Friday, December 23, 2016

The Year of Livestock Guardian Dog Books: Much in The Window; Nothing in The Room

Thumbs Down!: 
Book Review of "Farm Dogs: A Comprehensive Breed Guide to 93 Guardians, Herders, Terriers, and Other Canine Working Partners"
by Janet Vorwald Dohner
Storey Publishing, LLC
Copyright 2016

We have now entered the Era of LGD Lite, as I sarcastically refer to it.  Vapid, banal, non-original.  Shallow gabby fluff takes precedence over depth and thinking.  Quickie LGD 101 lessons and slapdash solutions to problems that require major surgery, not a bandaid.  Social media allows anyone to be anybody, and they do.  Myths rehashed again and again until they turn canon; bad information, blatant fact manipulation, sources with shaky credentials, if any.  Instant experts and trainers you never heard of just two years ago.  Spineless, sappy writing placating and soothing instead of prompting you to think.  Politically correct preening; full time garnering of accolades to further prop up obese egos.  When you read about some Wyoming goat herder spending $500+ on a custom made flat "buckaroo hat" trying to look like the desert cow punching buckaroo they will never be, erstwhile claiming they "can't afford" to run the appropriate number of guardian dogs because "it costs too much to feed them", the blatant hypocrisy is thick enough to cut with a knife, and you know you've gone down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass, and into Wonderland.  Bring on the Mad Hatter - scathing pun intended, thank you.

This book review will help explain to you further, I hope, just what I mean by that paragraph.

2016 was the year of publishing books on Livestock Guardian Dogs.  From the self-published blip on the radar that hardly made a splash by some well meaning hobby farmer who documented her LGD experience, to two much ballyhooed and hyped mainstream publications from two noted, published and established "LGD expert" authors, it's out there.  

Oh brother, in spades, it's out there.

I'm reviewing one of the books here in this post.  It's my opinion - take it or leave it….or shut up and do better yourself.  


“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him….”
                                                                        ------ William Shakespeare

When someone sets about trying to write what amounts to an encyclopedia of certain types of dogs, it is a monumental task.  Of course, there is no way any author can own and experience in real life, all 93 breeds covered in Janet Vorwald Dohner’s Farm Dogs: A Comprehensive Breed Guide to 93 Guardians, Herders, Terriers, and Other Canine Working Partners.  And by not living with them or owning them, they don’t really have real life experience with them nor do they know all of their quirks, their temperaments, their health issues and their ways of doing things well enough to be considered an “expert” on them. 

Thus having said that, one should approach this book for what it is: an all encompassing book that is impressive on first blush, grand in scale, with some cool photos, many of which she has used in a previous book, but upon close inspection shows its real face within as a profound, at times glaring weakness in the all too important facts about individual dog breed details.

Therein lies the problem.  Call me old fashioned, call me square, but I’m the sort who bases her opinion on experience, not all on what I read, or pick up on the Internet.  Likewise, when someone calls me an “expert” on Livestock Guardian Dogs, I typically cringe, and I don’t like it.  Yes, I’ve raised them since 2009, yes, I’ve owned a huge pack of 25 dogs at one time, yes my dogs are in print and in an award winning film, yes, I’ve been retained as a very high-paid consultant and expert witness based on my LGD expertise and experience, yes I regularly write for several national ag-based publications on LGD training, psychology and breed specifics of the breeds I’ve personally owned. 

But do I call myself an expert? 


I cringe when I’m called that.  That is a label that infers I know everything.  And the day I know it all about LGDs is the day pigs will fly. 

However I also recognize my humility is not the norm; the “expert label” is a much-bandied about moniker that many others freely use – whether earned or not - when it comes to Livestock Guardian Dogs.  The author of this book on 93 Farm Dog breeds is just one of them. 

My time constraints being what they are my review of this book, after a quick perusal, focused mainly on two chapters covering two Livestock Guardian Dog breeds that I have owned and bred now for several years and have extensive experience and expertise with – real life experience, not book-learned or ideas garnered off of Facebook groups crammed with pseudo and armchair  “farm dog experts”.

Before I dive into those chapters, I do note first, that Dohner lost even more credibility in my book trying to divide Livestock Guardian Dogs into two “sub groups”: “farm guardians” and “working livestock guardians” – thus inferring a dog is incapable of being or doing, both.  Huh?  This is just simple baloney and shows lack of understanding or an open mind.  How can I say that?  From experience, with my own dogs, and the many litters I have working in half of the USA (to date 25 states) many of which, prove her labeling very wrong.  They can do both, and do it well.  That she can’t fathom that is – well, you can come to your own conclusion.

I was deeply disappointed in the two chapters covering the two breeds I own, work and raise, Spanish Mastiffs and Pyrenean Mastiffs.  The Spanish and Pyrenean Mastiff chapters leave much to be desired.  And I’m being generous.

Dohner does not own these breeds and her experience with them to my knowledge, is zero.  Therefore her information, which was probably culled off of the Internet, is shallow, and shaky at best, and outlandishly wrong at the worst.   How bad is it?

At one point she goes as far as to claim in so many words that the Spanish Mastiff is “a mastiff in name only” – wrong, wrong, wrong!  This is more mythology being put out  about a grand giant breed by those who’ve never owned one.  The ongoing battle in Spain between so called “real working Spanish Mastiffs” vs. “show ring Spanish Mastiffs” is a topic I have blogged on in the past and too complex to go into here.  Suffice to say, this author, and she’s not alone – has bought into the farce that “large Spanish Mastiffs can’t effectively work and guard livestock”.  A mindset that is outright pitiful, ridiculous and so untrue it is laughable – but this is what happens when someone with no experience with this breed, dips their toes in a topic they basically know nothing about.  Giant (220+ pound) Spanish Mastiffs do and are working, Ms. Dohner, both in Europe and here in the United States.  I should know.  I produced some of them!

She further hurls a slap at the Spanish Mastiff by condemning it’s being crossed with other LGD breeds – as if this was something that was only happening with the Spanish Mastiff.  Oh, spare us.  There are 100’s of crosses of LGD breeds out there in America – Great Pyrenees x Anatolians, Kangals x Akbash,  Komodor x Polish Tatra, you name it, it’s out there – for better or for worse.  That she’d specifically pick on the Spanish Mastiff reeks of an intentional smear job, and I don’t mind calling her on it.  It’s also laughable that she lacks the “cajones” to name the bogus Boz Shepherd breed in a small window box paragraph where she condemns made up LGD breed crosses flooding the American market.  Too bad she couldn’t say the words.  European breeders do plenty of crossing too – some under the table and some admitted to, and frankly tried as an experiment.   This is not solely an Americanism, though she tries to make out like it is.

From claiming there are "only" "250-300 Spanish Mastiffs in North America" (I hate to inform you but we passed those numbers a long time ago), to claiming Pyrenean Mastiffs don't bark as much as some other LGD breeds (she obviously does not own one; they can be very – some extremely - vocal) and are (in so many words) “slower to respond to threats” (don’t tell mine that as they flatten you on their way to the fence line to engage a predator), and much more misinformation about these two Spanish breeds - far more bad info than I care to upchuck in this review - I would only recommend this book to the very greenest, neophyte "farm dog" fan, or beginning hobby farmer who knows absolutely nothing about any of these dogs to the degree that they must be spoon fed and coddled and hand held down the path.  The photos are nice.  I can see it gracing coffee tables for casual thumbing through and enjoying the photos.  For general casual information for a rank beginner, it’s fine….well, barely.

However.  If you want in-depth and valid information about Spanish and Pyrenean Mastiffs, please look elsewhere.  This is not the book you should base your decisions to buy or how to train and understand these breeds on.

I also own Great Pyrenees and used to raise Turkish Kangals; however again time constraints prevented me from going over those chapters as well.  In all honesty, I’m half scared to.  I’ll leave that for others to do. 

The copious praise heaped on this book that appears on Amazon seems to have come from her friends, neophyte farmers and those who are probably easily swayed by size and pretty photos while not really looking hard at the stated “facts” of this many breeds.

As far as solid information to base purchasing a dog on, I would definitely go elsewhere (as in, talk to actual breeders of these many breeds of dogs) for more reliable information before I would base my choices on what is written in this book.  Any of the dogs in this book are a commitment of time, energy, money and more.  Choose wisely and remember it is a huge responsibility, no matter what breed or type of dog you buy.

As for general Livestock Guardian Dog breed information, the author mostly lifted from her previous book on Livestock Guardian Dogs.  This was another “catch all” book covering numerous LGD breeds, again most of which she has no personal experience with.  It is extremely dated now, with both good information and bad in it.  Specifically in one of her biggest gaffes, she denounced the use and running of sibling pairs of LGDs – one of the most successful and smartest ways to “dog up” your operation for non-lethal predator control.  I think in the revised updated version, she backed off on that; I’ll wager only after reading my  many papers on the inherent plusses of running sibling pairs of LGDs which have been published in magazines.  Her chapters on the Spanish Mastiff and Pyrenean Mastiff only furthered more misconceptions and myths about the two breeds and were lacking in substance and factual information.

So her new stab at this in “93 Farm Dogs” is just  - again, in my opinion – more of the same, from someone who does have verifiable experience and expertise in some areas, but only in one LGD breed I know of, the Kangal – and none with others – and tries too hard to convince the reader she is the “end all expert” on ALL Livestock Guardian Dogs.  No one can claim that title in my opinion, and anyone trying to do that – and again there are plenty of folks out there doing just so – is pulling wool over your eyes.  You could do worse, but honestly, this book could be better.  And I don’t recommend it.  Even her previous and dated book is preferable to a book like this one, which just stretches too far in trying to cover all these breeds, and in doing so, rings shallow and misses the mark….time and again.

Some may think this a harsh review.  Maybe it is.  But these things need to be said, and sugar coating it is not my style. 

With the proliferation of bad advice and information on Livestock Guardian Dogs out there especially on misguided LGD groups on Facebook and in forums, with more and more of these poor dogs being abandoned in shelters, with rescue groups overloaded with working dogs many of whom who never should have been brought into this world to begin with, and with the explosion of backyard, puppy mill and fly by night hobby breeders turning these noble breeds into a cash cow, with the USDA only further adding to the problem by refusing to properly train farmers and ranchers, and continually laying it all on the dogs, I feel it imperative that people stop accepting what passes as “LGD Lite” and start demanding better, in depth, solid information from the so called self anointed “experts” out there who’s ongoing desire to be liked, be popular and make money off of Livestock Guardian Dogs drives them to produce works as this one. 

I don’t know about you, but the promoters of “LGD Lite” got old with me years ago.  I know I have higher expectations, and this book does not meet them.

Save your money.

*** Note: Mathieu Maurie’s book on The Great Pyrenees, published in France, is a far more in depth, serious and highly practical book based on his experiences over decades, that I highly recommend.  See my website's Resources page for a link to his website and information on how to purchase his wonderful book.  Or visit his website here.