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
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.

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