Friday, 26 July 2019

Responsible LGD Ownership

Two LGD alerting to some thing in the bush. This alerting can be in the form of loud barking and chasing away predators. Not every neighbor appreciates big dogs barking.

Responsible LGD Ownership
©Louise Liebenberg
May 2019

I was recently contacted by law enforcement officers to help them better understand how Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD) work, what their roles are and what responsible LGD ownership looks like. This came about because of a situation that they have in their county with a sheep producer and his LGD and angry neighbors. 
Complaints from the neighbors, roaming LGD, and livestock harassment, the result; two shot dogs and conflict in the neighborhood. 

I have decided to write a little about what I think responsible LGD ownership looks like. It is an important topic, that needs to be considered by each individual rancher and perhaps even various sheep industry groups. With activists on the ready to report anything, Peta and the Human Society trying to stop the use of working animals, uninformed but well-intentioned individuals, and perhaps a lack of knowledge from Animal Control or local law enforcement it is important to regularly address these topics. 
I welcomed the chance to speak to the law enforcement officers to help them better understand the roles and issues around LGD.
In this case of the sheep rancher and his neighbor; one of these dogs roamed away from the owner’s livestock and was caught harassing the neighbor’s cattle. The neighbor shot the dog, which he can legally do here in Alberta.  The owner claimed the dog was protecting the livestock, but the neighbor did not ask for this, nor did he appreciate the dog being among his cattle. Of course, we never know if the dog was truly harassing them, or if this is simply a conflict between neighbors and the dog paid the price for this conflict. We know that the dog was not on the owner’s land at the time, no sheep were around, and the dog was found between the cattle on the neighbor’s land. 
It is ultimately the responsibility of the owner of the LGDs to ensure they stay with their own livestock and on their own land.

A dog that works on the range or on forestry land  has vast acres to work on, usually relies on being bonded to the stock and the shepherd to keep him relatively close by, and in these situations fencing is not  do-able.  There are no neighbor’s that complain and there is little opportunity for the dog to be nuisance. In some areas, dogs will roam between bands of sheep and that is usually okay between band owners in such situations.  Unless you have a very large acreage and no neighbors, the owner cannot rely solely on the dog being “bonded” to the sheep to keep it home. A good LGD will chase off a coyote and will not stop at a property line that is not a physical barrier. Dogs do not understand our concept of property lines, for those who advocate always walking the boundary of the property line to “teach” the dog where these lines are, cannot rely on this method to stop the dog from leaving this area. For the dog, these boundary walks is nothing more than a walk with the owner, the dog will not respect this imaginary line unless other training techniques are employed, and even then, hot on a chase after a coyote, those lessons are soon forgotten.

If your dog can leave your land and get onto someone else’s land, then there is an issue. The owner of that land has every right to complain and be unhappy. In some cases, roaming dogs will fight with neighbors’ dogs, poop in their yard and bark at them. The roaming dog is also a liability as it could cause a vehicle accident, injure someone or something. There really is no excuse for your dog to not be in your pasture with your stock. Your dog does not have to be the local neighborhood watch.

For those anti-fencer folks that think that bonding alone should be enough, then you have never met a determined LGD that is serious about pushing predators back.  In Europe, where these breeds originate, there is more tolerance among neighbors and shepherds. Sheep are rarely grazed without a shepherd close by, the shepherd will ensure the dog stays close to the sheep and does become a nuisance. When the LGD are not working, they are most often chained and contained in this manner.

I understand that in some cases, dogs do escape, but this should be a rare event and you should be doing everything in your power to ensure that it does not happen again. You need to apologize to your neighbors, make amends, be polite and respectful when this does happen. On a range situation if dogs roam and go missing, you should be doing everything in your power to find them and return them to their sheep band. Having good relationships with your neighbors or neighboring sheep band, makes life a lot easier, when a simple call that your dog is missing is met with “I will keep and eye out for him”, rather than a gun and law enforcement.

Some people question why would one need a LGD if one has to have such secure fencing? This is an appropriate question to ask.  In many cases, good fencing is good enough to keep predators at bay. Not every situation warrants the use of an LGD, and in many situations I do not even think LGD are the appropriate tool for the job.  We have good fencing, but we also have times when trees fall on the fence, or a bear digs a huge hole under the fencing. Predators can still get onto our land, so our fencing is not built to keep predators out but is built to keep the livestock in and the dogs contained.

Responsible ownership also means being realistic about the use and function of an LGD. One seriously needs to examine if the 20 hens truly need a dog or would a good chicken coop suffice? The very small livestock keeper can probably get away with deterrents such as fox lights, good fencing, penning in a barn and other forms of protection for their stock. 
If you have neighbors close by, then the use of an LGD needs to be very seriously considered. One needs to seriously weigh the advantages and disadvantages of owning an LGD.  LGD do bark, they are intimidating when they bark at someone, if your neighbors are active outside, then an LGD is likely to react to this by barking.  In many instances LGD and neighbors close by, often end up in a conflict situation.

A responsible owner is considerate to the fact that having a big barking dog might cause issues with the neighbors and perhaps in a conversation with the neighbors, livestock protection can be discussed and see what the best solution is. Informing neighbors, about LGDs goes a long way to ensure that if a dog is introduced, that the neighbors would be more positive towards it and possibly more tolerant of the dogs doing their job. 

Identifying your dogs is another part of good LGD management. In range situations possibly a sheep paint marker on each dog would identify which band it belongs to. In pastured systems, a collar with a phone number, a microchip or tattoo are good ways to help identify the dogs. In some areas, where more people have LGD, dogs can often be mistaken for yours, and then issues can arise due to this. Identify your dogs, so that if they do escape, people can readily find you as an owner.

Having a conversations with your neighbors, animal control and your local law enforcement goes a long way to foster good relations and better understanding of how these dogs work.  When the law enforcement officers contacted me, they were open to learn what is normal LGD behavior, what can be expected of the dogs and the owner, to help prevent an escalation of the conflict. The questions they asked included things such as is it normal for a LGD to be more than 50 feet away from the sheep, is it normal for the dog to want to chase away “strange” cattle, how would the dog’s life be impacted if it was contained in the barn for long periods of time, what do they actually do when it comes to predators, why do they roam and many more questions of this nature. I am happy that they took the time and effort to learn more about these dogs and their behavior so that they could try and resolve the sticky situation between the sheep and the cattle rancher neighbors.

The old adage, good fences, make good neighbors certainly does apply to LGD use in areas with more people close by.

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