Sunday 9 December 2018

Smart LGD

All LGD understand the advantage of a lookout and having an overview of their terrain.

Smart LGD
©Louise Liebenberg 2018

I have decided to write an article on intelligence, but I did not want to delve too deeply into this topic but rather share some of our own experiences of our dogs. I am sure everyone who uses Livestock Guardian dogs (LGD) will have a story to share about their smart dogs who have done things that have surprised us. If you have any great stories you want to share with me, please feel free to email me, I might compile them in another article some time soon.
When talking about intelligence in dogs, the border collie probably stands out as the most intelligent. They can learn a vast number of words and actions and are willing to carry out each request of “fetch porcupine” or “find blue ball” repeatedly. Those of use who work with border collies appreciate their willingness to please, their strong work ethic and of course we admire their ability to herd sheep above everything else. Border Collies rank number one in intelligence, along with other very smart breeds such as the poodle and German Shepherd. I do question if these breeds have the kind of raw intelligence that our LGD have? Are they capable of being practical, have strong survival instincts, smart and be self resilient?  We all know that the border collie is a slave to its instincts, to such a degree, they are often incapable of self control or even self preservation, which is of course not very smart.

Our LGD on the other hand are a slave to no one, and they use their intelligence to further their own agenda. They know how to be self resilient, catch a mouse to snack on and escape any fenced Alcatraz type set up we can dream up. Their ability to look after themselves, and their charges is amazing.

I would like to share a few stories of some of the things our dogs have done that have both surprised and amazed me with their ability to plot and plan.

Our hay yard is in an area adjoining one of the winter pastures. The pasture is fenced, and the hay yard is on the other side of that fence, which means our LGD do not have access to this area.  A few years ago, a fox family decided to move into the hay yard, a smart move as there are always plenty of mice in a hay yard, and due to the proximity to the barn and house, relatively safe with little predator pressure for them. The vixen raised 5 kits in this hay yard. This was a little close for our liking as we also have about 60 free ranging chickens that like to venture to the hay yard too. My husband mentioned a few times that I should let an LGD out into that area, to persuade the foxes to move away. I differed in opinion, feeling that if these foxes were leaving the chickens alone, I was fine with them eating the mice. Remarkably, the foxes never did kill a chicken.
At that time, we had this Sarplaninac female called Alaska, who absolutely hated any predators or intruders. She would put on quite an impressive display of barking, snarling and growling that would terrify any predator, human or animal. The foxes learnt fast to stay out of the pasture and avoid the dog. This frustrated Alaska enormously. One day I noticed that she had quit barking at the foxes and would just stand close to the fence. She would gently wag her tail, soften her eyes and slightly drop her ears, she looked friendly, it seemed like she had accepted their presence.  The foxes were not deceived and still refused to risk going close to the fence. It seemed like she was trying to entice these foxes into believing that she would not harm them if they came close.
Sometimes, Alaska would sleep behind a panel or bale close to the shared fence line and if a fox got closer, she would try to ambush it, but the foxes got wise to this tactic.  After a few days, I noticed that Alaska started to leave some of her meat and bones close to the fence, she would them amble off and watch what was happening, ignoring the foxes. I was following this fox vs dog closely, as I was rather amazed that this dog seemingly accepted these predators so close by.
If a fox came closer to the meat she would leave it be, allowing them to get more comfortable with her, it appeared like she was baiting them to get them to come into the field.  As soon as a fox even stuck its head through the wire she was roaring mad again and trying to kill them. The foxes and Alaska continued this cat and mouse game for several weeks. The foxes would only enter the field if they knew she was not in the vicinity, they would pop up onto a bale to look out over the field scanning to see where the dog was before venturing in. It amazed me to see the ability to plan and attempt to bait the foxes, also realising her aggressive tactic was not working and needed a new approach. Her end game was to try and get the foxes in the field so that she could catch them.
They are masters of disguise and stealth.

Here is another story that illustrates the LGD ability to observe and figure things out.  Most ranchers I know, the entire operation is held together with baling twine and rope. Ours is no different. In some of our gateways we use large hog panels to close the entrance, this allows us to move large combines and other equipment through 40-foot openings. To make things easy for us we usually tie them with rope so that we can cut the rope and remove easily, especially when they get snowed in.  Lucy, one of our LGD figured out that if she wanted to go to another field or the barn area, all she needed to do was chew through the rope that forms the hinge of the gate. This has happened time and again. She does not chew other ropes anywhere, just those used to hold the panel up, when she feels she needs to go elsewhere. She does not chew through the rope tying two panels together or any other ropes, just the one that will open the panel.

Another story of smartness involves a dog we had back in the early nineties. This dog was an amazing LGD and was one of those dogs you wished you could clone. She was a very alert and aware dog. She had a memory that amazed me. If a rabbit ever crossed in front of her, she would remember that spot where that rabbit was for years. Every time we walked close to that area, she would get excited and start focusing on the exact area where that rabbit once was. At that time, we were shepherding all over the place, and it would sometimes be months or even a year later before we returned to that spot, and immediately she would perk up and remember that that spot was a place for a potential meal. Researches have found that bears sometimes return to a spot they had previously found food for as long as eight years later. This kind of “street wise” intelligence appeals to me, I know this dog would easily survive if a zombie apocalypse happened, domestication did not ruin their survival instincts.

Working co-ordinated as a team, shows a level of understanding and intelligence our LGD possess.
My final anecdote is how our LGD understand the need to work together and use team work to achieve a certain goal.  I am convinced that they can understand the concept of division of labor. We had ewes grazing a few miles from home. They were in pastures surrounded by bush.  The sheep are grazed in electric nets and these nets are moved every few days. The LGD are permanently with the ewes in these nets and we do daily checks on the ewes and dogs in this area. We know that bears frequent these fields for the berries in the bush and due to the proximity of bee hives. That night, we had 3 dogs working with the sheep, something must have spooked the sheep and they pushed through the electric nets and broke out. The flock split into 3 groups, one group stayed behind in the nets, one group ended up on one of our hay-fields about a half mile away and the third group came home. It was quite uncanny that the LGD split up and one dog stayed with every group, even though all the dogs knew the way home. Every group of sheep was accompanied by a dog.
I must admire their bravery, loyalty and that fundamental form of intelligence. They may not do party tricks, or listen when you call, they certainly will not fetch a ball or jump through crazy hoops on command, but when it comes down to the line, these dogs are smart, resilient and have some great primitive survival skills!
Working with multiple species, figuring our various behaviors is all part of a LGD job, it requires insight, perception and of course intelligence.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...