Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Introducing a new LGD puppy

 



The submissive behaviour of the pup is clear. The pup has its ears drawn back, licking behaviour around the mouth, low body posture and low tail. It is a bit harder to see but the eyes of the pup have a soft and friendly expression. The older female is calm, ignoring but her attitude is gentle towards the pup. These are all good signs.


How to introduce a new LGD puppy into an existing pack of LGD

©Louise Liebenberg (2021)
Written for The Shepherds Magazine

I have in a previous article discussed how Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD) and other farm or ranch dogs interact together, in this article I would like to focus more specifically on the introduction of a new LGD, pup, into an existing group of LGD.

Introducing a new LGD puppy between the ages of 8 to 12 weeks, usually goes without too many problems provided, the existing dogs demonstrate normal dog behaviour. Most dogs will willingly accept a new puppy into the pack. Older males will often display a certain level of uninterest after the first introductions. An older female can show a little more disciplinarian types of behaviours. If the puppy irritates her, she will most likely snap, growl, “hold” the muzzle of the pup or roll the puppy. It is often a lot of noise, but little harm is done. The pup will howl and whimper and do as if he is seriously injured. In most cases, it is just his ego that is put out. A younger male is generally the most sociable to a new pup and will often display a lot of enthusiasm and play behaviour towards the pup. Younger males make excellent companions for pups. Females can be a little bitchier than their male counter part, but usually will also engage a little more with the pup.

Some pups can be totally overwhelmed when meeting new dogs. These pups can sometimes show defensive behaviour, growling when another dog approaches them. Care must be taken with these pups that the older dogs do not react negatively towards them because of this.  It is a good idea to let the pup settle in, rest, eat and relax a bit before introducing them to the other ranch dogs.  Waiting a few days might not be a bad idea. These pups often react poorly simply because they are stressed from being separated from littermates and travelling to a new place. The change of livestock can also be a stressor, take things slowly and ensure he or she is placed in with kind ewes so that the pup does not get hurt by the livestock, most working raised pups will be happy to be with the sheep. An indirect way to start introducing the new pup is through scent. The scent of the pup will be on you, so when you feed and interact with the other dogs, they will start “knowing” the pup through its scent being on you. 

It is easier to introduce an 8-week-old pup to the existing pack than it is an 8-month-old. Older pups can be rather rambunctious, and some may react a little more aggressively towards the established dogs. Reading the behaviour of these older pups is essential during introductions. If it looks like he may react aggressively it might be a good idea to first let him meet an opposite-sex dog first. You really want to avoid any form of conflict during the introductions as that could set things off on the wrong foot. Dogs do hold grudges, and if things go wrong initially it might be awfully hard to convince either dog to get along. 

This is a fence line meeting. Both the pup and the adult male are showing relaxed behaviour and they want to hang out together, as both are in the same corner. The male shows some interest, and the pup is calm. I would have no concerns placing these two together at this point.

Observe the body language to judge how acceptive your LGD are of the puppy. If your adult is showing friendly and curious behaviour you would expect to see a relaxed posture, slow tail wagging, a higher tail set, butt sniffing and even some invitation to play, like a play bow. These signs tell you that the adult is happy to meet the pup and it will be okay to let them interact. If the adult dog is showing more hostile behaviour such as ears pulled back, rigid body, tenseness, growling, snarling, stiff legged walking, lip lifting, hackles raised you really want to be careful as anything could trigger this adult to attack the puppy. Take introductions to this adult very slowly and carefully.

 

Behaviours the young pup might display when meeting new adults are generally submissive in nature, low tail wagging, rolling over onto back, some mouth licking, crawling and low to the ground, tail between their legs and urinating. These are good signs as it shows that the pup knows how to respond correctly to strange dogs. He is being submissive and respectful, and every normal adult dog will not harm a pup that is displaying these behaviours.

The safest way to introduce the new pup is to allow them to meet on neutral ground. Dropping the pup off in the pasture the resident LGD lives in, can be a little intrusive. Try introducing them in a field where there are no sheep, toys, or a shelter that the resident dog might feel the need to guard. Some older dogs can be very territorial so meeting at a fence line can result in the older dog wanting to guard his area, similarly, a dog who is tethered can be are very protective of their space. If you do fence line introductions take both to a neutral area for the initial introductions.

Keep the pup (and the resident LGD) on a lead, set the pup down outside the fence and just observe both dog’s behaviour. If both show curiosity, and friendly then bring the pup into the field where they can engage in butt sniffing and other social meeting behaviours. Ensure someone is with you to keep control over the adult, “just in case” things do not go well, this way you can control the interaction. Be aware of your own role in these interactions as you might be the trigger to cause some tension. The resident dog might feel some jealousy towards the pup, or attention seeking behaviour could be a reason for stress. Try and remain very calm and neutral and just observe what is going on.  For the most part these meet and greets do go well.

An adolescent LGD meeting a mature dog in our LGD team. You can clearly see the submissive behaviour of the younger dog to the right, low body posture, tail low, sniffing/licking around the mouth. The older dog has her tail raised, but her body language is not aggressive. The younger dog is showing deference to the older dog.


You can expect the older dog to possibly growl at the pup or show some dominant behaviour toward the pup, however it should not be threatening. An older dog will very quickly place boundaries on a new pup which is not a bad thing. Reading the dog’s behaviour is important to know when the adult dog is being aggressive and can harm the pup, or when it is more corrective and simply warning the pup.
Most dogs work out their social ranking quickly and learn how to interact in a positive way. I have found with my own dogs that they are very tolerant of a pup; however they will reprimand a pup for being overly enthusiastic, irritating, obnoxious and not being mindful of their space and food.

I feel that most of these introductions go well provided both pup and adult dogs are well adjusted and show normal dog behaviour. Small things like taking out food, bones, and toys to reduce the potential of conflict is always a good thing to do.  I have a safe puppy kennel in the pasture so when I am not around to supervise these interactions and to ensure the safety of the young pup, I will place the pup in the kennel. Here the pup can eat, sleep, and still see what is happening in the pasture and be in contact with the other dogs.

While some dogs delight in welcoming a pup into the house, other adult dogs do not open the "welcome wagon". If the adult dog is not friendly, introductions might need to take longer, particularly on neutral ground and on a lead. Sometimes the older dog needs a few more weeks to warm up to the pup and that is okay. If the adult does not accept the pup within a few weeks, while the pup shows good behaviour, the adult dog may have some behavioural issues that could make it hard to have more dogs working with it.

I think the key to good introductions depends a lot on the owner’s capability to read dog body language, to remain calm and to not make a big deal of it. I have expectations of my own dogs to accept my working border collies, any new LGD pups I add into the pack, to accept new livestock or even a different species of livestock. My LGD are expected to behave in a normal and natural way and if they do not, I will step in a reprimand or correct unwanted behaviour.

This is a fence line meeting. Both the pup and the adult male are showing relaxed behaviour and they want to hang out together, as both are in the same corner. The male shows some interest, and the pup is calm. I would have no concerns placing these two together at this point.

Friday, 13 August 2021

What LGD breed is best for my situation?

 

A shorted coated Estrella working in Portugal. The Estrella also comes in a long-coated version.

What LGD breed is best for my situation?
©
Louise Liebenberg (2021)
Written for The Shepherds Magazine


 With over forty different breeds of Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) breeds, a common question is what breed would work well for a specific situation. Often, the responses are as simple as “I love my … (breed name)”. Rarely do people explain what makes “their” breed unique or why they chose them.  Over the past four decades, several researchers have tried to establish which breed is the best. Coppinger and his colleagues compared Anatolian, Maremma, Sarplaninac and, crosses between these breeds. More recently, Daniel Kinka and Julie Young compared Kangals, Karakachan, Transmontanos and White Dogs (a generic name for a cross of white LGD often found in the USA).  The conclusion from their study was that most of the breeds are more like each other, than different (in regard to working style). This should not be a huge surprise as all LGD have the same job to do and it makes sense that these breeds would be similar in how they respond to predators.

The athletic and reliable Turkish Akbash working on a sheep ranch in Northern British Columbia, Canada.

It is also hard to compare breeds as every working situation is unique, the predators that the dog is expected to protect from, can range from raccoons and weasels to bears and wolves. Even the pressure that certain predators place on the flock varies, in some region’s wolves are thick and in other regions there may be none. How flocks are managed can affect how the work of the dogs is perceived. Owner bias makes comparing breeds difficult as each person will value different traits, temperaments, and abilities all within their own reference point. Sometimes, the lack of good statistical data can get in the way of fair comparisons, if you are studying a population of thousands of dogs, the data will generally be more accurate than if you are studying just a handful of dogs. An example of this is the Great Pyrenees (GP). The GP is often associated with roaming, however there are probably more GP and GP crosses than any other LGD in North America. Yes, these might roam more, simply because there are so many more GP around.


A white Sarplaninac working in Northern Alberta, Canada on a sheep and cattle ranch.


Gross generalizations about breeds are of course, not really the “right” thing to do, for every generalization, hundreds of exceptions will be found. In some instances, there might be more variance between individuals within a breed than between different breeds. However, most people still like to know some of these generalizations, to be able to narrow down which breed might suit their situation best. I know making such a comparison is “treading on thin ice” as some people might feel their breed is being misrepresented. My advice to people looking for LGD is to meet breeders, talk to fellow livestock owners and visit with various dogs. The breeder might ultimately, be more important than the breed itself, as it is the breeder who can help and mentor you while learning to work with LGD.

I do believe, it is primarily, the wolf, that has shaped the behavior and temperament of our LGD, and this can be reflected in the reactivity and aggression level in LGD. The first gross generalization I will make is; if you look at the map of Europe and move from west to east, the breeds tend to get harder the further East you go.  Why would this be? Perhaps it has to do with the number of years that the wolf has been extirpated in certain countries. Wolves were officially declared extinct in France in the 1930s. It is only since the 1990’s that wolves have really started drifting from Italy back into the French Pyrenean Mountains.  Before this, few Great Pyrenees dogs had seen or faced a wolf for many generations in their home country.  With no need for the GP to be aggressive toward wolves for close to 60 years, perhaps this led to selection of milder natured dogs who display high nurturing traits as opposed to high aggression traits. Italy has been a stronghold for wolves in Europe when many other countries had extirpated them. Regions where wolves have always existed, shepherds have always worked with their Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdogs. The “Maremma” would rate higher for protectiveness simply due to the ongoing selection for dogs to be able to work in wolf territory. Russia and central Asia has a large population of wolves (wolves were never extirpated here) and is home of the Ovcharkas. Breeds that are large, powerful, and regarded as high aggression breeds. Predator density plays a big role in the selection of aggression and ferocity in LGD.

People asking which breed would work best for them, often have a list of criteria for the future LGD, these can include no roaming, barking or must be super friendly to visitors and tolerant of dogs. It really does need to be mentioned that all LGD like to roam and expand their territory. All LGD bark, that is part of their working strategy. Incessant barking is often found in immature dogs. Friendliness to strangers can be encouraged through more intensive socialization, however some breeds are naturally more standoffish. As for tolerance towards visitors’ dogs, it is unfair to expect the LGD to be tolerant to strange dogs and yet protect again canine predators.

A pair of working Sarplaninac dogs guarding goats in the mountains of Macedonia.

I am going to make some broad comparisons, as this may help people narrow down certain criteria that people starting with LGD might find handy. I will also include the common abbreviations for the breed names as I go along. I think ideal LGD to start with, are those breeds that have been used for many years in North America. I have selected the more common breeds for this overview and breeds I have some experience with.

Good breeds for the inexperienced homes or ones looking for an easier going temperament may include Great Pyrenees (GP), Maremma, Akbash, Anatolian Shepherd Dog (ASD) and Spanish Mastiff (SM). Breeds that are sharper in nature and possibly better suited to high predator areas would include:
Kangal, Central Asian Shepherd (CAS), Sarplaninac (Sar or Shar), Karakachan, or Kommondor (Kom).  This does not rule out the easier breeds cannot work in high predator areas, I know many that function well; however their temperaments are perhaps a bit easier to get along with.

Breeds better suited for warmer climates: most LGD breeds are double coated however some have a shorter length coat. These would include Akbash, short-coated Estrela Mountain Dog (Estrela), Kangal, ASD and CAS.  Longer coated breeds include the Maremma, GP, Sarplaninac, Karakachan. Corded coat is the Komondor and will require a lot of coat maintenance.

Athleticism or breeds that need to cover larger areas. These breeds are often found in Europe and Asia on the more steppe type landscapes include the Akbash, Kangal, ASD some Maremma and CAS. The mountain types are often heavier coated breeds and more stout body types. These would include the Great Pyrenees, Sarplaninac, some Maremma and Karakachan.
Depending on lines the Spanish Mastiff can vary from big and heavy, to sleek working types. Some breeds have such variance a lot will depend on what each breeder selects for. Some are described as “show type” vs working type.

Coppinger in his studies talked about trustworthiness and compared some breeds for this trait. I think some breeds may require more supervision and guidance as young dogs.  Breeds that may be easier to start and that have a high trustworthiness can include the GP, Maremma, ASD and Akbash. Breeds that may require more supervision may include the Sarplaninac, the Kangal, CAS and some Maremma, as they are late maturing and this may lead to some more extended play periods,

Certain breeds are more driven to run down and chase predators while others are content to bark and warn predators away. The more driven breeds would include the Kangal, CAS, Sarplaninac, while the ones possibly more content to stay around closer to the flock would include the GP, Maremma, Karakachan, the Estrella, SM and Akbash.

Size, many people feel that to be an effective guardian dog working with apex predators, they must be large. Size is not so much an issue, I believe character, determination and a certain degree of aggressiveness is what makes the difference. Some breeds are just more willing to fight and are naturally more aggressive than others. Large sized breeds are SM, Caucasian Ovcharka and CAS.
Medium sized breeds include Maremma, Estrella, Karakachan, Sarplaninac and Great Pyrenees. Tall breeds include Kangal, ASD and Akbash.

Some people only want white LGD, this will limit the breeds to chose from to Kuvasz, Polish Tatra Kommondor, GP and Maremma. Many LGD are coloured.

Availability is often an issue. The CO is regarded as a high aggression breed, but it is virtually impossible to find good, working CO. Most are bred for show or as guard dogs for pet homes and very few are bred in North America as LGD. Similarly, with the Sarplaninac. Most Sarplaninac imported to the USA are from show breeders and for many generations have not been used as LGD. The Sarplaninac and many of the other breeds, have also been used for dog fighting in their home country, breeding selection has been based on dog fighting. Many of these dogs fail as working LGDs, simply because they do not posses the traits of nurturing, calmness, and attentiveness towards the livestock.

Each breed brings a unique balance of “skills” to the proverbial table, and to the discerning buyer, the right breed for their situation is “out there”. Some ranchers like to use a combination of breeds, the feel this maximizes effectiveness whereas I feel each breed has the capabilities to fulfill  all the roles required to protect the flock.


Friday, 28 May 2021

Why are some breeds simply not LGD

 


Why are some breeds simply not LGD?
©Louise Liebenberg (2021)
Written for The Shepherds Magazine

It must be in the air lately, but the last few weeks I have spent a disproportionate amount of time explaining to people that their Cane Corso, Elkhound, Wolfhound and Boerbull are not livestock guardian dogs (LGD). So, perhaps an article about this topic is due and then instead of having the same discussion over and over I can share this article with my view on what is and makes a Livestock Guardian dog and why other breeds are not LGD.

I will start with some common statements about LGD.
LGD are breeds that are used to protect livestock from predators. They live with the herd or flock full time and are regarded as “part” of the flock of animals. They work instinctually and are not “trained” to guard or attack predators.  They are bonded to the livestock and through this bond feel a strong attachment to these animals, they feel compelled to protect them. LGD do not “herd” sheep but sheep do follow the LGD and look to the guardian dog for safety.  Active herding like a border collie does, is not what LGD do. All LGD share a similar methodology in how they work, and most share similar phenotypical characteristics that make them suitable for the job. These physical characteristics include size (most are large breed), lupine build, all except one, have a double coat (even the shorter haired breeds), all have ears hanging down, correct jaw and bite (no Brachycephalic head structure), all are loose and thick skinned. LGD can be found across Europe and Asia in any area where sheep are raised, sheep are mostly raised on marginal lands, high mountains, semi dessert and rough land. Most European and Asian countries have their “own” breed of LGD. They are the oldest type of “sheepdog”, earliest accounts go back 2000 years, LGD pre-date herding dogs and are as such the “original sheepdog”. There are basically three types of sheepdog/shepherd dogs, the guardian, the herding, and the droving dog.

Simply co-existing with the livestock does not make a dog an LGD, it needs to have the innate traits of attentiveness, protectiveness and trustworthiness combined with the physical attributes to ensure it can do it job optimally.

In my opinion, certain breeds belong to the group of livestock guardian dogs, but not every dog of that breed is a livestock guardian dog. The dog is only an LGD, if he or she is out doing his job. If someone has a pet Great Pyrenees in the suburbs, the dog is from the group of LGD but is not actually performing the task of being an LGD. I would call that dog a GP, but not an LGD. The LGD is a job description for a specific group of breeds. Within the groups of most kennel clubs the Livestock Guardian Dog does not have its own group name and can be found spread out among multiple groups, ranging from the Herding and cattle dogs to the Mastiff types to Mountain types.

When reading through breed standards of other breeds from the various kennel clubs; America Kennel Club (AKC), United Kennel Club (UKC), and Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) much confusion is created with the use of certain words and language. A lot is lost in translation and in some instances, whoever wrote the breed standard obviously was not well versed in specific jobs for dogs or humans. Traditionally, sheepdog refers to a guardian dog and not a herding dog, however it has become synonymous now with a “dog used by a shepherd”. The word sheepdog can now mean a breed that either herds, droves, or guards the sheep.

With the Sarplaninac, the breed English version of the breed standard specifically notes that they are used in cattle operations, however, the original meaning was lost in translation. The original word was “livestock” and when translated into English became “cattle”. That Sarplaninac are used primarily to guard sheep and goats in their home country and not cattle, illustrates this translation flaw. Reading a breed standard does require some critical thinking and understand the origin and exactly the type of job done by the dog. Not all breed standards reflect the actual role the dogs played and for the writers of the standards, many lack the specifics, using broad language to describe a general role the dog might have had. Even now, some dogs may have had a job as shepherd, but many have either lost their job or the work has changed over time. Where the German Shepherd Dog was a herding breed it is now primarily used as police dog and family guard dog. The selection criteria for this breed has changed over time and one may be hard pressed to find an original sheep herding GSD now days.

There is a big difference between what a guard dog does and a guardian dog. Some people prefer to use the name livestock Protection Dogs as opposed to livestock guardian dog, to differentiate these roles. I prefer the word guardian simply because it also implies a nurturing/protecting behaviour. People who have never worked with LGD or are new to LGD often do not understand why their Labrador or Pitbull are not LGD, particularly when that dog is reliable around the livestock. It may bark or even chase a coyote on occasion, however, that still does not make it an LGD. Every farm dog should learn to not kill the other animals on the farm, that is called socialization and training.  It is the same as your house pet not killing your house cat. They must learn to co-exist with one another. Being a LGD is more than just being accepting/tolerant of the livestock.  Being trustworthy around the livestock is an important part of being a LGD, but it is not the only trait that makes it an LGD. Often those people who feel their Lab or Aussie makes a good LGD do not have their dog living full time in the pasture with the livestock and that is the first big differentiation between LGD and general farm dogs.

I have heard a few people suggesting that Norwegian Elkhound make good LGD. This makes may head spin a little. The general breed description is as follows: “Shipmate of the Vikings, guardian of remote farms, herder of flocks and defender from wolves and bear, a sometime hauler and a hunter always, and a companion to restless wandering men.”  However, reading further, its true nature or job is described: “they are classified as hounds by virtue of their job description: trailing and holding warm-blooded quarry.” (https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/norwegian-elkhound/) 
 That the initial description describes it as a companion, found living on farms, this describes a general all-round farm dog as opposed to an LGD, its main task was to help the hunter find his game. Some of the people suggesting elkhounds as LGD, allude to this general description citing that historically Elkhounds did work as LGD. Elkhound may have warned its owners of wolves or bears in the area, its job can be better described as being a property sentry as opposed to an LGD. It was never expected that an elkhound does battle with predators, nor would it live full time with the livestock. This is reflected in the size, weight and general conformation of the breed, nothing physically about this northern Spitz dog, suggest that it could fall under the same working category as all the other LGD breeds.
Similarly, an Irish Wolfhound might once have been used to chase down wolves however they too were never required to live full time with the livestock, bond with the sheep and protect them. Too often once sees cross Irish wolfhounds promoted as LGD, what is forgotten is that hounds were traditionally used to run down and hunt big game, something that you certainly do not want in with your sheep. I think the biggest clue that these breeds are never LGD is if in their breed name, words such as hound, retriever or terrier are mentioned.

Now onto the bully breeds, the Boerboel is the ultimate South African farm dog. I was born and raised in South Africa and just about every farm had a Boerbull. Boer is the Afrikaans name for farmer. In its breed description it is described as the farmers companion, the protector of the farm and livestock. This breed description, similarly, to the Cane Corso and so many mastiff types where more generalized farm dogs. Sure, they would protect “hearth and home” but were not specialized LGD, with that one singular task. They are the “watch dog” of the farm or ranch, somewhat intimidating to see, will bark at strangers, or even predators in the vicinity but they were never used solely to guard a bunch of sheep. As with the Elkhound, their conformation, coat type and other physical features does not lend itself to living year-round in the mountains and other harsh climates with the livestock.

Part of being a full time LGD requires the dog to live full time under all weather conditions with the livestock it needs to protect. If the dog does not live with the livestock it becomes hard to protect them.


 In my opinion the true working LGD lives full time, year-round with the animals it needs to protect. It must have the desire and ability to protect the animals from predators. It must be willing and capable to do battle with predators should the need arise. A LGD conforms to a specific type of build, not too large to lack maneuverability and not too small to be vulnerable during a predator attack. The dog needs to have the coat type to be able to withstand all weather conditions. The floppy ears and soft expression are said to have a less predatory look, and this helps in keeping the sheep calm. I am not sure if this is true, but it is noteworthy that every LGD breed shares this trait and yet spitz breeds and many high drive herding breeds have erect ears. All wild canids have erect ears!

LGD must have the ability to bond to the livestock, the LGD will guard the sheep no matter where they are and not just be a territorial guard dog. The LGD will have been bred and certain traits selected for to perform its job. It needs to be attentive to the livestock, trustworthy and protective. The LGD must have the courage to face up to large predators and the gentleness to be around newborn livestock. The LGD must be an independent thinker as it is not the shepherd who commands the dog to protect the livestock, it is instinctual to want to protect the prey animals it lives with.

I do think that many people looking into using LGD on their homestead, may in fact not be looking specifically for a LGD but are instead looking for an all-round farm dog that covers the diverse role that traditional farm dogs did. The Old Yeller, Rin Tin Tin or Lassie types of dogs. The ones who live alongside all the farm animals, that plays with the kids, guards the yard and family, and a companion to the farmer. Due to its presence on the homestead, these dogs do have a deterring effect on predators. Ultimately, I think many small homesteads may be better served having an all-round farm dog than a specialist such as the livestock guardian dog.

The LGD needs to form a bond with the livestock so that it feels compelled to want to protect them no matter where the livestock graze.


Thursday, 6 May 2021

Self Rewarding Behaviours in LGD

 

A young 8-month-old dog play bowing to these heifers. The play bow is an invitation from the dog to play. This is a perfect moment to give a verbal correction to the dog and discourage play behaviour.

Self rewarding Behaviour
©Louise Liebenberg 2021
Written for The Shepherds Magazine

People who start off with Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD) are often confused why their adolescent LGD start chasing sheep, nipping legs, pulling wool, and displaying a bunch of traits that are concerning and unexpected.  Why would the dog harm the animals it is supposed to protect? In this article, I am going to dig a little deeper into what motivates the naughty LGD and the instincts that can be triggered by continuing this behaviour.

Where traditionally LGD were primarily found on open ranges, in shepherded grazing flocks or large operations, many LGDs are now finding placements on smaller livestock hobby/homesteading type places. On big range operations the amount of work, other dogs, and the space they have often provides enough stimulation for a young LGD, that it is less common to see major issues with things like chasing, nipping wool pulling, ear chewing and other bad behaviour. Often, the owners are also experienced in managing LGD and this behaviour is quickly corrected.  
For many people new to owning and working with LGD, this bad behaviour comes as a shock. The LGD  should not hurt the livestock it is supposed to guard. When it does happen, many owners are very confused by this behaviour and are more often in disbelief that their sweet pup could harm the livestock.  There are several reasons why LGD display this type of behaviour, commonly it is seen in poorly bred LGD, where generations of selection for good LGD traits have not been a priority, or among crossbreds with non LGD breeds, a herding dog crossed with a LGD is more likely to show more chase and nipping behavior.  However, even well bred, well raised LGD can display this concerning behaviour and unless stopped, problems can escalate.

Young LGD often go through a naughty phase, this is normal, however what is paramount is how the owner responds to this bad behaviour, that will determine whether the naughty LGD will become a reliable guardian dog once it matures.
All predators (even our LGD’s) go through a learning stage to hone their hunting skills, all predators do this. All young predators play, and the type of playing they do is specific for predators. The type of playing prey animals do is different to that of predators.  Kittens will stalk, ambush, pounce, and dogs wrestle, play fight, stalk, chase.  Lambs learn to run in a mob, they practice jumping off and onto things and become fast and agile. Lambs might head butt and show dominance type playing but most of it is running around together in a mob.
Play hunting consists of sequential behaviours that need to be refined and practiced. The interesting part of practicing these hunting behaviours is that they are self rewarding. Because they are self rewarding, the predator is encouraged to keep doing this over and over, this repetitiveness is how the predator sharpens its skills. As the saying goes; “practice makes perfect”.
 All hunting type games are exciting, for a dog fetching a ball is a “hunting game”. Herding for border collies is a derivative of the hunting sequences, and as most people know, border collies can become rather obsessive with herding and stalking balls, cats, and other dogs. It is exhilarating to do, and it stimulates the reward center in their brain.
If predators practice enough and get down to the kill part, the reward is even greater as they can consume what they caught. For the ball obsessed dog, getting the ball is the reward. This cycle is a self-perpetuating behaviour. The more they do it, the better they become and the more reward they get from doing it. Self rewarding behaviours are the hardest behaviours change. Think about how hard dieting is or quitting smoking is as these are also self rewarding behaviours! This behaviour pattern is hard to stop, even if we know it is wrong or bad, as our desire to be feel that “reward’ often overrides the knowledge that it is bad.

So, what does this have to do with our LGD?  When you are a 9-month-old adolescent pup, full of energy and you want to play, the livestock might seem like great playmates.  The dog may pick a weaker animal to focus all its energy on. Even a larger animal that tries to butt the young dog, becomes a fun challenge.  The chasing and playing starts off innocently enough. As he plays more and rougher with the livestock it becomes even more stimulating for the dog to do.  The cycle of playing becomes a self rewarding behaviour, the scary part is that after only one or two times roughhousing with the livestock this pattern of behaviour can become fairly established in the dog. The escalation in bad behaviour can go very rapidly.

LGD have a unique combination of genetic traits that shepherds have selected for. It is an odd combination of traits, where you have dogs selected for a low prey drive response (guardian) combined with a high protectiveness.  In most working dogs (police, search and rescue, drug dogs, herding dogs) one selects for high prey drive, dogs with high prey drive are easily motivated to work, the border collie always wants to work sheep, search dogs are often rewarded by a game of fetch the ball or a little tug-of war as this mimics the catch part of the hunting sequence.
LGD are selected for low prey drive as we do not want the dog, who lives full time with the sheep, to be stimulated by these prey animals.  This low prey drives allows for the LGD to be able to live with prey animals and not be overly stimulated by their movements or overly focused on weak, lame, or sickly animals. Predators are “triggered” to respond to these attributes. Think of a kitten who gets stimulated to chase a feather, or a falcon to grab a lure, a border collie pup that is “turned on” by the sheep running past a fence.
This low prey drive in LGD can often be seen by their lack of desire to play fetch the stick, their instinct to give chase is often not “triggered”.

Back to the problem of the naughty young dog and his overzealous play behaviour. If this behaviour is not stopped directly and discouraged firmly, it can trigger a prey drive response in the LGD. This low prey drive in LGD is generally dormant, but not gone.  If the naughty dog gets to play rough with the sheep it can “awaken” this prey drive.  Combining the self rewarding behaviour and the possibility for the dog to become more prey focused, the problem that starts off innocently enough soon becomes a major issue where the livestock are hurt, maimed, or killed.

People often ask if a young dog that has pulled wool and chases the sheep is ruined?
It is vital that when a LGD starts to display play behaviour towards the livestock that it is stopped immediately, and the dog prevented from continuing this behaviour. Depending on how long this behaviour has continued, the severity of the roughhousing and if the dog has come to view the livestock as prey will determine if the dog is ruined or not.   Signs of play behaviour are things like a play bow towards the livestock, a play bow is an invitation to play, or where the dog and animals “chase each other around”.  If one can correct the play behaviour at this point, the dog will most likely grow up and become a reliable LGD. If he is eating lambs on the regular, then the prognosis becomes very poor for that dog.
On social media there are hundred of cute videos of the dog “hugging” a goat, or a dog jumping up and mouthing/ nipping the nose of a pony, the pony in turn rears up and runs away then the chase ensues between the dog and pony. The most cringe worthy is where the dog is swinging on the tail of some poor farm animal.  The commentary on these videos is all look how sweet they play together.
To me, this is all bad behaviour, and it needs to be discouraged directly. The LGD should not be playing with his livestock, ever. To correct a self rewarding behaviour the punishment must override the pleasure the dog associates with that behaviour. In this case prevention is always better than curing!

 To conclude, all playing is a self rewarding behaviour that perpetuates even more play behaviour. Most play behaviour is part of the of the prey- hunt sequence for predators.  With LGD, this play can trigger the prey instinct in the young dog, and this can ultimately result in a dog that is no longer trustworthy with livestock as he starts to view the livestock as prey.

A snapshot of this young dog giving indications that he wants to play. The heifer is saying no. Although his behaviour at this point is innocent enough, it needs to be curbed. At this point a firm “no” will usually suffice.  Heifers still like to run around and buck and that could encourage this young dog to want to play with them. Picking the right livestock at the right age also goes a long way to curbing bad behaviour.

 

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Question and Answer Time

 

Working together and depending on each other to be a strong team against predators, is a good type of dependency.


Question and Answer Time
©Louise Liebenberg (Nov 2020)


My favorite time when presenting at various events is the question-and-answer period, as this is the time one can really focus on the issues people are experiencing with their dogs. After, I saw a post by Cat Urbigkit saying how she was receiving a lot of questions about livestock guardian dogs (LGD). I thought a “question and answer session” might be a good thing to incorporate into some of the monthly articles in this magazine. This month will be a “Ask Dr. Ruth/Phil” kind of column. I gathered up a few questions from readers and will attempt to answer them, bearing in mind I do not know the full situation, and I do not have all the answers, I can certainly give my opinion or share my thoughts on these topics.
 
Hi, I’m reaching out to you to see if you can give me some advice on my LGD. I locked my sheep in the corral a couple months ago and now she has gone to the neighbor’s flock and I cannot get her to come home. She is just a year old. Any suggestions?
The best suggestion I would have is to go and get your dog and set her up in your corrals to try and get her to bond to your livestock. Sometimes, you need to take a few steps back and place the dog back into a bonding pen or corral. This pen or corral needs to be one where she cannot escape from and where she has some nice kind sheep to bond to. The change from the field to the corral, might have caused the dog some stress. Most LGD do not like big changes, and this could have resulted in the dog wondering away to find a flock out on pasture again.  If the neighbor’s sheep are still out on the range, your dog might feel that that is the place to be. The dog might feel more comfortable out with those sheep and possibly also with their dogs.  If she is just a year old, she could be confused about where she needs to be. I would try to keep her contained, re-bond her to your livestock and encourage her to stay. Of course, the information provided is a little scant, and for a more detailed reply more information would need to be supplied. Things like what type of operation do you have, what did the bonding process look like, how close are the neighbors sheep, does she have other dogs to work with and if you have fencing in place.

Each individual dog, and even various breeds display different working styles, some like to be tight bonding and others like a bit more space. Some work more on a territorial type of guarding as opposed to guarding the livestock.


From Diane:
Is there anything "wrong" with an LGD that is somewhat indifferent to the stock, but does a great job protecting their territory and is kind to their charges, just not "bonded" to them?

No nothing “wrong”, some dogs never tightly bond to their livestock. Provided the dog is reliable around the stock (so “kind and indifferent” is okay) and they are keen to protect the area the flock is in, then this is not an issue.  Different dogs or even breeds, have different working styles some people call it perimeter versus close bonding.  These working styles are not static, at various times in a dog’s life these styles may change. If a dog is feeling more predator pressure, it may be more active in guarding a larger area around the flock, go and do more scent marking and patrolling. A younger dog might stay closer to the flock. Some dogs are more territorial as opposed to guarding the livestock itself.
Certain livestock lends itself better to a territorial approach (free range poultry, horses) as opposed to being bonded to the flock itself. LGD can have a smaller or larger personal space “bubble”, and although trustworthy with the livestock, some dogs just do not like cuddling with the livestock.
I think it is good to remember what working mandate you have for your dog, for most LGD it will be guard the livestock/territory from predators and do not kill/harm the livestock. Within that mandate, there is a lot of room for various working styles.

From Jennifer:
What do you wish someone had told you when you first got an LGD and what can you only learn through time?
This is a great question and I think it warrants an entire article on it, so I will probably come back to it in the future but will touch on a few things here. A little back story here, I have worked and trained border collies and have shepherded sheep for many years. AS far as sheepdogs go, I always felt that the herding border collie was the most important sheepdog to have. I got my first LGD after some serious dog depredation events. I now see the value of both types of sheepdogs! When working herding dogs, you build a working relationship based on the ability to direct the collie to maneuver the flock as required. As a shepherd you command the collie and guide the sheep through the dog. Things like obedience, biddability and control are important when working with a herding breed.
It is an intense working partnership, and the amount of work the herding dog saves you is significant. The way you work with a collie is however quite different than how you work with LGD. Even working with dogs who are pets or other working breeds the approach is very different than working with LGD.

I think the biggest lesson in working with LGD is learning to “let go” of control, micromanaging, and the need for over-training. Where you actively go out and train your collie, with LGD the “training” consists more of facilitating, and creating a good environment for the pup to grow up in. The training is primarily supervision as opposed to active training; it is more about moulding behaviour and allowing the process (bonding and socialization to the livestock) to take place. I am all for hands on rearing, but one must be aware that the initial work is primarily allowing the pup to simply grow up with his livestock and form those relationships/bond to the stock. LGD do not have to be taught to guard, a well bred LGD will be naturally protective and reactive to perceived threats. You do not need to actively get them to chase a coyote or anything like that. That comes with age and experience. The work or training is more corrective/preventive when bad behaviour occurs. I think, simply put, when all is going well, you do nothing, and you only intervene when you see concerning behaviour. The hardest part is to just allow the pup grow up with the livestock, facilitate a good environment for the pup, watch for concerning behaviour, correct when needed.  All those people advocating for in house rearing or suggesting no pup under two years old should be with the livestock are simply slowing down or interfering with the ability for the pup to bond with the stock. The actual obedience training part is rather elementary when compared to a collie. Some basic training is handy, LGD should be comfortable being handled, walk on a lead, accept grooming, and vet care, come (sort of) when called, possibly travel and load into a trailer or truck, know being tied up and to be accepting of kennelling. This training part is to make your life easier!

From Ashlee:
Can a LGD become dependent on another LGD? Is there codependency that becomes toxic
?
This is a tough question as a lot really depends on a variety of factors such as the working situation, what behaviours are concerning and how the LGD interact with each other.  Not all dependency is bad. On a working ranch dealing with high predator numbers and threats, the working dogs should form a cohesive team together and that form of dependency is fine. Co-dependency becomes an issue when one dog cannot function without the other or, one or both dogs show concerning behavioural traits when separated from one another. These problems are often seen between siblings or with pups raised close in age to each other. I think, it is important that each member of the LGD team is comfortable and independent enough to work on their own and, be calm with things like working in different areas or with different flock without exhibiting extreme anxiety or stress when away from the other dog. It is important on a multi LGD ranch to be able to work together as a stable pack.

These are just a few questions that people have asked recently. I would be happy to cover some more in another article. You are welcome to send your questions to The Shepherds Magazine and the editor will forward them on to me.

Raising LGD is a fine line of trust, observation, and supervision without feeling the need to micromanage. Allowing relationships to develop between the pup and the sheep is for many people a big challenge.



Thursday, 4 March 2021

The First few Weeks


When the pup and the lambs (or ewes) can be relaxed and comfortable together, that is when the bonding happens. The pup has companionship, warmth, and comfort with the lamb.

The first few weeks.

©Louise Liebenberg 2020
Written for The Shepherds Magazine

 The question of what to do with a new pup once you get him home comes up quite regularly on many of the Facebook forums and even private emails to me. I never give this too much thought as it is a process that just happens here, whether I raise my own or buy a new pup. I am always set up for this and generally do not give it too much thought.  I do however see that many people, starting with their first livestock guardian dog (LGD) puppy do have questions as to what to do in the first few weeks. I know there is a lot of contradictory information “out there” and ultimately it is the owner who gets to decide how they want to work with their dog and what the expectations are for the dog once it reaches adulthood. For some people, all they want is an all-round farm dog, others want a pet and others need a full time LGD. If the goal is a pet, then the bonding to livestock part is not necessary, as the focus will be on bonding to the family. Some people believe that a full time LGD should never be handled or associate with people, I  do not believe in this form of raising, as I know you can have a dog bonded to sheep and it can be socialized with people.

I am assuming that people who subscribe to The Shepherds Magazine are, for the most part, utilizing guardian dogs to protect their livestock. The goal for the guardian dog pup is that it will be living full time with the livestock. It is with this goal in mind, that I will describe my process with pups the first few weeks. There are multiple ways to introduce a new pup onto the ranch and my way is certainly not the only way.

I am going to assume that the pup that is being introduced onto your ranch does meet some basic criteria before you bring it home, namely:
It is a guardian dog breed or cross of guardian dog breeds ( so no heeler cross, hound or lab).
Comes from working stock.
Is healthy and has had basic and appropriate veterinary care ( deworming, vaccinations, heartworm, quality feed)
It is at least 8 weeks old, in many States it is even illegal to sell a pup younger than that. I personally think 8 weeks is the minimum age a pup should leave the litter; I prefer a few weeks older.
 
Before the pup comes home I usually prepare the area I would like the pup to stay in initially. As we have large pastures and a high predator load, it is certainly not a safe option to put a young pup out on the pasture. I usually have a pen in the barn where the pup will spend the first few weeks. I make sure the area where the pup will be staying in, is puppy proof and that it cannot escape from this pen. I do believe teaching fence boundaries starts directly.

I will have a smaller area within the pen that is “puppy access” only. This is usually a cattle panel placed across a corner so the pup can crawl under or in and the sheep cannot get in.  This will be an area where the pup can eat and sleep safely. He can withdraw to this spot if he is feeling a little overwhelmed and he can eat without the sheep bullying him for his food. I will often have a box or dog house for the pup filled with straw and even some sheep’s wool as bedding.

 It is really very important to have kind stock for the new pup to be able to bond too.


The next and most crucial part of preparing for the new pup is to ensure you have some nice kind ewes or lambs for the pup to bond to. We want the pup to feel comfortable and safe around these animals as we want him to bond with the livestock. The pup only needs a few kind animals initially. The sheep need to provide companionship for the pup, warmth, and comfort. Young lambs or bottle lambs can work great initially, but once the pup is a bit older  he may become too rambunctious for the smaller lambs, however the first few weeks, lambs can be great for the puppy to bond too.

With all this “facilitation” in place, I am ready for the new pup. I do like to spend time with the pup in this bonding pen. This is where the pup will be living for the next few weeks and this is where I will go and hang out with the pup and teach him some basic manners. I like to interact with my pups and handle them, I always do this in the pen with the livestock.  I do want to emphasize that the pup is always with the livestock, we do not bring the pup into the house or on the porch. We want the pup to be around the livestock constantly, and if we take him out, it is to go to other livestock.

The new pup is initially housed in the barn. As we usually have lambs on feed or some other sheep in the barn, it is easy place the pup with the livestock directly. I know the pup is safe, and is well set up to be able to get to know the livestock and us.


Bonding is a fancy word for socialization.  Research in pet dogs has found the time that bonding occurs the easiest and quickest to their new family, is the period between 7 and 12 weeks. In LGD, research has shown that this period (up to 16 weeks) is also the formative time for the pup to become bonded to the livestock. Sure, some dogs can and do bond later, but ideally, we want to optimize this time, to give the pup the best chance of becoming a successful guardian dog. We want the pup to be super socialized to the sheep. That he sees them as part of his world, and that he is content to be around them. We want the pup to be social towards people but the bond between pup and sheep really needs to be prioritized initially.  I want the pup to have every opportunity to learn about sheep and this time establishes the foundation for this.

I will let the pup meet the other farm dogs in this period. He is welcome to meet the working collies, the cats, calves, horses, and other animals on the ranch. He will hear the tractor and will have every opportunity to see and hear all the noises and activities that go on here.
As my collies come and go, I will allow for “meet and greets” but I rarely let the pup play with the collies. He can know them, be excited to see them but that is usually the limit of interaction they have. My collies and LGD are usually very fond of each other and sociable towards each other, without needing “play dates”.  Accepting and tolerant of each other is the goal here.

The pup will get to meet the other guardian dogs too. I will take the pup out to the main flock and let it meet the other guardian dogs. I know my adult dogs have stable temperaments and will not harm a pup. They will come over and greet the pup but are also usually not overly playful with the pup. I know if the pup was raised well by its mom and displays normal pup behaviour, my older dogs will have no issues meeting it and responding in a normal dog way to the new pup. This does not mean that they will not correct a rowdy pup, they can growl and warn a pup if needs be. I do allow for more interaction between the guardian dogs and the new pup than with the collies. Ultimately, the new pup will need to be integrated into the guardian team and they will be spending the rest of their lives working together. More interaction here is okay.

Things I like to watch for in the first few weeks is the comfort level the pup has around the livestock, do they lay together, does the pup move casually around the sheep, do the sheep and pup feel content to be in each others space, does the pup show some puppy submissive behavior towards the sheep, do the sheep stand watch over the pup, do the pup and the sheep “greet” each. These are all signs that the pup and the sheep are forming a bond and are comfortable with each other. My ewes are always around LGDs, so they are generally comfortable with a new pup. 


Pup is out in a small, safe pasture with the sheep. Pup is happy to be around the sheep, the ewes are kind to the pup. This larger area will provide more stimulation for the pup and it will have another LGD as a companion.

Usually around 12 to 16 weeks the pup is ready to graduate to a bigger area (small field) with his bonding sheep. I will move his box or kennel to the field and still have his sheep proof space and I will place an older dog in with the pup. This older dog will help keep the pup safe, provide companionship and hopefully be a mentor to the pup. This older dog will also help give the pup some confidence in exploring the new pasture and being around more animals.  As this is a change in environment, new sheep, and different scenery this usually helps to keep the pup stimulated and alert. After several weeks, I will upscale again, maybe add in different livestock such as replacement heifers, more sheep, larger area, and this progression happens over the first year. I do not believe that we need to keep a young LGD entertained, nor do I believe in boredom. I believe they need work and “controlled” stimulation towards integrating into becoming full time, reliable working dogs. This system works with your first LGD, even if you do not have older dogs for the pup to work alongside, provided the pup is in a safe environment.




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