or covered enclosed area to enhance safety and comfort.
I recognize in deep snow, fencing must be checked for holes, wear, or in some cases, coverage.
I recognize the added stress of extreme temperatures can tire out my working dogs faster.
I allow my dogs access to heated enclosed areas where their feet may thaw out and they recover from cold and high winds.
I de-worm them going into winter.
I put Musher's Secret on their pads to help deal with the snow and ice.  It is cheap and very effective.
I make sure they are eating well.  This means in my personal situation buying them the best dog food I can afford, which is a four star rated brand of grain free kibble.  I add bacon fat, cocoanut oil, eggs, scraps, bread, probiotic yogurt, and raw meat when I can afford it to keep them well.  
If a dog is down in weight, I supplement them with Satin Balls when the temps take a down turn and we do not go above freezing for weeks.
By doing these things, my dogs stay alert, strong and are less stressed, and better able to deter increased pressure from the large coyote packs who come down off the surrounding mountains in search of food.


Many new hobby farmers in America are new to agriculture.  Unlike some of us, they come to ranching and farming from the city.  They held city jobs.  They did not own livestock.  They never punched cows or herded sheep for a living; they have never lived in a remote cow camp, or sheep camp.  They continue to hold full time non-ag jobs to pay their bills and support their new farm venture.  Their husbands or wives bring home big paychecks that pay for their 'self sustenance' venture that is in reality, nothing close to that, but instead,  just an expensive hobby they enjoy.  At one time, when I ran 25 dogs, and had several litters a year, my dog business was self-sustaining.  It is smaller now, and not.  But back to my point.  Many hobby farmers are gone during the day at work at jobs.  They are away from their stock when predators come around. What does this mean?  

This means they are not with their dogs or animals and don't know what is happening.

Then there are some, who are home, but spend all day in front of a TV set, or video games or on the Internet, or tending to screaming children instead of paying attention to what their Livestock Guardian Dogs are barking at, or what is going on with their calving heifers, or their goats and sheep. These kind of people often have little if any connection with their animals and LGDs.  They don't watch.  They care - barely - some not at all.  They expected this to be easy, and when they find out it is a lot of hard work and commitment, they get angry and impatient and frustrated.  They are disconnected.  I have blogged about this before.  This mindset and way of "farming" is causing more and more problems to happen now with Livestock Guardian Dogs, and you read about them in forums and on Facebook, every day.  These are the people who do not understand, farming and animals are not "out there".  They are here.  The animals think and feel.  The dogs think and feel.  The predators too, think and feel.


Many people resort to shooting, trapping or poisoning predators.  Why do I not advocate this?

First of all, even recognizing their threat to my stock and operation, I respect them as animals, and I recognize, they are complex creatures - far more than most understand - that they too, think and feel.  I have read enough books now and followed many co-existence groups and organizations to realize that a pack of wolves or coyotes, is  very similar to my own pack of LGDs.  There is a highly organized, fluid, dynamic familial unit that these creatures live in and I respect that. When that unit, or pack, is disrupted by the death of a member, that does not guarantee anything.  Many people are under the wrong assumption that by shooting one or two coyotes they will go away.

That usually backfires on them.  In Nevada our popular saying here is "if you shoot a coyote, three come to it's funeral". In other words, suddenly your predator presence has tripled from what it was before you took the animal's life. Therefore I only advocate killing a predator when all else has failed or in the most extreme situations where the predator has become too bold, and solely exists on domestic stock or fowl, and stops hunting wild game.  I  will shoot in the air over their heads before I take their life.  Usually that suffices and they will run away.  There are so many other solutions out there that do not require killing.

LGDs are not meant to be a one stop solution to all your winter predator problems. And too many people say, "it is like this" or "it can only be that".  They expect dogs to be a "Magic Bullet". Too many people use them as that, then get frustrated when the dogs cannot save all their stock, or they begin to dig or climb out, and are lost, run over, stolen or killed, etc.


Particularly in the winter, some Livestock Guardian Dogs will try to leave their confines, usually for many reasons:

They are bored.  They have nothing to do.
The containment of the area (fencing) is substandard, incomplete, not adequate and/or non extant.
They are being perpetually kept in too small of a confined area (for me, this means anything under 3 acres).  It simply is not enough room to allow them to travel and feel as though they have a purpose.
They are hungry or neglected and have no water to drink because it is gone or frozen solid.
They are overworked and cold.
They see predators on the other side of their fence, and want to engage them.
They are frustrated or afraid or upset at the predators outside their fence.
In some situations the wrong breed is being used - i.e. a hyper, far ranging breed is put on a tiny plot of ground and expected to stay put and be content. 
Non-LGD breeds crossed on LGD breeds is usually a disaster and creates confused dogs with conflicting drives/traits - these dogs will often escape or be unable to operate normally as LGDs.
Something or someone outside of the fence is taunting the dog, or causing them frustration to the degree they want to tackle it "mano a mano" - hand to hand.  So they climb or dig out to confront the issue.
There is minimal or no interaction with the dogs and their owners who do not check on them or back them up in a situation.  They feel unwanted, neglected and sad.  They are never stroked or petted or feet checked or hugged. 
On commercial operations, in some cases the herders are ill-traind and prepared, and don't keep track of the guardian dogs - in extreme cases of inept management, shepherding or undermanned, under-dogged situations, death and disaster strikes.  In the worst cases there is outright neglect and what is blatant abuse.  The dog's motivation and loyalty to the owner decreases and they finally have none because it is not returned by the owner.  They leave.

Can you blame them?  I can't.  The owner has reaped what he has sown. 


People and Carnivores is one of the best resources I know of for links and papers on how to better co-exist with large carnivores such as bears, lion, wolves, coyotes, badgers, bobcats and large birds of prey.  It is an extensive website, and I strongly recommend everyone take the time to peruse their site and see what they have to offer you for free - so much of it is accessible and free to read from a computer (get off your Smart Phone, and sit down, in front of a real computer for a change).  They are the organization that came to my ranch to make this award winning film several years ago on using Livestock Guardian Dogs in combination with other means to protect livestock.

If you will approach your predator issues with No Mind, you will find doors open up for you in terms of opportunities and solutions.  When you close yourself off to new ideas, just because they don't "jive" with what you have been doing for so long, for decades or months, you will find you will probably not succeed.  You must have common sense.  Without it you will not succeed.  But you also must be open to new ideas.

Winter is here.  You can do many things to make it a good one for your operation, livestock, dogs and yourself, if you will try it with No Mind.

If you keep closing your mind, if you will not empty your cup,  if you fail, you will have no one or no thing to blame, but yourself.