Saturday, 22 November 2014

The strange case of the Romanian Livestock Guardian dogs

When wolves start systematically targeting livestock guardian dogs (LGD),
then something strange is going on.
When a wolf kills a dog in the USA, it almost always makes the news headlines.
(Wolf Kills LGD)

Photo Source: Vostinars Carpatins resting in the shade

The anti -wolf groups utilize this to prove how invasive and evil wolves are, the ranching community use this as an example of how helpless they really are in keeping their animals safe from predators, some, animal rights lobbies use this to prove how cruel it is to place dogs in a working situation and hunters use it as a reason to propagate more wolf hunting.
 Very few people stop and look at  the reasons or events, surrounding the  kills,  few people ask the "why" question in these cases or look at the circumstances, leading up to this kill.

The events surrounding the systematic killing of LGD in Romania in 2001-2002, did have some inquiring researches asking; why it was happening and what could be done to prevent this.

The findings on this strange case, are still relevant today, in any country..

I would like to add, that while using this discussion/report of Annette Mertens and Helgo Schneider as a "lead into" my blog, I would like to add  the following points:
I purposely decided to use this report,
 it as it was one of the few pieces I have ever read that did address the aspect of crossbreeding and the possible devastating effects it can have on both LGD and on predator management.
I have not (yet) found an article in  the English language literature that I have read ( and I am not saying I have read everything!) that actually talks about the effects of cross-breeding and the socio -economic aspect that influence the quality of LGD.

 Although, I do not doubt that there are inaccuracies, misinformation and sensitive points in the original report,
I felt that it did not distract on where I wanted to head in my blog.

  Remember, this blog is not a discussion on  the merit of the report,
or the method used to build the report,
 it is not a discussion on Romanian politics or whether Mertens and Schneider were a good researchers or not.

All of those issues are not THE discussion,
I believe the conclusions drawn in this report are accurate for many countries.
  The conclusions about the crossbreeding, quality of dogs and the socio economic impacts,
 are the key to this blog.

So, what is the strange case of the Romanian LGD?
( at the end of this blog you can find the original reference to this article)
In Romania, from January 2001 to October 2002, in an area close to 70 square kilometers, wolves were responsible for the killing of 62 sheep, 7 cattle, 1 kid (goat), 2 foals  and a staggering 186 dogs
(157 adult LGD, 2 pups and 27 smaller dogs ( herding dogs).

Just to compare; over a 20 year time span, about 83 LGD were confirmed wolf kills, in the Rocky Mountain region of the USA (Bangs et al. 2006).
{A Review: The Use of Livestock Protection Dogs in Association with Large Carnivores
in the Rocky Mountains by C. Urbigkit & J. Urbigkit}

.  Some household  incurred more systematic attacks, in certain time periods, than others.

Here are some numbers relating to livestock killed by wolves in this time period:

59% of attacks on livestock happened during the day when the owner was absent
32% at night
9% at dusk or dawn 

Where was  the livestock  during an attack?
79% were free grazing
19% in a wooden enclosure
2% in a barn/stable

The LGD were in the vicinity of the stock in 77% of the attacks
and in 23% the LGD were absent.

Now, some LGD numbers:

Dogs were attacked throughout the year with some peak months.
(Remember, that 186 dogs were killed in a 1.5 year time span) 

84% were adult LGD, the rest small dog and pups

52% of the dogs were running free when attacked
48% while they dogs were chained up

91% of the attacks occurred at night
6% at dusk and dawn
3% in the day

The number of dogs at the household at the time of attacks:
39% had one dog
33% two dogs

77% of the dogs killed were killed close to livestock, while the livestock was left unhurt!

80-100% the dogs were consumed by the wolves.

Some findings: 

·         Wolves preferred households with lesser dogs (which correlates with the findings that number of sheep killed decreased with relative numbers of LGD.

·         The most affected households, were remote and close to the forest ( easy access for wolves).

So, what was going on?
In a nutshell:

Socio-Economic problems

To understand part of the problem one needs to look  at the recent  history of Romania. Up until the 1970’s each household in a rural area had one or more dogs, during the last years of communism, a large “rationalization” occurred; moving rural families off the land and into cities and apartment buildings so that the land could be better utilized and farmed.

This left a vast population of stray dogs left roaming the countryside.
 Many LGD breeding activities were not really controlled by shepherds and the traditional LGD were free to mate with any stray that happened by ( and there were millions of strays).

The resulting pups were still utilized as LGD. Generations of this type of uncontrolled breeding occurred, to the point where very few original, pure bred LGD existed.

These crossbred dogs were smaller than their original purebred ancestor weighing between 25-35kgs (55- 77 lbs). The guarding skills were variable.

The next problem that arose was that the dogs were never actively trained by the shepherds (now this is  a good point to consider, bearing in mind that many ranchers and farmers in the USA and Canada) have been indoctrinated to believe that these dogs need no training and little handling!).
The shepherds just left these pups to roam with the sheep and learn from the other dogs. This fact, according to the researches, was a major issue that influences the quality of the dogs.
Why? Well traditionally the good dogs would be kept in a group (a family pack) and kept all the time with the livestock during the entire year.  This maintained the bond with the stock and with the pack. Unfortunately, many dogs were placed on a chain thought the fall and winter months away from the stock and away from the pack, and because of this, the dogs did not get the opportunity to coordinate themselves into a functional team.
Some of these dog are the relegated to the outskirts of the flock and pack.

Another issues has to do with the health of the dogs, there is no national veterinary service regulating or monitoring the health of dogs.  The dogs are rarely vaccinated or treated for illnesses, resulting high numbers sick and weak dogs in the shepherd camps.
Hunting laws limit the number of LGD that are allowed to be kept in mountain areas with flock.

Due to an increase in poverty in the small livestock breeders, the economic stress on the shepherds is creating a negative cycle in the management of their flocks. These shepherds cannot afford to purchase a good quality pup.

 The costs of veterinary treatments and feed, and a deterioration in the quality of feed being fed to the dogs often leaves the dogs in a undernourished and weaker condition. The dogs are less confident in their abilities and become increasingly scared of predators as they dog realize that physically they are no much.

With this lack of good nutrition the dogs spend more and more time away from the flocks in order to hunt and find additional food sources.

The vulnerability of livestock and their guardian dogs, is dependent on many socio-economic factors. Simply running higher number of LGD   does not represent an effective solution to depredation, unless certain socio economic conditions are met, to allow the livestock keepers to adequately maintain the dogs ( purebred dogs, proper food,  veterinary treatment, and training).
Larger numbers of poor quality dogs is not enough to keep the wolves at bay!

The final conclusions of this report to reduce livestock/carnivore conflict are:
(Quoted directly from the report)

    "A legal background that promotes the conservation of extensive livestock breeding techniques and adequate damage prevention methods.

An agricultural and rural development policy that supports better marketing conditions for small livestock producersAn infrastructure that supports the livestock raisers in assuring the sanitary and veterinary treatments of LGD.
  A governmental strategy to drastically reduce the numbers of stray dogs in the country"

Want to read more?
Here is the bibliography to the article:

Annette Mertens and Helgo Schneider. (2005, 12). What is wrong with Romanian Livestock Guarding Dogs? A Discussion. Carnivore Damage Prevention News, December 2005, pp. 9-13.

Just Google: Romanian Stray dogs for more information on this aspect.

All is not lost:
Many shepherds risked their lives to ensure that good, original  working dogs (and, their livestock) was preserved in a time of political upheaval.
It is a reminder, how dire certain situations can be and how passionate these shepherds were, and are, in holding onto something they regard as necessary and valuable.

Thankfully, there are good initiatives to rectify this problem in Romania.

Ray Dorgelo from Canine Efficency (,
helps with projects in Romania (in the Carpathian Mountains) to ensure that Shepherds get good quality dogs to help prevent conflicts between wildlife and livestock.

For more information about how the Carpathian dog is being preserved you can visit this websites: and
As a side note, I would also like to add that this problem is not just a Romanian problem,
Similar problems also occurred in Bulgaria ( and probably other East European Countries),  There are programs in place to breed back and preserve the original Karakachan breed.

 Here is the link: Bulgarian Karackachan

So, here is my view on the implications and ramifications of this research and how it can apply to the North American/ Canadian situation,  in reducing conflicts between wolves-livestock and the dogs that guard them.

Here are some of the lessons we can learn from the unusual situation in Romania.

  1. The quality of the dogs is very important.
    Random breeding’s, cross breeding of non LGD breeds, all results in a decrease in working ability.
    To have good working LGD there needs to be; selection of desired traits, there needs to be a focus on producing quality dogs who can perform a quality job.
    Cross breeding of non LGD is the beginning of  the decline into poor quality working dogs, a watering down of the genetic traits and can result in the physical decline of the dog.
    Not only that, it also jeopardizes the dog’s life and that of the livestock.

     If I see an advertisement where the breeder is selling their GP x collie, Anatolian x Aussie or whatever cross as livestock guardian dogs, I shudder. I believe that the breeder is contributing to the decline of LGD in general, he is breeding dogs who will be vulnerable to wolf kills and is misleading future puppy buyers. That breeder is also indirectly contributing to the economic decline of his puppy buyer.

    To the buyer of such cross bred pups, it is obvious to me that the buyer has  no clue what a real working LGD needs to do or the traits they need to possess in order to do their job successfully. They are setting themselves, and their stock up for failure. Anyone propagating that their LGD x with a non LGD, makes an awesome LGD, is pulling the "wool over the buyers eyes"

    This also has implications for LGD breeders, we need to keep selecting for desirable traits, we need to maintain a level of physical capability and we need to elevate the genetic traits needed to be good LGD.  It is not good enough to merely breed two LGD together, both dogs need to be  quality dogs who are proficient at their jobs. We cannot compromise on good working ability. Down the road it burns the rancher who is trying to keep his stock safe from predators and it burns wildlife management, who have to deal with the negativity that surrounds a wolf  who kills a dog.
  2. Maintaining the correct numbers of dogs are essential to reduce conflict.
    The one or two dog situation is not providing protection to the livestock. One or two dogs alone is wolf bait. It is not fair to the dog to be expected to work alone. A dog who is alone is easily overwhelmed by the huge task of protecting the livestock and defending it territory. They become less confident, tired and unsure. The dog is no fool, and does realize that it is no match for wolves or a pack of coyotes. I believe that one of the biggest reasons why livestock keepers in the USA and Canada suffer losses to predators is primarily because they are under dogged. Too few dogs, or dogs who are getting to old, allow coyotes to learn that it is possible to be very brazen, it is possible to tire out the dogs and over power them. Now, not every situation warrants a pack of dogs, if your stock are in good fences, close to the house, enclosed in a barn, or you have a low predator load, or you have additional safe guards in place, your stock graze in a controlled area, then you perhaps do not need a pack of 5 dogs to keep your 3 sheep safe. Their is not a magic ratio. But, on a middle to large operation, too few dogs is worse than too many dogs.
  3. A well-developed (family) pack is essential in providing adequate protection.  They can work in a coordinated way, the dogs have time to rest, patrol, get experience and have the backup they need. They are more confident  and more protective of both their territory, and their fellow pack mates. A stable pack provides constant protection to the livestock, where every dog understands its role in a threatening situation. A stable pack will also keep stray random dogs from breeding with females in the group, and in this way ensure the integrity of the pack.
  4. Shepherds do need to provide guidance and training to the young dog. This time allows the shepherd to make better breeding decisions, can stop unwanted behaviors such as roughhousing with the stock, roaming, wool pulling or dogs who show a lack of bravery, confidence and will highlight dogs who do not have the pack mentality. The time spent training the dog is an essential part of ensuring the pup does grow up with a strong desire to protect the livestock, the owner and the territory. It builds a bond with the pup and in doing this, the pup will be less inclined to wonder off.
  5. Good health care. Raising LGD to be successful adults takes time and money. Simple vaccinations, regular deworming go a long way in maintaining the health of the dogs. To extend this, ensuring that the adults being bred are well built and have correct structure, also extends the working life of the dog. It is heartbreaking and financially devastating if a dog gets a debilitating health issue at a young age. Some dogs are being bred to be too bulky, others are not large enough, others have genetic problems such as hip dysplasia, or entropian, all elements that can reduce the working life span of the dog.
  6. Feed well. A well fed dog will be fit, energetic, will maintain its health and be relaxed and more focused on its job. The dog needs the nutrients to build good muscle tone. Dogs who are on the edge of its nutritional requirements will be less focused on its job and may stray to look for food. The pack will be less stable as food fights will be more frequent and more violent. Feed the best you can.
  7. A chained dog, on the back forty, without supervision or additional dogs to protect it in wolf country is a sitting duck. A dog that roams far and wide, is food for a hungry wolf. A dog that does not stay in the pasture with the stock is not a LGD, as he is away and therefore unable to protect the stock. A dog that roams is a liability.
  8. Night corralling stock, preferably away from a forest line provides a smaller area for the dogs to patrol and a barrier to cross for predators. If possible, provide as much human activity at the stock, as this is also a deterrent for the predators. Utilize this time to train young dogs, check stock, feed. A win-win situation.
  9. Be fair.  It is not fair to place an old dog out with stock where he could be in harms way. It is not fair to overwork a dog and put him in a vulnerable situation or a situation that he cannot be effective despite his best efforts. It is not fair to place a dog who is any way compromised, such as sick, injured, weak or too young in a situation where he could be targeted by predators. It is not fair to the stock, to be under dogged either.
  10. And the final, and perhaps most important point to consider in reducing wildlife/ livestock conflicts is the economic situation that the livestock keeper is in.
    Perhaps, this is the key point for wildlife managers and Government organizations to consider in wildlife management, if the livestock owner is not making money, there will never be a resolution in wildlife/livestock conflicts.
    It cuts on both sides.
    The keeper cannot afford to put in good dogs, or feed a pack, or maintain their health, he will sell his best pups to make money and  a negative downward cycle will start. The decline in quality dogs will could mean a weakness that predators can utilise. This in turn will trigger more lethal controls, bounties, frustration and of course an unwillingness to cooperate in any wildlife management programs. The livestock keeper will not be able to afford better fencing, or utilize other non lethal methods to deter predators. He may have to work out, resulting in less time spent with the stock and dogs.

    I think initiatives such as selling of locally produced products, consumer awareness, labels such as Organic or Wildlife Friendly, access to good markets and infrastructure. Id improvements can be made in the economic situation of shepherds, this may be the  road to a higher tolerance of predators, wildlife management and co-existence in general.
    A positive situation where both the producer and the wild life can prosper.

We are in a unique situation here in Canada and the USA as we have no tradition in  utilizing LGD, and we have no native breeds of LGD.

 In fact, the rise of use of LGD has only been a recent event (the last 40 year or so).
The Old World knowledge has just not been available to many producers here and everything we know about LGD, has been told to us by a number of researchers.
 Information on good breeding and selection, the number of dogs to run, how to raise them, how to train them needs to be examined and molded to fit the New World’s with its unique challenges.

I, would like to add that I have not covered every aspect of this discussion (yet) and that I would like to return to this in a few blogs down the road.

Issues, that pertain perhaps to the wolf's perspective, such as:
-  wolf territorial conflicts with LGD need to be looked at, as this may be a reason for wolf/LGD conflicts here in North America.
-  perhaps, those wolves, came to regard the dogs as a food source, due to the large number of stray dogs roaming rural Romania.
 The wolves did consume the dogs in almost every case.

There is still so much to learn, to examine and to discuss,
 I am sure the last word is not said on this topic!

Have a good weekend!


  1. Fascinating article. Thanks for the in depth education.

  2. excellent very thought provoking

  3. Very fine article, exceptionally informative.

  4. The purebreed Romanian shepherd dogs are large and powerful enough to tackle wolves, as they did for thousands of years in the Carpathian Mountains, but all the points made in the article are valid, and as a consequence purebreeds are rarely found and even then, they may not be properly trained / fed to manage a wolf attack.

  5. The problem in Romania is misleading: first of all it isn't well documented where this happened (near or in villages for ex.) and if the dogs were really LGD or only mongrels (labeled as LGD) used to guard properties.
    In the villages people maintain dogs to guard their properties, but those dogs are chained or single, so a pack of 3 or more wolves can kill them easily and, in plus, many times people say that they use LGD to guard their yards, but in fact those dogs are mongrels.
    Instead in the mountains, where during summer there are large sheep herds (even of several thousand sheeps in one herd), the shepherds use large number of LGD to protect them. Those LGD are used in pack, minimum 3 or 4, but in general less than 10, so the pack members have different tasks in function of strength, age and hierarchy (very few directly tackle wolves – in general only pack leader and 2 or 3 others, the rest only give alarm and stay with the flock in case that the first wolf is a decoy).
    Also the dogs in areas with wolves have spike collars to protect their throat from wolf attack. And there, even if the working Romanian LGD are around 26 inches and 35-40 kg, there are not many cases of dogs eaten by wolves (those that exist are due to dog roaming, or to the fact that some shepherds, even in pasture, kept theirs dogs in chain).
    So if you want to protect your herd, you have to build a LGD pack that is larger than the wolf pack, you have to protect your dogs with spike collars and also to feed them properly so they won’t start to hunt for themselves instead of guarding the herd. And also do not forget that the dogs should not be moving targets (too big and too slow), they need to be agile, to have stamina and to be smart (not all the dogs have to pursuit to one wolf letting the herd unprotected), because even if you have big bad dogs, the wolves are stronger and smarter!


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