Here we are at the last portion of the Myths and Misinformation document. What are your thoughts?
12) One Livestock Guardian Dog should be enough for any operation.
Much depends on the size of the land, the number of stock, and the predator load. If you have a small hobby farm with few stock, on a small parcel of land and a light predator load (a few more timid coyotes and smaller predators for example) one LGD might be just enough. For larger operations on bigger parcels of land, more dogs will be needed simply to patrol and watch the larger environment and number of stock. A smaller operation with fewer stock and land but a more bold/heavy predator load (bears, big cats, bold coyotes, wolves) will need to run more dogs and quite possibly ones who work in different ways. Alternately, the farmer may choose to use a combination of deterrents, either of differing species (donkeys, llamas, etc.), by incorporating permanent or temporary fencing additives (electric, flags, lights) or by increasing patrols. At times, trapping or shooting predators may also be necessary. A wise producer matches their defenses to the number and seriousness of the predators in their area instead of expecting the predators to respect the defense the producer has chosen to use.
It’s important to understand that even though these dogs appear to be doing little the majority of the time, they are in fact almost always on alert. They may be either in light sleep, ready to spring into action if a threat appears or scanning the environment for potential threats and checking the stock for problems. Due to this, and due to the fact that predators are most active at night and therefore the dog’s job is typically heavier through the night, having the appropriate number of dogs allows for them to trade off and to gain some proper rest while another stays on alert.
If you choose to keep intact dogs, it is important to remember that LGDs are very serious about mating when the females are in heat or when males discover a female is in heat. Only the most significant barriers will keep them apart. Males may have trouble concentrating on their job if a female in season is close by, which is another important consideration. Females in heat may choose to wander as well. For this reason, intact females are often rotated away from intact males when they come into heat or are put up in confinement for the duration. Keeping intact dogs will also increase the likelihood of status conflicts between dogs of the same sex, although it is not the only reason that status conflicts occur. Such conflicts are to be expected as normal unless serious injury occurs to either the dogs or the stock.
13) Livestock Guardian Dogs of the same sex cannot live and work together.
A long held belief by some producers, this myth likely came about from either keeping intact, same aged dogs together or by observing normal status conflicts. Many producers have been successful in keeping same sexed LGDs together, especially when one is either younger than the other or when one is clearly submissive and the other dominant. It may take a little while for the dogs to sort out who is “in charge”, and in some cases, the dogs may trade off roles dependent on what they are doing at the time. Having same sexed pairs working together can help eliminate concerns regarding reproduction control as well.
Any pairings should be monitored at least occasionally to ensure that that conflict is not impairing their ability to work. As noted previously, LGDs are living beings, which means that changes in age, health, etc. will occur and can negatively impact previously harmonious groupings.
14) All Livestock Guardian Dogs behave in the same way.
This is also one of the more damaging misconceptions about LGDs. Livestock Guardian Dog breeds were selectively developed over hundreds of years to address the terrain and predators of their native land, which has resulted in different guardian styles and different tolerance levels. A dog required to go head to head with bears or big cats will be more serious and less tolerant than one developed in a land with fewer bold and large predators. Some are more comfortable patrolling the boundaries and others prefer to stick very close to their charges. Some are more nurturing with the stock, and others are more aloof.
As always, producers ought to do their research before you committing to a breed or type, as it is one of the most important things they can do to set themselves up for success. Checking out what breeds are most popular in their area and whether they are currently successful goes a long ways to choosing wisely. Finding out what kinds of predators are common to their immediate area and if any new ones are moving in. Consider what your expectations are for the dogs you will buy. Will they be expected to be close to the house with their charges and deal with many visitors? If so, a more stranger tolerant breed like the Great Pyrenees, Maremma or Anatolian Shepherd Dog may be best. Will they be ranging in bush with the stock far from home or expected to deal with bears or wolves? A harder breed like the Central Asian Shepherd, Komondor or Sarplaninac may be the right choice. If the stock are in an area where there is a very large predator population, the farmer may need to run dogs of different types – some who patrol the perimeters and others who stay close to the stock.
While there are some basic generalities in breeds, the individual dogs within those breeds are more important to consider when deciding. In several breeds, there is a wide range of personality/type within the breed itself. Further, most areas have developed their own favorite type by combining regional dogs. These LGD/LGD crossbred dogs can be a very good choice for producers.
15) Livestock Guardian Dogs are meant to be aggressive. This means that the owner shouldn’t question or control when a LGD decides to show severe aggression. All aggression is normal and expected.
LGDs are absolutely meant to display aggression, as it is a vital part of their ability to protect stock successfully. However, what sets LGDs apart from other breeds is their innate ability to think judiciously and independently of handler instruction. Both of these traits are integral to their historical success in protecting vulnerable prey animals against predators who would like to make a meal of them, even far away from their homestead and often away from direct supervision. LGDs need to make decisions on their own about what is a threat and what is not a threat and act accordingly, even with no human there to guide them. The lives of their charges hang in the balance.
That being said, good LGDs should both defer to their owner and use their aggressive behavior with the primary goal of driving off a predator as opposed to killing it. The first requires a relationship of respect between the owner and the dog. If the dog feels that something or someone is a threat, they will respond, but should be willing to stand down when asked by their handler. Standing down means that the dog will refrain from driving off the perceived threat at that time, but typically stand watch. It is not uncommon for LGDs to follow strangers around the yard or pasture when they are in the company of their owners, watching them from a distance. Some LGDs will ‘deliver’ an intruder to their owner or off the property, taking them by the sleeve and walking them up to the house or to the perimeter. As expected, the tolerance displayed by LGDs does depend heavily on their breed and whether they are a harder/sharper or a softer/more tolerant type. The former will be more likely to interpret even benign actions on the part of a stranger as a threat and the latter will be more slow to take offense. More tolerant LGDs are subsequently often better choices for operations with frequent different visitors. If a harder type is needed on the operation for other reasons, the dogs should be directly supervised or put away when visitors come by or the children of the family play with their friends (they can easily misinterpret normal interactive play as a threat against their children).
The second consideration – having a primary goal of driving off a threat as opposed to eliminating it – requires self control on the part of the dog. Both considerations require a dog that is stable in nature and structure (chronic pain can cause a dog to lose appropriate judgment), but the first can be rectified through relationship and building trust whereas the second is an innate quality that often resists modification. Softer types of LGDs will typically use longer threat displays towards the intruder, consisting of posturing, growling, teeth baring, dominating (standing over) and loud vocalizations before resorting to biting or inflicting injury. If at any time during these behaviors the threat object leaves or submits, the LGD will stand down or escort them off the property. Softer LGDs will often put up with an intruder multiple times, choosing to drive them off each time. Harder breeds will trip into aggressive behavior much more quickly, and their threat displays may be distilled into a short exhibition that moves into injury much sooner. They will often not put up with multiple breaches by a predator, choosing instead to eliminate them. All LGDs, however, regardless of breed or type, should still be in “thinking” mode when they are addressing threats. They should not be blindly aggressive and if needed, the owner should be able to intervene. Livestock Guardian Dogs are not known for redirecting to their handlers for this reason – they are constantly thinking and calculating and under great self control. Some of the harder breeds have lines that were/are bred for fighting each other which has greatly compromised the dogs from those lines. Great care should be taken when importing or buying members of these breeds domestically to avoid such unstable dogs.
A good guardian dog should NEVER bite or aggress against their owners unless provoked. For this reason, it is important to ensure that the owner cultivates a respectful relationship with their dog(s) and ensures that their dogs are used to routine handling. Hitting, ‘alpha’ rolling and screaming at LGDs is not recommended as a regular course of treatment for these dogs for the same reason.