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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