Wednesday 15 February 2023

How to find your next guardian dog pup.


How to find your next guardian dog pup.
©Louise Liebenberg (2022)
Written for The Shepherd's Magazine

Once the decision is made to add a livestock guardian dog
(LGD) to the ranch, the search begins to find a suitable pup or adult dog that can be added to your flock. In many cases people are a bit unsure how to go about finding a “good” breeder. In this article I am going to offer some suggestions on how to find a breeder or pup.
It can be a challenge to find the right dog for your operation and many people are a little stumped where to look and what to look for. Since Facebook does not allow animal sales posts and Craig’s list might not be the best place to find your future guardian dog, finding that pup or breeder can be a little daunting, particularly when new to LGD or even livestock raising.

I think the first step is to look at your operation and decide what you are really looking for, each operation is different and that means the needs are also different. If you have a large, grazed range type flock, in an area with many predators your requirements are very different than a small homestead type of operation.  Writing down a list of wants and needs is a good place to start.

The next step is doing your research, read books, read breed websites, join some LGD pages and learn as much as you can before you purchase a pup. Spending a few days doing research is a good investment of time. A LGD should not be purchased on a whim, as it is a 10 plus year commitment and the lives of your livestock and, potentially your livelihood will depend on the LGD doing a good job.

You could include contacting breed clubs to help narrow down the type of dog you are wanting. Some breed clubs focus more on pet and companion dogs and others value and uphold working dogs. Either way, it is still a good starting point for general information and potential leads on litters. It is good to learn more about the traits, character, size, coat, temperament, of each specific breed. There are well over 40 different LGD breeds, each with their own ingrained characteristics. Some breeds have milder natures while others are higher drive dogs.

Personally, I think the actual breed is a little less important than finding the right breeder. For example, you need a truck, it can be a Dodge, Ford or GMC, all similar vehicles but each is slightly different. It might be more important to find the right dealership that will provide you with quality service, terms and who will provide support and help when and if you need it. Similarly, most LGD share a lot of similar traits but finding the right breeder who can mentor and guide you might be more important than the breed itself.   Some breeders offer a lifetime guarantee for support, while others offer support to the end of their driveway.

I think the best route to finding the right breed or even breeder is to speak to the folks who already use LGD. This could be through sheep organizations, producer forums, and neighbors. Find producers who raise livestock in a similar area and manner as you do. Ask them about their dogs, where they got their dogs or even any issues or recommendations they may have. We raise livestock in a very high predator area but also in an extremely harsh cold climate. Finding dogs who have been raised and worked in similar circumstances will ensure a high probability of success.  I think we need to move away from solely searching for dogs just through the internet and we need to go back and pick up the phone and speak to other producers. Having these conversations will be both educational and will most likely lead to more contacts and references on who might have pups available and who to avoid.

Then the process starts on contacting various breeders and talking to them about their breeding program, how the pups are raised, what the parents of the pups are like and how they work, veterinary information, price, and any other things you might need to know. Some breeders make require you to sign a purchase agreement, breeding restrictions may apply, others might require proof of spay/ neuter or even things like hip dysplasia testing. It is good to know ahead of time what the expectations are on both sides.  Some buyers prefer a “no strings attached” approach and others value the input and contact with a breeder. If possible, ask to meet the breeder and the parents of the pups. Be aware that some breeders might have a waiting list and so getting a good pup might mean you have to wait for it.

Questions that could be important to ask include things like:
What type of support do you offer?
Should my life circumstances change, are you willing to take the pup back or help with rehoming?
What program would you recommend for the initial raising of the pup?
Do you offer any guarantee’s and if so, what?
What age can the pup leave the litter? (Should be at least 8 weeks and older)

How experienced or knowledgeable is the breeder?

There are also lots of reg flags when puppy shopping. 
Here are some to be aware of:

  • Breeders selling crosses with non LGD breeds.
  • If the breeder cannot spell their own breed name correctly then that would be a warning sign regarding how well they know their own breed.
  • Pups that have colours, size, ear set or other distinguishing features that make you question the parentage of the pups.
  • Selling pups too young.
  • Breeders who have multiple litters all at the same time, are they a puppy mill? Are they in the business of dog breeding or breeding a litter for the livestock operation?
  • Beware of fancy terms; Holistically raised (does this mean no veterinary care?), or breeders who create a “new breed”, along with a new fancy made up name?
  • Breeders who own no livestock.
  • Show breeders toting their ribbons and claiming that instincts do not get lost even after multiple generations of no work or selection.
  • If you are needing a full time working dog, beware of folks saying pups need to be raised in the house and are not ready to work until over 2 years old.

In a nutshell, the old fashion “word of mouth” is still often the best way to find the dog you are needing and wanting. Utilise the internet to learn as much as you can and be very aware of all the conflicting information. Try and figure out if the person commenting or advertising on the internet has valid experience or not. Do some reading; books, websites of LGD breed clubs (it will soon be apparent who focuses on pets or working traits) subscribe to industry magazines as many have an advertising section and often in sheep related magazines you can find advertisements for herding and guardian dogs, speak to breeders directly, be clear on what you are wanting or needing.

Impulse buying is never a good strategy, neither is emotional buying. I think purchasing your next flock protector should be a business decision; is it a good investment, do I have time, are there other or better ways to protect my livestock, how much do I need a dog compared with how much do I want a dog, is a LGD what I want, or do I want a general farm dog? Do I have the space, number of livestock and work for an LGD? Is good fencing a better option? What is my plan if the dog does not work out? Can I manage the dog in a suitable way to avoid unwanted litters? What do I need to facilitate to ensure the pup has the highest chance of success? What is the long-term plan with the dog, how many other LGD do I need? When should I add a second one? Can I manage things such as in-pack fighting, roaming and other possible behavioural problems? Do I need to consider neighbors and the impact of having a large breed dog barking a lot will have on them?
There are multiple things to consider before acquiring the pup and being systematic in your approach in researching and speaking to people will ensure a thorough decision-making process. Not all situations warrant an LGD, and recognising this might be the most important decision you make!

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