Thursday 5 October 2023

Good Homes and LGD


Good homes
©Louise Liebenberg (2023)
Written for The Shepherds Magazine.

When I read through many of the social media livestock guardian dog (LGD) pages, I am absolutely shocked at the number of dogs looking for a new, good home. It is not just the odd one here and there but instead a continuous stream of failed LGD looking for a great non-working home, someone looking for a placement of their dog on a bigger ranch, or with a more experienced trainer. Friends of mine who work with rescues are overwhelmed with the shear number of LGD and mixes of LGD entering the shelter/ foster system, and within that system, there simply are not enough good homes for all these unwanted LGD.  In many cases, it is not even just LGD mutts that end up in rescues, a lot of purebred dogs can be found there too. The number of “rehomes” is excessive, however the number of litters from LGD breeds being advertised is staggering, many of which, are not even from working dogs. In all honesty, there is little to no market for most of these pups. Recently, a breeder has struggled to give away, for free, a litter of a rare breed LGD pups. Ultimately, these pups are 4 or 5 months old, become a handful to handle and are expensive to feed, these pups ended up in a variety of homes, whether suitable or not, simply to “get rid of them”, the leftovers ended up in a shelter. Many of the people who drop off these pups in a shelter hope they will find that illusive “good home”. For many of these pups, the good home ends up being euthanasia.

The myth of the good home needs to be addressed.  Those folks looking for a new placement for their roaming, sheep worrying or chicken killing dogs have this idea that these dogs would be better suited to a bigger ranch. What many people forget is on larger, commercial operations, the sheep or cattle are the main source of income and the people who live this lifestyle, are often very busy. It takes time to graze animals, check fences, doctor sick animals, haymaking. Few shepherds are willing to take on an uncontrolled, problematic dog, often with questionable genetics and poor raising. These dogs can be a threat to their own livestock (and livelihood) and few have the time to invest in someone else’s failed dog. It is not simple to rehabilitate a failed LGD.   The person wanting to find the “good home” does not understand the risk, stress, time and cost it would take to make this type of dog into a functional dog.   I know, I would not risk my own sheep’s lives or risk the chance of my own dogs getting injured in such a situation.

If the “good home” is not a large sheep operation, perhaps it is with small acreages or homesteads? Sadly, these places are often not suitable for failed LGD either. Most homesteads or micro farms have neighbours who may not appreciate a LGD barking all night. Most smaller homesteads do not have the work for the dog or the ability to fence to contain a roaming LGD. Few people are willing to risk having a large breed dog, who has perhaps shown some killing behaviour around livestock, be in contact with their own and neighbors’ children.  Added to this, there is not only the threat of a bite incident with an unknown adult LGD, but the liability of a dog roaming and potentially causing a vehicle accident is just too overwhelming for most people to contemplate. Few homesteaders have the experience to work with a problematic dog.  
Finally, the in-town, pet home is an even less likely option. Their natural guarding behaviour, their canine aggressiveness, their stranger wariness, the strength, and size simply do not lend themselves to town or pet living situations. There simply is no demand or not enough good homes for unwanted LGD.

The “good home” for the failed LGD rarely exists. People who start with LGD need to be aware of this. Few people are wanting a wool pulling, lamb eating, chicken killing, calf chasing large breed dog. The moment you take that cute pup or multiple pups’ home, your options for an alternative home “if they don’t work out” is almost non-existent. The responsibility of breeding and placement is with the breeder. However, it is the first owner’s responsibility to give this pup the best chance of success and to commit to owning this dog for its life span. It is very important that new owners are supported in making the best decisions they can to ensure the pup has a lifelong home.

Sometimes the best decision is for the person enquiring about LGD, is to choose to not get an LGD.  As hard as it maybe to hear, not every situation warrants an LGD. Many of the rehomes are coming from smaller homesteads who only have a few poultry or maybe a handful of other livestock. Many people are unprepared for the work it takes to get a dog to be reliable with poultry and other small stock. Few are prepared for the sheer determination a LGD can have to escape from its pen, or the aggression it can display towards strangers or animals unfamiliar to it. The time, cost and work it takes to get a poultry safe dog is vastly underestimated.

It is time for the LGD community to say no to selling pups into situations where the chance of failure is high. We need to be vocal about how most LGD were never bred to be guardians of poultry or rabbits, and that most immature LGD will harm them, given the opportunity. They were bred to cover large distances moving with the shepherds and their flocks and are mostly not suited to small acreages. They are strong and independent thinkers which makes them hard to train, obedience is not a top priority for these breeds. They are physically strong dogs who do best in serious working situations. We need to talk about how not all LGD work out, many do harm stock while growing up, it is a challenge to keep them fenced in on smaller places, they bark a lot, they are not always the friendliest dogs, they might even kill the beloved cat. Many people need a large dose of realism and people new to LGD need to hear this.

Part of the problem also lies in the volume of LGD and LGD crosses being bred. It is hard to manage intact animals. Perhaps, the continual pushing of later spay and neutering is contributing to the excessive number of pups being born. Of course, in a perfect world, it is better to hold off on spaying and neutering until the dog is over two years of age, but the reality is heat-cycles in females are easily missed and before you know it, the LGD is bred by the collie. Few people are even capable of recognizing when their female is in heat, and many do not have a place to lock her up in for a three-week stint. There is a risk in everything, our dogs live a risky lifestyle. Early spaying and neutering might have some health risks, but so does pregnancy and unwanted litters.  Spaying and neutering makes for more manageable working dogs, and I am a firm believer that owners should make the decision when to spay and neuter based on what works best for their operation.

Finally, we need to call out bad management and raising practices that contribute to failure in LGD. Quite frankly, we need to keep the “pet dog” mentality out of the working dog world. Many LGD fail due to misconceptions that pups can only bond to their owners and families while living in a house.  Or, the notion that the pup must bond first to its human family before it gets placed with the livestock.  The sad thing is, this LGD shelter and unwanted pups’ problem reflects on our industry. The ranchers and shepherds who need working LGD are viewed as the cause of the problem. We need to be cognizant of this.  As a livestock and LGD owning community, we need to do our best to help curb the enormous influx of these breeds into shelters and the number of LGD being bred. We can do our part by educating and mentoring suitable owners and dissuading the acquisition of a LGD into situations with a high chance of failure.  We need to talk about the realities of owning these dogs, and taking responsibility for the dogs we bring onto operations. The mythical good home does not exist and often the outcome for the failed LGD is death.

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