Thursday, 11 February 2016

Treading lightly

Here is a little photo tutorial about respect, calmness and treading lightly.
Mali is our photo model for today.
Mali is one of those dogs that has always had the right attitude and approach to livestock.
She knows how to move in such a manner as not to disrupt the livestock.
She is mindful and respectful of how and where she moves.

Part and parcel of being a solid livestock guardian dog is to keep the stock calm.
Stock that is stressed around the dog is stock indicating to you that the dog is not reliable or trustworthy.
Stock huddled together, nervous, in a corner, stressed, breathing rapidly are indicators that something is not right.

I believe a good LGD is not necessarily submissive to the livestock but is mindful of them.
The dog will not be rude, brash or abrasive in its interactions with the stock.
The dogs does not have to run into stock, or barge through them, or shove or bump.
I expect that my dogs will walk quietly through the stock, gentle walk around them, stand among them and move around where necessary.
Preferably, I like the sheep to keep doing what it was doing, while the dog goes about his day and neither being disruptive to the other.

Mali displays in this little walk by everything I think is important in a LGD interaction with stock.

So, let us run through the images, blow by blow.
As the dog is moving from right to left, we will see the reaction of the ewes from right to left,

Mali is moving along and minding her own business.
The sheep are picking through the remaining hay.
The ewes are calm, relaxed and eating.
The second ewe from the right, is attentive and sees the dog approaching them
3rd ewe from right is laying down chewing her cud.
Ewes 4,5,6 are not really aware of the dog approaching and if they are, they are totally not concerned about it.

Mali is almost at the ewes, her head is dipped a little lower.
Ewes are all in the same position.

She passes ewe 1 , the ewe has not moved, nor stopped eating. Still calm and relaxed.
 Ewe 2 is still watching the dog,
Ewe 3 is still laying down but has just moved her head to look at Mali.

Mali averts her eyes , ewe 2 follows her with her head.
Mali veers slightly away from the ewes.

Mali now looks completely away from the ewes, she is moving her front feet off the hay and is moving nicely around the ewes.
Not one ewe is in the least bit concerned.
Mali's approach is calm, quite and purposeful.

Mali has now moved completely off the path of hay into the snow.
She is moving around the ewes. This is a key point, it is the dog that must give the ewes space. It is the dog's responsibility to keep them calm.
She is doing everything she can to ensure that the sheep stay calm and relaxed;
avoids eye contact, moves head in a low and turned away position, moves with the same pace and direction purposefully ( ewes can predict where she is going)
and moves around and not directly through or between the ewes.

None of the sheep have moved, or changed what they were doing.
Mali is about 5-6 feet walking around them.

She continues on past.

She is now passing the whole little group and all the sheep, even those who had their butt towards the approaching dog, are still in the same spot.

After passing this little group, Mali turns back in, to resume her path on the hay.

Back on track, and all the ewes are still doing what sheep do.

I think this is very important behavior, as it highlights the mindset that a dog has.
If this was my border collie I would think it was a pretty useless working dog. However, for livestock guardian dogs, it is perfect behavior.
One of the jobs a LGD needs to do is keep the stock calm.
There needs to be a mutual trust and respect.
This bahavior can be seen in young dogs, some dogs have this calming attitude and understand how their manner of walking or moving can upset the stock.

It truly is treading lightly.

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