Friday, November 3, 2017

Dog on Duty! How to Approach a Working Livestock Guardian Dog

Dog on Duty! How to Approach
A Working Livestock Guardian Dog

Copyright © 2017 Brenda M. Negri

By using and understanding how to interpret canine body language you can mitigate, defer and/or eliminate risk and potential attacks and problems when you approach a 
working Livestock Guardian Dog on duty in his flock or herd.

My Spanish Mastiff Patron in his goats. What does this picture say? It tells you a lot.  The photo captures Patron placing himself between the photographer and his goats for protection, and he is beginning to step towards the camera (note position of right front leg.) His serious demeanor and firm stare exhibited in this photo means a person needs to stop, avert their gaze, and not come any closer.

Kangal/Anatolian/Maremma Elk placing himself between his charges and the camera. Head is lowered, tail is up, and eyes are slightly "softer" than Patron's steely gaze, above. He's flicking his tongue. He's calm, accepting - to a point. The curled up tail lets you know you should stop and assess before you come any closer.

Recently a writer affiliated with Mother Earth News put up a piece about “How to React” to a LGD; it was taken from a book she had previously written. The blogger’s choice of the word REACT in her title really put me off. It inferred fear and non-trust on the part of the writer, and implied negativity instead of positive methods and solutions. Her blog post went on to confirm that to me, she was not willing or able to try to understand what a dog is communicating via body language, in order to make wise choices. She instead advocated generalized, “one reaction fits all” kind of solutions. If you also read that article and thought the same as I do, take heart, as this paper will "go deeper" and give you the other side of the coin which is based on learning to understand what a dog is saying to you by reading and using, canine body language, and by using trust, patience and common sense. Merely "reacting" to LGDs is not how I interact with LGDs or any dog. "The Way of The Pack", which is my way with these dogs, advocates understanding LGDs on a deeper level by the use and correct interpretation of canine body language. Below, I give you real, in-depth useable tips and advice based on my own success and experience. An in-depth chapter on this subject is included in my forthcoming book, The Way of The Pack: Understanding and Living With Livestock Guardian Dogs.


When a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) is on duty guarding his flock or herd, he is to be shown respect and deference by a human when approached. This is especially important if the human is a stranger to him. This is his turf, and he’s doing his job. Recognize and respect that. Learn how to send the right signals and use the correct body language so you minimize risk of upsetting the dog and suffering an attack.

There is a way to act and respond around non-familiar LGDs working in their herds or flocks based on intelligent and calm responses instead of fear based reactions that will enable the person to have a pleasant experience instead of a dog attack. This is a way that has its basis in reading, understanding and responding to a dog’s body language. No two dogs are exactly alike. Making assumptions about LGDs is where many people go wrong. Instead of assuming a working LGD will attack or be aggressive, let’s learn how to read and understand the signals it sends us before passing judgment, so you can respond in an appropriate manner.

When will using these techniques come in handy for you? There are many potential scenarios. These are just a few:

  • Your farmer friend is in the hospital, and cannot get out to his goatherd to feed his LGDs; he asks you to feed them for him. You’ve never interacted with his dogs before.
  • You are a rescue organization that has been tasked with going in an area or flock and trying to capture a half-feral LGD that has been abandoned with no food.
  • A strange LGD shows up at your front gate. He is scared and hungry. You want to catch him to see if his collar and tag have his owner’s contact information so you can call them.
  • You are hiking on public land that is being grazed on by a large commercial flock of sheep or goats and see signs saying that Livestock Guardian Dogs are on patrol. You anticipate encountering one or more and want to do so safely and calmly so that the LGDs do not perceive you as a threat.

The list can go on. The bottom line is it will benefit you to know how to safely approach and/or interact with any strange dog that does not know or recognize you. Here is more incentive for you to learn: these methods work on non-LGD breed dogs, too.

These experience-based tips on how to safely and calmly approach and interact with an LGD on duty are ones I have learned over the years and that have worked for me. They are not fear-based techniques, but methods that are based on calm observation and responses based on canine body language. When meeting an LGD in the scenarios described, a person wants to stay calm, assess and approach, walk away or stand still. Although it may require a leap of faith on your part, the more trusting communication signals you can send to the dog, the better. They will benefit you and the dog in the encounter.

Don’t make assumptions. That means exactly what it says. Don’t assume an LGD will be aloof and unapproachable, and likewise, do not assume he will be friendly and touchable. Keep your mind open. Read the dog’s body language to get a read on him. Eyes, ears, body. Are eyes dilated? Ears pinned back? Teeth bared? Is the dog tense, tail cranked up over his back? Is he giving you a hard or soft eye? Is he soft, relaxed and loose? This is also where you put your heart on your sleeve. This is where you trust – even though your knees are trembling. Don’t be afraid. The dog will sense your fear and possibly react to it. Be almost nonchalant in your slow, casual movements and observe without being intense or threatening.

Remove hats, sunglasses. If you are wearing a hat, ball cap or any kind of head covering, take it off. A hat can look like an extension of a human’s head and also make the human look abnormal and larger. Likewise bicycle helmets can do the same. Remove your hat, cap or helmet when approaching a working dog on duty. Take off dark sunglasses. A dog cannot see your eyes when dark glasses are on, thus making it impossible for him to read your eyes and your expressions; take your dark glasses off until you have moved out of the area where the dog is working.

No dark colors: Dark colors can often set a dog off. My personal theory is that is makes the human’s silhouette more distinct in the dog’s eye, and possibly larger, and thus makes the dog more nervous. There is something about a person in black that is menacing. An example: I had a couple come to my ranch to look at a litter of LGD pups. The man arrived at my front gate wearing a black ball cap, dark glasses and a black sweatshirt topping a pair of dark blue jeans. The woman was dressed in much lighter colors: white and pale khaki, and no sunglasses or hat. At my invitation, she came through the gate and was calmly and kindly greeted by the pack without hesitation. The man? The dogs would not let him in the gate. It took some serious talking on my part to get them to back off to where he could enter, but he became extremely uncomfortable (easy to do with 15 huge dogs breathing down his neck!), and instead, chose to go back outside the gate and observe from there. The next time the couple came, he wore (at my direction) light colors: a white shirt, khaki pants, no hat, no sunglasses. Guess what? Same man, but no problems this time: the dogs let him in on the spot. I realize it is not always possible to be dressed in just light colored clothing. But if you setting out to rescue an LGD or go feed LGDs who don't know you, in other words, a pre-planned not impromptu exercise, then make the effort to wear at least a white or pale colored top with your blue jeans; leave the sunglasses and hat or helmet off. Likewise if you know your hike is taking you through a band of sheep with guardian dogs, don't put on all black hiking clothes then act shocked when the shepherd's dogs attack you. Plan ahead.

Positioning around livestock: As you approach a working LGD, never place yourself between the LGD and the livestock he is guarding. The dog will perceive this as a possible threat to his stock, and may react aggressively towards you. Move in such a way that the stock and the dog are never separated by your body.

The approach: “the backwards C.” When a person walks briskly up to a dog “full frontal”, in other words, straight on to the dog’s face and front, he is sending what the dog could construe as being an aggressive, threatening message. The dog sees this assertive approach as a potential threat, and may react accordingly. Instead of walking straight up to a dog in his face, do this. First of all, slow down. Slow movements have a strong calming effect on a dog. Pace yourself and walk to the dog in what I refer to as a “backwards C.” Walk out to your right, in a curve, and approach the dog to its side, not it’s front. When you stop, if the dog is facing you, you will be off to his left side, facing the middle of his body. While you do this, remember to keep your gaze slightly averted, passive and not “hard.”

Arms down and at your sides: Don’t approach a working LGD with an arm extended as if you are coming to him with an offering. Likewise, don’t have your arms extended reaching out on your sides like wings, or above your head. Simply keep your arms down, relaxed and hanging normally. Don’t make any quick or sudden gestures or moves. Don’t have bulky items in your hands like jackets, large cameras, backpacks, fanny packs or the like. Put them down on the ground while you engage with the dog.

Right and wrong eye contact. There is a “soft” and a “hard” way to look at a dog. I use what I call the “soft eye” with a dog, which is a half lidded look, never a wide-eyed, firm or “hard eye” (squinting with scowl lines between the eyes) stare into the dog’s eyes, which is intimidating.

Never stare directly into a dog’s eyes as you approach him. Rather, lower your gaze and use a half-lidded gaze when looking at the dog – this is the “soft” way. Turn your head to your right as you make the approach via the “backwards C.” Look downward, or off to the side. When you stop near the dog, you can then you can make “the smiley eye.” The “smiley eye” is simply crinkling up your eyes as you grin slightly, showing some teeth, still looking off to the side. This mimics a dog’s submissive “smile” that he will often give another dog or a human as a greeting, and is considered to be just that: a greeting, not a threat. I notice in my pack that when dogs greet each other using a “smiley eye,” they often gently toss their heads back and forth to each side in a rocking manner, too. I have mimicked this maneuver in greeting dogs and it shows them I am not a threat. Picture a “bobble head doll” and you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about. I really could care less what it may look like to other people. What matters to me is what it is communicating to the dog and that is what you must focus on. Leave your ego at the door and focus on being where you are - now.

Yawning and tongue flicking. Yawning is a recognized calming or displacement behavior signal amongst dogs. A displacement behavior is so called because it seems out of place when it occurs at an inappropriate time. Even if you have to “fake” one, yawn as you stand next to the LGD. Animals will lick their lips as a sign that they need a moment to think. It is also a sign that they are relaxing and also means the animal is “coming down”; the tension is lessening. Horses will often lick their lips after being unbridled, stroked and praised and allowed to walk off.

Sitting and/or squatting: Sitting down or squatting so that you are now at the dog’s level rather than towering over him is a strong calming signal, particularly when dealing with a strange or feral dog. It takes trust on your part, but it works. It is a strong calming signal that shows them your intention is good, not a threat. Put yourself down on his level. The dog may not come to you immediately but typically this will stop a dog from running away in the opposite direction from you. It is a settling gesture in that it takes you “down” from standing above the dog, and places you on the dog’s level. Again, this takes a lot of trust on your part but by doing so it sends a strong calming signal to the dog. Even if you don’t want him to come to you, you want to displace any possible aggressive behavior, and sitting down is a great diffusor. Don't knock it before you try it!

I have a neighbor who’s small dog escaped her property one day and was running up and down the road. Try as she could, she could not get the panicked dog to come to her. I called out to her from my property and told her to stop and squat down low, and avert her gaze as she called him. When she did this, the little dog stopped immediately, turned around and ran and jumped into her arms. She called over and shouted, “You are a dog guru,” which I’d never claim to be – gratefully loaded her pooch up and went happily home.

The stretch: When a dog stretches by extending his front legs forward and arching his back in a bow, he is sending a calming or displacement signal. You can replicate this by simply extending your arms out in front of you as you bow down. You can combine this with a yawn and some tongue flicking to further amplify the positive signals you are sending the dog. Again, don't worry about what people think this looks like. Stop caring about that. You are talking to a dog right now, not your cell phone, nor are you texting someone on Facebook, and you need to get your mind into the right place to communicate canine-way.

Ear rub: A dog loves to have the inside of its ears rubbed gently or licked by another dog. The “ear lick” is often used as a social greeting by dogs that are bonded or close to one another. If an unapproachable dog has allowed you to get close to him and actually put your hands on him, try gently rubbing the inside of his ears as it will further send signals that you can be trusted. This sends a better “peacemaker” type of signal to a dog than patting them on the flat of their skull. The dog will often groan in contented response. This is better than a bite or a growl!

These simple and subtle maneuvers and gestures can contribute to calmly meeting a dog that is on the job guarding livestock, and reducing tension and stress. It can diffuse a tense situation. The dog may still remain somewhat stiff or untrusting, circle around you sniffing and perhaps even softly growling, or letting out a bark or two, and that’s okay. But if approached and interacted with in this manner, chances are he won’t engage in a full on attack. Granted, much will depend on if the dog has been handled and socialized by his owner. If he has been socialized, you’ll have an easier time with introductions. By initially sending him signals that indicate a peaceful, non-aggressive intention on your part, you can calm the dog and reduce chances of conflict. If he is not socialized, at least using these signals will diffuse a tense situation and contribute to stopping the dog from becoming aggressive towards you. If he is a feral-acting dog, who is afraid of people, using these signals will probably calm him and he will turn and go back to his flock and ignore you so you can move on safely.

When you come across LGDs on duty in large bands of sheep or goatherds, again remember you are in their “house” as a “guest.” Whether you are there to feed them, move livestock, rescue an abandoned LGD or what ever the reason is, please stop and think, and don't simply react - use and show respect in your approach and interaction with them. Assess and respond – don’t just react in fear or uncertainty. 

Below you will find recommendations on several outstanding books on canine body language. All include illustrative photos and diagrams showing the myriad signs, signals and gestures our canine friends use to communicate with each other and to us. It is not necessary to become a canine body language expert in order to pick up a few good tips on how to read a dog’s signals he is sending you, and will deeply enhance and further improve your experience with your own LGDs, not to mention any you may come across in your travels who are working in their flocks. Stop using quick fixes or just shallow reactions and "one size fits all" solutions that too many self-appointed "LGD experts" in America continually promote. I dare you to “go deeper” as martial artist Jackie Chan quips in one of his films, and in reward, you will obtain a far better, solid grasp of LGDs and how to best communicate with them in countless situations by using simple canine communication gestures.


Recommended Reading List

Brenda Aloff, Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide, Dogwise Publishing, 2005

Barbara Handelman, M.Ed, CDBC, Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook,
Dogwise, 2008

Turid Rugaas, On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, Dogwise Publishing, 1997, 2006

Martina Scholz & Clarissa von Reinhardt, Stress in Dogs, Dogwise Publishing, 2007

Friday, October 27, 2017

Adding New Dogs to your Livestock Guardian Dog Pack

Countryside Network and Sheep! Magazine have my latest article on adding LGDs to an existing pack of guardian dogs.

Many LGD owners don't trust their dogs. They panic at the thought of adding more even when they know they should, and are afraid of potential conflicts. Of course, their dogs pick up on that fear. Many LGD owners try to micromanage the whole affair by denying a new addition the right to mingle right off the bat with the existing pack. They leash or tie the dog up, or even worse, pen it up in a small area and put a barrier between the new dog and the established pack. This in turn invites barrier or fence aggression.That is the biggest mistake people make.

Dogs are pack animals by nature. Don't fight that fact, because you'll lose.

Instead of fearing what might happen, trust your dogs. If you can't trust your dogs, then seriously reconsider even owning any, because your path ahead will be long, hard, and arduous.

Learn to use body language to better communicate with and understand what your dogs are telling you for a more seamless introduction.

My article with many tips and suggestions plus a great list of resourceful books you should read can be found at this link here: 

Above: two litters at the feed trough. This is truly how a stable dog pack is formed, by compassionate ownership based on trusting your dogs and allowing them to become and peacefully exist as a whole family unit.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Good Livestock Guardian Dog - Bad Owners: Odin's Fire Survival Becomes Crass Commercialized Circus

T shirts, Beer and Bags: In a country where we wink and nod at sex predators and racism, traitors in our military and intelligence agencies, Hollywood pedophiles on the lam in Europe and coke snorting anorexic actresses and actors, Americans desperate for real heroes fixate on a Great Pyrenees named Odin who was just doing his job. Meanwhile, the media is turning Roland Tembo Hendel and his willing hand-wringing fame-crazed cohorts into instant celebrities who are all too glad to cash in on a dog they were only days ago, willing to let burn to death. Do you smell something rotten? Many do….

****10/24 Update - many thanks to the 1,000s of people who have not just read this post but are liking and sharing it all over social media. It was read over 2,000 times in less than 24 hours. I am glad to see many others share my opinion of this family's gross lack of planning and disturbing lack of remorse.

And so it's come to this: people who've never seen or owned a Livestock Guardian Dog, let alone understand what they normally do as a way of life, obsessively rally behind a poor Great Pyrenees and his eight rescue goats left behind to die in the Tubbs Fire in California because he survived. Instead of dying, the dog and goats somehow manage to duck flames while their family - long evacuated to safety sans  dog and goats - shed crocodile tears and assumed they have died horrid deaths in the flames.

Upon finding out they were alive, the all too enterprising Roland Tembo Hendel wasted no time immediately (the rapid rate this happened at, had many people calling foul from the get-go) started a crowd funding and, although they've yet to admit it, you can rest assured, contacted news organizations who rapidly glommed on to their story.  Forget professional and unbiased news reporting - that was quickly kicked out for a syrupy, story-after dialog that has gone viral. Acting as the family's unofficial PR machine, media outlets even included the link to the family's crowd funding site. I mean, why bother to pretend to report news? Let's just morph into The National Enquirer.

Their pleas for cash were rapidly answered and they were quickly rewarded for abandoning dog and livestock to die to the tune of thousands of dollars. How many thousands? Well, at last blush well over $81,000 which they crow they'll use to "rebuild." Meanwhile, the family's story changed by the day and Internet "friends" morph into quasi-offical "spokespersons" and apologists, and started crawling out of the woodwork in their defense, reshaping and changing the narrow escape story with every raised brow that 'dares' to question this hot mess, and the Hendel family's true motives and abysmal lack of planning for fire evacuation.

But thankfully, not everyone gets buffaloed. Thankfully, some people see through the hype. The public begins to smell something. And more and more people begin questioning and doubting this family's suitability as owners of the dog and stock, pointing to the obvious: they had made no prior fire preparation, and the fires had been raging for days, not mere seconds or minutes - why didn't the family act sooner? Why did they procrastinate?

Where did Roland Tembo Hendel park his brains, at Disneyland?

And more: since when does an LGD owner not evacuate their dog simply because "he didn't want to leave the livestock?" With responsible owners the answer is NEVER. A responsible LGD owner can handle their LGD (or they have no business owning and using one.) He/she leashes and/or harnesses their dog, leads him AND stock to safety into a stock trailer and removes them from the property. Or, no trailer - still no problem - they open gates and responsibly shepherd animals away from raging flames. They do NOT just walk away, bail into a car and dash off waving goodbye citing the reason that "the dog didn't want to leave his goats."

But that is what the Hendels did, and, in reward for it, the public is throwing money at them and turning them into star attractions for it. This is sickening. Where is the outrage? The outrage is out there but being muted by the gushing apologists and the touchy feel good types who are knee jerk reacting to the drama, with no serious investigation into how this whole crisis happened in the first place.

Don't Piss on My Leg…and Tell Me It's Raining

Do you have any idea how many LGDs across this country perform similar heroic tasks every day, saving stock from predators or two legged thieves or crisis or disasters? LGDs protect lambs from wolves and bears. They save a goat herd from a pack of coyotes. They station themselves by the side of an animal when it dies, guarding the dead body out of sheer loyalty; I know this from experience. And more. Any LGD owner and operator will tell you story after story that can rival that of Odin's. LGDs are special dogs - because their nurturing and protective instinct is inherent in them - the good ones, anyway. It is not front page news. It's old news to any rancher or farmer who has used these dogs. Hey, we live with this day in and day out, we know what these dogs are capable of doing. It is who they are!

The media and most town and city folk, on the other hand? Totally ignorant.

But you rarely hear about what the average Joe's LGD does day in and day out, because it is what they do in the line of duty - nothing special here folks - this IS what LGDs do. For a living. Most importantly: when these heroic acts quietly occur, you don't see their owners instantly putting up crowd funding ploys nor do you see them granting interviews to clueless reporters too ambivalent to do any hard questioning or vetting out of Roland Tembo Hendel's ever-changing stories. 

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend, not the real truth. Why, don't you know? It sells more papers and gets more hits on a news agency's websites, after all. And by latching on to a media circus the Odin debacle has now become, the media in turn get more PR for themselves. It's a win win for all involved, and also why our media has turned into a circus and the new "norm" is what our own President refers to as "fake news." 

Meanwhile, glutted with the attention, and obviously star struck and blinded with the fame and enough cash to buy a new home, let alone rebuild a barn or buy a stock trailer, the family now wants to equate a dog's actions with a can of IPA beer or a T shirt and a canvas bag that doesn't even have Odin's name on it (which was pointed out on several news agency's websites, by many irked observers calling them out on the obvious.) Odin beer, eh? The Hendels are stooping to new lows. They are demeaning what Odin did. Shame on them….

Don't kid yourself about the hype that they'll be "donating all the proceeds to charity" - is anyone actually tracking that? No, of course not, because that would require work and accountability - things foreign to these people and a lazy press corps. We know that their "rebuilding their barns" line began changing by the day to "buying a stock trailer" once 100's of outraged people began slamming the family's true intentions and lack of prior preparation for the fire on numerous Facebook pages and newspaper websites. What now, a brewery?

Like to read this or not: don't kid yourself for one minute if you think everyone out there is lauding these people. The realty is anything but. Thankfully, there is an increasingly small but devout segment of society left with true morals, a sense of what is right and what is wrong, who is not afraid to speak out about it, and who is not afraid of calling out someone over their lack of responsibility and accountability.

This much we do know: actions don't lie. In cold blood, these heartless hacks (and others have called them far worse on the Internet - the moniker "assholes" is currently the most popular) -  made a choice. They chose to scurry off and leave animals behind to die without even trying to shepherd them to safety.

For that, they are now instant celebrities. What?

As I quipped on Facebook, I expect to soon hear that they'll be studding Odin out to approved females, and breeding him to sell Odin pups. "Own a piece of Odin" - you can see it now.

And I and many others are waiting for the last shoe to drop: we'll soon hear they've cut a deal with the Harvey Weinstein Company in Hollywood to do a film on Odin's life. Frankly, they'd deserve each other. Because that's what this is really all about: a crass, obscene, un-humble and sickening excuse to make money off of some hack hobby farming LGD owners' gross lack of accountability and apparently, an insatiable hunger for instant fame and fortune. 

Because don't you know? Humility went out of fashion eons ago. Ego is king. Working for fame and actually earning it takes too much effort and time in this day of farming by iPhone and Instagram, instant gratification and Internet fake Facebook profiles. So let's turn this trick into a money maker. And that is what they've done. The poor dog Odin has become their innocent vehicle to riches and their 15 seconds of fame. Suddenly the dog Roland Tembo Hendel was more than willing to let burn to death is his meal ticket.

Lassie and Rin Tin Tin are rolling over in their graves.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Way of The Pack: Dogumentary TV Livestock Guardian Dog Special

Many thanks again to Dogumentary TV on You Tube for filming at my ranch and letting me share my dogs and my raising, training and living with philosophy with LGDs - The Way of The Pack!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Pyrenean Mastiffs and Great Pyrenees LGDs of Cinco Deseos Ranch

Dogumentary TV did another special short film featuring my Great Pyrenees and Pyrenean Mastiffs here at Cinco Deseos Ranch.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

Spanish Mastiffs of Cinco Deseos Ranch featured in "Dogumentary TV"

I was proud to host Zeke and Phillip from Dogumentary TV You Tube channel for two day of filming on my ranch. Their films will cover the Spanish Mastiff, Pyrenean Mastiff, Great Pyrenees, and my unique philosophy on raising Livestock Guardian Dogs.

Loaded up just this morning, the movie's already been viewed over 3,000 times. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

An Effective Keeper of Livestock - The Spanish Mastiff is exported to the world.

Gregorio Fidalgo Tejedor of Abelgas in Spain

Here is the link to a wonderful article about the resurgence of the Spanish Mastiff in Spain as a guardian of cattle and sheep. Gregorio Fidalgo Tejedor and Violeta Alegre of Abelgas are quoted and mentioned. 

I am extremely proud to have been the very first and only American allowed to import the important Abelgas lines here to North America- a total of three dogs - coming on six years ago. In 2009 when I began breeding and using Spanish Mastiffs, the breed had become stagnant here in the USA - those who had been breeding them had quit importing over dogs. 

I vigorously set about to bring over new lines. I have brought over a total of 12 Spanish Mastiffs from Europe in just 8 years. The lines I breed are a mix of working and show lines including Abelgas, Puerto Canencia and Tornado Erben - I also was the first to bring over Viejo Paramo, Lu Dareva and Dartibo bloodlines; my pups have proven that when reared right, even the show bloodline dogs can and will fiercely guard their flocks and herds - in spite of what some American “LGD experts” falsely claim. If the show line dogs have the heart and a good mind and an experienced, patient, trusting owner who will rear and train them right, they too will guard, and guard well.

Translated into English, below:

An Effective Keeper of Livestock - The Spanish Mastiff is exported to the world.

5 Leons puppies bark in Nuremberg

By Ana Gaitero | Diario de Leon

More than 1,200 Spanish mastiff puppies are registered every year in official bodies, although very few are dedicated to guard functions against the wolf in the field and now demand cattlemen who come to the province from Germany, France and other countries

Leon's mastiff took the title of the race, but not his deserved fame. In 1986, Commitment II and Thyme of Aralla, the mythical dogs of Emilio Álvarez, jumped from the pod to the podium in the world canine exhibition of Vienna. A German became infatuated with the dogs and paid a million pesetas for each. They were gone forever.

Thirty years later, the mastiffs of Leon go to work abroad. Like the youth of Leon. Dogs are demanded beyond the borders of the old kingdom and Spain but not as an exhibition animal, but for their millennial function: guarding the herds. Germany, France, the United States, Russia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia are the countries of origin of some of the herdsmen who have come up to the mountains of Babia and Luna, where today is celebrated the Feast of the Shepherd, to know in situ the dogs that "they are not afraid" and that in spite of their calm and calm mood they are ready to fight hard with the wolf and to stay with the cattle.

They are dogs of "character and with attachment to the cattle", points Luis Maria Fernandez, of the Minnows, the affix that Brussels approved for its dogs, of Caboalles de Abajo. Each year, more than 1,200 Spanish mastiff puppies are registered in official bodies, the official name of the breed of this dog dedicated to keeping the cattle, especially the sheep, from time immemorial. A market that moves more than one million euros annually. Most are for exhibition, not for field work, says José Ignacio Doadrio, research professor at the CSIC National Museum of Natural Sciences.

However, in the province of León, the cattle-raisers -trashumantes between the bank and the merineros ports of the mountain- keep active about 250 mastiffs for the defense of their cattle. A few have seen in the breeding of the mastiff the perfect formula to have the ideal dogs for their hut, to defray the expenses they cause and "sometimes to obtain an added value that gives them some benefit", says Doadrio.

It is these farms that in recent years have approached their colleagues from countries such as Germany, France, Czechoslovakia and even the United States. "They are looking for a dog that has attachment to the sheep, that knows how to defend them from the wolf, and at the same time respects the people because in the same place where the sheep graze is practiced the tourism", says Gregorio Fildago, cattleman and breeder of mastiffs.

"Dogs have to have character, good teeth and be light", says Manuel Morán, livestock of Barrios de Luna and whose mastiffs carry the blood of Tomillo, because his wife is the daughter of Emilio Alvarez, who in his time was very concerned about genetic selection and care of their mastiffs and got to freeze semen of some of their famous dogs. "He was a farmer and a respected shepherd, both for his dogs and for his good work with the sheep. In 1984 he was named «Rabadán de Los Montes de Luna», recalls Félix García Rodríguez, Aqueda Carea, of the Canina Leonesa Society.
Mastiff puppies are sold at prices ranging from 500 to 1,200 euros. An adult dog "is priceless," says Fildago. Cattle owners are mainly concerned with functional aspects and "especially because they have good winds to detect the presence of the wolf, show attachment to the cattle and are brave, leaving light and agile to defend it," he explains.

In the morphological aspects it is mainly valued that "they are big, cabezones, with good legs and strong", as reflected Doadrio in the study that realized on the trasterminancia in Leon. If dogs are small in size, it is necessary to have more specimens, which results in an increase in the cost of their food and care, he adds.

The Leonese transhumants have an average of seven mastiffs for each flock of a thousand sheep, although they believe that would be enough with five. They also use them in Laciana for cow herding. According to the study carried out by the biologist of the CSIC "the death of dogs by the wolf is small and minor that of mastiffs that kill a wolf". In general, the breeders believe that the mastiffs of now are worse than those of before, what the scientist attributes to the abandonment that occurred when the population of wolves diminished until the limit of the extinction.

The decline of the wolf in the 80's marked a before and after in the evolution of the mastiffs. They feared for the extinction of this dog and began to be interested in their breeding from professional sectors. In this way, a "functional genetic heritage for a morphological selection that has given an exaggerated type of dubious functionality" was ceded, the researcher points out.

"There are more expositional lines and more functional lines that do not waver in an exhibition, but in Leon's case the line of exhibition dogs are functional and effective", says the breeder and breeder Luis María Fernández. "Historically, everyone who has wanted and wants good mastiffs comes to Leon," notes Fidalgo.

What may seem a chauvinist song, is corroborated by the genetic line of a great Asturian breeder who has acquired much of his specimens in Leon. Or the recent visit of a group of Basque breeders looking for a suitable dog to defend their cows from the wolf.

The Spanish Association of the Spanish Mastiff Dog was created in 1981 to safeguard this species linked to the transhumance and golden times of the Council of the Mesta, since during the Middle Ages and the Modern Age the Spanish economy was based on the wool market . Mastiff dogs were the faithful allies of the shepherds in the long days of transhumance from Extremadura to Leon.

From the prestige of the mastiff and his relationship with the aristocracy, who were the great owners of the transhumant herds, he tells of the famous painting of Las Meninas by Velázquez, in which a copy of a mastiff appears. A dog whose usual environment, as a working dog, is the open air, surrounded by sheep, between valleys and mountains and with a long road ahead.

The lightest prototype of the mastiff comes from the biometric measurements established by the International Canine Federation in 1946, which took as reference three copies of the central zone of Spain. The association points out that the transhumant cattle ranch used a larger dog, so in 1981 a new prototype was established to recover the great mastiff.

For several years the two prototypes coexist and in 1998 the association sets in motion the breeding plan whose objective is the improvement of the breed coupled with concepts of health and rigor in breeding. Avoiding hip dysplasia is one of the challenges of all mastiff breeders. "The biologists knew that the wolf would not go extinct and the mastiff would still be necessary to keep the cattle," says José Ignacio Doadrio. But the shepherds sold many of their specimens and there was a "real diaspora" of mastiffs. The result is that the prototype most valued in the exhibitions "tends to morphological exaggeration and becomes less functional", apostle.

Today, mastiffs are needed more than 35 years ago. There are more wolves. Doadrio praises the initiative of breeders who care about raising their dogs and health and preserving their functionality as a suitable formula for "their selection and maintenance without costing livestock."

Now the main problem of these breeders is to find young offspring to cross with their dogs and avoid inbreeding. «The revaluation of these functional dogs carried out by some breeders
Beyond prototypes, the cattleman ditches the controversy: "There are good dogs and bad dogs." Ignacio Doadrio defends that "the beautiful dog must be functional and the functional beautiful, if one of the things fails is not a good dog".

The larger mastiffs work well with the cows, which is an advantage to keep these herds on the mountain with greater security against the wolf and even in front of the bear. "Where there are no dogs on the mountain, the cattle are attacked and the mastiff is the most effective tool, even if the bear is more complicated because more dogs are needed," says Luis María Fernández.

The herdsmen of the Karrantza Valley visited several herds of sheep and cows in the regions of Omaña, Babia and Laciana to learn firsthand about the management that the herdsmen make of the herds with the help of their precious mastiffs, whom they consider the best defense against the wolf.
"It is not the only solution, but the mastiff is a very good solution," says the CSIC biologist. "The damage goes down," he says. The mastiff, he adds, not only protects against the wolf, but also against small mammals such as foxes, martens and martens who are the ones who eat the eggs of birds with the negative consequences it has for their reproduction.

The herdsmen visited the herds of Gregorio Fidalgo and Violeta Alegre, in Lake of Omaña, the cattle ranch of the Picardos in Caboalles de Abajo. The author of the Spanish Mastiff Field Manual explained to cattle breeders the handling of the cattle with this singular dog because of its size and nobility.
Today the mastiffs are measured in the Festival of the Shepherd of Barrios de Luna, with a contest of exhibition dogs. The judge is also Pastor Major of the year 2015 Ignacio Doadrio. The trophy Emilio Álvarez is also celebrated for the best cattle mastiff, organized by the Canina Leonesa Society, with Eloy Presa García as judge.

The scientist encourages the breeders to follow the example of the few that breed mastiffs to contribute to the improvement of the breed.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Buckeye Enthusiast Keeps Heritage Hens Safe With Livestock Guardian Dogs

Buckeye Enthusiast Keeps Heritage Hens Safe
With Livestock Guardian Dogs

Brenda M. Negri with Barbara Judd
© Copyright 2015 Backyard Poultry Magazine

You can hear the dedication and sound reasoning in Washington farmer and heritage Buckeye breeder Barbara Judd’s voice when she says why she uses Livestock Guardian Dogs to keep her rare breed of poultry safe from depredation: 

“Buckeyes were once in the Critical Category established by the Livestock Conservancy. Thanks to their Buckeye Recovery Project, the breed moved from the Critical to Threatened category on the Conservation Priority List. I am committed to always protecting all my charges, and the fact that this chicken breed is still considered “threatened” gives the importance of their protection even heavier weight.   I decided the best protection I could give them would be Livestock Guardian Dogs.”

Using Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) to keep sheep, cattle, goats, alpacas, and other mammalians safe from harm is an age-old practice, although relatively (approximately 30 years) new in North America.  Some of the more common LGD breeds in use are the ever popular Great Pyrenees, Akbash, Maremma, Kuvasz and Anatolian Shepherd.  Rarer breeds such as the Spanish Mastiff, Pyrenean Mastiff and Karakachan are increasing in popularity and use.  Putting LGDs to work to guard poultry, ducks, turkeys, geese and guinea fowl is more of a recent movement in line with the increased number of hobby farms, small family ranches and homesteaders.  It’s a commitment of time, patience, and more patience, but LGDs can be successfully trained to guard poultry, and many have come to depend on their dogs to keep their flocks safe from depredation.

Barbara Judd agreed to share her story as to how she came to raising Buckeyes on her Washington farm, eventually choosing two sibling LGD pups and two adult siblings from my ranch and kennel operation in Northern Nevada.

“I had decided I wanted to breed Buckeyes.  I had fallen in love with their personality, and their story is intriguing as well,” says Judd.  “Buckeyes are a notably personable breed, very active and noted for being especially vigilant in the pursuit of mice.  They also are very friendly with people and lack the tendency to feather-pick ach other.  The males emit a full range of sounds beyond those typical of many other chicken breeds, including a dinosaur-like roar!”

Judd subsequently got on a wait list for chicks from Laura Haggarty and Pathfinders Farm in Kentucky, and received her hatchlings in spring of 2014.  Recently Judd moved to a 55 acre farm she calls Froghaven near Salkum, about an hour north of Portland.  Here she plans to increase her Buckeye flock.  “My goal is to become the go-to person for Buckeye chicks and pullets in Western Washington.  I love this breed; they are a great dual-purpose chicken for homesteads and fit in well with a back-to-the-farm sentiment.”  Barbara further adds, “The cocks can grow to 8 or 9 pounds and are good meat birds.  While as layers they are not quite as productive as a White Leghorn, for example, I understand them to live and produce for a longer period of time than the breeds that were developed for their egg-laying ability alone.”

Barbara’s new farm has a host of predators and wildlife, as did her previous one.    She admits to not having given much thought to predators at first, but one day commented to a friend, “If I lose a bird to a predator, it will be that one”, pointing out one of the gold sex-links she had.  Less than a week later, she discovered a pile of gold feathers, not 20 feet from her house, in the afternoon.  Her dire prediction had come true.  She immediately began researching how to keep her chickens safe.  “My chickens were not raised to be coyote food,” she quips.

Judd read about Livestock Guardian Dogs, “But I was extremely put off by the prevalent and popular descriptions of hands-off training and minimal human interaction.  Any dog I own is a part of my family, and I felt the hands-off, do-not-touch descriptions I read just didn’t make sense for us.”

Later that summer she lost another hen to a coyote.  Now, she was determined, as well as furious, and bound to find a solution.  Judd spent the evening researching LGDs on the Internet. 

She continues: “This time, as I looked I discovered another perspective to owning LGDs, living with them and training them, one I had not run across before.  I found Brenda Negri’s website for her Cinco Deseos Ranch in Nevada where she’d been raising LGDs since 2009.  On her site were several articles she’d authored wherein she expounded at great length about socializing LGDs with people, about LGDs being part of the family, a component of a team, not just a disposable tool or something to be kept at a distance.  She reared litters in a huge pack of working LGDs and spoke of how they were mentored and shepherded along by her older, seasoned dogs, and spoke of the continuity and consistency this produced in working pups. Her website was full of information on having LGDs as part of a small farm, small acreage, as well as the rare Spanish breeds she specialized in, being more suitable for this type of duty.”

As it happened, I had a litter of LGD pups on the ground at the time, sired by my trusted old Great Pyrenees, Peso, and a rare Italian import Pyrenean Mastiff female, Atena.  Barbara sent me a puppy application, “The stars aligned,” she chuckles, and the Judds became proud new owners of Lucy and Patty, nick named “The Pockets” as they were the two smallest pups in the huge (16 puppies) litter.  As if predestined, they also hung out together and were inseparable.  Barbara took the pair home at about ten weeks, and LGD Chicken Guarding 101 began!

Patty and Lucy’s litter had already been exposed to my own mixed flock of 40 Cochin, Brahman and Polish layers, with daily visits into the coop and chicken yard.  Barbara wisely took my advice, and bought two siblings who roughhoused with one another and wore each other out playing instead of taking out their young energy on livestock and fowl.  The pups had also been exposed to neighbor children, cattle and sheep and were showing great promise as guardians.

“Which brings up another point,” Judd adds.  “The importance of selecting a knowledgeable and reputable LGD breeder.  I had always had rescues as pets….these dogs were to be working dogs, not pets.  They were to be socialized and part of the family but I needed them to be LGDs – guaranteed – not maybes.  I needed to be certain, and not risk they’d turn out to be chicken killers instead of protectors.  So I bought LGDs from a reputable breeder, who had both parents, who were working parents, descended from working lines.  And she had references, and many, many clients who came back time and again to buy dogs only from her.  That was how reliable and trustworthy her dogs were.  Actually, the price I paid was not significantly more than which the rescue organizations ask, and in the large scheme of things is an insignificant cost when you consider the lifetime cost of caring for a pet – or as I’ve heard in poultry circles, ‘It costs the same to feed a breeder’s chick as it does a feed store chick.’”

Once settled in at the new home, Patty and Lucy’s training continued with older, calm hens who were less flighty and thus, less inclined to tempt the pups into chasing.  Judd made the training time a “treat time” by positive reinforcement.  Each pup received a treat before each short, 10-15 minute “class”.  Soon, they were reminding her it was time for “school”.

“I knew this process would take weeks, if not months,” Judd adds.  She kept the chickens and pups in a small, very manageable area, and sat with them.  No distractions were allowed: no pet dogs, no children.  “We spent time just hanging out with the chickens, and always ended on a positive note before they got tired.”  As time progressed, “The Pockets” became calm and confident around the fowl, remaining alert and interested, but no inappropriate behavior.  Judd increased the time the pups were with the flock gradually. 

“I came at training the pups in a slow and systematic, careful manner.  I learned from Brenda, from previous dog trainers and read the books by noted dog behaviorist, Turid Rugaas that Brenda insisted I read.  The pups became part of the daily chicken routine.  As puppies, they needed protection too as they were far too young to fend for themselves, so they were never left alone overnight, for example.”

Judd was also learning about unique LGD behavior, which is markedly different than non-LGD breeds.  “I can say they are nothing like other dogs I have had.  They won’t fetch, they don’t play tug o’ war.  They DO seem to notice every detail around them.”

Judd’ observations are accurate.  LGD breeds guard on ingrained instinct, not so much training, although the owner will enable, foster and encourage that guarding instinct with positive reinforcement and gentle reprimands when a pup makes a mistake.  Tying a dead chicken around a pup’s neck is an oft-quoted “solution” for problems but only encourages confusion and distrust in the pup and shouldn’t be done.  There are no short cuts to doing  “Chicken 101” with LGD pups, and the owner has to commit to the time and patience it takes.

One night, Judd woke to one of the pups barking at a bookcase.  “I had moved a large photo onto that bookcase, and Lucy noticed – something’s not where it belongs!”

A more telling incident happened a week or so after Barbara brought The Pockets home:

“We’d spent a lot of time around the chickens, in their run or out foraging.  One early evening we walked by the run and no chickens were in sight.  Patty was immediately stressed!  She sat down, whining at the run.  The chickens had simply put themselves in the coop for the night, so when the hens poked their heads back out to see what the commotion was about, Patty relaxed and was immediately satisfied.”  Judd continues, “You could see the wheels turning in Patty’s head – ‘Oh that’s where they are.  OK, everything is fine now!’  I was amazed and impressed.  These were certainly the right dogs to protect my chickens.”

From the time I began raising and using LGDs, I have always understood the importance of running these dogs in the right numbers – just as they are in Spain and other countries where the pastoral life is still alive and very much a fabric of their society.  I’ve continually lectured my clients about the advantages of running enough LGDs to properly cover the acreage, terrain, predator load and stock they have.

Dogs, like humans, must sleep and rest too, and one LGD cannot last long if it is expected to carry the load of three or four dogs.  In addition, should one dog become ill or injured, by removing him from duty, an operator’s flock or herd becomes immediately more vulnerable to attack. Where predators can easily take down one LGD, a pack of three or four dogs will present a much more serious deterrent to threats.  On my ranch, my several dogs work in  “shifts”, so there is always coverage, 24/7.  Some dogs may do a “perimeter patrol” farther out at the edge of my 5 acres while the others stay closer to the flock, barns, and my house.  Although my closest neighbors continually lose goats, sheep, horses, calves, pet cats and chickens to packs of coyotes, feral dogs, mountain lions and birds of prey, I have never suffered a single loss here.

Barbara Judd was a willing and capable pupil and took my advice about “enough dogs” to heart.  A few short weeks after the move to the larger farm, Barbara brought in two young adult Spanish Mastiffs I had bred who had to be rehomed due the owner’s relocation.  Agostin and Argenta were from my first purebred Spanish Mastiff litter, who had been guarding horses and chickens in Montana.  When she got wind of the pair being up for rehoming, and their proven experience as fowl guardians, Judd seized the opportunity to add two “chicken broke”, mature guardians, dubbed “The A Team”, to her larger acreage with its more serious predator load.

“My plan is to eventually add a small herd of goats to forage the brush and weeds, and perhaps a heritage breed of wool sheep,” Judd says.  “I knew with the larger farm acreage and more livestock, that I needed more protection than just two dogs, and the sibling pair Agostin and Argenta fit the bill to a “T”.” 

As introductions currently progress at Froghaven Farm,  “The A Team” is getting to know “The Pockets” and all is going well.  The Judds will keep their heritage flock of Buckeyes safe and sound from depredation with four very devoted Livestock Guardian Dogs.  “Since we brought Lucy and Patty we have never lost a single bird,” Judd says, and with the addition of two more dogs, they won’t be losing anything in the future, either.


"Must Do's" and Tips

·      ⤷Buy pups who are only purebred or crosses of purebred, recognized LGD breeds.  LGD breeds crossed on non-LGD breeds are unpredictable and high risk.
·      ⤷Buy from established breeders who will give references, customer support and have a proven track record of producing good guardian dogs. 
·      ⤷You get what you pay for. Quality LGD pups typically start at $500 and go up from there.  Quality going adults can cost $1,000 on up.
·      ⤷Never bring a pup home younger than 8 weeks of age and make sure all puppy vaccinations are complete, as well as several de-wormings.
·     ⤷ If possible buy pups that have been started on and exposed to poultry and fowl.  Make sure they have been regularly handled and socialized with people and are not skittish or frightened when approached.
·      ⤷Make sure your fencing is puppy escape-proof and secure.
·     ⤷ Remember that rearing LGDs to guard poultry is a labor-intensive endeavor with no magical short cuts.  Patience, time and persistence are key to success.
·      ⤷LGD pups take up to two years or more to fully mature.  Don’t expect adult work from an immature dog.

Recommended reading and related Internet links:

The Livestock Conservancy:

American Buckeye Poultry Club: 

Protect Your Poultry With Livestock Guardian Dogs, by Brenda M. Negri, Nov/Dec 2015 issue of Countryside Magazine

Sibling Success!  Advantages of Littermate Guardian Dogs, by Brenda M. Negri, Sept/Oct 2015 issue of sheep! Magazine

On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals, by Turid Rugaas, Copyright 2006 by Dogwise Publishing