Saturday, 7 February 2015

Macedonia Part 3: The Shepherd's Dogs

For those who are following this series from our little adventure to Macedonia,
you can find part 1 and 2 here:

A pair of young shepherd dogs
So, our purpose for our journey was two fold.
We went to Macedonia to collect a puppy,
and we wanted to visit with shepherds, see sheep and dogs.
Our host, Ariton did a fantastic job of organizing this for us and we are more than grateful for this.

So, here we go to look at some dogs:

We were taken up to sheep barns and where the dogs lived to see this man's dog.

All the shepherds, regardless of their religion ( Muslim or Orthodox) use LGD,
there is no culture of using any herding dogs,
nor are there any native herding dog breeds in Macedonia.
All, the dogs you see are livestock guardian dogs, or otherwise called Shepherd Dogs.

Every sheep flock we saw had anywhere between 5 and 15 dogs, perhaps even more at some places.
From talking to people in Macedonia, when the sheep go into the mountains in the summer the number of dogs, accompanying the flocks can be pretty large.
The wolf density is quite high in Macedonia.
Bearing in mind, that most sheep flocks here in Canada (and, perhaps in the USA), only try and make do with 1 or 2 dogs, we can see that we are seriously under-dogged here,
perhaps the reason why depredation is still an issue here?

Some,  of the dogs on a 300 ewe flock.

The areas where the sheep are shepherded, are mountainous, thick scrub bush and ideal predator habitat.
Very little overview and lots of places for predators to hide in.
Having enough dogs, to protect the sheep is essential.
The packs are made up of adult and juvenile dogs.

During the winter ( that is when we were there), the sheep are mostly housed indoors and are lambing now. The dogs are either free roaming on the farm and in the village, or chained to a dog house.

Chaining the dogs is a normal practice.

Karabas, tied to an old vehicle for shelter

We need to remember,  that the neighbor is,  within arms reach, and the houses and villages are clustered close together.
 Tethering prevents the dogs from roaming in  the village, fighting other dogs, random breeding, getting into mischief,  and potentially, killing hunting dogs ( which is a big no no).
Hunting (or poaching) is a weekend past time, the hunters take their Balkan hounds out to hunt,
the shepherds dogs would kill these dogs or disrupt the hunt,
so many are tied during the weekends.

A Balkan hunting hound, I believe this breed has now been designated as a Serbian Breed, however they are found all over the Balkans.

When the sheep are in the fold, the dogs are chained.
In some places we visited,  all the dogs were chained, in other places the juveniles were free for part of the time and occasionally an older dog was free roaming.

These young dogs sport the traditional one ear crop and the docked tail.

None of the dogs we saw were nuisance barkers.
In, fact the dogs, were pretty quiet.
 No excessive yapping or barking.

Alert, protective shepherd dogs.

 All the dogs were respectful and mindful of keeping their distance from you.
None of the dogs would barge into you, none would be "in your face",
none would just approach you,
 unless the owner called them to you.
Most were stoic and aloof.
The owner's discouraged their dogs to interact with strangers.

If the dogs came to close, they were pushed off by the shepherd, he would threaten with his crook to back them off somewhat.

Nothing nicer than looking at nice dogs, these dogs were respectful.

None, of these dogs were rude, overbearing, demanded attention, in your space, and, none jumped up against the owners or strangers.
All, the dogs could be handled by the shepherd or owner,
and any child could pet and touch the dogs.
If, a dog did bite a child, I believe that that would be the last day for the dog.
There is zero tolerance for that form of aggression.

The dogs are trustworthy and reliable with children

I did not doubt for one second, that these dogs would be protective and guarding if we arrived there without the owner of shepherd with us.
I never felt threatened by any of the dogs, but also realized that these dogs would not hesitate to protect what they regard as theirs.

What a stunning dog, naturally bobtailed.

The same rule that applies to the children would also apply if a dog would kill the stock.
The shepherds are poor, they cannot afford to lose stock to the dogs.
A dog killing stock is a dead dog,
 however having said that these dogs are NEVER without supervision from a shepherd.

A shepherd and 3 of his dogs

This sheep camp had  5 dogs, we could see from the road.

If the shepherd takes the flock out to graze, he and the dogs accompany the the sheep.
The sheep and the dogs are never just left in a fenced pasture somewhere.
There is always a human around.

When the sheep are back in the villages, all the lambing work is centered around the barn area.
The dogs are either tethered or on the yard, under supervision.
A flock next to the road, 2 shepherds and at least 4 dogs we could see.

The young dogs have little, to no opportunity to get into mischief.
This brings up the discussion about "hand on" raising or "hands off raising".
As, I see it,
 these dogs are raised "eyes on". 

This young pup learns on the job, accompanying Ariton, some young dogs,  and the goats up the mountain.

They may not get petted and cuddled , and brought into the house at night, they may not be physically handled much, however they are never without supervision.
If they are left alone, they are chained.
The dogs get accustomed to all types of livestock, including chickens, pigs, cattle, sheep and goats and in some cases also horses and donkeys.
The dogs are supervised, and the more they mature the more "freedom" they have,
as long as they are not disruptive in any way.
A 8 month old pup, who according to the owner is a very good young dog, keen to chase "wolfs",
and hunting dogs. So, during the weekend he is chained to prevent him harming these hunters dogs. the chickens and guinea fowl pick around the dog and the young dog is totally reliable with the fowl. 

The dogs are fed a very frugal diet of  bread and water.

Bread and water is the staple diet for the dogs.
If a lamb or sheep dies, the dogs will get a part of that.
The dogs will hunt small rodents and whatever else they can scavenge to supplement their diet.
The dogs are all in a very lean body condition.

Veterinary treatment is beyond the means for most shepherds,
so the dogs are generally not treated for anything,
and rarely vaccinated.

It is a hard life for the shepherds, and a hard life for the dogs.

A communal dog feeding trough, bread and water.

Many of the dogs we saw had a one ear crop.
Always the right ear.
This is something the shepherds have done traditionally for a long time.
I have read somewhere ( I cannot remember where) that it was done, as they believed that the dogs could better hear wolves coming.
I asked Artiton, and he said a similar thing, that it was thought the dogs would hear better.
So, would they not hear even better then with two ears cropped?

In my opinion, the one ear crop, serves no purpose other than a traditional role.
Most of the dogs we saw had a one ear crop.

Karabas, with his one ear crop, always the right ear.

Ear cropping was not done to prevent injuries to the ears, in fact it was explained to me, that
ear cropping could actually result in greater injuries to the head and scalp, during a fight.
None, of the dogs we saw with ears, had any major injuries to them.

Another fantastic dog, with his ear crop

Some of the dogs had natural bobtails,
others had their tails cropped,
this was based simply on what the shepherd or owner liked to see.
Personal preference. 
Bob tailed, one ear crop

Some, think that this is a sign of them being "aboriginal" dogs.
Most of the dog's had their tail.

Aboriginal shepherd dogs

Rarely, did the dogs wear spiked collars.

Homemade spiked collar

One of the dogs we saw that sported a spiked collar, was an older dog who had been severely attacked by 5 other dogs, a few weeks before.
This old dog, was still in a very poor way and while on the slow road to recovery, the owner put a spiked collar on the dog, to perhaps, offer this old dog some protection from the pack that attacked him.

This dog was on death's door a few weeks back, the owner placed a spiked collar on him during his recovery time.

It is however,  not a common practice.

It is custom for the owner of the dog to show the canine teeth to whoever is visiting the dogs.
They like to look at both the length, as well as the breadth of the canine teeth.
The thickness of the teeth are important for their strength.
Just about everyone, would show us the teeth of their dogs.

And, most had impressive teeth.

Looking at some more dogs:

Part 2 of the dogs will follow soon.
If you have any questions please feel free to comment in the comments section,
or email me,
or on Facebook.

1 comment:

  1. The dogs all have such beautiful fronts. No Easty Westy fronts and nice feet. The teeth showing is interesting with many breeds here in the USA having incomplete dentition and dental problems. Thank you for the wonderful photos and commentary.


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