As I’m wrapping up my life on this farm, I find myself thinking about the hard and fast rules that I wish current and prospective owners knew about working LGDs. Here is a compilation of some of them for easy reference.
Do not buy a pup who has not been handled or socialized. This stupid trend NEEDS to end and the only way that will happen is if buyers stop supporting it.
Do not wait to address inappropriate behavior. Teach your pup or dog the expected rules (ie. manners) from the get go. More problems occur because owners slough off the responsibility to teach their pups and then wonder why the now-large LGD is behaving badly and not listening.
Don’t post: “ISO perfect young LGD who will never make a mistake, or challenge a fence.” Where do you think LGDs come from, a robot factory? If you have no time to put in and expect perfection right out of the gate, abandon the idea of a LGD. I’ll happily slap you myself if you don’t.
Don’t expect more of your dog than they can handle for their age or experience. A small pup is not the physical or mental equivalent of a mature LGD. No one with half a brain thinks that a young herding pup could move sheep all day or a pup raised for detection work could sniff for bombs all day long – no, working dogs are given time to mature and learn the ropes before being thrown in the deep end. Get a grip and stop being an idiot.
Socialize all pups. Don’t look for excuses not to and don’t think up reasons why you can’t. DO IT. If anyone says otherwise, run -don’t walk – away. They’re just playing “expert”. Ain’t no one got time for that. (See the previous post for a more elaborate explanation on “experts”.)
If it comes down to practicality or taking the long way around when it comes to training techniques, choose practicality. LGDs are working dogs. They understand clear, honest communication as long as your overarching priority is to retain and build relationship.
Do not rescue a dog that you are not equipped to handle, no matter how much other people pressure you to or how badly you want to “save a life”. Only do it if you are certain you can handle the consequences if everything goes sideways. You could well end up on the business end of a set of sharp teeth or picking up dead stock in your pasture. When in doubt, leave the rehabbing to the experts.
Don’t limp a broken dog along. Dogs are mentally broken for different reasons, but it always comes down to either nature or nurture – genetics or care. The fact of the matter is that unlike many other dogs, LGDs grow into a certain hardness that is difficult, if not impossible, to change. They are meant to be this way so that once taught well, they are able to stick to their guns no matter what goes on around them. Unfortunately, this also means that a dog who is treated badly early on may well never get past it. It also means that while a pup is fairly malleable (especially when very young), this window closes quite rapidly and often isn’t long enough to make up for genetic deficiencies.
Start giving a crap about health. The LGDs we have here are often so inbred or overbred that health problems are wide sweeping and endemic. If a breeder wants to give you a laundry list of things you cannot do with their dogs or has dogs who are impaired or consistently passing away early, don’t buy from them. A good lifespan for a working LGD should be well past year 10, especially if they are not under a lot of strain from predators. Dogs should not be falling apart in the pasture before then.
There is never any substitution for a well bred, stable, dog. EVER. If you choose to limp a dog through their inherent problems, don’t breed them. If the problem is not genetic in origin, remember that even issues that arise due to environment or handling can and will impact future generations. Seek a qualified independent assessment of your dog or try to match them with a mate who is strong in their weak areas. This way, at least some of the litter should be better equipped to deal with life.
A dog who is mean to your children or young stock is not a good LGD. Period. No more needs to be said on the subject.
Stick your tongue out at anyone who tells you that LGDs are mystical creatures who lived with unicorns back in the cradle of civilization and eat lions for lunch. LGDs are pretty special, but they are first and foremost dogs and need to be treated as such. They make mistakes, they need training, and they need a capable human to lean on from time to time.
LGD/non-LGD crosses DO NOT MAKE GOOD LGD PROSPECTS. Stop testing this, stop thinking you know better or can be a part of a new wave of exciting non-traditional LGDs. You’re being a moron like many morons before you. If it was possible to consistently produce good LGDs from such pairings, they’d be everywhere by now.
Get off the large LGD forums. There are so many voices on there that are just loud, not necessarily informed or experienced. You’re going to do much better by doing some independent reading, stalking of smaller groups, following common sense and listening to your gut if you have one. You’re going to do much better by digesting different portions of information that make a lot of sense than by trying to do random things people tell you to do online. Stop outsourcing your research and your thinking. In this day and age, there is no excuse for being naive about any new venture.
Finally, YOU alone are ultimately responsible for your choice to employ LGDs. You are responsible for everything your dogs do. Take it seriously and don’t be a part of the reason why the use of LGDs is restricted in the future. Protect your dog and protect your community equally.