Friday, 5 February 2016

Jumpers, fence crawlers, diggers, escapees, roaming

This past week, this  topic that has come up a lot in discussions and questions about LGD.
The prime question is how to prevent this behavior?

I am of the opinion that most roaming issues are man made,
yet having said this,
 I do believe their are individual differences in dogs and breeds in their desire to roam.
I believe the "trick" is too teach the pups from a young age to respect boundaries.
Not allowing them to escape and not allowing them the satisfaction of roaming the county, is the key to keeping a young LGD where it needs to be.

Roaming, for a canine, is of course a very natural thing to do.
Scouting out the area and checking out the neighborhood is for a dog a very satisfying endeavor,
all those interesting scent trails,
the new sights and new experiences all makes it very self rewarding.

Self rewarding is the problem.

Self rewarding behaviors are the hardest to stop and change.
Self rewarding behaviors perpetuate themselves and the dog is driven to repeat these behaviors.
The dog does not understand that the world, beyond its farm, is actually a dangerous place, with vehicles that could hit it, angry neighbors who may shoot it, in some places the predators in the area could kill the dog, traps and snares, poison and a myriad of other dangers lurk out there.
The dog is oblivious to these potential threats.

Once a dog has gotten into the habit of leaving your farm, its stock or your home, it becomes a very difficult habit to break, as the dog will become more and more focused on ways to achieve its goal of going down the road.
It will dig under fences, slip through gateways, jump over fences, crawl through openings and in some cases become so fanatical in its effort to escape it will try to chew through fencing and even harm itself in its attempt to escape.

The idea behind most training principles is to prevent the wrong behavior, before it even starts.
This requires foresight and, on your part, determination to ensure that the pup never  has the opportunity to roam.
It will require some facilitation, and time,
 to ensure that this process is successful.

So, this is what we do,
what we do, (this may not suit your situation but it is always worth the consideration).
Their is nothing worse than having a great young dog, who gets killed by a vehicle. Keeping the dogs safe, is high on our priority list.
The only way the stock is safe, is if the dogs are close enough to hear, see and smell potential trouble.
If your dog is two counties over, he is certainly not home to look after his stock.

When our pups are about 12 weeks old, they are usually living out with the stock, together with mom.
The "puppy pasture" is usually about 5-8 acres, it has secure fencing and close enough for us to supervise.
Initially, mom, is the "anchor", that will keep the young dogs in that pasture with the stock.

We have field fence around most of our pastures.
This field fence has a hot-wire over top to prevent the larger livestock from leaning over or rubbing against  the fence.

 Our pups learn about the top hot-wire at an age where they physically cannot yet jump over the fence, because of this
they tend to go through life no knowing that going over the top is even a possibility.
We never pet our dogs over the fence, and in this way never encourage them to stand up against the fence.
We will also never allow our dogs to hop over the fences to come and go from a field. We always take a dog in and out through a gateway, and never out of convenience, over top.

Our gateways have a normal stock gate, but to ensure the dogs, sheep and lambs stay in,
we hang a hog panel in front of the gate. 

The pups will usually stay happily in this field as they have their safe place, their dog house, they get fed here, they have kind stock and mom is around to guide them.
As the pups mature, they may decide to test the boundaries and go and explore the pasture, or come up to the barn area. 

This is where action really needs to take place.
The very first thing we do, when we find a young dog out of the pasture is to send it back to the field in not such a friendly tone of voice.
We make sure the pup understands that this is not a good place to be and that he will not be rewarded in any manner for being out of the field.
We will chase him back and in doing this, make a clear impression on him that we are not happy.
We may even cuss at him.

Once he is back in the field he will get s soft praise and we will go and look for the spot he got out from. If the field fence has a larger opening, or perhaps the fence is a little higher off the ground. We will fix the hole, or close up under the fence.
It is important to remember that all good things happen at the pasture with the stock.
Petting, grooming, belly rubs, food, kind words.
This must be the happy place for the dog.

If the pup, tries to jump up against the fence, the hot top wire usually provides enough of a deterrent that most of our pups touch it once or twice before understanding that jumping up against the fence is simply a bad idea.

If the pup is a little more determined to find a way out of the field,
then we first try to determine why the pup is attracted to leave the pasture.
It could be food, it could be companionship, it could be just excitement to see you, or perhaps it wants to play with the other farm dogs.

For most young dogs, the goal is not to roam, the initial escaping  is usually for a specific reason.
perhaps, the kids like to play with it away from the stock, or its gets lots of petting when it heads to the house, or game time with the other dogs, or even fun family walks down the road etc.
However, once it learns that  fun things happen beyond the boundaries,
that is where the negative cycle starts.
From the initial escape (for a reason),
the escaping then becomes the goal, and the reward for this, is freedom to explore.

For a more determined young dog, intent on finding every single hole or weakness in the fence, we will run a hot poly wire at puppy height and offset from the field fence.
This should be sufficient reminder for the pup to leave the fence alone and not even attempt breaking out.

In this time of boundary training, we have the pup in a smaller pasture, always with stock and in an area we can supervise easily. It must be a safe place for the pup.

At around 4-5 months old, we also start teaching our young dogs what electric sheep netting is.

This is very important, as our sheep often graze pastures far from the ranch, where the sheep are contained only by the electric nets.
As the dogs are out with the sheep, they too need to learn to respect the sheep netting.
 Our grazing of the sheep is based on the summer on these temporary fences, and regular moving to new places and pastures.Some of the areas we graze are as far as 30km away from home. We need the dogs to be 100% reliable and fence proof.
The expectation is that the dogs understand and respect this fencing at all times.
Usually, a pup learns very rapidly that these fences should not be touched at all.

For an older dog who, despite all the initial training still insists on crawling under the fence, digging out or going through the fence,  I find utilizing a yoke, to be very effective.

Yokes, are also sometimes used to prevent goats from putting their horns through field fencing.
As with most training aids, these are temporary and should only be used for a limited time and under supervision.
To read about the yokes, you can check out this older blog post:

 Dogs who jump over the fences, are harder to discourage from doing this.
 If the hot-wire over top does not work, then there is really little to prevent the dog from clearing the fence and taking off.
The trick really is to ensure they never learn to do this.

For some, a tire or log drag may help, however this really needs a lot of supervision as a drag can get hung up somewhere. You have to ensure with any drag that the dog  must be able to land on the other side without hanging itself.
It requires supervision.

We will often have 3 or 4 feet of snow in the winter, with a little wind, the fences drift over and the dogs have no visual or physical boundary any more.
A tire drag may be a good way to remind the dog to stay where it should be.

For the incorrigible escapee, I think an overhead zip line is the better solution.
For people introducing new adults, or new rescue dogs to their farm, placing this new dog on a zip line is a safe option for the dog until is knows that this new place is home,
it is safe for the stock as they can move out the way,
and in this way the dog can still move around, be under supervision, hang out with the stock during the transition period.

So, to recap, teaching the young pup to respect boundaries is very important to us.
We will spend the time and effort to ensure that the pup does not get the opportunity to escape.
Even if it means placing a double fence, in some areas.
We will do whatever it takes to prevent a pup from making the initial mistake.

The result of the month or two of extra work when the dog is  young, prevents a life time of irritations and problems.

We have found our dogs to be highly respectful of these boundaries, they do not challenge fences, do not look for ways to get out and stay where we need them to be.

We do not have to specifically close up holes in our fences,  there are dog size gaps in places, the coyotes and bears dig under the fences and we do not have to be concerned that  our dogs will leave.
They understand the boundaries, even when the fencing is less than stellar.
I attribute this to that early time and training we spend with the young dog.

It is not that they cannot jump over the fences(ability wise), but the chose not too.

I have not touched on the bond with the livestock in this blog, however I believe the livestock also becomes an anchor for the dog, something that "holds" him in the area with the stock.

Here is a small anecdote:

A few years back we had 3 dogs in with 300 ewes. They sheep were fenced in electric nets in a pasture a few miles from home.
That night, something breached the fence and the fence was down. Part of the flock took their opportunity to make an escape, one band of sheep headed home with one of the guardian dogs in tow.
A second group of sheep decided to stop and graze a field on the way to home, another one of the dogs stayed with this group.
A final group of sheep stayed in the original field and the last of the three dogs stayed with them.
The dogs understood that they needed to be with the stock.

The dogs did not just hit the road, they escaped with the stock and headed back home.

So, the most essential part of fence training is prevention.
Stop it before it ever starts.
Be prepared to facilitate and do whatever is necessary to ensure the dog cannot and will not escape.
It may require some additional fencing, it may require making a zip line, it may mean closing up holes, it may require some time spying on the dog.
It will always require some time and energy on your part.

Finally, this is such a "deep" topic, as there are many other considerations that I have not even touched on, things like breed, breeding, bonding, genetics, hormones, space, loneliness and even predator pressure,
that all can influence the degree to which a dog is wanting/needing to roam.

But, I will leave that for another day.

Have a great weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so very much for your detailed talk into this topic. I have 2 LGD's. Both are Great Pyrenees/Maremma. My female is 13 months old and respects her boundaries and fences and does not try to get out even though she could. I must have done some better training with her when she was younger. My male is 11 months old and always is escaping and digging. I don't believe that I did enough to discourage this behavior when he was younger and even recently just kept taking him back to his pen when he got out. I would occasionally take the time to find out where he was getting out and fix it. He is currently behind single strand electric fence and that will hopefully help him to respect fences. Thanks for the article and I hope that it is not too late for my male


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