Copyright 2015 Brenda M. Negri
Saturday, February 25, 2017
Your Livestock Guardian Dog:
Liability or Asset?
Brenda M. Negri
Copyright 2015 Brenda M. Negri
and sheep! MAGAZINE
Do you own a Livestock Guardian Dog that was brought up “hands off”, and can’t be handled, caught or touched?
When it comes time for annual vaccinations and periodic de-wormings, are you amongst the number of Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) owners who must resort to creative means in order to catch, hold or contain their flock guardians in order to work on them?
Once the accepted norm, rearing LGDs in a “hands off”, “don’t socialize or touch” manner is steadily falling out of favor in an age of increased public lands use by recreationalists, urbanization of farm and ranch lands and the rapid subdividing of once rural areas. LGDs who can’t be handled or touched safely, and who are afraid of people, are nowadays turning into liabilities, not assets.
What exactly does this mean? Those of us utilizing Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) to protect our valuable cattle, sheep, goats, horses, alpacas and fowl, have new challenges these days facing us that must be met head on and dealt with, lest we risk losing our rights to farm and use these magnificent dogs as protection for our flocks. Running and owning skittish, half-feral, untrusting LGDs is no longer the smartest or safest way to go as increased population presses in on all sides, and more and more people venture into BLM and USFS lands where many sheep and goat operators run their stock, guarded by dogs.
Let’s examine this topic that regularly incites many online arguments and debates.
When the first testing and use of LGDs in this country was performed in the 1970’s by government USDA researchers and sheep stations, it was decided by researchers that minimal human interaction with LGDs was the preferred method of rearing. From that initial assumption grew an entire cadre of LGD users who took the “minimal human interaction” to extremes probably never intended by the original researchers. Because LGDs work off of ingrained instinct - that is, good ones are born with the instinct to guard in them which does not need to be instilled by human training - some commercial sheep outfits and ranchers soon realized these dogs would work and guard for them with little or no input on their part. They quickly classified them as a tool, much like a hammer or saw, and little else.
The argument is presented by some - and could in a few situations hold water - that dogs who were not easy to approach served as a much stronger deterrent to potential two-legged rustlers of livestock. And certainly, the thought of tangling with a not-so friendly 160 pd LGD would put off most would be thieves of sheep, goats or cattle. This is the reason some people give for not handling their LGDs as pups. They want them uber-aloof and suspicious, if not outright vicious, towards people - enough so that it discourages anyone from approaching, whether their intent is innocent curiosity or with ideas of stealing livestock. Of course, observers can quickly point out that all the rustlers would need to do is shoot the dogs to take care of that potential roadblock.
The studies in the 1970’s and researcher’s recommendations unfortunately led to many stockmen taking their advice to a level probably never intended, which included never handling touching a litter of puppies, and tossing them into a flock at too young of an age and walking away from them - often a recipe for failure. Shepherds in the European countries where most of these breeds originated had and have a much closer bond with their dogs and sheep, as many of them literally camp and live with their stock full time as they trail their sheep through countrysides. Their LGDs mingle with family members and herders daily and are raised with frequent handling and interaction. But in America, where larger commercial operations often run sheep in public lands with no human presence, the “hands off, minimal interaction” became the accepted “norm” and anyone deviating by handling or socializing their LGD litters was soon mocked and labeled a “pet breeder”. Online forums continued to hype and promote the “hands off” rearing until it became the accepted practice in this country. Anyone deviating from this was roundly trounced. New LGD owners were told “don’t handle or touch your dog too much or it will never guard”, something which is not true at all.
Pups who are reared in this “hands off” manner typically only view humans with distrust and in some cases, outright fear. As they mature, if they are never handled this distrust only deepens. If pressed, adult LGDs who were brought up nearly feral, will stand ground or even attack humans who they perceive only as threats to their flock and importantly, to themselves. Having never known a kind touch or encouragement from a human, LGDs raised like this ultimately can become liabilities to their owners instead of trusted and cherished assets.
Hikers, bikers and nature enthusiasts heading into back country who come upon bands of sheep being guarded by unsocialized LGDs are often at risk of attack. The average hiker, biker, and weekend wilderness explorer is very uneducated when it comes to what those big white fluffy dogs are doing in a band of sheep. They have either never heard of or encountered a working Livestock Guardian Dog in their lives. Often when they see these dogs, they wrongly mistake them for wild dogs going after livestock. Others think they need to be rescued because they are stray pets. Add to this the often encountered lack of herders or human presence amongst the sheep, coupled with no warning signs posted, and you have the makings of a potential problem.
A good guardian dog will alert at strangers approaching his flock. This is what LGDs do - and what they are supposed to do. However, if he’s never been offered a kind word or touch by a human before, that alert could go to extremes of biting or attacking people who venture too close to his stock. Add to that what can sometimes amount to blatant arrogance and an overabundance of sense of self-entitlement on the part of the hiker or biker, who feels the public lands are “his and his alone” to use as he wishes, and who often views ranchers and sheepmen as “enemies” because they are allowed to graze on public land allotments, and you see why this could turn into a wreck. And woe to the rancher who’s LGD bites a recreationist or hiker!
Recently a wilderness biker participating in a road race sued and won a case against a Colorado sheepman because his LGDs attacked her on her bike when she passed through the middle of his flock. Never mind the fact that she showed little understanding or respect for the situation at hand. Unfortunately, incidents like this are only going to increase as more and more people who do not know what LGDs are, use public lands where sheep bands graze.
As responsible sheepmen it is imperative that we run stable minded LGDs who will not turn into attack dogs at the sight of a human trekking across the field near sheep.
LGD pups should come from breeders who have handled both parent stock and pups which will allow you to rear up a pup who can be taught to respond to simple voice commands and at least be encouraged to “come back” when needed. Having that needed minimal control over the dog may stave off an incident and prevent someone from being bitten. That in turn may save you and your operation from a costly lawsuit. Its been proven time and again by “hands on” LGD breeders that handling and socializing LGD pups in no way, shape or form deters from their guarding instinct or abilities. In fact I will personally attest that forming a bond with your LGD can actually enhance its desire to guard what it perceives is his or hers.
Guardian dogs with good, stable temperaments will assess a situation, not just charge blindly into it on the attack. LGDs must be brought up in an environment that encourages them to learn to reason and think things through, not just react aggressively from fear. If they’ve received positive reinforcement from their breeder since puppyhood; if they’ve been taught that not all humans are to be suspected as evil or threats to their stock, then they stand a better chance on the range of being handled responsibly by their owners or herders. This in turns lessens the chance they’ll harm users of public lands who might happen to hike or bike by your band of sheep.
Another good rule of thumb is to either micro-chip, tatoo or collar and tag your working LGDs. Bright “day glow” colored collars or tags that stand out will show that this is not a wild or feral dog, but rather, belongs to someone.
Likewise, on larger operations, a good shepherd and manager will take steps to ensure his LGDs are safe to be around and not vicious or skittish around his hired help. He’ll take the time to educate his herders, who are usually immigrants from another country, about the proper use and care of LGDs. The sheepman won’t expect herders to “just know what to do” without first giving consistent and proper direction. Likewise, LGDs should be introduced to the herders, and a relationship should develop so that they are more of a team who will be working together instead of treating the dogs like disposable tools.
The American Sheep Industry has published a document titled Best Recommended Management Practices for Livestock Protection Dogs which may be accessed on their website, here: https://www.sheepusa.org/IssuesPrograms_Programs_LivestockProtectionDogs
The same page also offers links to “Signs and brochures informing recreationalists about the presence of livestock protection dogs and grazing sheep”. In order to further educate those who don’t recognize what your LGDs are or what their job is, these printable signs and brochures are a great way to help inform them. Posting warning signs that alert passers by that those big dogs are actually doing a job may save you many heartaches down the road.
The ASI 2010 paper, revised in 2011, calls for the responsible use of LGDs and encourages socializing these dogs. It was put out in order to hopefully nip a problem in the bud before it mushrooms to the degree that the government steps in and tries to regulate the use of LGDs. No one wants to see that. None of us wants “Big Brother” telling us how to raise our sheep and run our dogs. But if we don’t take the steps needed to prevent more issues from arising from irresponsible use of guardian dogs, we may be facing regulations and new laws that would or could regulate or entirely eliminate the use of LGDs. No one wants to even think about that!
Its a sore subject amongst many, but the days of running half-wild LGDs who pose threats and possible fodder for lawsuits, are going to have to come to an end. Our cherished Right to Farm is consistently under attack these days from many sides. I feel the proper raising and use of LGDs is one area we can all make a difference in, and give our would-be opponents one less target or excuse to try to put us out of the agriculture business.
Its okay to give that big guardian of yours a hug and a pat for doing his good job - and rewarding him with a juicy bone won’t deter him from doing his duty, either. He’s an investment in your flock’s life insurance. Give him the respect he deserves. Cherished asset or an unstable liability? What your LGD ends up being is ultimately in your hands.
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
The Consequences of Premature Removal of Livestock Guardian Dog Pups from Their Litter
An Integrity and Ethics Issue on the Part of Both Breeder and Buyer
© 2017 Brenda M. Negri
Would you let your 15 year old child drive a 16 wheeler semi-truck? Of course not.
Likewise, taking a prematurely weaned puppy from it's mother is a recipe for disaster.
One of the quickest ways to ascertain and vet out the validity, integrity and quality of a dog breeder is to see what age they wean their puppies.
Likewise, it’s the quickest way for an honest, ethical breeder to sort out an irresponsible potential owner – one who willingly buys and takes home a puppy that has been weaned from its mother and littermates prematurely.
What do ethical professionals in the dog world generally consider weaning too soon? (Also refer to the several links below at the end of this post).
The general consensus is that no puppy should be removed from its dam before six weeks of age.
The hallmark of an ethical breeder is one who keeps them till at least eight weeks of age – and truly responsible breeders will keep pups till ten or twelve weeks before they let them go.
The reason most unethical breeders part with pups at premature age are many.
It usually boils down to money.
Mostly, it is because they are beginning to cost the breeder more to keep. They require several daily feedings of dog food in addition to mother’s milk, and thus, cost more to keep. They require regular de-wormings – only one time is never enough, and will only ensure your pup is full of parasites. The litter requires more puppy vaccinations in order to stay healthy and free of potentially lethal viruses.
This all adds up to more cost for the breeder.
Guess what? Puppy mills, hack backyard breeders, opportunistic fad breeders (in all countries) don’t want to shell out more money. They want to make money off their litter. The less they can spend on the litter means more profit for them. So they cut the pups loose too young to minimize their costs.
Who pays for it in the end?
The puppy does, in stunted development, psychological deprivation, emotional duress and even physically, by being deprived of the very important next six weeks of rearing with its mother and litter. Those weeks teach the pup important social skills, confidence, and behaviors no human master can replicate in the pup’s rearing.
Dogs are pack animals and the litter is it’s own pack. Within that litter pack, a pup grows up to learn play fighting and work skills, setting boundaries of both terrain and accepted behaviors, and models after it’s parents. Most importantly if bred by a good breeder, the pup grows up within a protected, secure environment that lends future confidence and skills not offered in a poor or stressful environment. This is priceless. The difference between well-bred and raised pups and poorly bred and badly raised pups are so vast and so obvious to the trained eye, that you would think it would be obvious to anyone. Sadly, too many inexperienced, uneducated and frankly, clueless buyers, fail to see, understand or respect the difference. They buy from bad puppy mills and unethical breeders, thus contributing to those “bottom feeder breeders” staying in business.
Many states – in fact, roughly half of the USA – have laws regarding the age pups can be taken from their mothers, as shown in the link below. In my state of Nevada, pups cannot legally leave their mother till eight weeks of age. I keep mine until they are twelve weeks old.
By keeping my pups longer, they learn more. They learn from their littermates, their mother and father, and my large pack. They leave here stable, assured, healthy in mind and body, confident, curious and ready to assimilate into their new home. Instead of being shaky, frightened, crying and scared of their own shadow, I’m regularly told by buyers my pups exceed their expectations in their self assured manner, and seem more mature than their age. It's a win/win for the pup and for the new owner.
I was shocked recently by a post on a Facebook page to see someone importing two tiny, six week old LGD pups from a foreign country, both uncomfortably crammed into a tiny airline crate that appeared to be too small for them to stretch their legs and turn around in. They were so tiny, I actually first thought they a miniature terrier breed. I could only imagine the filth those pups were sitting in for a day or more as they made a grueling harsh trip to the USA from a far off country. Here is part of the (redacted as I removed the names) Facebook thread wherein the owner admits the tiny pups are “1.5 months old” – i.e., 6 weeks old:
· How cute, how old are they?
· About 1.5 months old.
· It is so cool watching this process! Thank you so much for sharing it. Is it common for the pups to be away from mom at 6 weeks? It seems so young!
I actually had several people contact me privately about this post expressing shock at the age the pups were brought over to the USA. I was actually relieved to see I wasn't the only concerned person.
So who do you point fingers at in a case like this?
The breeder of course. They are the one who allowed them to leave their dam and littermates at such a tender premature age. How did he pull that off? Did the country lack age shipping age regulations? Possible but not likely. Did he do it by lying on paperwork about their ages? Did he lie about the breed? Were officials paid off?
Impossible you say? Oh, guess again.
I know from experience as I saw it done in Turkey. I saw black market exporters lie about pups breeds and ages, calling Kangals “German Shepherds” on the export paperwork, and more than I care to comfortably go into here. I was actually told buyers were made to pay an extra fee so they could bribe officials at the border. There was a whole underground network of black market transporters and ‘fixers’. Don’t think for one minute this does not go on; it does. More than you care to know about. Only a Pollyanna living in a self-perpetuating dream world of fluff and bogus perfection would want you to think it doesn’t.
But what does this also say about the buyer/owner?
It says a lot.
It brings into question how much they really care. It tells me they cut corners and do not have the pup’s best interest in mind. It even hints that they did this just to save money. How is that?
Do you call this compassionate treatment of pups? Absolutely inexcusable.
Well, younger, tiny pups weigh less. As shipping rates go by size and poundage, the smaller they are, the cheaper it is to ship them via air. The math is simple. And there's even more ways to cut costs, if they don't care. By stuffing two pups into a tiny crate meant for only one puppy, the buyer further saves on shipping costs – although I know for a fact, many airline companies do not allow this.
In short: it says a lot about the buyer. And it's not pretty.
No pup leaves my ranch before twelve weeks of age, and all the pups I have brought over here from Europe in over eight years, have been of legal age to enter the USA – never only at six weeks of age; and never doubled up in a crate to save costs on shipping. Even siblings come in their own crates. Although the separation from each other during the flight is stressful, their physical comfort is increased for a grueling long, sometimes 48 hours or more trip cooped up in a crate. Most of my imports have been at least ten weeks old and older. With recent law changes the average has been twelve weeks. In some cases, some pups were older than twelve weeks.
When you are shopping for a dog breeder - Livestock Guardian Dog breeds or ANY breed for that matter - do the age test. Ask them when they wean their pups. Their answer will help you decide on whether you buy from them or keep on shopping for a better, ethical breeder - one who cares; one who is responsible. If they try pushing their six-week old pups off on you, no matter the reason, keep going and do not recommend them to anyone. Those are the bad breeders who need to go out of business and stay out of business.
And if you are a Livestock Guardian Dog breeder, use this puppy weaning age test to help vet out your potential customers. Don’t ever sell to someone who asks you to remove an under aged five or six week old pup from it’s litter. No matter how much they beg, don’t do it. Ethical breeders who truly care should tell potential customers who try to do this to go pound sand. It shows you the potential customers lack scruples, don’t care, and will most likely prove to be an inferior if not poor home for your pup.
More resources on this important topic for you to digest:
Saturday, February 4, 2017
I was pleased to be asked to contribute to the current genetics issue of The Nevada Rancher which includes an article on Livestock Guardian Dogs by Jolyn Young. The issue is on sale now at all Nevada feed stores and ranch and farm supply outlets.