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.

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