We’re working our way through updating the Myths and Misinformation about LGDs document I wrote in 2014. You can find the first part here.
Myths and Misinformation about LGDs, cont’d.
6) Since Livestock Guardian Dogs are popular, you should be able to find a good pup anywhere.
Like any other purchase, buying a LGD is very much a ‘buyer beware’ process. Price is not always clear indicator of value or workability as some breeders like to pretend that their dogs are more valuable due to a special color, claims of increased aggression or because they choose to breed for an overly large dog. Others import dogs from questionable sources overseas and claim that the dogs are worth much more than local dogs. A proven dog should command a higher price, depending on age and health, than a pup. In general, if the asking price for the pups is very low, it’s a good indicator that not much work or care has gone into either the parents or the pups. If the price is very high, it may be a reflection of rarity and/or the work that has gone into achieving the litter. Do not be afraid to ask a lot of questions of the breeder. They should have at least a few questions for you as well.
The most important and effective time to do your research is before you purchase a pup. Look for some health testing on the parents with verifiable results (OFA hip and elbow ratings for example) and insist on meeting them and observing them work. Ensure that the parents are working, or that the breeder understands what to look for in a prospective working dog. A responsible seller will offer a contract with provisions for health problems and a guarantee of working ability. The contract should be easily understood and ideally request that you take your new pup to a vet for an examination within a short time frame. Compensation for health problems or lack of working ability should also be clearly outlined.
Another less utilized option is to buy a pup through a rescue organization or from a shelter. Some rescues refuse to home their dogs to any home that plans to keep the dog outside, and others do not want the complications of liability for homing the dogs in their care to working homes. There are some rescues who actively test and home some of their dogs to working situations, though. Don’t be afraid to ask rescue organizations if they are open to homing working dogs. If the rescue isn’t, or chooses not to home a dog to a producer, do not take this decision personally. There are likely other considerations that went into that decision making process. Shelters or pounds typically do not mind allowing producers to purchase their dogs, but keep in mind that the dogs found there will most likely not have been tested with stock. If they did come from a working environment, there is often no way to find out if the dog was successful or to determine a history of health. These situations can be very rewarding when they are successful, but are highest on the list in terms of ‘buyer beware’.
7) LGDs cannot or should not be trained to listen to their owners.
A common misconception, this belief leads to dogs who are not able to be walked on leash, tied for any period of time or who do not sit, wait or let off inappropriate threat displays when required to. LGDs are different than a lot of other dogs in that they are meant to be independent thinkers who spend a great deal of their working time alone. As a result, they don’t often find relevance in traditional obedience training. It is, however, very possible to have a well mannered and well trained LGD as long as you are a fair and generous handler.
If a farmer chooses, they can enroll their young LGD pup in an obedience class. It is important that the class focus on teaching behaviors and exposing dogs to different sights, sounds and experiences rather than on interactive puppy play time. LGDs are large and often play roughly with other dogs, which can lead to problems in a play group. If a class is not preferred, farmers should strongly consider taking their pups off of the farm while they are young for trips into the vet, to town or even to larger centers. In this way, the pup will be exposed to different stimuli and be better able to discern what is a threat and what isn’t. Strangers can interact with the pup when they are little, but as they mature, it is best to ask people to look and not touch. Ensure that all vaccinations are up to date and that young pups have had at least one set of vaccines before taking them off the property.
Positive training methods work well with these dogs if demands are kept to a minimum. Rewarding them with life rewards works very well. For example, asking for the dog to sit before crossing thresholds or to receive their bowl of food can be very effective. If corrections are made, they must be fair and understood by the dog to relate to the behavior. In other words, removing the dog to isolation, yelling at or scruffing (grabbing both sides of their neck and shaking) must never be done after time has elapsed from the behavior you intend to correct. Verbal and visual expressions of disapproval often go much further with these dogs than physical corrections, especially when a respectful relationship is maintained between the owners and the dogs. Take some time to learn what your dog responds best to and train them fairly. Remember that a dog cannot know what is expected of them until they are taught, and that teaching with more praise than correction is always more effective. That said, do not be afraid to effectively correct serious behavior infractions such as stock chasing. Fewer effective corrections are much better than many “nagging” ones.
8) If you spend too much time with your Livestock Guardian Dog, they will refuse to guard anymore.
Ideally all positive interactions and affection sharing on the farm or ranch should initially be done in the area where you intend for the dog to remain and guard in. If the operation requires moving the stock to different areas outside of a permanent pasture, then all initial affection and interaction should be done in the presence of the stock, but without allowing the dog to “mug” for affection. For very young pup and for adolescents (aged 6 months to 2 years), this can be difficult for them to do until they have had some play or romping type exercise first.
All interactions with young pups or inexperienced dogs outside of the pasture or away from the stock on the farm should be kept business like and low key in order to not give the impression that more fun things happen there. If the producer travels away from the farm with the dog, affection can be shared without fear of compromising guardian ability. LGDs are easily able to understand when they are away from their territory, especially when the owner commits to initially taking them on perimeter walks.
If the dogs are working more general farm duties, keeping the lines clear regarding acceptable and unacceptable behavior in and around the house will help the dog understand what is required. Typically, if the dog is meant to live outside full time, allowing them to sleep in the bed with the owner will be counterproductive. Many dogs with working ability will still prefer to be outside the majority of the time as they mature.
9) A Livestock Guardian Dog must be raised with livestock to be a successful working LGD.
There have been many cases of dogs who were raised in urban environments or otherwise away from stock who have done well transitioning to work as full time LGDs. Since instinct is largely innate, being raised with livestock will result in a dog who is solidly a successful working LGD, but it is not an absolute necessity. Rescues and rehomed dogs have become successful guardians despite never having spent time with stock previously.
10) A dog of any breed can be a successful Livestock Guardian Dog. Crossing a LGD with a dog of a non-LGD breed will result in a successful guardian.
This is probably one of the most dangerous assumptions that can be made. Most, if not all other breeds of dogs have a higher prey drive and less appropriate guardian instincts than the LGD breeds. Crossing non LGD breeds with LGDs does not mean that the resulting pups will have the required LGD instincts as breeding is always a roll of the dice regarding what traits will be prominent in the offspring. Since many traits do not fully show themselves until adolescence or adulthood, owners can be lulled into a false sense of safety with their dogs only to find out that they were very wrong. This gamble can be very costly and quite devastating. Combining the large size, independence and increased aggression of the LGD with the heightened prey drive of the non-LGD dog can result in a stock killing machine who resists training and enjoys wandering. The combination can be equally devastating in urban environments where the overreaction of many non-LGDs to fast moving objects pairs with the single mindedness of the LGD to create a very large dog who is out of control.
This is not to say that there aren’t individual dogs of a non-LGD heritage who do a good job as stock protectors, or more readily as a general farm guardian. These individuals are the exception, rather than the rule, and can require a more experienced owner.
11) Only a Livestock Guardian Dog who lives with stock 24/7 is considered to be a working LGD.
The article “What Is The Difference Between A Livestock Guardian and a Family Companion?” (found here) outlines two appropriate common roles for LGDs as full time working dogs. It’s a very good read and also talks about some of the common issues that come along with trying to keep dog with working ability as suburban or urban pets.
A full-time livestock guardian is just that, living with the stock 24/7 year round. These dogs eat, sleep and do everything in the pastures, corrals, barns and ranges where the stock are. This type of job still requires training and supervision, handling and care on the part of the owner. Some smaller operations who employ full-time livestock guardians choose to have the dogs exercise and otherwise “hang out” on the yard with them. These dogs may also come up to the house occasionally or even routinely. There are no hard and fast rules for this job description as operations are very individual; the exception being that young pups and inexperienced dogs need to learn first that their place is with the stock.
A general farm guardian, or yard and home guardian, patrols the yard and keeps predators off of the land and away from any free ranging house pets or stock that are often put up at night. In order for these dogs to do their job successfully, they often need to sleep outside at night (even on the porch) in order to alert to and chase off any potential intruders. They may be brought inside more often than a full-time livestock guardian for rest or to protect the members of the household. This type of job description can involve going off property to accompany the owners and their families on day trips and therefore, socialization and basic obedience training are very important considerations. Since the dogs doing this type of job are in closer contact with visitors to the farm, early socialization is also required even if no off property trips are planned.
Urban/Suburban pet life can be quite challenging for LGDs, especially those with strong working ability or who are from the harder/sharper breeds who typically have less tolerance for strangers and perceived threats. It is not typically recommended, especially for dogs with significant working ability.
Stay tuned for the final part of this document next.