Simple Guidelines to Build a Great Team
Copyright 2015 Brenda M. Negri
Many stockmen rely on both herding dogs and Livestock Guardian Dogs to help them in their day to day operations. A frequent question heard from many is “How do I run and use them both together? Won’t it cause problems?” It can be done. Much of your success or difficulties will stem from the upbringing, quality and background of the dogs used, in combination with your willingness to be patient and committed, and understanding the differences between these two types of dogs.
Livestock Guardian Dogs are by nature, protectors. They do not tolerate any stray dogs, predators or anything that could potentially harm their flocks and herds. They guard livestock. They don’t herd it, move it or ‘work’ it. In fact, any type of ‘prey drive’ or an urge to chase livestock, is considered a glaring fault in a LGD, and is never encouraged. They mingle calmly within the stock, lying within a flock, or patrolling the fence line for trouble. They watch the perimeter for threats and tenderly nurture lambs and goat kids. Although occasionally some LGDs may try to help move stock, it is not their true purpose or trait. Gentle giants, they are there to keep your livestock alive and safe, not relocate it.
Herding breeds on the other hand, do just that: they move livestock for their handler from one pasture, field or pen to another. Sometimes the move can be miles. They typically crouch low, show “eye” or very focused eye contact with the stock, and stalk it, moving when directed by the handler, and pushing the sheep, goats or cattle where directed. With cattle, the dogs may stay behind the herd nipping at its heels moving it over several acres or miles on a drive. Herding dogs are typically very active, high energy, in some cases extremely intense and of a nervous nature, and happiest when hard at work.
This type of latter behavior, when seen by a working LGD, is perceived to be a threat to his stock. And who can blame him? For it appears as though the herding dog may be stalking his sheep, in preparation to pounce on them and inflict harm.
So how do you mix these two diverse types of dogs? Some simple suggestions and guidelines follow.
Herding dogs should never be worked in a flock or herd when the LGDs are present and “on duty”. LGDs can easily kill a much smaller herding breed, and will - if they perceive the herders as a threat. So before using the herders, keep them kenneled up, in a trailer or in your truck.
Before you release any herding dogs, remove the LGDs from the flock. Lock them up in a barn or horse trailer, where they preferably cannot have any visuals of the herding dogs in the sheep or goats. Treating them with a big soup bone is a way to ease their stress over being removed from their job and can assist in calming them so they don’t tear your barn down trying to return to the flock.
Once all your moving or sorting of stock is done, put your herding dogs back up in their kennels, trailer or truck, out of sight of the LGDs. Then you can release your LGDs back into the herd.
Can you rear them up from puppyhood together so that they get along? Yes - with patience and by setting some simple rules. Many folks successfully mingle their herding and LGD dogs outside of the livestock. It can definitely be done if the dogs have been raised together and have tolerance of each other. Just don’t mix play or “down time” with work.
*** If raised from puppyhood together, make sure you train them separately. LGDs are bred to be calm, quiet, protectors with good judgment. They are not supposed to be hyperactive and chasing lambs. You do NOT want an LGD with prey drive or "eye".
***When you spend time with your LGD pups in the flock, make sure the focus is on them being calm and comfortable with the livestock. Drag a chair in there, sit down and relax as you praise good behavior and correct undesired behavior. The pups will pick up on your calm state and mirror this. That’s what you want!
***Keep the herding pups out of sight - again, penning them up in another area, away from the stock. Again, a juicy soup bone can be a “miracle worker” with pups, and keeps them content and quiet while you are schooling your LGD pups.
***Likewise when it is training time for the herders, remove the LGD pups from the area and keep them out of sight and if possible hearing range as well, as you work your herder pup on his or her verbal and hand cues and commands.
***Once lessons are done, bring the herders out of the stock. Once outside of the stock the two sets of pups can again mingle and play.
Many people have success with their LGDs living peaceably alongside their herders as long as boundaries are set and some simple rules are followed and reinforced by you with consistency and respect. And of course, you are an integral part of this training process. This does not happen on its own - it takes patience and consistency on your part. Set up a schedule each day, and do your puppy drills. Dogs are like people: they like comfort and consistency in their lives, too. Don’t ask more than these dogs can give. Don’t expect your Kelpie to protect your flock from coyotes because they can’t. Don’t press your Great Pyrenees to play herder: it’s not their role. Respect the purpose and roles each type of dog has, and you’ll be rewarded in the long run with a great team of workers who help you move your stock when needed, and keep them safe.