Monday, 5 November 2018

LGD Puppy Selection

Bonding to the livestock has always been high on the priority list for sheep ranchers, but can predictions be made on how the pup will turn out based on selection at a young age?

LGD Puppy Selection
©Louise Liebenberg, Sept 2018
Written for the Shepherds Magazine

I was asked to write an article on selection of a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) puppy. I chuckled and responded that it would be a pretty short article as my idea of puppy selection boils down to picking the puppy I like. I have no science or theories about which puppy to pick or, who will turn out the best from a litter. I do know that if I chose a pup I like, I am generally more willing and excited to work with that pup. I believe that every pup born from true working parents, should work out, why would they not? Why would one pup be “the best” or the most suited to LGD work while others in the litter are not? What would disqualify a healthy, well bred pup from possibly becoming a future guardian at 7 or 8 weeks old? How do we even know if what we see at 7 weeks of age, carries on through to adulthood?

In the companion and service dog world, puppy testing is a normal and accepted form of puppy selection. It is used as a guideline and a (somewhat) objective way of scoring pups. Puppy Aptitude Testing (PAT) is primarily focussed on highlighting the differences in each puppy’s personality, using this to match the pup to a new owner or to find those pups who would be best suited for a specific task, such as guide dogs or hearing dogs. In fact, many years ago, we raised a few border collies for hearing dogs, the organization would come and do puppy tests on a litter to see which pups they felt were most suited to that work. Most failed as hearing dogs, being too high drive for the average hearing-impaired owner. Despite the puppy testing and selection, ultimately the breed traits overpowered the aptitude testing. The decision was made that working border collies were perhaps not the best breed for that job and during that process, we got first-hand experience of what puppy testing involved.

Orysia Dawydiak and David Sims wrote a chapter on Puppy Testing and Selection in their book Livestock Protection Dogs, where they took a deeper look at Puppy Aptitude Tests. Dawydiak and Sims found they could better assess which pups to send to a large range operation or a small homestead based on certain personality types.  In a way, their test scores correlate with common sense; a more active, independent, less human orientated pup might fare well on a larger outfit, while the quieter, more reserved type might suit the homestead situation better. They found that their test scores confirmed their own observations of the puppy’s personalities. They did include a livestock portion to their PAT test to help determine which pups would be more suited as LGD and who might be better placed in a family home.  The authors are clear to mention that the PAT is not decisive in assessing pups and should be viewed as an additional tool to evaluate a litter.  They emphasised that the criteria remains the same for selecting a future guardian dog; get a pup from working parents, select the best pup for the situation and get as much good training advice and support from the breeder as needed.
It is interesting to note that recent research has shown that PAT tests in general, have little predictive ability regarding the adult behaviour of the dog. As Stanley Coren concludes “The only thing that comes out of this is the observation that the puppies that engage in a lot of exploratory behavior turned into the adults who explored their environment a lot. Sociability, fearfulness, irritability and all of the other tests were virtually a washout when it came to predicting adult behavior from tests administered when a puppy is 40 to 50 days of age.” (
This litter of pups are getting evaluated by the ewes.

In my own observations I agree that it is impossible to predict how the adult dog will be. Many years ago, I was selecting a pup from a litter, I decided to choose the softest, most timid pup from the litter, one who did not really engage people, who was fairly introvert in nature and who did not like to explore her environment. I was looking for the dog who would be the “close bonding” type, one who would prefer to be with the sheep than people.  As this dog matured she certainly did not remain timid. She was lethal to any coyote, was brave and wise in her interactions with predators, she would stay with the flock, but did not hesitate to confront predators or patrol the larger pastures. She was super vigilant in her behaviour, could spot a coyote a mile away and was fearless, in a calm manner. She was not that overbearing, dominant dog one would expect to be the one confronting and battling predators. She was fantastic with people, enjoyed being around us and very sociable, despite being very loyal to her sheep. Her behaviour at 7-weeks old, did not reflect her adult behaviour. She grew into her role, matured into a confident guardian and become one of my most valued dogs on our guardian team. I believe many ranchers would have dismissed this dog based on her 7-week-old behaviour.

Pups raised with livestock become relaxed and comfortable with them

So, how does one go about selecting the right pup for the job when things like puppy testing do not seem to be a reliable way to assess pups? Is it enough to pick a pup you like, from a litter born out of good working parents and then raising that pup correctly?  My short answer is yes, I do believe that genetics and correct raising goes a long way to ensuring that a pup becomes a great LGD. Puppy testing may give a glimpse into how a pup may be at that moment, but it does not predict the pup’s adult behaviour. What shapes the adult behaviour are things such as experiences, other dogs, the livestock, terrain and how it is raised.

Not every dog in an LGD pack needs to be dominant and aggressive. A timid pup maybe the one that sticks close to the flock and sounds the alarm when danger approaches. Another pup could be bolder and could make a great dog for patrolling and pushing predators back while another with a strong character might be one that goes out and engages a predator.  Despite the differences in personalities, each pup will grow up and fill an important role within an LGD pack. I believe any pup, from a well-bred litter should be “good enough” to be an asset to any guardian team.

It is hard to accurately describe the actual work that an LGD does, or even define “what is needed” within a pack of LGD. Most sheep ranchers have this image that the dog must always stick tight with the livestock, never leave them and be a formidable opponent if predators come calling. Those that ranged further, are often regarded as inferior or even as failures. Early research focused mostly on ensuring that a pup is encouraged to bond tightly to the livestock. Pups who are more exploratory or people orientated were often disregarded as potential LGD.

Is this puppy displaying a bold or dominant behaviour, does this behaviour at 7 weeks of age, reflect how this pup will mature?
With an increase of large predators on the landscape, ranchers are turning more towards the tougher, perhaps stronger natured dogs. Researchers have been evaluating “tougher” breeds who would be more eager to defend a flock of sheep from bears, cougars and wolves, not just coyotes. 
Over the years, I have seen a shift from the use of a single or, perhaps a pair of LGD per flock, to using multiple dogs. Dogs that are patrolling or perimeter type dogs, are becoming more accepted within the context of a working pack of LGD, where various duties are performed by multiple dogs. Some dogs move ahead of the flock and push predators further back, others stay close to the flock, some dogs are the fighters, some are the alarm system. All work cohesively to provide protection for the flock. All these roles are fluid, sometimes the more inexperienced dogs stay close to the flock while the more experienced dogs confront the predators, other times it is the energetic yearlings who are out making large sweeping circles. No longer is it expected that just one or two dogs are on duty to protect the sheep, it is more common to see 6-8 dogs with a large band of sheep.  Some ranchers prefer to integrate various breeds to provide a spread of various traits and personalities to the LGD pack. The idea is that various breeds and personalities bring a wider variety of working styles and traits to the flock, ensuring a more effective form of protection for the livestock.

Within this context of using multiple dogs, I see that there is a role for all personality’s types in a litter of guardian dog pups and one type is not better than another. If they keep the sheep safe and predators at bay, it is good enough for me. I am not convinced there is a way to test pups on their aptitude to becoming great LGDs, beyond evaluating the parent’s ability and manner of working. When a breeder raises the pups in a working environment, ensures they have a great start, are healthy and well fed, then every pup has a good foundation to becoming a well rounded LGD. My suggestion would be to place more effort into selecting a good breeder, and then raising them correctly, instead of trying to find the perfect puppy within a litter.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Interactions between LGD and other dogs on the ranch

A greeting at the fence between the LGD and the border collie.
The greeting is polite and friendly.

Interactions between LGD and other dogs on the ranch

©Louise Liebenberg Aug 2018
Written for The Shepherds Magazine

A frequent question that comes up is, how to manage livestock guardian dogs and other dogs (pets or herding dogs) on the ranch?  For many people new to LGD, this seems to be a big hurdle in their decision-making process as to whether an LGD is a good option for their ranch or not. How will LGD interact with the other dogs is often a concern.  For those who are experienced with LGD, it is a non-issue, as the dogs just work alongside one another, and generally not much thought goes into this. The expectation is simply that the dogs can co-exist together on the same ranch with each having its own role within the livestock operation. For people just starting out with LGD it is however a logical consideration as LGD are often described as being canine aggressive, so how can you integrate a LGD with other dogs on the ranch?
LGD have a very good sense of what belongs and what does not. A beloved house pet, if introduced to the LGD, is usually easily accepted by the LGD as part of the family. The house pet and the LGD should know each other, be familiar with each other but they do not need to socialize and play together all the time to be accepted. The task division should be clear, the house pet accompanies the owner, and should not be harassed by the LGD, and likewise the LGD stays with the stock and does not harass the other dog.  Most LGD have no issues understanding and respecting these parameters, more often, issues arise from the other dogs not respecting the space or work the LGD does.  Dogs are a social species, and many are happy to interact with one another. It is the owner’s duty to ensure that these interactions are controlled, and respectful. 

Working with herding dogs means that the LGD and the herding dog (border collie/cattle dog, Aussie etc.) are interacting directly together at the livestock. Some guardian dogs can become quite concerned when the herding dog starts to move the sheep around, gather them up or even nip at them to get them to move. This can create some stress between the LGD and the herding dog. We see in our own flock, that the LGD will subtly try to interfere with the collies by getting between the sheep and the collie, sometimes getting in the way that the collie must keep working around the LGD. Sometimes, the LGD will show some dominance behavior (standing over, walking stiff legged, staring at the collie, tail raised dominantly over the back or even gently shouldering the collie away from the sheep) towards the herding dog to dissuade it from working the sheep. On some occasions I have seen the herding dogs snap at the LGD, which could easily escalate into bigger problems. 

There is no reason why a LGD cannot work alongside the other dogs on the ranch.

For the most part, it is a process of learning, the collies have a job to do, as do the guardian dogs. Both dogs need to learn to work along side one another without interference. It is the shepherds job to ensure that each dog can do its job. We have zero tolerance for aggression between the LGD and the collies, they may not engage in any form of aggression towards each other. 

The collies and our LGD know each other, the herding dogs are only ever at the livestock when we are present. None of our border collies range freely on our ranch, unless we are with them. When the collies are not working they are kenneled or with us. The collies and LGD do not play together, they generally will greet each other, sniff each other, and then move on to do what is required of them. Some younger dogs might want to engage more with the other dogs, however we generally (gently) discourage this. The relationship is more like a formal acquaintance, rather than best friends. The LGD soon learn that the collies are part of the ranch and sheep activities. They are tolerant of them without being aggressive. This tolerance is expected and enforced by us. We simply do not accept anything else, if an LGD or a collie shows any aggression or rude behavior, we step in and tell them to quit. All our dogs understand that it is us who determines who is welcome at the stock. If we bring a new dog onto the ranch, then the LGD need to accept this. When we host a sheepdog trial, we lock the LGD away, as they can be quite un-accepting of the “new” collies, and this is what we want.  Introducing a new border collie pup is simple and the LGD have no problems associating the pup with our acceptance of it as a new member of the team on our ranch.

Occasionally, some tensions do arise, it requires a little more management to ensure that these tensions do not escalate. When training with a young collie we will often take the LGD out of the field or chain them up while working with the young dog.  When we are sorting and working the sheep in the corrals, we will often chain the LGD out of the way from the sheep which allows us and the collies to work without the LGD getting in the way. On flock moves, after the initial meet and greet, the collies settle down to moving the flock and the LGD move along with the sheep.

There are instances where LGD are intolerant of other dogs and this often has to do with each individual dog, some just do not get along. Disputes can develop because of jealousy, resources, intact animals (in heat females), or even established patterns of aggression like pet dogs fence fighting with the LGD. I believe it is imperative to have clear boundaries, the house pets should not be running around the sheep unattended, the collies should only be working the sheep when the shepherd or owner is present. We had a border collie that would try to fight with the LGDs all the time, unfortunately this did not end well for the collie and she was seriously injured. After she had recovered, we made the decision to re-home her. Sometimes, these decisions do need to be made to ensure the safety and well being of all the dogs, and to keep tensions down to a minimum. Over all the years, this has also been the only time when the LGD and that border collie, did not tolerate one another. Understand that this article is not addressing in pack fighting or intolerance between the LGD themselves. That is a whole different chapter.

Socializing the dogs to one another does not mean they have to play together and interact constantly in order to know one another. LGD can discern friend from foe, and certainly can accept all other dogs that belong to the family. In Portugal, the shepherds are often accompanied by small hunting dogs (Podengo types), the LGD work amicably alongside these little hunting dogs. 

The LGD and the hunting dog share a drink of water.

In Portugal it is common to see the shepherd being accompanied by smaller hunting dogs.

One of our dogs we bred, has the job of protecting racing Siberian huskies (Iditarod finisher of Karen Ramstead) from predators and other wildlife.   These huskies are staked out and can be vulnerable, this dog’s job is to keep wildlife and predators away from these dogs. This dog must interact and work with multiple other dogs. As Karen states: “All enforcement in yard situations comes from me and all dogs defer to me in such circumstances. I think that is critical in managing our dogs together. I think that it is important that dogs understand that they do not need to resolve every situation on their own.”

Similarly, every shepherd on the open range will also use herding dogs, and most farms will have companion or other working dogs, there is no reason why LGD and other dogs can not get along with each other.  
I believe it mostly comes down to dog management, and as LGD are an integral part of the sheep flock, it is ultimately the shepherd who determines what is acceptable and what is not. My LGDs happily tolerate my collies working the sheep, because they know I have zero tolerance for conflict behavior. It is just a given that they must accept the collies as I do need them to do the flock work. Similarly, the LGD need to accept a horse used for shepherding or a burro as another guardian animal within the “flock”.  Acceptance of other dogs, or other farm animals, is not a decision or choice the dog gets to make.

The shepherd leaves for a day of grazing, accompanied by the LGDs and the hunting dog.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Lucy x Kushi Pups

The pups are doing well. They have had their first vet checks, multiple dewormings, microchipped and are all eating well. Due to extremely bad weather the pups have not managed to languish outside in the pasture with the sheep in the sun. So, instead of the pups being out with the sheep, we brought some sheep to the pups in the barn.
We have also seen an increase in predator activity, so we also felt it was not safe to leave the pups outside unattended.
The first pups will be leaving this next weekend.
Here are some pictures of the pups experiencing their first snow.

This is Kushi, the father of these pups.


Purple boy

Pink girl

Small male

Red boy

no collar girl

Green girl

Yellow girl

Following Aunty Silver

Silver meeting the pups

Green or Yellow with purple boy in the background

red boy strutting his stuff

Small male

Red and blue

Red, blue and purple boys

Purple boy

yellow or green, these two are like twins hard to tell apart.

pink girl

Yellow or Green girl

Small male

Puppy taxi

Getting some loving 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...