Anyone who raised sheep in the late 1970’s and early 80’s will have probably
have heard of Raymond Coppinger and his large-scale research, spanning a decade
on livestock guardian dogs. I think it
is appropriate to give a nod to this man, who passed away in August 2017. Raymond Coppinger was first a dog-man, and
then got a Ph.D in Biology. He started
off with his feet firmly placed on the skis of a sled dog team. In 1976, he and
his wife Lorna started the Livestock Guardian Dog Project at the Hampshire
In the late 1970’s LGDs was virtually unknown in the USA, this was a totally
new concept of having dogs live with livestock to protect them from predators.
At that time, the USA had been virtually wolf free for many decades, and
ranchers were not accustomed to having to really protect their stock from large
predators, coyotes did however wreck havoc on sheep flocks and much of the
research was based on finding solutions to combat coyote predation.
The first study conducted in the USA on LGDs was from S Linhart, R Sterner, T
Carrigan and D Henne in 1977. Following this, in 1979 two other independent
projects began to follow up the Linhart et al results. Ray Coppinger and his
wife Lorna established the Livestock Dog Project (LDP) in Amherst,
Massachusetts, and at about the same time, Dr. Norm Gates acquired several
Hungarian Komondors for a long-term study of livestock guardian dogs at the
U.S. Sheep Experiment Station(USSES) at Dubois, Idaho. (McGrew, 1983)
No one had done any large-scale
research into LGD at that time, and certainly to date, no one, other than
Coppinger, has collected data from over 1000 dogs over a 10-year span. This
research is still the single largest, long term study conducted on LGD anywhere
in the world. Initially, the Coppingers
did a tour of ranches utilising LGD in the USA, and then they traveled to
Europe and Turkey over a period of 3 months to observe and where possible,
purchase pups of various breeds. He later purchased 10 puppies of three breeds,
they were Maremma from Italy, Shar Planinatz (Sarplaninac) from Former
Yugoslavia, and Anatolian dogs from Turkey. At this time, it was extremely difficult to
get pups out of Yugoslavia, stories of pups being transported down from the
high mountains on donkeys, (personal communication) to be sent over to the USA,
illustrates some of the challenges these dogs and the researchers faced. Some
other breeds were donated to this project and were tested on a smaller scale.
The goals outlined in his study included the placement of dogs with producers
and track their development, behaviour, and effectiveness in predator control,
to clarify “mechanisms of both successful
and unsuccessful behavior by means of controlled studies” (Coppinger, Coppinger, Langeloh, Gettler, & and Lorenz, 1988)
and finally to
communicate these results back to various interested parties. The dogs were
leased to producers so that the Hampshire College could still have access to
these dogs for breeding or other research. Producers volunteered for this
project and annually had to fill out a comprehensive report regarding the dogs,
their behaviour and effectiveness. News
of the success of these dogs spread to other producers and the program grew to
a point where over 1000 dogs were placed with livestock producers in 37 States.
A secondary study led my Jay Lorenz, together with the Coppingers was initiated
It was significant to note that this and
some of the other studies, reported a reduction in predation when LGD were
utilised on sheep flocks. These positive reports spurred the demand for more
dogs and more sheep producers stepped into using LGD.
Coppinger studied both purebred and crossbred dogs. They also did heavy
linebreeding to see what the effects would be on the dogs, to “determine if
deleterious genes were present, and crossbred to test genetic or behavioral
concordances, and enhancement or depression of structural and behavioral
characteristics”. Now, 40 years later, one can criticize this work as being
unethical regarding breeding practices, but at that time the breeding and
crossbreeding of LGDs did provided pups to a growing group of producers needing
and wanting these LGD, and it provided
additional data on the effects of this
breeding and breeds for their research. Having these offspring “out working”
and getting feedback on them is what drove this study forward.
Some of the behaviours that Coppinger studied was the relationship between
trustworthiness, attentiveness, and protectiveness of the dogs to their
livestock. Today, some organizations still utilise these parameters to gauge
how LGD are doing. The relationships
between these behaviours certainly play a significant role in the effectiveness
of the LGD. I believe these three parameters are still relevant in assessing
LGD behaviour today.
Coppinger is often blamed for promoting the “hands off” style of raising LGD.
Many people now vilify him for this, as they feel this is one of the biggest
myths he perpetuated. Reading the publications, I did not find anywhere, that
it advocated that the pup should be reared with no human contact at all.
Somehow, somewhere the message become distorted to the point that no handling
became the norm. What was written by the Coppinger was that “minimal human
contact” was recommended to allow the pup to form the sheep-dog bond. In the
old 1990’s USDA ( with Jeff Green and partners) nowhere does it say that LGD
should not be handled at all. (https://pubs.nal.usda.gov/sites/pubs.nal.usda.gov/files/LivestockGuardingDogs.pdf
In fact, they encourage some basic obedience training during the raising phase.
Coppinger did state that some dog/human interaction was required and that some
petting was appropriate. (http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1957/18914/ec1238.pdf
In all the early studies, it stressed the importance of early exposure to sheep
in developing successful guardian dogs (Green and Woodruff 1983x; Coppinger and
Coppinger 1980; 1982).
It is interesting to note that Coppinger
did find, after 10 years of studies on LGD, that success of the dogs could be
attributed to (in part) to the amount of time a producer spent with his dogs.
The dogs who were ineffective in the USA were “those where sheep scattered
widely over a great area and never flocked, or where producers did not spend more than a minimal amount of time
with the flock
. The essential difference between management of dogs in this
country (mainly farm operations) and in Europe (mainly range operations) tends
to be the amount of time owner operators spend with their stock. “
(Coppinger, Coppinger, Langeloh, Gettler, & and Lorenz, 1988)
I personally question the blame laid at the feet of Coppinger for advocating
for hands-off, feral dogs. His research has never advocated for this form of
raising. I believe this myth was a general belief that existed at that time,
were all working dogs (hunting, retrieving, herding, terriers etc), were
presumed to be better working dogs if they were not petted and treated like
house pets. This belief, combined with the need for LGD to bond to their sheep,
morphed into this idea that LGD should not be handled and preferably left feral
with the stock.
I think it is important to view the research done by the Coppingers in the time
frame, (40 years ago) it was conducted. At that time, his work was ground
breaking and it provided real science, a lot of data and a solution to
predation issues for ranchers. For many ranchers, this was research/science
that directly benefited them, and indirectly, the promotion of LGD allowed for
more non-lethal predator control. His
work and research is still cited in most new research articles today and formed
a basis from which other research has been conducted. It was pioneering to say
With 40 years more of LGD use since the Hampshire College LGD Project started, there
are new insights on how we raise and train our LGD. Times change, the sheep
industry has changed and how we view dogs has changed. We do not have to agree
with all his research, but I do think it is only right to tip our hats to a man
that made LGD use in the USA and Canada accessible. Even Ray, over the years
amended and corrected certain statements he originally made. Having some misconceptions back then or a
change in perceptions today, does not invalidate all the work he did.
If it was not for that initial study of
Coppinger, I would never have gotten to know the Shar Planinatz breed, and for
that, I am grateful. To this day, I still read his research and I see new
things or another aspect catches my attention. I have spoken with Coppinger
numerous times, primarily about LGD and cattle, it was always interesting to
share conversations and insights with him. People change, people learn and over
the years Coppinger had some different reflections on his initial work. I do
not believe we can blame Coppinger for all that is wrong with LGD now, and I am
sure he has had a very big impact on keeping sheep safe in the USA. I believe
his work and introduction of LGD to a broader sheep producing audience paved
the way for better livestock, and indirectly, wildlife management today.
I would like to conclude this article on Coppinger and his Livestock Guardian Dog
Project with his own words:
“Guarding dogs can reduce predation on farms and ranches by 60 to 70% or more.
On an individual basis, reduction of losses to predators can be spectacular.
For producers in areas where lethal controls are inappropriate, guarding dogs
made staying in business possible. Problems within the system are solvable,
given long-term recordkeeping and expert attention. We focus on the problems,
but there have been far more successes than problems over the past 10 years.
This management system has attracted increasing attention and use not only because
of its effectiveness but because producers feel they can take charge of what
happens on their farms or ranches. Dogs provide a good alternative to environmental
liabilities of lethal control methods. Costs should decrease and effectiveness
increase as more growers, extension agents, wildlife damage control personnel,
and breeders become familiar with the system.” (Coppinger, Coppinger, Langeloh, Gettler, & and Lorenz, 1988)
Coppinger has written and number of books regarding dogs in general.
"Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior &
from May 27, 2001, by Raymond Coppinger and Lorna Coppinger.
“What Is a Dog?”
from April 19,2016, by Lorna Coppinger and Raymond Coppinger.
“How Dogs Work
” from October 22, 2015 by Raymond Coppinger and , Mark Feinstein.
“Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals”
from April 22, 2013, by Raymond Coppinger, Kathryn
Lord, Lorna Coppinger
And Ray Coppingers most favorite book; “Fishing Dogs: A
Guide to the History, Talents, and Training of the Baildale, the
Flounderhounder, the Angler Dog, and Sundry Other Breeds of Aquatic Dogs (Canis
in 1996 by, Raymond Coppinger.
Coppinger, L., Langeloh, G., Gettler, L., & and Lorenz, J. (1988). A
DECADE OF USE OF LIVESTOCK GUARDING DOGS. Proceedings of the Thirteenth
Vertebrate Pest Conference. Retrieved from
McGrew, J. C. (1983).
Guardian Dog Research in the U.S. Great Plains Wildlife Damage Control
Workshop Proceedings. 282. Retrieved 08 25, 2017, from