Tuesday 31 December 2019

Lessons and wishes from the guardians

The last day of the year is generally a time of reflection,
 a look back at what has been,
and a hopeful wish for the future.

Although New Years Eve is just another night and New Years Day is another day, 
with chores to be done, dishes to be washed, laundry that needs doing, 
it is a day filled with hope,
and the glorious possibilities for the future.

So, these are some lessons,
 and wishes for you, and for me,
 for the new year!

Love the people, who love you.

Loyalty is everything.

Feel safe and protected by those who surround you.

Kindness is happiness.

 Family, tribe, pack, clan, network:
whatever you call it, whoever you are,
we all need one!

Be grateful for good friends.

Be courageous, lead the way!

Make new friends

Spend time with those who appreciate you.

Be brave, even if it is daunting.

Look out for others.

 Have some fun, be silly

Share a meal and have a drink, together.

Take time for yourself, enjoy the beauty around you.

Smile and laugh whenever you can.

Face the new year with determination and excitement!


From, Louise and the Guardian team a very happy 2020!

Monday 9 December 2019

Some Handy Tools

Some Handy Tools
©Louise Liebenberg

This month’s article is going to be a “how to” make a few training tools for your livestock guardian dog (LGD). I am often asked how to make a yoke or a jump through gate or even a zip line. I know that for those on a range situation these items may not be necessary, but on some smaller operations, these tools could be helpful to your operation or an aid to help working and training your LGD. 

The Yoke:
A young dog who really enjoyed digging under my fences, got to wear a yoke for a few weeks. This taught him quickly that he as simply too big to get through the holes he dug.

A yoke is a temporary aid to help stop an LGD from digging under or going through a gate or fence.  It does not prevent a dog from jumping over a fence. It is useful for young dogs who like to dig out of a pasture to escape. The yoke works by making the dogs head and neck area larger and in this way prevents the dog from crawling through or under the fence. Some people use a similar approach with goats where they duct tape a wooden plank on the goats hors to prevent them getting their heads stuck in the wire fence. I have found a yoke to be highly effective and after a few weeks, and with the LGD not having any success at escaping, it can usually be removed. It is important to ensure the dogs safety and well being while wearing a yoke. It looks unwieldy but I have found our dogs can move around, sleep naturally, chew bones and importantly protect their flock while wearing a yoke.
Yoke design 

3 pieces of 1-inch pvc pipe, cut to a length of about 16 inches. 
3 nuts, bolts and some washers, long enough to go through both pipes.
Optional: zip ties

Overlap the three pipes in a triangle shape. About 4 inches from each end, drill a hole through both pipes and bolt together, (I like to squish the pipes together in a vice and then drill through them.) Do, 2 of the three sides. Take the yoke to the dog and ensure it fits snugly around the dog’s neck. Mark where the last bolt needs to go. Drill holes and bolt together.  You can attach the yoke to the dog’s collar with zip ties if you want. Ensure the dog can move freely, and that the yoke will rotate somewhat. 

The yoke fits snugly around the neck, making his neck and head too big to fit through holes and small spaces. 

The Jump-gate:
jump- gate design 

On smaller places many people like the idea that their livestock guardian dog can move easily between pastures and various groups of livestock, this way, the dog can have access to multiple areas, while the livestock are contained in their designated pasture.  If you teach the dog it is okay to jump the fences, it might be hard to contain the dog on the property as it will learn to come and go as it pleases. Making a specific jump-gate for the dog may be a solution to this problem. The most successful jump-gate I have heard about is the inverted triangle gate. 

Wire cutters or saw, depending on the existing material of the fence.
6 pieces of wood, each length about 20-22 inches long.
Optional: latches and hinges

Cut a hole in the wire/ or wood where you would like to make the jump gate, clamp the wire between two pieces of wood in an inverted triangle shape,  screw together.  The inverted triangle makes it harder for a sheep or goat to jump through, while a dog can usually put one leg through and then the other, and then angle its shoulder through the opening. We all know that LGD can shape shift through impossibly small holes so a jump-gate should not be a problem.  Some people make some fancy designs where they use another triangular piece to make a door that can be closed to stop access for the dog. Other people have made stand alone jump-gates that can be placed between electric wires or nets.  Some people use this design for a dog feeding station, so that the dog can go into a feeding area with a self feeder that the sheep or goats cannot access. We have never used one, but I know producers who have, and many say it works very well.

The Zip-line:
A new LGD on our place get used to the zipline for safe stock interactions.

This is a great way to keep a dog in with the livestock, without giving it total freedom. Some young dogs may need to be tethered at times. By placing the dog on a zip-line it safely contains the LGD in the pasture with the livestock. A zip-line provides a lot of movement and interaction with the livestock while keeping the dog contained. I sometimes will place a male dog on a zip line if I am concerned, he might want to jump a fence to get to a female in heat.  
I usually lay the zip-line over the ground. I have found the sheep and cattle learn to step over it and we can drive over it with the tractor or truck. I never make it too tight so that it does not become a trip line.

14 gauge airline cable
2 clamps
2 rings or washers 
10 ft chain

I clamp the cable around a post or tree, and then lay it out on the ground to another pole or tree. I like to do about 150 feet. Before clamping around the next post, slide on 2 rings or larger washers onto the cable.  As the dog moves up and down the zip line the rings will wear through, by having 2 it helps wear a bit slower. I then attach a swivel and attach the 10 ft chain for the dog.  As the dog can wrap himself around a tree I general screw on two pieces of wood on the end to make a “stop”.

The dog then has 150 feet length to move and 10 feet on either side of the cable. This gives him a lot of freedom, and yet remain contained. I will make sure he has a shelter and some shade places. I use a zip line if a fence is down, or for a young dog who might need more supervision or when introducing a new dog to our place.  I prefer a zip-line to a kennel as some dogs can become very territorial of their space, a zip-line still allows for livestock interactions.  If the zip-line is attached to an existing fence, the dog might jump the fence, ensure your “stop is placed far enough away that he cannot jump a fence and get hung up. Do be aware that a dog on a zip line can be vulnerable to predators. 
Swivels zipline: how the dog chain attaches to the cable.

Zipline: wooden stop and attachment to tree for a zip-line.

If anyone has some other good nifty ideas and wants to share them, please them to me and I can share them in a future article.  

Wednesday 16 October 2019

When things are not as they appear.

Wolf collar, protects the dog, but looks unwieldy and the perception for some people is that it is a cruel device.

When things are not as they appear.

©Louise Liebenberg (2019)

I some times feel that we are conforming to this image that dogs are helpless fur babies, that only live a good life when they are obese, live inside a house and sleep in bed with the owner. Anything less, is regarded as abusive, neglectful or even cruel. Where is the respect and admiration for healthy working dogs, who are fit, strong and capable?

This “fur-baby” rhetoric is propagated by “rescue organizations” who refuse to place working dogs on ranch’s, or place pet dogs if there is not at least one “stay at home pet parent”, or the vigilante do-gooders who go around smashing car windows in order to feel good about rescuing an animal. Animal activist organizations play on people’s emotions to suck out as much money as they can to use to pay for advertisements to make even more money. Some, of these organizations go as far as to lobby for new legislation, persuade lawmakers and fund lawsuits all with the goal to stop animal ownership. Owners, who need working animals, are not organised into large (financial) lobbying groups and tend to lightheartedly dismiss the activist’s rhetoric as nonsense. When campaigns such as “bring them inside during the winter” morph into laws, and owners of working dogs are suddenly hit with the reality of this, it is often too late.

Animal abuse includes both deliberate harm done to an animal (overt or intentional acts of violence) as well as, failure to provide adequate care for the animal (neglect).  The term “animal abuse” gets used in a variety of situations and the definition is very subjective; an activist’s definition for animal abuse will vary from that of a hunter, a rancher or even that of a pet owner. 
The accusation of abuse is easily tossed around by anyone, and often is used to help turn others against an industry (Peta and their anti-wool campaign, carriage horses in New York, greyhound racing in Florida). The word abuse and the reporting of abuse can be used in cases of personal vendetta’s, angry neighbors, do-gooders, rescuers and some activist groups as a form of retaliation. In many cases laws are changed to ensure that welfare standards are upheld, and new laws are often legislated without consideration for working dogs, the “bring them inside in winter” campaigns have resulted in certain States making it illegal to have dogs outside in certain winter temperatures. These laws are often blanket laws, covering all dogs from the fat, couch potato pug to our working livestock guardian dogs (LGD) living with their livestock. It is a very fine line to negotiate and many people fear the vigilante actions of animal activist groups, the neighbor with a grudge and the 
do-gooder crusader. No one wants to be labelled an animal abuser, which often results in owners who are fearful of allowing their working dogs to work or even correcting an unruly pup. We often build elaborate shelters for the benefit of the neighbors, as we all know that most LGD will not use these structures preferring to sleep with the livestock, under a big shady tree or even nestled into a large round straw bale. We do this, so that others feel appeased, and that we are not labelled an abuser.

People driving by on a wintery day may see our LGD sitting out in the pasture watching over his sheep. The passer-by see’s a dog sitting alone out in the cold and immediately feels that this dog is neglected. We see a dog choosing to be in that spot at that given moment, watching over his sheep, doing his job, revelling in the wintery weather which he is well equipped to deal with. We see a dog fulfilling his purpose in life. The passer-by does not see a shelter, or that the dog has a choice where it wants to sit, sleep or go. The passerby calls animal control and the problems start.

Not everything that is perceived as abuse is abuse, and often, all that is needed is education to understand the situation or the reason why things are done a certain way. Regarding the anti wool campaign (Peta), the onus is on sheep keepers to educate the public that shearing is beneficial for the sheep, that it is done in a humane manner and certainly does not constitute abuse. We need to campaign as hard as Peta does, to educate the public, show videos of our newly shorn sheep and even explain that sometimes nicks and cuts do happen. We need to be active in disputing what is being told to the pubic by organizations that want to discredit our industry with misleading information. The same applies to our LGD. We need to educate people, explain what LGD do, the importance of their job and we must counter bad information. In all aspects of farming there will always be the “bad apples” who do abuse and neglect animals, and we need to distance ourselves from those folks. We need to be active in countering misinformation, share the truth and good stories on social media and campaign for the preservation and the right to work and own working dogs.

Some people seeing a large LGD wearing a spiked collar,  will immediately think that something cruel is happening to that dog, as many wolf collars are scary weapons. There was recently a case in Canada, where folks had placed a spiked collar on their LGD after it had been previously injured by a wolf. The people felt they were doing the right thing for their dog by giving it some added protection in the form of a spiked collar. They were reported to the SPCA, and had charges laid against them for animal cruelty. Fortunately, the case was dropped after the people’s veterinarian intervened and wrote the SPCA how the collar was not cruel, and it was a tool to help keep the dog safe.  If people do not understand the role of a wolf collar, they will immediately think the worst. People need to understand that wolf collars are designed to help protect the dog and are often life savers for the dog. We need to inform, educate and explain.

For many people tethering a dog is synonymous with a neglected dog living its life at the end of a heavy chain in some back yard. Images of fighting pit bulls come to mind, tethered out on heavy duty chains, a far cry to temporarily tethering of an LGD.
What many do not realise that tethering is not only a temporary constraint, but is also a training tool. Most LGD cannot work while being tethered so it is in the best interests of the owner to not have the dog tethered for a long time. Times that tethering may be used are when a new adult dog is brought to a new flock, tethering will ensure that the dog does not escape and run off, he may need to be introduced to new family members and other livestock and having the dog temporarily tethered can help with this transition. If a female comes into heat, she may be tethered in the barn or in another pasture to ensure she does not get bred, a dog who is injured may require to be tethered or kennelled while recuperating. Tethering keeps the dog and the livestock safe in times of need. If a fence is down due to a tree or other reason, an LGD might be tethered to ensure it does not get on the road and be killed by a vehicle. Not all tethering is bad.

Yokes are another lightweight training tool. The yoke in no way injures the dog, it may look uncomfortable, but it is not inconvenient nor harmful for the dog. He can run, play, move, sleep, scratch his ears, and eat.  The only thing he cannot do is squeeze his head through a hole under the fence. This training tool is temporary and designed to help teach the dog to stay within its fences in order to prevent roaming and possible death due to collisions.  Made from pvc pipes, it is light weight and flexible and can rotate so that he can lay with his head flat on the ground. It can be a life saver for the dog. The dog that cannot be contained in the fence is a liability for the owner. If a yoke can be used to help teach an LGD not to dig under the fences, and in doing so saves its life, then that little inconvenience of having to watch a dog with a pvc pipe triangle on his neck for a few weeks may be worth it.
The choice for this LGD is to sleep away from the livestock in a hard-bottomed shelter filled with straw or bury herself in a haybale close to her animals. Abuse or not?
In many areas it is mandatory to provide a shelter for the dog, and I do agree that on some very small acreages that it is a must. If the dog is only living in a confined yard, or small area, then he does not have the ability to choose the spot where he wants to sleep. Our dogs work on hundreds of acres, and they have bush, trees, natural shelters, they have ponds and open land, they have lookout areas, they have multiple places they can chose as a shelter.  In some cases, our dogs dig their own dens to sleep in. They have options and choices and are more than capable to choose where they want to sleep.  Invariably, the shelter we provide is not their preferred spot to sleep. Our dogs prefer sleeping in a thick pile of straw by a large round bale close to their stock.  Is it abusive to allow them to chose to sleep where they want? 

I think there is a role within the sheep industry to not only protect and regulate the sheep industry, but I feel they have a secondary responsibility to help ensure that our LGD remain working dogs and that they are not legislated out of a job through laws that make the use of them impossible. In Alberta, our sheep organizations have created animal welfare rules and regulations pertaining to all aspects of the sheep industry, including welfare rules for tagging, tail docking, transportation and care. What is missing, is a chapter on welfare and care of LGD and herding dogs. Having the backing of a Statewide sheep organization, with clearly laid out protocols on the work and welfare of our LGD, will provide a good educational tool for lawmakers and welfare organizations, as to what is good practices when it comes to using LGD to protect our livestock.

Thursday 15 August 2019


A pup learning submissive behaviour from an ewe.

©Louise Liebenberg (June 2019)
Many people struggle with corrections, reprimands and punishments when it comes to working with Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD).  Unfortunately, I have never yet managed to only use positive reinforcement when working with a naughty LGD. As much as I aspire to set up situations and create teachable moments, sometimes a dog does need a correction. In an ideal world it would be the livestock that hands out swift and an impactful correction to the naughty dog. Some people like to believe that the mentor dog will step in and correct the young dog, however, this rarely happens and ultimately the onus lies with you to guide and at times, correct the dog when things are not going as smoothly as you would like.

In today's world of vigilante actions groups, activists and well-intentioned do-gooders, it is increasingly hard to find the line between a correction and animal abuse. For some folks, anything, but positive reinforcement constitutes abuse.  In some cases, people conveniently forget that if the LGD is harming the livestock and is not corrected for this behavior, it often ends up with a farm animal dying and a dog being euthanized. A well-timed correction could be the difference between life and death.

I think, a good starting point when it comes to raising LGD is to try and ensure the dog has every chance to succeed. If you ensure the young dog has all the opportunities to bond to the livestock, spends the largest portion of his time in with the animals, you have secure fencing, supervise him, age appropriate livestock for the pup to be with, then you have created a good opportunity for the pup to learn. If you spend a few minutes everyday with the pup teaching it some basic manners such as come, sit, walk nicely on a lead, back off, not jump up against you then it will soon associate our words, to have meaning.

“No”, is a word that a dog can learn quickly, it has a meaning, and possibly a consequence. I believe that this form of verbal correction is the starting point, the dog needs to understand that his actions are unwanted and needs to stop. The word “no” is not up for debate. The “no” is communicating the following to the dog; stop what you are doing, change your behavior, back away and should always convey your disapproval.
A well timed “no” is probably the best form of correction, and in some cases the only correction needed! This verbal correction can be very impactful when the dog understands what the word means and that it is correlated to his actions. Timing, tone, intensity and intention can all be conveyed to the dog with that verbal correction. My dogs understand very clearly when I am really upset about their behavior, they can read it in my tone, body language, my expression and I am sure they recognize enough cuss words to really gauge how mad I am!

If the dog does not respond to the verbal correction, then it either, does not associate the word with the meaning to stop its behavior or it is overly focused on what it is doing that it ignores you. A dog chasing the sheep, might hear you, but its excitement is so high it just continues to do what it is doing. The excitement overrides the command. At this point just yelling “no” over and over will probably have no effect except to reinforce to the dog that what is happening is making you excited too and reinforces he can ignore you. In such a situation the verbal correction might have to be followed up with a consequence. The consequence could be, you run into the field and catch the dog while admonishing him, it could be that you toss a well aimed bucket at him to break his attention,  a load noise or in some cases perhaps he will get a shock from a E-collar.  The verbal command now has a consequence, and that consequence should jolt the dog out of his current mindset, stop the bad behavior and make him  aware that you are disapproving of his actions.

Remember, you goal with administering a correction is that you are not punishing the dog, you are punishing the behavior. The punishment should also “fit the crime”. If the dog jumps up against you, turning away or pushing the dog away is usually enough. If the dog is mauling a sheep, then an E-Collar might be a more likely to stop the behavior.

I am not a believer in alpha rolls, I do not believe that the dog thinks our alpha roll has anything to do with what other dogs would do. Dogs understand that we are a different species and have different ways of communicating. I am not sure if a human trying to mimic an adult bitch when she rolls her own pups, is as effective as some like to think it is. In some cases, it can dangerous.

When it comes to punishments and rewards, each can be used to get a desired behavior from a dog. A positive reinforcement can be praise, a treat, a pat or sometimes just left alone. Using a treat to encourage a shy dog to come to you will be more effective than yelling at it. A positive punishment can be when a wily old range ewe butts a pup that is too interested in her newborn lamb. The dog learns quickly that that should be avoided. Negative punishment can be something like taking away a bone that the is causing a dog to be food aggressive. By removing the bone, the dog has no reason to be food aggressive.  The best reinforcements are those that are consistent. If the dog touches the electric fence, it will 100% of the time get a shock. This is consistent and most dogs learn very quickly that electric fences are not to be touched.

I have found LGD respond very well to pressure and release,  the idea is that when the dog does something wrong you place pressure on him, this can be verbally or physically ( a lead), when he does good, you allow him the freedom to hang out with the stock and do his thing. I know my dogs like to be in my good books, they are mindful and respectful of me and really do not want to be “ousted” by me. When a young dog does something I disapprove of, he is not in “my good books”, I make sure he knows it. I find this to be an effective way to correct a dog.

In many cases punishments can be avoided by avoiding situations that can lead a young dog to make mistakes. Placing an adolescent dog without supervision, with weaker lambs could result in some problem behavior. If you can supervise this dog in that situation, you have created a teachable moment. If you ignore the dog and it makes a mistake, you have potentially created a bad situation. Putting a young dog in an area with poor fencing, could encourage the dog to roam, simply because he can easily get out and does not learn to respect fencing.    
My motto is find those teachable moments, avoid potential problems and trust the dog until it gives you a reason not to trust him.

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.

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Failure or Success in LGD

Absolute failure is usually when a dog shows to be untrustworthy with the livestock.

Failure or Success in LGD
©Louise Liebenberg 2019

Ray Coppinger talks about the three key factors that makes a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) successful or not. These three elements are the cornerstone traits of LGD; trustworthiness, attentiveness and protectiveness. When livestock guardian dogs fail, despite; good breeding, an experienced shepherd and great selection, then it can normally be attributed to problems with either a lack of attentiveness, trustworthiness and, or protectiveness. These three traits are what differentiate LGD from other farm dog breeds, and these parameters define how well the dog does its job. To this day some researchers still utilise Coppinger’s system of scoring the dogs on effectiveness based on these three parameters.
When accessing LGD, most issues that arise can be attributed to a lack of these traits. Not staying with stock, roaming, ignoring predators, non-responsive behaviour when sheep are stressed, little social interaction towards the livestock, lack of nurturing behaviour or even fearfulness, can all be attributed to a lack of attentiveness by the LGD towards the livestock.
When dogs show a lack of trustworthiness problems such as harassing the livestock, play behaviour, predatory behaviour, rough, wool pulling, ear chewing, aggressiveness, herding, sexual mounting and showing forceful dominance towards the livestock are manifested.
When the dog lacks the protectiveness to guard against predators, these dogs will often not engage predators,  “allow” predators to predate on the livestock, form social/breeding bonds with predators, low response to predators such as barking when coyotes yip, fear or predators pushing the LGD out of an area.

The presence of an LGD close to the flock works as a deterrent to predators. Without a dog close by the flock would be more vulnerable to predation.
These three behavioural traits need to be balanced; a dog might be trustworthy; because it is totally inattentive towards the livestock. This is often the case with the “all round” farm dog. He is trustworthy in that he will not attack the sheep or chickens, but that trait alone does not make him an LGD. Folks, that say that there Labrador is a great livestock guardian dog are only thinking about the trustworthiness trait and forget that the dog also needs to be attentive of the sheep’s behaviour and be protective enough to stand up and engage a predator.
An LGD can be untrustworthy; because it is disruptively attentive. This dog might be too involved, stealing lambs from the ewes, or always racing through the flock to bark at a leaf falling off a branch in the forest. There response can have a negative effect on the livestock who will not be able to settle down and graze. An untrustworthy dog will often not be trusted around the livestock as it will be wool pulling, chewing ears, harassing, chasing, biting and harming the livestock.
Some dogs might show a lack of protectiveness, despite been trustworthy, not because of lack of aggression toward potential predators, but because of their inattentiveness toward the sheep. This dog simply does not care what happens to the livestock. He does not regard the sheep as his, to be protective over. He might be a fantastic “guard dog” but he is still not a livestock guardian. A wolfhound will run down a coyote or a wolf, but that fact alone, does not make him an LGD, he will still lack the trustworthiness and the attentiveness to be successful at this job.
Failure is a very subjective term, what counts as a failure for one shepherd might not be regarded as a failure by another. Everyone knows that not every LGD is successful at its job, some are failures. These failures can be “man made” and some are inherent in the dog.  In Georgia, Robin Rigg conducted some research on LGD, and they found that owners rated their dogs as “good” (61%) or “partially good” (22%) which leaves about 17% as being “not good”. Does this translate into 17% of those LGD being failures? Everyone knows that not every LGD is cut out for the job. Failing in their job is “normal” within any working breed of dog. Not every border collie is equally able to work livestock, not every retriever has a soft mouth and not every rat terrier is an expert rat killer
The mandate for a successful livestock guardian dog is two-fold; firstly, it needs to protect the livestock from depredation and secondly, the dog should not kill/harm the livestock it is supposed to protect.  This seems straight, clear, black and white with very little gray area in between. If the dog does not protect the livestock or kills the stock, then it is a failure, right? 

What accounts for failure? The owners who rated their dogs as “not good” responded that the dogs showed a lack of attentiveness towards the livestock, the dog’s fear of wolves, poor breeding and a failure to train them as pups.  Perhaps, failure is not absolute, 22% of the respondents on that study still found their dogs to be “partially good” despite them being less attentive, not protective enough or they were attentive, but fearful of wolves when compared to the “good dogs”. 

Failure (or success) is possibly best measured on a scale of effectiveness. If the dog is good, it is effective in its duties as a LGD, partially good is that it is somewhat effective and failure is when it is never effective or a liability to the flock.
A dog that roams may be 100% ineffective if it is not with the sheep and partially effective when it is with the sheep.   A dog that is fearful of wolves may be partially effective in supporting other dogs within the pack against a predatory attack. It is well known that just the presence of having the LGD close to the flock, has a deterring effect on predators, so that alone, will make the dogs somewhat effective.

Sometimes circumstances can change the perception of effectiveness of the dog,  LGD that never stays with its band, could be a very effective guardian dog in a pastured and fenced system, a dog who is fearful of large predators might work very well in a pack situation with multiple other dogs or in a situation where the predator load is light and only dealing with smaller predators. I have known dogs who were not reliable with newborn lambs but were phenomenal guardians once the lambs were a little older.  The owner understood the value of this dog despite its untrustworthiness around newborn stock and chose to remove this dog from lambing animals and utilise him where he was very effective. It is often the willingness of the shepherd to work with the dog, that determines if the dog is a failure or not.  
I believe that when we evaluate our LGD on their effectiveness, much of what we perceive as “good” is very much based on our own biases and circumstances.  It is interesting to note that Rigg found that the owners of “pure bred” dogs were more satisfied with the performance of their dogs when compared to those who had mixed breeds,  despite no significant differences between livestock losses or how the owners rated their dogs.

One thing is clear, there are no absolutes when it comes to LGD. The degree of effectiveness of an LGD is correlated to its attentiveness towards the livestock, aggression towards predators and its trustworthiness. Dogs who were regarded as “partially good” where still somewhat effective in their roles. Absolutely failure, is primarily the result of a lack of trustworthiness. 
An LGD that is attentive, trustworthy and protective of his stock is an effective LGD.

Coppinger, L. C. (1978). Livestock Guardian Dogs. Amherst MA.: Hampshire College.
Coppinger, R., 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 http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/vpcthirteen
Robin Rigg, G. G.-Z. (Summer 2017). Livestock Guardian Dogs in Georgia: A tradtion in need of Saving? (S. Ribeiro, Ed.) Carnivore Damage Prevention News(15), pp. 19-27.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Traditional LGD Food

LGD in Macedonia just leaves the communal feed trough that is filled with the staple for shepherding dogs, a bread or porridge, mixed with scraps and either milk or whey.

Traditional LGD food.

©Louise Liebenberg  March 2019

Written for The Shepherds Magazine

We are slowly coming out of a very long and brutal two-month winter period and that is a big relief. We have had temperatures for weeks between minus 22 and minus 40 Fahrenheit, with just the odd day of reprieve here and there.  Were we live (in the sub-arctic zone), we are used to severe cold, but normally it only lasts a week or so and then it warms up a bit, this last winter was a long haul!  The extreme cold certainly took a toll on all the animals. We have used much more feed (hay and grain) than originally anticipated to both the cattle and sheep, to help them through this cold. The “outside” ewes who are only due to lamb in spring, seemed to have maintained their condition well with their winter woollies. The ewes that lambed in December are in the barn, we can see that the cold was a little harder on the lamb with their growth rate a little behind than other years.  The livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) certainly spend more time hunkered down between the sheep or snuggled in a straw bale. They rarely use the dog houses, preferring the warmth and companionship of the sheep and cattle.  One of our seven-month-old pups really learnt to bed down with the replacement heifers. Cold weather certainly does help with the whole bonding process.

With very cold weather, I like to feed the LGDs twice a day, to ensure they have enough energy to keep warm and maintain condition. I will go from once-a-day feeding, to twice a day, morning and evening. I notice a dramatic increase in the amount of food the dogs will consume when it is so frigid. The amount I feed will almost double.  While chatting to a friend and sheep rancher colleague, she mentioned that in this cold she decided to feed her dogs some “YAL” as she liked the dogs to have a nice “warm belly full of mush”. I am not really a dog food “foodie”, and when folks start talking about dog foods as though they are talking abut human health products, things like this usually tend to go in one ear and out the other. The word “YAL” got my attention, I knew what it was but was not something I had considered feeding our dogs but right now, this sounded like the perfect solution to help keep the dogs warm and increase their food intake. It is a challenge to get enough liquid into the dogs, as any liquid freezes instantly. By feeding a stew, rather than frozen meat or kibble, I would be able to increase the liquid intake for the dogs.  I decided to give YAL a try.

I rummaged around in my pantry and found a bag of quick oats, boiled it up, added some bacon grease and a pinch of salt. I made a big pot and fed this to the dogs along with their regular food of kibble and meat. The dogs wolfed it down. In a relatively easy manner, the dogs got a nice big bowl of warm food and plenty of liquid, and surprisingly, they seemed to really like it. I was concerned they would turn their noses up and not eat it, which self respecting dog would eat oat porridge?

This got me thinking more about traditional food for LGD. I remember seeing the dogs in Macedonia eating at a trough that had a bread and whey mix in it.  After doing a little more research and extra reading, it appears that most shepherding cultures across Europe, do feed a grain-based diet to the LGDs, supplemented with milk, whey, meat scraps and anything else that was left over. The dogs would get the afterbirths, dead lambs and other table scraps that were available. In some places, the dogs are fed a porridge type food, and in others a “bread” was made for the dogs. 

The communal feeding trough for the livestock guardian dogs. In the trough is bread that is usually mixed with water, milk or whey. This forms the basic diet for the LGD.
Güvener Işik writes extensively in his book “The Dogs on Anatolia” about the traditional food the dogs are fed in Turkey. “Yal” is a porridge of broken or flaked grain (mostly barley, oats, wheat, corn or in some cases bran). If only the flour version of those grains is available, then that is what is used. It is boiled with a pinch of salt and this forms the basis.  Added to this mix is often the left-over whey from the cheese making process, milk, yogurt and leftover table scraps such as vegetables and oil.  In North America we tend to forget those most of the shepherding cultures primarily utilize sheep for milk and cheese making. Every shepherding family makes a sheep cheese and the whey left from this process is added to the dog food. Whey fortifies the grain-based diet of the dogs, and due to its protein structure, a great addition to the Yal. Whey is an interesting protein source as it is neither meat based not plant based but comes from dairy. Protein, simply explained, is made up of various essential and non-essential amino acids.  Essential amino acids are those that dogs cannot self produce and needs to be consumed from an external source. Whey has one of the highest ratings for protein, when comparing common protein sources (chicken, beef, soy etc.) according to their quality, this includes how “bio-available” it is to the dog and how many of the essential amino acids are in the protein source.  (William Misner, n.d.)  It is clear to see why a basic diet of boiled grains, and whey formed a traditional dog food where both grains, and whey are readily available. 

In some areas a bread is baked as dog food.  In Spain the dogs are fed a rye bread called “perruna”. The rye bread is hard, black and weighs about 750 grams, it is easy to transport into the mountains and taken while grazing. Milk is added to the bread and this formed the basic diet.  Dating back to the 18th Century, the shepherds and their dogs ate the same portion of food as the “La Mesta” rules determined. La Mesta was a powerful association of sheep ranchers who determined that the mastines were protected by law. These wolf fighting dogs were highly revered. The LA Mesta decided that the dogs should eat the same portion and bread as the shepherds themselves, for the brave work they do.

In Romania, the traditional food is very similar to the Yal the Turks feed. It is a mixture of “Zer” (whey) and a corn-based porridge called “Mamaliga”. Depending on what is available, the dogs would get mamaliga or bread, and zer. In a large pot the zer, mamaliga, some veggies and meat scraps are boiled into a soup/stew for the dogs.  Butcher scraps like the head of the animal and large bones were given to the dogs to eat as extra.

In Macedonia, we saw first hand how important cheese making is, every family makes its own cheese (a type of feta). The dogs are fed a mixture of bread and whey, along with dead lambs, afterbirths anything else the shepherds could spare, and even small game the dogs could hunt. I know, our dogs happily hunt mice to add to their diet!

Milking sheep to make cheese is a primary use for sheep in most shepherding cultures in Europe. The milk is used to make a feta type of cheese and the dogs get any left-over milk, whey, yogurt added to their basic diet. This Macedonian shepherd quickly milks an ewe during evening chores.

According to Güvener Işik, feeding a grain-based porridge or bread will result in pups growing slower and therefore will have a stronger skeletal system.  He mentions that Anatolians were selected for and evolved to being able to thrive on low calorie and low protein diets. As he states; “Overfeeding an Anatolian is abusing what the Anatolian inherited from its ancestors.”. He makes an interesting statement regarding feed and energy levels in dogs, stating that low energy food helps to scale the dogs’ energy level down to that of the sheep. We know with horses, one can feed them “hot” resulting in a high energy horse, so perhaps this is true for dogs as well?  It would be interesting to see if some high energy/naughty dogs would calm down if fed a lower energy and lower protein diet.

One thing I can conclude, that in the brutal cold we had, our dogs really seemed to appreciate having a warm, belly full of porridge. 

The staple food for LGDs, bread or porridge and scraps. In these areas the shepherds cannot access nor afford expensive industrially made kibble. The dogs eat what the people have on hand.


Işik, G. (2002). The Sheepdogs of Anatolia. Ankara: Library of Congress.
William Misner. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.hammernutrition.com/: https://www.hammernutrition.com/knowledge/endurance-library/protein-debate-which-protein-is-best/

Monday 29 April 2019

Siblings, Yay or Nay?

Double trouble?

This article was written for The Shepherds Magazine
© Louise Liebenberg, 2019

Aah, if only life was so simple that a simple black and white answer would suffice for some very complex questions. On various social media pages, the great sibling debate rolls around every few weeks and the poor person asking, gets bombarded with answers from both sides. Some professing it is the worst decision ever and others concluding it was the best decision they made regarding livestock guardian dogs (LGD).  So, clearly the opinions are divided, and the person asking still has no idea what they should do. In this article I intend to look a little closer at this issue, one pup or two?

I will most like use the term “siblings” a fair amount, please understand that I also mean pups of a similar age, even if they are unrelated.  Kinship is generally not so much of an issue, instead it is the closeness in age of pups, is what matters.
In the “regular” dog world, it is well known that taking two pups’ home at the same time, often results in behavioral problems, so much so, that it has its very own name: “Litter-mate Syndrome”.  A syndrome is often used in the context of the medical world but can also refer to a cluster of behavioral patterns, that are both complex and difficult to deal with. With pups, these behavioral patterns disrupt the normal development of social interactions.  
Another term that comes to mind when looking at getting litter mates is the term “sibling rivalry”, suggesting the possibility of conflicts that can, and do regularly occur among siblings or similar age pups. It is a term that reflects behaviors such as jealousy, bullying, aggression and full-blown fighting. Neither term hints at a positive outcome.

A broad definition of litter mate syndrome is that two pups, (who are not necessarily from the same litter, but are close in age) are hyper-bonded to one another, to the point that they become emotionally dependent on one another, to the exclusion of humans, other dogs (or, in the case of livestock guardian dogs, to the livestock). They have no need to learn social behaviors as they rely on each other to fulfill their needs for companionship.
Some signs of litter mate syndrome with LGD include:
  • Fearfulness around people and interacting with people.
  • Lack of attention while working with them.
  • Lack of attention to other animals, such as the sheep, other dogs or even to predators.
  • They have trouble focusing on some basic commands.
  • They show a high level of anxiety when separated from one another, in LGD this could translate in not being able to place them in separate pastures or constantly trying to escape.
  • They are often very fearful of new things, sounds or experiences as they have only ever focused on each other and have not actually learnt to adapt individually to new stimuli.
  • The pups constantly distract each other.
  • Pups who constantly play with each other do not learn how to interact and behave around other dogs, their canine social skills are often poor, which can lead to issues with other dogs.
  • Fighting and bullying can occur, sibling rivalry. Some fighting can become so aggressive it can result in serious injury or even death.
  • Constantly playing together also keeps the pups from maturing, they stay in this juvenile mindset where playing is the most important activity. With our LGD, we would like them to mature and settle into their role as a serious guardian as soon as possible. Long extended play periods with each other can also result in long and extend play periods or “teenage phase” with the livestock extending well into their 3 or 4th year.
  • Lack of independence.

Sometimes siblings do go well together, not every pup will develop litter mate syndrome.  The degree of attachment will vary and so will the severity of symptoms. In some cases, the relationship between siblings is clearly defined between a more dominant and bolder sibling and a softer more submissive one. However, time and maturity can change this, nothing is permanent.  Some pups can get along great for 3 or 4 years and then one day you go outside, and the pups have got into a serious fight. A very alert owner might see the small changes in how the pups interact with each other and can recognize that the relationship is changing. An alert owner will separate these litter mates before any serious escalation occurs.
Sibling rivalry usually starts off with typical brother/sister disagreements, two pups will be playing and this soon escalates into a fight. They could become reactive of resources (food, toys, attention and space). The intensity of disagreements will often escalate, going from puppy fights to the point where either can get seriously hurt or even killed in a fight. The older they get, the more intense the fights become.

To compound issues further, sex matters. Things become ever more complicated, when you chose to take home same sex siblings. Same sex siblings tend to highlight problems more so, than opposite sex litter mates. Issues such as aggression, jealousy, incompatibility (bitch fights), resource guarding and problems within the pack are common problems with siblings, but with same sex siblings, these become magnified. It is very common to hear from people who have two pups that end up fighting and must be permanently separated to avoid major damage. Many people ask how to stop these fights once they begin and the truth of the matter is, that once the fighting starts, it rarely stops. It is impossible to predict what triggers them, it could be a look, food, being in heat, attention, an area, a toy or just because they happen to walk past each other. Siblings or same age pups who start fighting rarely ever “sort it out”, one either gets seriously hurt, or constantly bullied and, sometimes one gets evicted from the pack. In a fenced pasture system, this dog has no where to go. These dogs often end up roaming or heading back home and avoid being out in the pasture with the other LGD and stock.

The highest chance of reducing sibling rivalry would be to place opposite sex partners together, this will result in the least friction between the dogs. If you are going with same sex siblings, a neutered pair of males are likely to get along better than sibling sisters. An alliance may form between 2 brothers when there are no other females around, and plenty of work to do. Sibling sisters tend to the highest incidence for very aggressive bitch fights, particularly when one comes into heat. Spaying and neutering of same sex siblings may help keep the conflicts somewhat contained by removing the hormonal fluctuations with intact animals, but it certainly is not the “cure-all” once fighting starts
Pups raised with adult LGD tend to mature quicker and become more independent than pups who are constantly playing and roughhousing together.

Not all siblings “hyper-bond” to each other and this makes the decision to acquire 2 pups together a crap-shoot, as you simply cannot predict the outcome of who will develop litter mate syndrome or sibling rivalry and who will not. The individual temperament of each puppy is absolutely a determining factor if problems will arise or not.
In some cases, an alliance forms between siblings where the co-dependence is less, and a working team is formed.  Alliances often form for several reasons, it can be for companionship, protection, controlling territory, safety, breeding and resources. With LGD, this can translate into siblings forming an alliance, working well together to protect their territory or livestock. This alliance can become disrupted within the pack when females come into heat, or pressure from other pack members force a dog out of the pack. Alliances between siblings work well when there is a lot of predator pressure and a large area to work in. However, this ideal situation of siblings working together peacefully is less common than many realize.

To summarize, it is well known that litter mates or same age pups, can have an array of negative behavioral patterns that is detrimental to their ability to form bonds with livestock, humans and other dogs. The relationships are complex, and it is very hard to predict if litter mates will form an alliance together or become mortal enemies.  Choosing litter mates can be highly successful or a total failure and this is dependent on factors such as time, space, the degree of bonded-ness they have to each other, predator pressure, the amount of land they need to cover, individual temperaments and a multitude of other factors. For the average rancher, litter mates can be a disaster together if they start to roughhouse with the livestock, are not bonded to the stock or start roaming together. It is then certainly the case of double trouble.
Five-month-old sibling pair that have been raised together with the livestock, each have spent time away from the other in separate groups of livestock to ensure they are not bonded only to each other.
 Two pups together can also be very successful in redirecting play behavior to each other and away from the livestock, in guarding their territory and forming a front against predators. They can form an “instant pack”, providing both companionship and back up for one another. The decision to work with same age pups is a big one, and our human nature tends to get in the way of clear thinking, we generally like the idea of sibling companionship and often feel having two at the same time is easier as they will “keep each other company” and learn and grow together. We conveniently forget that it can also lead to highly aggressive fighting, disruption of the pack and problems with the livestock. 

Every owner has a different level of involvement with their dogs, when giving out advice, I try to give advice that would work best for most people and their dogs.  My advice for a person new to LGD, is to start with one pup and add a second once the first has reached maturity. Take the time to build up a working pack and in this way avoid as many problems as possible.
If the decision is made  to work with littermates or same age pups, then I would strongly advise the following; start with a (de-sexed) male/female pair, the next option would be (neutered) males, finally, the one I would least advise would be a female/female pair.

As for the raising process, try and give them separate groups of livestock to bond to, raise them independently of each other so that they can form an attachment to the livestock first. Be prepared to separate siblings if they become (hyper)bonded to each other, start fighting or being disruptive at the livestock.

A table of some pros’ and cons of raising same age pups:
Pro’s for having siblings LGD
Cons of having Siblings
The provide companionship for one another
Can develop fierce sibling rivalry with some fights ending in major injuries or even death.
Play behavior often gets redirected from livestock to one another.
However, sometimes the play behavior together, can be redirected to the livestock, with both pups forming a pack mentality. Double trouble.
Siblings can form very deep and strong bonds to each other
Do not bond to the livestock or their humans, as they have each other to bond to. Litter mate Syndrome.
It may be cheaper to buy a package deal
“Cheap” might not be the best way to select a good LGD.
Pups benefit from playing together, learning bite control and fair play.
Pups tend to stay in a more juvenile mindset for longer. Longer immature stage.
Siblings embolden each other, appearing often more confident.
One pup is often an instigator and another a follower. Hard to correct bad behavior of one.
It is a quick manner to rapidly increase the number of LGD you have.
Results in having all your LGD the same age when older, with less spread of ages and maturity throughout the pack.
Less facilitating with pups as you can do two at the same time.
Harder to supervise, interact and guide two than one. Often, they will need to be separated, requiring two pastures with livestock.

Two pups require more supervision and guidance, it is harder to separate one from the other if needed. Requiring potentially more fields, more groups of livestock etc.

Costs for feeding, vaccinations, spaying or neutering and other vet care are double, all at the same time.

If one pup escapes, it will often lead the other one to escape to. Harder to contain them.

It is hard to get a reprimand to be effective, one pup is getting punished for nothing and the other pup soon forgets what the reprimand was about, as he is focused on the other sibling and playing together.

As most  things in life are never black and white, and there are no absolutes, I will say that in some cases siblings can work very well, I can say with the same confidence, that in some cases, they do not. A lot is dependent on the owner, size of operation, experience, breeder  assistance and of course the personality of each dog involved. If I had to make a blanket statement, then I would probably recommend staggering the ages of the pups.
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