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.

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