Friday, 6 May 2022

Trends in Raising Livestock Guardian Dogs

 

This is where the magic happens, where pups can learn to find comfort and companionship with the sheep. 


Trends in Raising Livestock Guardian Dogs

©Louise Liebenberg (2021)
Written for The Shepherd's Magazine

This year I celebrate 30 years of working and being around livestock guardian dogs (LGD), I have seen and experienced a lot in those years. I have lived and worked with sheepdogs on three different continents, working with dogs who were amazing at their job requiring very little correction or guidance, to dogs that have harmed livestock. I have tried to rehabilitate “lost causes”, some of which were successful, and others that were not.   I have seen dogs who were not bonded to the livestock and this manifests itself in various ways; uninterest toward the sheep, some become aggressive, and others can live with the livestock without being protective of them. I have always utilized sheepdogs in a professional capacity, my income has always been dependent on my ranching practices. As much as I like dogs, they are first and foremost here to protect the livestock. In the past 30 years, I have seen many trends come and go regarding LGD. Some good, others bad and some questionable. This article is going to look at one of these trends regarding raising LGD puppies.

Lately, the popularity of LGD has increased exponentially and along with this rise also comes a large variety of opinions, on how to raise them and how to work with them. I accept that different folks have livestock in a variety of settings, and this influences how the dogs are worked.  However, I see certain approaches to raising LGD that I really question the validity of.

Back in the 80’s the use of LGD was relatively new in North America. In the 70’s the U.S. Sheep. Experiment Station (USSES) at Dubois, Idaho studied the use of LGD, followed by the Coppinger husband and wife team working on the Livestock Dog Project (Amherst, MA) and finally a study was conducted at Colorado State University (Ft. Collins). These research projects were the basis from which LGD were studied and evaluated in North America. All the research emphasized the importance of the bonding period of the LGD to the livestock. Without this development of this bond, the LGD were simply not “invested” enough in the sheep to want to stay with them and guard them. Everyone emphasized this time as being critical to the development of the LGD puppy. Some of this was taken to the extreme where a total hands-off method of raising was promoted. This continued for the next few decades, and it was common to see completely feral LGD, that could not be handled or touched. At that time, most people using LGD had range sheep and were larger outfits. The dogs, rarely, if ever, mingled with public and as the sheep were grazing bigger areas of land, neighbors were also not a real concern for them. The dogs interacted with the shepherds for daily care. If a dog roamed away, it would often end up at another band of sheep which was not usually a big problem.

In the 90’s and 2000’s, a shift took place in how LGD were being used. They were being used on smaller, more stationary operations, where the sheep were contained by fences and grazed rotationally. At this time, I was promoting a more hands-on way of working with LGD, I spoke at a conference and the topic was “No feral livestock guardian dogs for me, or my livestock”. At this time, it was frowned upon to pet and handle LGD. Many believed that petting them would ruin them. I remember explaining that puppies still needed to be bonded to the livestock but petting, vet care and some regular handling was okay and even beneficial. Some people were skeptical about this approach as they feared that the LGD would end up on the porch rather than out in the field with the sheep. I realized that some people struggled to find that balance, how to have a friendly, sociable dog that was bonded to the livestock.

Moving along, again LGD use has shifted, many people on small homesteads, hobby farms and backyard chicken keepers are looking at keeping LGD for a handful of livestock. The expectation is that the dogs do not bark much, are friendly to all visitors to the ranch, do not roam and are good with the livestock. Talking to many of these homestead people, I feel that what they are wanting is more in line with a general farm dog than a specialist such as the LGD. In this regard I think semantics’ matters and these people need to clearly define what they are wanting and looking for in a dog. This will help them find a dog that is suitable for their situation. Having the work for the dog clearly defined (LGD, farm dog, pet, or guard dog), will also define how the pup should be raised so that it can be successful in the role the owner requires of the dog. I have noticed more of a push from certain groups to promote keeping LGD in the house, to bond first with the family and then over the next few years transition the dog outside to the livestock. I cannot help but feel that this is such a missed opportunity for the pup to truly form an attachment to the sheep. I know, I want my LGD not to feel conflicted about where they need to be, I want them to be happy and comfortable with the livestock. I want my LGD to be protective of the sheep, not just territorial guarding (which most dogs do). I question how fair it is to first raise the pup in the house and then expect it to transition living outside with the livestock?

Too often, I see people saying that a 12-week-old pup is too young to be with the livestock; it is too cold, too hot, a pup could be a target for predators and many such arguments. All these points are moot, as any good owner will know, that a pup requires adequate housing and protection from the elements, no rancher is going to drop his young pup off in some far away pasture just for a predator to come along and kill it. Having a pup grow up with the livestock, does not mean it will not have adequate protection, care, and shelter. That is basic animal husbandry!

This 12-week-old pup is content to be with the sheep and enjoys lots of human interaction while it is living full time with the sheep.


The people that promote this form of raising LGD say that the dog is capable of bonding to both the people and the livestock (I agree with this), and they want to establish this human/LGD bond first, to ensure that the dog is well socialized and attached to the owner. I have very well socialized dogs, they can all be handled, well behaved, and super attached to me despite them living full time with the sheep. Once again, there is nothing stopping an owner going to the pasture and spend valuable time with the LGD. Where they sleep, does not determine how socialized and bonded, they are to the owner. I would argue that it is easier to form a bond with the dog that lives with the sheep, than it is for the dog to form a bond with the sheep that is living in the house!

The same people explain that this is how traditional shepherds, and their dogs live, in my opinion, it is a rather romanticized image of traditional shepherds. I have never seen a true working LGD (in Europe) that lives in the house. Most times the dogs, when not working are chained up outside by the barn. The shepherds appreciate their dogs, some are very attached to their dogs but none of them are raised in the house. The dogs are tied up when the shepherds bring the sheep back to the villages or are locked up in a building, barn, or kennel. Kids do play with pups, but this happens outside. Pups are often left to free range around the yards, while the mother is chained close by. Once the pups are a little older they are chained.

A shepherd’s dog in Macedonia. The sheep are in the village for the winter, the dog is chained to an old truck cab as a shelter. No LGD are raised in the house.

There is a big difference in needing a LGD or wanting an LGD. This need or want, is often reflected in how they are raised as pups.  The folks who “want” will more likely raise the pup in the house, with the family and treat it more like a pet dog than those that “need” an LGD. The people who truly “need” a LGD will want their pup to form a bond with the livestock. These owners will ensure that the dog has every opportunity to learn about sheep, facilitate bonding and provide the right environment for the pup to be successful in its future job. I know, I want my LGD to have a certain level of maturity and seriousness regarding their job as soon as possible, and that only comes with lots of exposure to the livestock.

I am all for people raising their dogs however they want, but I also hate to see LGD fail due to people errors. It saddens me when someone raised their LGD in the house for two years and now it does not want to stay with the sheep, or the dog is so wild when outside with the livestock that it harasses them. It is very concerning that some people feel that this is the way LGD pups should be raised, it sets a trend for animal welfare people to change legislation, similarly, to the “bring-them-inside-when-its-cold” crowd. I feel that the pendulum is now swinging too far to the side of raising LGD as pets, and it feels like I am struggling to convince people how valuable that initial bonding time is to the livestock, how you can have a great relationship with your working dogs and that it is simply not cruel to raise it with the sheep.

My kids can always spend as much time with the pups that they want, provided it is with the sheep in the barn or pasture. This helps to make pups sociable to people and still allows them to bond to the livestock.

Friday, 22 April 2022

The Economic Tipping Point

 

Feeding multiple LGD is not cheap, the annual costs of the use of LGD needs to be weighed against the benefits.


The Economic Tipping Point
©Louise Liebenberg (2021)

 There have been several articles and studies done on the cost of raising and keeping livestock guardian dogs (LGD) versus the benefits of using guardian dogs to protect livestock against predation. In a study done by Tina L. Saitone, and Ellen M. Bruno (published in 2020) they took a closer look at the economics of utilizing LGD. The short summary concluded “We estimated that for a representative sheep operation with a breeding flock of 500 adult females (ewes), the use of 5 LGDs reduced lambs and ewes lost to coyote predation by 43% and 25%, respectively, for a total savings of US$16,200 over 7 years. However, we found that costs, which included acquisition and maintenance expenses, exceed benefits of this investment over the 7year useful life of LGDs by US$13,413. Our results inform the adoption of LGDs, demonstrating that LGDs are only costeffective for certain types of operations, namely those where LGDs can achieve high rates of predator protection efficacy.” (Wildlife Society Bulletin 1–9; 2020; DOI: 10.1002/wsb.1063)


Dan Macon, in an article he wrote, took a closer look at some of the points made by Saitone and Bruno. Macon questions how to put a value to some of the costs/benefit calculations; “how do I know how many sheep didn't die because we had dogs with them? What is the value of my own peace of mind? (https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=31326).
What was clear from both articles was that quantifying the cost /benefit is not a simple calculation of feed, purchase, and veterinary costs versus livestock lost/saved because of using LGD.  It is hard to quantify what was not lost or what was saved because of the presence of the dogs, or even the number of dogs a certain operation needs, labor costs will vary dependent on a variety of factors.

Cattle who are accustomed to large dogs, tend to be less stressed and calmer around wolves. Calmer livestock have a direct and positive effect on gains and well being of the animals.

Many of the costs/benefits are hidden and hard to quantify. Cattle who get harassed regularly by wolves tend to wean lighter weight calves, they expend more time and energy being on the lookout for predators and the cattle tend to be more nervous. They spend less time grazing and confine their grazing to safer areas. Calves can be lost due to abandonment because of predator harassment. These calves are often not even found.  These losses are not direct deaths however they do have an economic impact on the wellbeing of the livestock. How do you put a value or benefit to keeping cattle/ sheep calmer? Research (Weber et al, 2015) at the U.S. Sheep Center in Dubois, Idaho, found "that ewes grazing with accompanying LGD will travel greater daily distances compared with ewes grazing without LGD accompaniment. As a result of traveling greater distances, ewes may also be exposed to more and varied foraging opportunities." (https://d1cqrq366w3ike.cloudfront.net/http/DOCUMENT/SheepUSA/SGRJ_V30_18-23_Webber_7-15.pdf)
I have found in our own flock that having the LGD with the sheep allows for the sheep to spend more time grazing, they will go and graze in heavier bushed pastures.  Before using LGD, the ewes would not venture into these areas. They are more comfortable grazing when the LGD are present. Similarly, with the cattle. As our cattle are accustomed to large, big dogs in amongst them, they do not spook/scare easily.  Wolves like to test a herd by spooking them, they will make runs at the herd to create some panic where younger or older animal will split off from the main herd making it an easier target for wolves. We have seen wolves around our cattle, the cows do not spook, they tend to remain calmer and tighter together.  It would require the wolves to put a lot more effort into making the cattle run. How do you put a value to this?  Having calmer cattle that do not scatter or run through fences when approached by wolves, helps with overall cattle management and a saving in labor costs, plus the bonus is that the chance of an animal getting predated on becomes significantly reduced.


Another point to consider when looking at cost/benefit calculations is the do-ability and affordability of some of the other predator control methods versus the implementation of LGD.  It is not always feasible or cost effective to fence off a few thousand acres of land, or to hire a full-time range rider.  Not every area lends itself to rotational grazing, or where electric nets can be set up. Changing lambing time may require the building of large barns.  Not everyone can afford to pay for some of the other deterrent measures and some are simply not an option for many operations.  LGD in themselves might not always be cost effective according to Saitone and Bruno, but in comparison to many other options, it is still affordable and do-able for a variety of ranches. The cost of using LGD does need to be compared to the cost of other management tools. Most professional livestock keepers can implement and afford using LGD. Many operations find a large capital investment, such as fencing or barns, too high for their operation despite it perhaps being the “best” solution for the predation problems, affordability becomes an issue. 

Taking it a step further, the benefits may not just be directly to the rancher in how many lambs he can save but could incorporate a wider range of values.  Can one quantify what the value is of having predators on the landscape with regards to biodiversity, intact eco-systems, and populations?
In Portugal, the Grupo Lobo, is an independent, non-profit ENGO that works for the conservation of the Iberian wolf and its ecosystem. They provide LGD to shepherds, pay for the veterinary care and the first year of food for the dogs to encourage, and offset some of the initial costs of acquiring and caring for LGD.  A similar program is run through the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia where LGD are provided to sheep and goat farmers as means to reduce potential conflict between farmers and the endangered cheetah. If conflicts are reduced due to LGD being present in the flocks, then farmers are less inclined to kill the cheetah. The costs of the LGD program are far below the benefits of saving every single cheetah due to the fragility of the population.  What is it the value of saving an endangered species?

In some countries there are compensation programs to encourage people to utilize LGD. In Saskatchewan, Canada the province wants to encourage producers to find ways to reduce the possibility of predation, they have a LGD rebate program run through the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation where they contribute; “$100 to help producers offset the cost of purchasing a livestock guardian dog. The use of guardian dogs can be an effective method of preventing predation; however, it does require the commitment from the producer to develop the potential of the dog. Livestock guardian dogs are most effective when complemented by other predation management practices.” (https://www.scic.ca/wildlife/predation-prevention/). It is in this case, it is cheaper to pay towards the purchase of a LGD than to compensate for livestock that is predated on.

Using LGD is costly and for many ranchers it is a serious consideration. Many calculate this cost and write it off as an operating expense. Similarly, to a store that needs to invest in a security system.  It is the cost of doing business in certain neighborhoods. Cost estimates for keeping one LGD per year, range between $350 to $1600 per dog, this estimate includes direct costs such as veterinary care, food, purchase price, replacement costs and labor. This is a significant amount.  This brings me to the tipping point.  Where do you draw the line between if need or want an LGD?  When does the cost override the benefits? If your livestock consists of 5 hens then spending on average of $750 per year to maintain the dog, might not be proportional to the value of the livestock. It may be cheaper and an easier solution to build a solid chicken coop or good fencing, that will last many years.  In this scenario you might not really “need” the LGD.  Even smaller professional operations can often have good results with other management strategies to reduce predation, things like fox-lights or electric netting might be more profitable than working with an LGD. I often chuckle when reading through some of the social media platforms, where some people advise folks with a handful of sheep to use 3 to 5 LGD. Obviously, these people have not had to feed and provide veterinary care for this many dogs!

Each situation is unique, and it is not quite so simple to make a cost- benefit analysis. However, it is an important consideration because having LGD in the flock or herd is not “free” or cheap. Sometimes economically, it may be sensible to investigate other options than LGD for keeping the livestock safe. For many operations having LGD is a necessity and worth the financial and time investment.  In other situations, having a LGD is simple a “want” and not necessarily a “need” and that is okay too! Each operation needs to find their own tipping point where economic implications are weighed against the benefits. LGD are essential for my livestock operation, but I also value their companionship, the safety they provide me when I am in the bush and the fact that I can sleep a little easier at night knowing the dogs are watching over the sheep.
 

A night corral for livestock  in Portugal. The cost of this type of anti-wolf fence might not be affordable or do-able to most livestock owners.

Sunday, 6 March 2022

What is the ideal age to bring a LGD pup home?

 


These pups are in the neonatal stage. They can smell and from this early age the smell of their mom, sheep and people becomes imprinted in their brain.

What is the ideal age to bring a pup home?
©Louise Liebenberg(2021)
Written for : The Shepherds Magazine


Social media platforms always provides me with material to write about! This past week a man made a post introducing himself and mentioning that he was excited to welcome his first livestock guardian dog (LGD) puppy to his place and that he was collecting his 8-week-old pup that week. With that comment, the floodgate of opinions and advice opened. Most people mentioned that 8 weeks was “waaaay” too young and that ideally, the pup should remain with its littermates and mother until at least 12 weeks, but preferably 16 weeks of age. Other people mentioned even longer, and some said 8 weeks was just fine. I am sure this first time LGD owner was totally confused what is best to do. I like to give practical advise and share experiences that will lead to the highest chance of success for both owner and pup. I like to present what I regard as best practices, regarding the use of LGD. This discussion on social media led me to change the original topic I was working on, and I decided to prioritize this one!

The consensus amongst breeders, veterinarians and behaviorists is that the best age to place a puppy with its new family is around eight weeks of age. Puppies go through a socialization phase between 7 and 14 weeks. The 8-week age allows the breeder sufficient time to ensure adequate basic veterinary care that includes deworming and vaccinations and allows the pup ample time to socialize and form attachments with its new family. In many States, it is illegal to sell puppies younger than eight weeks old. This is to ensure that the welfare of the pups is not compromised by breeders weaning and selling too young. This eight-week-old standard should be regarded as the absolute minimum age a puppy should leave the litter.

In livestock guardian dogs research, the critical period for bonding the pup to livestock has also been shown to coincide with that general socialization phase, researchers suggest that pups can best form a bond to the livestock between 7 and 16 weeks old. Older dogs can bond to the livestock; however, it is much easier to utilize this natural socialization phase to encourage bonding to the livestock.

This 5-week-old puppy is learning that sheep belong in its world. It is learning to form attachments with the livestock and people, not just to its mother and littermates.

In the past few years, I have seen a “trend” in many of the online LGD forums advocating for pups to remain longer with the breeder, where some are suggesting that pups should be staying a minimum of 16 weeks with the breeder. I understand the motivation for suggesting this, but the reality is often a lot different. Anyone who has raised a litter of LGD pups will know that by 4 months old, you would have a gang of prepubescent pups who live by their own rules! None of these pups will have had the opportunity to develop individually and few will have had the opportunity to form a close bond with the livestock. 

The stress the pup feels when being separated from its littermates is a trigger for the pup to seek new companions, be it the new family or the livestock. At four months of age this gang of puppies will be solely focused on each other and constantly playing/fighting with each other. A large litter will explore and roam further away and be less motivated to respond to people or the livestock in a positive way.
If these pups are to be raised around poultry, a litter of four-month-olds would wreak havoc on these chickens or even lambs due to playing, roughhousing and general puppy antics. Bad habits and behaviours can creep in very quickly particularly when the pups feed off each others excitement. These pups will not be having the ideal start as so many believe. 

Eight-week-old puppies are very exploratory, provided they have a few littermates to go on adventures together.

This leads onto the next problem. If someone posts on social media that they have acquired two pups at the same time, the comment section fills up with suggestions to separate the pups as possible to ensure they do not develop littermate syndrome. Littermate syndrome is a term used to describe when two siblings or close in age pups form a hyper attachment (co-dependency) to one another, resulting in an inability to function independently, a lack of forming attachments to people (or livestock) and multiple other behavioural issues. This co-dependency starts to form during the later stage of the socialization period, problems may however only be manifested at a later stage, often around adolescence. It is contradictory to suggest that raising two pups could result in behavioral issues due to littermate syndrome and yet expect a breeder to raise a litter until 16 weeks of age!

It is essential that pups need to have time with their littermates to learn about dog social behaviour, this is where pups learn about fair play, bite inhibition and they learn “dog language”. It is also important for a pup to observe how the mother interacts with the livestock; a pup that is raised with livestock will have seen these interactions daily since birth. The groundwork has been done by the time a pup is 8-12 weeks old. For a young LGD it is important to learn to function independently, to build confidence, to learn to work with various dogs and to form attachments to different people and animals, not just its mother and siblings. This process starts when the pup leaves the breeder and goes to its new ranch.

Some breeds of dogs are slower maturing than others, a border collie at 8-weeks old is ready for new adventures, while most LGD pups are somewhat slower, an 8-week-old Great Pyrenees cannot be compared to an 8-week-old Border Collie developmentally. Allowing for this, the ideal age for a border collie to leave the breeder could be 8-10 weeks, while a LGD pup might be better off leaving at 10 to 12 weeks.

These pups are 8 weeks old, are learning all about social interactions with other dogs and expanding their learning around the sheep.

The development of a puppies can be seen as stages. The stages can be divided up into what the needs of the pup are and its ability to learn and grow through each period.
These stages are categorized as follows
Neonatal Period (0 – 2 weeks), Transitional Period (2 – 4 weeks), Socialization Period (3 – 12 weeks), Testing Period (3 – 6 months) and Adolescence (6 – 18 months)
Pups also go through a few fear periods, usually around 8-10 weeks, then 9-14 months and sometimes around 18 months. Fear periods are normal, and it is during these fear periods that the “fight or flight” instinct becomes established. It is a mechanism for self preservation, pups need to learn what to be afraid of and how to avoid bad situations in the future. Coincidently this first fear period is also right in that optimum socialization period. As a 8 week old pup becomes more explorative, he will need to learn quickly, what is safe and what is not. Fear periods can be seen as a crash course in survival training.

A pup that has been raised with livestock from birth will have the initial foundation, it is for the owner to extend its learning to its new flock.

So, how does a new owner navigate; optimal canine socialization, introduction to livestock, littermate syndrome, bonding, fear stages, maturation rate and attachment issues? I believe it starts with the breeder building that initial foundation. Ideally, the pup will have had been raised with livestock, has learnt about canine behaviour from its mom and other littermates and has been introduced to various sounds and activities on the ranch. Waiting a few weeks longer until the pup is  10-12 weeks of age, will give the slower maturing LGD pups a little extra time to learn and mature. It will most likely have gone through the initial fear stage at the breeder with nothing bad happening to them at that point. When the pup leaves to the new owner, there is still sufficient time to start the bonding process with the new livestock. The separation from its littermates will stimulate its individual development and it will seek to form new relationships. It is a valuable time for the new owner to bond the pup with their livestock and introduce the pup to its new environment. It is important that the new owner facilitate the pup by providing a safe bonding area with gentle and kind livestock. Removing a pup too young from the litter can have very negative consequences for the pup’s development, staying too long at the breeder can also result in the development of questionable behaviour. To make a long story short, I believe the best time to bring the new pup home, is around 10 to 12 weeks!

 

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

Should I get two LGD at the same time?

 

Two mature dogs working together, the age difference between these two dogs is 5 years. These work well together and can be easily separated and placed with different groups of livestock as required. They are not hyper bonded to each other.



Should I get two LGD at the same time?

©Louise Liebenberg(2021)
Written for The Shepherd's Magazine.

 As with everything on the internet, every person that participates on online forums and other social media, has an opinion. The way many of these social media platforms are set up is that the responses are generally “short form”, a few sentences. What we often forget when writing short answers to questions is that every situation is unique. So, when giving short answers we cannot really dive into the nuances and complexities of the situation. In most cases the person asking the question is only giving the bare minimum of information, making is easy to misunderstand specific situations. Often “blanket statement” type answers are given.  In most cases, a lot of “confirmation bias” takes place, the person writing the question only wants to hear answers that support or validate their own opinion. On the large social media platforms with thirty thousand plus members, the opinions can span from educated, to well meaning, to outright ignorant. Sifting through all the online advise is a minefield and often the person asking becomes even more confused as to what is the right thing to do.

Very often people post that they have just bought their first two livestock guardian dog (LGD) puppies! Most people are excited for this journey and are looking for information on how to raise them correctly, within a few short minutes the opinions start rolling in:

·         Fantastic, you must have two puppies together as they will keep each other company,

·       Oh no, get rid of one, as it is near impossible to raise two pups at the same time,

·         Read about littermate syndrome

·         Littermate syndrome does not exist

·         LGD cannot work alone

·         It is better to raise one first, before adding another

·         Only a bad breeder will sell you two pups at the same time

·         Good for the breeder to sell you two, they work best in two’s

The person posting this just gets overloaded with multiple contradicting opinions. Now what to do? None of these opinions are completely right, or wrong, they are usually based on each person’s own experience. That experience however, could range from a LGD breed being kept in a pet home to a working ranch with thousands of ewes grazing large ranges. So, this article is going to take a closer look at some of these statements.

I believe that the success of having two puppies at the same time is very dependant on things such as acreage, predator pressure number of livestock, type of livestock, experience of the owner, how much time an owner has for these pups and finally and if the breeder can mentor the buyer.

The biggest problem with raising two pups, (siblings or pups of a similar age)  is that issues  only show after a few months. Nine-week-old pups are usually great together, however at nine months old these pups can show a range of problematic behaviour. Things such as hyper bonding to each other rather than to the stock, getting into mischief together, double teaming the livestock causing injuries, roaming and the high potential of fighting once they start reaching maturity. These problems are often lumped together and called littermate syndrome.  The biggest challenge for the owner is to be able to recognize problem behaviour and intervene before behaviours become established.

Pups that are not bonded to the livestock generally show no attentiveness or even protectiveness toward the livestock, this in turn can affect the trustworthiness of the pups as they have not developed a relationship with the livestock to the point where the dogs feel they need to protect them. The pups become more obsessed with each other and pay less attention to the owner or the livestock. Separating these pups is usually the solution, however it can become a nightmare as they will be very persistent in escaping to be with one another. Some dogs end up fighting so badly, that they can often never be together again. All, in all the challenges that arise from raising multiple young dogs together can result in an owner being unable to manage these dogs effectively. Most times, one dog ends up being rehomed, shot, or becomes the porch dog.  This is the main reason why the general advise to new owners is not to acquire two pups at the same time, particularly if the owners are new to owning LGD. 

This single pup in Macedonia is allowed to go with the shepherd when he is out grazing the goats.

On a small operation the problems can be exacerbated as the dogs have no opportunity to get away from each other, this can lead to more tensions between them. With small operations there is generally less stimulation (work, movement, smells or other LGD) for younger dogs, which equates to boredom. Bored dogs get into trouble! Two together, generally means double trouble!

It is true that two pups do keep each other company, they can burn off excess energy and can play with each other. Some people find this playing with each other redirects them from playing with the livestock. This may be true for some but not all LGD pups. Most sheep cannot survive two large adolescent pups running them down, nipping them or pulling wool. Dogs who play excessively with each other, tend to take longer to mature as this constant play, keeps them in a juvenile mindset for longer. It is hard for the owner to get a handle on two naughty pups without separating them. Which then, defeats the point of acquiring two at the same time.

Some playing between young dogs is normal, the problem is, if it becomes excessive to the point they are only focussed on each other, and not the livestock.

There are situations where having siblings or pups close in age can work. In range operations where there is a lot of work, large numbers of livestock and high predator pressure the young dogs have enough work, space, and stimulation to keep them busy and occupied. Other, older dogs will help loosen a hyper attachment to each other, and a very clear pack hierarchy provides some stability to these adolescents. Having two LGD pups in this situation is not usually a big issue as these dogs can move away from each other and they are not forced to interact constantly with each other. They can become more independent of one another. On larger, or more traditional type of sheep operation there is usually a shepherd who can supervise the dogs for the most part during the day and it is the shepherd who will take control if it appears these young dogs are getting into trouble. On bigger operations, pups can be raised separately if needed, as there are often multiple flocks. I can separate young dogs between the main ewe flock, or with the rams and sometimes with the cattle. I have the space, facilities, and work to be able to raise two LGD effectively.

In traditional shepherding countries, it is common to see multiple pups raised together, more often than not, these pups, when a bit older (3-4 months) are kept chained up or kennelled for the largest portion of the day. They can accompany the shepherd provided they are not a nuisance. Any young pups that misbehave are reprimanded quite harshly.  These pups do not have free range access to each other, or the livestock, only when the shepherd is around.

Young pups are rarely left to just free-range; most shepherds do contain them either by kennelling or chaining.


Dogs on a tether. They are tethered until the shepherd heads out for a day of grazing.

A young female, from a shepherd in Macedonia. Most young dogs are chained up until it is time for them to work.

 Alot of people are correct when saying that LGD can not or should not work alone. Yes, having more than one does add an extra layer of protection for the livestock and the dogs. It allows the dogs to have some rest and if one is injured the flock is not left vulnerable. It takes time (years) to build a good team of dogs, ideally the ages, and experience of the dogs is staggered.  It is good to have more than one dog working on sizeable operations, but on many smaller homesteads, one dog is often enough.

The hardest part with the having two LGD at the same time, is the total lack of predictability in how things will evolve over time. It is like Russian Rolette, you may be lucky, but you may also not be. With two pups, it may work out really well or it may be lots of vet bills, injured dogs and long term separation due to the fighting.
 A few people have success with it, and even more, end up with a train wreck.  The most important considerations should be is their enough work, space, and livestock to raise two pups together? Are there facilities in place to be able to separate the dogs and does the owner have experience/time to manage two pups who might not be showing stellar behaviour around the livestock?

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