Monday, January 7, 2019

Mary Robbins’ Review of The Way of The Pack: Understanding and Living With Livestock Guardian Dogs

Mary Robbins’ Review
 The Way of The Pack:
Understanding and Living With
Livestock Guardian Dogs
Written in September 2018 by Brenda M. Negri

Mary Robbins of California and a long-time LGD and sheep rancher, has an excellent review on my book. Enjoy:

  This book by Brenda M. Negri is written in a short snappy way that reads like an instruction manual on the proper handling of livestock guardian dogs (LGDs). Brenda Negri explains the reasons for everything in an easy to understand way.  She brings 40 years of experience with livestock, predators, and study of LGDs both here and abroad and shares it with the reader.
This book is a must have for anyone wanting to purchase their first livestock guardian dog.  Brenda Negri begins by discussing the ancestral uses of guardian dogs to protect flocks and herds since earliest times, setting forth descriptions of how the dogs are used on open range situations as they accompany their masters’ herds through the mountains and valleys of their native lands.  She debunks the original theory that these dogs should not be socialized by human contact.  Instead she gives evidence not only that these dogs respond to socialization with their human owners and families, but they requireit for a healthy mind and psychological development. In fact, she shows the reader that these dogs historically were never alone with herds but have always been equal partners with the shepherd in protecting the flocks.  
I have owned livestock guardian dogs for 30 years.  Our first dog was purchased from a rancher in Idaho who sternly warned me against giving any attention to the puppy since it would “ruin” him as a livestock guardian.  Luckily my 4 children and husband ignored that prohibition, and Maverick became not only a great guardian, but a terrific member of our ranch family.  
She discusses training of the dog – training isnecessary for both LGDs andtheir owners if they are to reach their true potential. Being able to handle the dog calmly and safely is essential.  She gives great advice on nutrition, shelter, health, first aid, and protection of the guardian dog where the predator load is heavy.  She warns the first-time buyer that the first thing they need to invest in should be qualityfencing before ever bringing a dog home.  She talks about other ways to protect the flock or herd, both without a guardian dog and in conjunction with a guardian dog.  
She goes on to point out that these independent thinking guardian breeds are different than normal dog breeds, and a successful relationship between these dogs and the owner must be much closer than just putting the dog in a pasture with livestock.  The owner must be receptive to the dog and understand the behaviors they are seeing. She discusses body language between the dog and the owner.  The dog and owner must learn to trust and rely on each other for the partnership to be successful.  Then she emphasizes that there are differences in the way different breeds protect, and the importance of finding breeders that will mentor the new owner through any questions or problems when they have purchased their dog.   
            Experienced owners of LGDs will find a great deal of information in this book too.  Owners who have problems will find answers in here.  Owners doing the right thing will find support.  The reference section contains excellent additional reading sources. 
In particular, Negri seeks to show that many owners underestimate the number of dogs they should be using to protect their livestock. She points out that the number of LGDs should not be based on number of sheep or acres but should be based on number and type of predators and terrain. In the foothills of Los Angeles where I live, the coyote population is so high that I need at least 3 dogs for my 5 steep, brushy acres.  No lethal animal control measures are allowed within the city limits, so my dogs work hard to defend our sheep.   Even with a 3 LDG pack, we need to lock our flock up at night in order to give our hardworking dogs a rest.  My son, on the other hand, might only need one dog on his flat, open 5 acres outside Santa Maria.  I have lost several sheep to coyotes, necessitating the addition of the 3rddog.  My son has not even lost one of his free-range chickens.  
            The Way of The Pack might be to some readers a misleading name.   “Pack” connotates danger.  A wolf pack, a feral dog pack, is threatening, but when documentaries on wolves refer to the pack as a family unit it is seen as nurturing and supportive. A pack has structure.  The pack is stronger by its very nature than only one or two individuals.  This is the idea that Brenda Negri is trying to get across in her book.  The livestock guardian dog “pack” is better equipped to protect because of its structure.  Every individual has its place in the pack and the pack works together to protect and defend.  There is safety in numbers when LGDs must defend against larger or more numerous predators.
            Nor does the livestock owner have to have a huge pack of 20 dogs.  The pack can be any number from 2 dogs to 4 to whatever number is needed for the predator load.  The owner must determine the number of LGDs necessary and ensure that the makeup of the individuals work together for the health of the pack, and its solidarity. Anyone with more than 2 LGDs has a “pack”.  It is the responsibility of the owner to determine necessary pack structure. 
            Guardian dogs will assign different roles to themselves. In the instance of danger, I have seen my own dogs split up, one dog running back to move the flock to safety and stand between its charges and danger, while the other goes out to face the perceived threat.  The pack cooperates and works together.
This then is The Way of The Pack, the correct number of the right dogs working together with their owner to protect their charges. The Way of the Pack, The Way of the Family.  As Negri puts it the owner is not an alpha ruling the pack, but a parent leading the family, caring for the family, and nurturing the family.
If you have, or are considering getting, an LGD, this book needs to be on your shelf.
This is an unsolicited review.  I did not receive any compensation for this review. I purchased this book myself. – Mary Robbins

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