Monday, 5 November 2018

LGD Puppy Selection

Bonding to the livestock has always been high on the priority list for sheep ranchers, but can predictions be made on how the pup will turn out based on selection at a young age?

LGD Puppy Selection
©Louise Liebenberg, Sept 2018
Written for the Shepherds Magazine

I was asked to write an article on selection of a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) puppy. I chuckled and responded that it would be a pretty short article as my idea of puppy selection boils down to picking the puppy I like. I have no science or theories about which puppy to pick or, who will turn out the best from a litter. I do know that if I chose a pup I like, I am generally more willing and excited to work with that pup. I believe that every pup born from true working parents, should work out, why would they not? Why would one pup be “the best” or the most suited to LGD work while others in the litter are not? What would disqualify a healthy, well bred pup from possibly becoming a future guardian at 7 or 8 weeks old? How do we even know if what we see at 7 weeks of age, carries on through to adulthood?

In the companion and service dog world, puppy testing is a normal and accepted form of puppy selection. It is used as a guideline and a (somewhat) objective way of scoring pups. Puppy Aptitude Testing (PAT) is primarily focussed on highlighting the differences in each puppy’s personality, using this to match the pup to a new owner or to find those pups who would be best suited for a specific task, such as guide dogs or hearing dogs. In fact, many years ago, we raised a few border collies for hearing dogs, the organization would come and do puppy tests on a litter to see which pups they felt were most suited to that work. Most failed as hearing dogs, being too high drive for the average hearing-impaired owner. Despite the puppy testing and selection, ultimately the breed traits overpowered the aptitude testing. The decision was made that working border collies were perhaps not the best breed for that job and during that process, we got first-hand experience of what puppy testing involved.

Orysia Dawydiak and David Sims wrote a chapter on Puppy Testing and Selection in their book Livestock Protection Dogs, where they took a deeper look at Puppy Aptitude Tests. Dawydiak and Sims found they could better assess which pups to send to a large range operation or a small homestead based on certain personality types.  In a way, their test scores correlate with common sense; a more active, independent, less human orientated pup might fare well on a larger outfit, while the quieter, more reserved type might suit the homestead situation better. They found that their test scores confirmed their own observations of the puppy’s personalities. They did include a livestock portion to their PAT test to help determine which pups would be more suited as LGD and who might be better placed in a family home.  The authors are clear to mention that the PAT is not decisive in assessing pups and should be viewed as an additional tool to evaluate a litter.  They emphasised that the criteria remains the same for selecting a future guardian dog; get a pup from working parents, select the best pup for the situation and get as much good training advice and support from the breeder as needed.
It is interesting to note that recent research has shown that PAT tests in general, have little predictive ability regarding the adult behaviour of the dog. As Stanley Coren concludes “The only thing that comes out of this is the observation that the puppies that engage in a lot of exploratory behavior turned into the adults who explored their environment a lot. Sociability, fearfulness, irritability and all of the other tests were virtually a washout when it came to predicting adult behavior from tests administered when a puppy is 40 to 50 days of age.” (
This litter of pups are getting evaluated by the ewes.

In my own observations I agree that it is impossible to predict how the adult dog will be. Many years ago, I was selecting a pup from a litter, I decided to choose the softest, most timid pup from the litter, one who did not really engage people, who was fairly introvert in nature and who did not like to explore her environment. I was looking for the dog who would be the “close bonding” type, one who would prefer to be with the sheep than people.  As this dog matured she certainly did not remain timid. She was lethal to any coyote, was brave and wise in her interactions with predators, she would stay with the flock, but did not hesitate to confront predators or patrol the larger pastures. She was super vigilant in her behaviour, could spot a coyote a mile away and was fearless, in a calm manner. She was not that overbearing, dominant dog one would expect to be the one confronting and battling predators. She was fantastic with people, enjoyed being around us and very sociable, despite being very loyal to her sheep. Her behaviour at 7-weeks old, did not reflect her adult behaviour. She grew into her role, matured into a confident guardian and become one of my most valued dogs on our guardian team. I believe many ranchers would have dismissed this dog based on her 7-week-old behaviour.

Pups raised with livestock become relaxed and comfortable with them

So, how does one go about selecting the right pup for the job when things like puppy testing do not seem to be a reliable way to assess pups? Is it enough to pick a pup you like, from a litter born out of good working parents and then raising that pup correctly?  My short answer is yes, I do believe that genetics and correct raising goes a long way to ensuring that a pup becomes a great LGD. Puppy testing may give a glimpse into how a pup may be at that moment, but it does not predict the pup’s adult behaviour. What shapes the adult behaviour are things such as experiences, other dogs, the livestock, terrain and how it is raised.

Not every dog in an LGD pack needs to be dominant and aggressive. A timid pup maybe the one that sticks close to the flock and sounds the alarm when danger approaches. Another pup could be bolder and could make a great dog for patrolling and pushing predators back while another with a strong character might be one that goes out and engages a predator.  Despite the differences in personalities, each pup will grow up and fill an important role within an LGD pack. I believe any pup, from a well-bred litter should be “good enough” to be an asset to any guardian team.

It is hard to accurately describe the actual work that an LGD does, or even define “what is needed” within a pack of LGD. Most sheep ranchers have this image that the dog must always stick tight with the livestock, never leave them and be a formidable opponent if predators come calling. Those that ranged further, are often regarded as inferior or even as failures. Early research focused mostly on ensuring that a pup is encouraged to bond tightly to the livestock. Pups who are more exploratory or people orientated were often disregarded as potential LGD.

Is this puppy displaying a bold or dominant behaviour, does this behaviour at 7 weeks of age, reflect how this pup will mature?
With an increase of large predators on the landscape, ranchers are turning more towards the tougher, perhaps stronger natured dogs. Researchers have been evaluating “tougher” breeds who would be more eager to defend a flock of sheep from bears, cougars and wolves, not just coyotes. 
Over the years, I have seen a shift from the use of a single or, perhaps a pair of LGD per flock, to using multiple dogs. Dogs that are patrolling or perimeter type dogs, are becoming more accepted within the context of a working pack of LGD, where various duties are performed by multiple dogs. Some dogs move ahead of the flock and push predators further back, others stay close to the flock, some dogs are the fighters, some are the alarm system. All work cohesively to provide protection for the flock. All these roles are fluid, sometimes the more inexperienced dogs stay close to the flock while the more experienced dogs confront the predators, other times it is the energetic yearlings who are out making large sweeping circles. No longer is it expected that just one or two dogs are on duty to protect the sheep, it is more common to see 6-8 dogs with a large band of sheep.  Some ranchers prefer to integrate various breeds to provide a spread of various traits and personalities to the LGD pack. The idea is that various breeds and personalities bring a wider variety of working styles and traits to the flock, ensuring a more effective form of protection for the livestock.

Within this context of using multiple dogs, I see that there is a role for all personality’s types in a litter of guardian dog pups and one type is not better than another. If they keep the sheep safe and predators at bay, it is good enough for me. I am not convinced there is a way to test pups on their aptitude to becoming great LGDs, beyond evaluating the parent’s ability and manner of working. When a breeder raises the pups in a working environment, ensures they have a great start, are healthy and well fed, then every pup has a good foundation to becoming a well rounded LGD. My suggestion would be to place more effort into selecting a good breeder, and then raising them correctly, instead of trying to find the perfect puppy within a litter.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Interactions between LGD and other dogs on the ranch

A greeting at the fence between the LGD and the border collie.
The greeting is polite and friendly.

Interactions between LGD and other dogs on the ranch

©Louise Liebenberg Aug 2018
Written for The Shepherds Magazine

A frequent question that comes up is, how to manage livestock guardian dogs and other dogs (pets or herding dogs) on the ranch?  For many people new to LGD, this seems to be a big hurdle in their decision-making process as to whether an LGD is a good option for their ranch or not. How will LGD interact with the other dogs is often a concern.  For those who are experienced with LGD, it is a non-issue, as the dogs just work alongside one another, and generally not much thought goes into this. The expectation is simply that the dogs can co-exist together on the same ranch with each having its own role within the livestock operation. For people just starting out with LGD it is however a logical consideration as LGD are often described as being canine aggressive, so how can you integrate a LGD with other dogs on the ranch?
LGD have a very good sense of what belongs and what does not. A beloved house pet, if introduced to the LGD, is usually easily accepted by the LGD as part of the family. The house pet and the LGD should know each other, be familiar with each other but they do not need to socialize and play together all the time to be accepted. The task division should be clear, the house pet accompanies the owner, and should not be harassed by the LGD, and likewise the LGD stays with the stock and does not harass the other dog.  Most LGD have no issues understanding and respecting these parameters, more often, issues arise from the other dogs not respecting the space or work the LGD does.  Dogs are a social species, and many are happy to interact with one another. It is the owner’s duty to ensure that these interactions are controlled, and respectful. 

Working with herding dogs means that the LGD and the herding dog (border collie/cattle dog, Aussie etc.) are interacting directly together at the livestock. Some guardian dogs can become quite concerned when the herding dog starts to move the sheep around, gather them up or even nip at them to get them to move. This can create some stress between the LGD and the herding dog. We see in our own flock, that the LGD will subtly try to interfere with the collies by getting between the sheep and the collie, sometimes getting in the way that the collie must keep working around the LGD. Sometimes, the LGD will show some dominance behavior (standing over, walking stiff legged, staring at the collie, tail raised dominantly over the back or even gently shouldering the collie away from the sheep) towards the herding dog to dissuade it from working the sheep. On some occasions I have seen the herding dogs snap at the LGD, which could easily escalate into bigger problems. 

There is no reason why a LGD cannot work alongside the other dogs on the ranch.

For the most part, it is a process of learning, the collies have a job to do, as do the guardian dogs. Both dogs need to learn to work along side one another without interference. It is the shepherds job to ensure that each dog can do its job. We have zero tolerance for aggression between the LGD and the collies, they may not engage in any form of aggression towards each other. 

The collies and our LGD know each other, the herding dogs are only ever at the livestock when we are present. None of our border collies range freely on our ranch, unless we are with them. When the collies are not working they are kenneled or with us. The collies and LGD do not play together, they generally will greet each other, sniff each other, and then move on to do what is required of them. Some younger dogs might want to engage more with the other dogs, however we generally (gently) discourage this. The relationship is more like a formal acquaintance, rather than best friends. The LGD soon learn that the collies are part of the ranch and sheep activities. They are tolerant of them without being aggressive. This tolerance is expected and enforced by us. We simply do not accept anything else, if an LGD or a collie shows any aggression or rude behavior, we step in and tell them to quit. All our dogs understand that it is us who determines who is welcome at the stock. If we bring a new dog onto the ranch, then the LGD need to accept this. When we host a sheepdog trial, we lock the LGD away, as they can be quite un-accepting of the “new” collies, and this is what we want.  Introducing a new border collie pup is simple and the LGD have no problems associating the pup with our acceptance of it as a new member of the team on our ranch.

Occasionally, some tensions do arise, it requires a little more management to ensure that these tensions do not escalate. When training with a young collie we will often take the LGD out of the field or chain them up while working with the young dog.  When we are sorting and working the sheep in the corrals, we will often chain the LGD out of the way from the sheep which allows us and the collies to work without the LGD getting in the way. On flock moves, after the initial meet and greet, the collies settle down to moving the flock and the LGD move along with the sheep.

There are instances where LGD are intolerant of other dogs and this often has to do with each individual dog, some just do not get along. Disputes can develop because of jealousy, resources, intact animals (in heat females), or even established patterns of aggression like pet dogs fence fighting with the LGD. I believe it is imperative to have clear boundaries, the house pets should not be running around the sheep unattended, the collies should only be working the sheep when the shepherd or owner is present. We had a border collie that would try to fight with the LGDs all the time, unfortunately this did not end well for the collie and she was seriously injured. After she had recovered, we made the decision to re-home her. Sometimes, these decisions do need to be made to ensure the safety and well being of all the dogs, and to keep tensions down to a minimum. Over all the years, this has also been the only time when the LGD and that border collie, did not tolerate one another. Understand that this article is not addressing in pack fighting or intolerance between the LGD themselves. That is a whole different chapter.

Socializing the dogs to one another does not mean they have to play together and interact constantly in order to know one another. LGD can discern friend from foe, and certainly can accept all other dogs that belong to the family. In Portugal, the shepherds are often accompanied by small hunting dogs (Podengo types), the LGD work amicably alongside these little hunting dogs. 

The LGD and the hunting dog share a drink of water.

In Portugal it is common to see the shepherd being accompanied by smaller hunting dogs.

One of our dogs we bred, has the job of protecting racing Siberian huskies (Iditarod finisher of Karen Ramstead) from predators and other wildlife.   These huskies are staked out and can be vulnerable, this dog’s job is to keep wildlife and predators away from these dogs. This dog must interact and work with multiple other dogs. As Karen states: “All enforcement in yard situations comes from me and all dogs defer to me in such circumstances. I think that is critical in managing our dogs together. I think that it is important that dogs understand that they do not need to resolve every situation on their own.”

Similarly, every shepherd on the open range will also use herding dogs, and most farms will have companion or other working dogs, there is no reason why LGD and other dogs can not get along with each other.  
I believe it mostly comes down to dog management, and as LGD are an integral part of the sheep flock, it is ultimately the shepherd who determines what is acceptable and what is not. My LGDs happily tolerate my collies working the sheep, because they know I have zero tolerance for conflict behavior. It is just a given that they must accept the collies as I do need them to do the flock work. Similarly, the LGD need to accept a horse used for shepherding or a burro as another guardian animal within the “flock”.  Acceptance of other dogs, or other farm animals, is not a decision or choice the dog gets to make.

The shepherd leaves for a day of grazing, accompanied by the LGDs and the hunting dog.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Lucy x Kushi Pups

The pups are doing well. They have had their first vet checks, multiple dewormings, microchipped and are all eating well. Due to extremely bad weather the pups have not managed to languish outside in the pasture with the sheep in the sun. So, instead of the pups being out with the sheep, we brought some sheep to the pups in the barn.
We have also seen an increase in predator activity, so we also felt it was not safe to leave the pups outside unattended.
The first pups will be leaving this next weekend.
Here are some pictures of the pups experiencing their first snow.

This is Kushi, the father of these pups.


Purple boy

Pink girl

Small male

Red boy

no collar girl

Green girl

Yellow girl

Following Aunty Silver

Silver meeting the pups

Green or Yellow with purple boy in the background

red boy strutting his stuff

Small male

Red and blue

Red, blue and purple boys

Purple boy

yellow or green, these two are like twins hard to tell apart.

pink girl

Yellow or Green girl

Small male

Puppy taxi

Getting some loving 

Friday, 31 August 2018

Resource Guarding and LGD

Resource Guarding and the LGD
Written for The Shepherds Magazine
©Louise Liebenberg, 2018

Just about all Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD) go through a prominent Resource Guarding (RG) period as pups. Resource guarding or “possession aggression” can be defined as the dog showing aggressive forms of behaviour (growling, snapping, lunging etc.) to ensure that people or other animals stay away from a resource (food, item, or place) that the dog regards as high value. Typically, it revolves around food, but with LGD it can extend to newborns, water troughs, hay feeders, a sleeping area, and toys such as sticks. 

Resource guarding is a normal and common behaviour in (wild) canines, as this will help protect their share in food, help with their survival and establishes a social hierarchy. It can also be linked to dominance, territorial behaviours, and aggression.  Some breeds show low levels of this RG trait while others are more reactive in their response. There is researching suggesting that this trait has a genetic base to it. The degree of RG a dog shows is a combination of both genetics and learned experience. Given that LGD have been selected and evolved into protecting a human resource (livestock), it can be assumed that many LGD will show this behaviour and, that this trait has a high genetic component for all LGD breeds.  Understanding that this is a normal behaviour in canines does not mean we can ignore it, we need to be vigilant with our LGD that this behaviour remains contained and within acceptable limits. A warning to another dog or the livestock to not approach its food is fine, attacking the livestock or shepherd is not.  RG can escalate very quickly if the dog learns that it is successful in chasing away people or animals who come too close to its food or possessions. Some dogs will not just warn the livestock but will run them down quite a way and attempt to bite them. This is where the shepherd needs to step in a teach the dog that this escalation is unacceptable.

Resource guarding behaviour between two LGD.

What does resource guarding look like? Recognizing the body language early can help nip this behaviour in the bud. When it comes to food, the dog will stand directly over its food with its legs on either side. It will look anxiously around it, stare and growl at other dogs, livestock or people who approach the dog or its item.  It will often stand with tension, ears back and head low. Some will not eat or stop eating, preferring to guard their food. They will often have their food between their paws when laying down. It is a “possessive” position.  When they guard a space or inanimate objects like the water tank, they will lay there and chase anything that approaches it away, often lunging, snapping, and barking at the animals.  When it comes to babies, they will stand over the baby, keep it between their legs, sometimes carry it around in their mouth.  They will lunge and snap at the mother, at times biting her face and ears.  With items such as toys and bones, they will often chase livestock and other dogs away from the area a bone is buried. When dogs show RG behaviour by claiming a person, the dog will often not allow other dogs close to you, walking right in front of you, sometimes taking hold of your hand, staring at the other dog, growling at them, and even attacking another animal who comes close to you. It is a “claiming” behaviour to hog all your attention.

Sharing is not a strong point for most LGD, particularly when it comes to food.  Some people do not recognise that RG is the trait and that aggression and dominant behaviour, are often the outward manifestations of the RG. These three terms, dominance, aggression, and resource guarding are all different.  There is a clear difference between a dog who is aggressive and a dog who is resource guarding, not all dominant dogs are aggressive, and some never display RG tendencies.
This dog is snarling to warning another dog away from its meat, this is very typical RG behaviour.

Most of the time the dog that is RG is issuing a warning to you or another animal to stay away.
Ordinarily, the resource is food, but can also be things such as bones, sticks, toys, a sleeping area, the water tank, another dog, the hay feeder, a space, a person, a newborn baby, a carcass of an animal that has died or even  a specific animal.  When the dogs start to escalate this behaviour towards the livestock, then the boundaries of good behaviour are overstepped. If RG extends to newborn animals and results in the LGD claiming the baby and keeping mothers and babies separated, it becomes a big problem for the shepherd.  Frequently, people misunderstand this behaviour thinking that the LGD is being caring and nurturing when it is in fact claiming the baby. As babies need the colostrum directly, a dog that does this could cause the baby to die or weaken. Some dogs even regard the baby as a food resource and will kill and eat it. So, this is certainly behaviour that needs to stop. The role of the guardian is not to take over the mother’s job, instead it is to watch over them, protect them and allow the mother to bond and feed her own baby. The dog needs to butt out of the birthing process and simply do his job of watching over and being vigilant for predators.

Resource guarding (RG) is not a bad thing, but it certain does require some attention to prevent escalation. We have found that our dogs have learnt to guard against aerial predators through RG. Ravens will try to steal their food and the LGDs have learned to chase the ravens away. This behaviour has escalated in a good way, by the dogs now chasing off ravens and eagles in the pasture with newborn animals. The dogs have learned to guard against aerial predators by resource guarding their food. In a study in the Europe, French researcher Jean Marc Landry, found that dogs who show strong resource guarding behaviours were often more determined and aggressive towards predators than those who showed little RG behaviour. He suggested that the RG could be used as selection criteria for breeders of LGD.  Guardian dogs who defend a carcass from wolves, were more determined in chasing off predators.

So, RG is a bit like a double-edged sword, it is an important quality in an LGD, but it is also something that does need some parameters and boundaries. I know that if we feed kibble to our dogs, the sheep will swarm the dog to try and eat the kibble. Kibble is not food for sheep and by law, they should not be eating it.
This LGD is showing no resource guarding behaviour for her kibble.
 This is very frustrating seeing the sheep eating the food of the dog. 

 I want my dogs to RG their kibble from the livestock. They “must” defend their food, however in doing so, they may not hurt the livestock or intensify this behaviour.  There are limitations that I place on the dogs when it comes to the intensity of RG. They can chase the livestock a short distance away provided it is done in fairness and with restraint. I do not want my dogs to bite the livestock or chase them all over the pasture.  They need to be moderate in their reaction.
These LGD have chased the sheep a few feet away, and the ewes have accepted this and are not attempting to eat the food of the dogs.

Similarly, they need to be moderate in their reaction towards other dogs when it comes to feed. It is my duty to ensure they are fed at fair distance apart where each dog feels comfortable to eat. I am intolerant of a dog who decides to RG space, the area around a feeder or water tank is unacceptable and the dog has no business to chase the livestock away. Similarly, RG does not extend to me, I will not interfere when a dog eats, but will not tolerate any growling or lunging if I am close to their food or even handling them while eating.

These are fine lines that need to be drawn and mostly these need to be established when the dog is young. Just about every single LGD pup will attempt to growl when you feed him, it is at this point when the pup needs to be corrected for this. I do not advocate for things such as alpha rolls, or biting ears, or shaking a pup as this often exacerbates the problem as the dog now feels he needs to protect himself and his food.  I find the best way to deal with this is a verbal reprimand and if more is required chasing the pup away. Having a respectful relationship with the young dog really does mean that a verbal reprimand is often enough. Some dogs do get bullied away from their food by the livestock or other dogs, and that is where tying them up or feeding them away from the livestock is a good idea. This tethering is also a great way to just let them calm down and be patient while you feed.
Tethering for feeding is a good option.

 Another idea is to set up a feeding station where the dogs can come and go as they please, an area the livestock cannot get into.  Most pups learn quickly that RG of food is not necessary, provided they have plenty of quality food.  As LGD should be living out in the pasture there is space to feed, and personally I do not see why anyone needs to mess with a dog while it is eating. If they have no reason to RG their food, they mature, and are usually unconcerned about it. With dogs under a year old I generally do not accept any form of RG towards the livestock, as I find young dogs have not yet learnt how to moderate their reaction. Stopping it at this stage is easier than stopping it as a mature dog. As the dog matures and he shows restraint in his RG behaviour, then I will let it go. I find working this way, the mature dog rarely oversteps the boundaries, as the basis for good behaviour was established as a young dog. A reminder/reprimand is occasionally given if the dog shows an escalation, just to ensure the dog is aware that you are watching him.

A dog  guarding a carcass, ensuring predators and scavengers stay away.

While on this topic, a thought occurred to me that, maybe, the overriding trait in LGDs is not so much the nurturing and protection part, but perhaps they see the livestock as a resource for themselves and that resource needs to be guarded from other canines. Perhaps, the livestock guardian dog instinct evolved from resource guarding, similarly, as the herding instinct of a border collie is evolved out of a hunting sequence. I think a lot of guarding behaviour stems from RG, however the dog learns to be protective without the need to be aggressive.  Ah, all these interesting LGD related thoughts to ponder on the tractor this hay making season!

Sharing resources.

Resource guarding or nurturing, maybe a bit of both?

Monday, 27 August 2018

Kushi x Lucy pups 6 weeks

With the weather being nicer, the pups had some more outside time away from the barn.
They got to hang out with another older sarplaninac pup and some sheep.
The pups were more interested in exploring all the smells and wrestling with each other than hanging out with the sheep.
Finally, the sheep mooched over to inspect the new pups.

Purple male

Purple male

Purple male

No Collar female

Pink female and purple male

Purple and pink

Purple male

Green female

Yellow female

Pink female

Yellow girl

Pink and no collar females

Purple and little male

No Collar female

Blue male

red male

No Collar female

No Collar female

Yellow girl

Green girl


Blue male ( I think)

Red male

Red male





Add caption


Little male and no collar female

Purple male

Yellow girl

Blue male

I see that Blue, Red and Green did not get as many photo's this time around.

Little Character descriptions of the pups so far, these do change almost daily where some pups are a little quieter and others are more outgoing. 

Purple male is fairly bold, and adventurous.  Red is a little more independent and likes to sort of do his own thing, while the blue male is more quiet, watches what is happening and is perhaps a little shyer. The small male is people orientated and a friendly happy pup.

The females are more similar in their reactions. Yellow takes a little while to warm up to new situations but once everything looks okay she is happy to venture out. Green is perhaps the most caustious of the females, preferring to wait things out to see how the other pups fare when a new situation arises. Pink is fairly people shy, but is perhaps the most adventurous in exploring her surroundings. No Collar is somewhere between all the other pups. Also a little quieter in her approach, watching before being overly brave in new situations.

This is an interesting litter as they were all very quick to develop in their walking and movement. they were walking properly sooner than most litters. They left their whelping box sooner and started to eat and react faster than other pups we have had. They are also more independent in general. The are however, quieter and a little more cautious in their approach to new things.  They are not a rowdy litter of pups and also are not really vocal in their playing and wrestling with each other.

Some pups look physically more like their sire and others more like their mom. The distinction is fairly clear.  

It is going to be a tough decision which pup to keep back.
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