Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Not a "one size fits all" approach

I participate on various Livestock Guardian dog pages on Facebook,
after a number of years you see certain trends in the types of questions one see's.
Some questions  almost always coincide with certain seasons.
In spring you see a surge in questions about LGD behaviour around lambing,
in summer roaming becomes a hot topic, in fall the problems one see's are rise in predation problems.

Often, the problems are very similar, and it is the "easy solution" to give a quick standardized answer.
No-one is going to write a complete essay to answer a Facebook question (okay, I admit, I do occasionally) so the answers are often short form, direct and standardized.

Behind these standardized answers is a hidden danger.
These answers almost become rule, rather than suggestion.
They become the "norm" rather than a guideline.

So let me examine a couple of these standardized responses, and respond to what might lie behind the standardized answer.

The question would be along these lines... "my 9 month old LGD, chases the sheep and pulls wool".
The typical answer to this is:
. It takes at least 2 years before they are reliable, so you need to supervise them.

For sure, most LGD only mature around 2 years old,
 but that does not mean that they cannot be reliable before then.
The 2 years is a guideline to the maturation process, not the reliability of the dog.
In Portugal, some of the dogs only have a life expectancy of 2 years,
if they were not working full time before then,
there would be no use for LGD.

Reliability is not age dependent, but rather the amount of experience or exposure a dog gets. "Experience/exposure" is simply, how often has the dog been exposed to a certain experience?

A LGD working on a 5 ewe operation, will only see and experience 5 births per year. Their exposure is very limited compared to a dog working on a 5000 ewe operation.
The dog seeing 5000 ewes lambing, in one season, will be "flooded" to all the smells, sight, and behavior of  the ewes, and has probably  eaten more than his fill of placentas, in that one short season. This dog, at just 1 year old, has been exposed to more births than the other dog will have in one thousand years.

 The dog on the large operation is likely to be reliable around birthing ewes due to this massive exposure,  while the dog with just 5 ewes, may never get enough exposure to be 100% reliable.

By stating the generalization that most dogs need 2 years before they are reliable, sort of, covers some of that exposure because, in all probability, it has  at least experienced 2 lambing times, 2 breeding cycles, 2 summers out on pasture, his brain and body is maturing and he should be fully functional at this age. It is the simplified answer.

Reliability is a combination of genetics, exposure, supervision and maturity.

Next, "you need to supervise them",
is a great quick answer but what does it actually mean?

Clarifying the "supervise" part is hard.
Some may think it means "training" them, others might feel that you have to be with the dog every moment, or even that you need to micromanage them.

Supervise can also be changing things up,  paying attention to the livestock and what they are telling you, it may mean a timeout in a kennel or tether, it could also be setting things up so you can catch a naughty dog in the act, in order to correct it.
Supervise means different things to different people.
The biggest danger with supervise, is that people do not allow the young dog time to bond to the stock, they are supervising to the point of micromanaging. Micromanaging does not allow the dog time to form a bond with the stock.
As long as the dog is doing well, and the livestock are content, then you do not have to do much more.
You certainly do not need to 'teach" it to bark at coyotes, nor do you need to sic the dog to chase one.

I like to think of supervision also as an awareness.
Being aware where the dog is "at" mentally.
If you are aware that he is in a play/chase stage, you might want to remove him from young stock and place him in with some rank billy goats.
 If you understand that he has never been around newborns, then having the awareness to take the time to introduce him to them while you are there,  be aware that some ewes may lamb a bit earlier, so avoid the young dog being "surprised" by a newborn in the pasture.
It is having the awareness of his age and what is appropriate behavior for that age and understanding also what the potential "issues" could be.
This knowledge goes a long way to avoid problems.

Somewhere, the idea has also entered into the consciousness of the LGD world that doing perimeter walks with the dog on the lead is essential, as it teaches the dog where the boundaries are.
 I am sure it has a function; to bond the dog to you,
 but in reality the dog should regard the "fluid" area where the flock is, as its perimeter.
In range operations, that have no fences, the dogs establish their own boundaries around the flocks.

  If you have a fenced pasture set up, it is not really necessary to walk this perimeter with your dog, unless you like walking, checking fences or enjoy doing this daily walk with your dog!
 It is not a "must do" in raising LGD,
 The young dog will do his own walks and checks, it is a part of his job description and one he is capable of doing alone.

Next up, roaming.

"Help, my dog is at the neighbors."
Answer: "all LGD roam".

Well, not all LGD roam.
Some do,  some don't, and others can not.
Roaming is often a result of poor fences, poor bonding and  simply an owner "allowing" it to happen.
The standardized response of "all LGD roam" makes an owner feel like it is beyond their control, when in fact, a good fence, a well placed hot wire, better bonding and selection of suitable LGD traits may be the more appropriate answer.

Of course, I am also guilty of these "quick and convenient"responses, I think for the person asking the question, it is good to think further on the responses they get and perhaps get more clarification on some answers.

I would also highly recommend that people  read more about raising LGD, in books you will often find the "long" answer, with better explanations and examples.
 I understand the need for the instant answer, but a some additional reading does give you more insight into understanding these dogs.

Here is a list of books that I would recommend:

Livestock Protection Dogs
by Orysia Dawydiak (Author), David E. Sims (Author)

Brave and Loyal
by Cat Urbigkit

Livestock Guardians: Using Dogs, Donkeys, and Llamas to Protect Your Herd

by Jan Dohner

Farm Dogs: A Comprehensive Breed Guide to 93 Guardians, Herders, Terriers, and Other Canine Working Partners
by Jan Dohner

and, a PDF from Australia:

or my blog...


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