Guard Dog Blog

on Livestock Guardian Dogs and small farm life…

Returning

15 Comments

I didn’t think it would be possible. I’m back.

Ivy’s back too. That’s a story and a half – one I’ll have to share sometime when I have a bit more time. For now, suffice it to say that the stars came together in a way I didn’t believe in and Ivy’s wonderful new owner gave her back to me. I missed my girl terribly; I didn’t realize how much at all until I saw her.

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So after a year in suburban hell, I am back on land. It’s not the same farm and it’s not even in the same province as before, but it’s a beautifully treed 15 acres on a hill. My view is phenomenal. At this point, you couldn’t pay me to leave.

There isn’t much infrastructure on the particular plot, unlike the old farm. It’s both good and bad: lots of work and expense, but we can make it how we like. All of my kids are here with me and I have a wonderful partner who is learning the ropes of the farm when she’s up visiting from the city. I’m a very lucky woman indeed.

With little in the way of buildings or pens, I’m building the livestock piece bit by bit. Winter is fast approaching so it’s vital I have enough feed and sufficient space for the few animals I have already. I picked up a couple of goats and lambs in the spring who have largely been yard animals, venturing into the 4-strand barbed wire pastures from time to time. The land is lush with clover and too many grass varieties to count. There were horses on the land, but only a couple on all these acres means that there is a lot of vegetation that’s been growing unhindered.

 

The two lambs are slated for the freezer for winter, although the kids are lobbying to keep the sweetest one. He didn’t get banded for various reasons and I’m loathe to spend the money at the vet to fix him since we already have a pet goat, so we will have to see how it plays out. Both lambs are wool sheep and honestly I’m so glad I didn’t get more of those. The burrs, bushes and trees on the property translate into a nasty, dirty fleece. With that in mind, I’ve decided to go with hair sheep. Now there’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever make.

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One thing I learned quickly after settling in is how fierce and bold the local coyotes are. The two horses that were here on the property for a month after I moved in kept most of them off the yard, but of course when they left we lost that protection. The horses were quite stressed at the effort they had to put in to keep the ‘yotes at bay. The ones we had in Manitoba never missed an opportunity to see if they could find an unprotected opening to an easy meal, but their flight bubbles were still pretty large. This Northern Albertan variety has a bit more moxie. Even with two LGDs on the property (behind fences) we still found one on the yard close up by the house. He didn’t want to move off either. This should be an interesting adventure.  There are a lot of raptors and foxes here that will be of more concern too once we have smaller stock like chickens to worry about.

Did I say that I have TWO LGDs? Well I do! In a twist of fate, Inghams Farms in Ontario had a litter of registered Armenian Gamprs out of the fabulous RM Karine. Karine is a brilliant working Gampr bitch I was able to meet when the Inghams lived not too far from us in Manitoba. I was so happy to find out that the male in the litter became available, and flew him out at 4 months of age. Meet Titus, named after the character of the same name in Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.  I’ll be blogging about our adventures in training Titus, keeping up with Ivy and growing the ruminant flock as we go along. We’ll need a lot more of them to clear the land, that’s for sure.

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Author: offleash

Small farmer, student of canine life, advocate, dog rehab and behavior specialist.

15 thoughts on “Returning

  1. Welcome back! We just bought 19-acres ourselves and are considering a donkey for a livestock guardian. We love dogs, but we are already planning on two more in addition to our current 3 terriers so we figured a ruminant might be an easier fix. We got our first horse from a kill auction in Kentucky and have another in quarantine in Texas. We’re thinking we’ll put the chicken coop in the pasture and hopefully keep predators at bay with the donkey/horses-we’ll see. Anyway, we have an awesome view as well and love it, it’s kind of a mix of rural farms and Blue Ridge Mountains!

    Ciao for now,
    Matt

  2. Hello, You don’t know me I followed your blog until you moved off the land.  You inspire me.  I want back out on the land, so very much.  I would love to do something with LGD’s learning to raise some sheep and organic gardening.  My cup runneth over with joy for you.  Please, keep sending your blogs. 

    Bless You All,Sherry Sapier

    • Thank you, Sherry. Your words are so kind, and I definitely will keep writing. I hope you can get back to the land as well – there is no better therapy on earth in my opinion. Thank you again for your encouragement ❤

  3. Yes!! Your back!

  4. I have just discovered your LGD blog and have really enjoyed reading your informative no-nonsense approach to keeping LGDs. I have a flock of fleece sheep (plus horses, chickens, cats) in the foothills of the Cascades in Western Washington and am working on training a LGD pup/adolescent after having really successful relationships with 4 rescued adult LGDs over the last 10 years. I am having some concerning issues with the pup and wonder if I gave you some background information on our history, my approach so far, and my concerns, whether you could give me some suggestions as to where I go from here? Having a good working relationship with him is my highest priority and am willing to do what it takes to make it work.

    Sue

    • Hi Sue,
      I would love to talk with you about your pup. I’d love to hear about your experiences with your rescued adults as well.

      • Thanks for the reply. There’s nothing I like better than talking about my dogs!
        We have had great experiences overall with adopting older dogs from the Tennessee GP rescue. They check out the dogs with their animals first and try to match the dog’s abilities with your farm. Over the years we have had 4, anything from an 18 month old to a 7 year old. The only big issue was the 18 month old female that had previously had no discipline and did not respect humans. After being bitten when I went too close to her food bowl, I quickly got respect by holding her down on her side by her throat – not easy when she out weighed me, but I was truly ticked and motivated! It was a valuable lesson for me and ever since that time I train all my dogs (I have big breeds inside and outside the house) by “eating” their food before they do, not allowing them to eat until I give permission and “claiming” their food and space by body blocking. I don’t do this to be mean, but especially with big dogs, they have to respect the alpha.
        All the dogs did super jobs guarding the farm, sheep, horses, chickens and cats. In the new place in WA, the property is completely surrounded by 4′ woven fence, so although we have coyotes and bobcats, with very occasional mountain lions and bears, by and large the dogs no longer have to engage predators directly (like the TN farm) and can rely on barking and marking to keep predators away. After slowly losing the GPs to old age, last year we were left with the youngest, Jessie, (now about 9), so we decided to go to get a helper for her. We tried to find a rescue, but the rescue groups here would only adopt GPs into home, not for outdoors on a farm (really?). A local mixed species farm had a litter of GP/Marema/Anatolian pups, from working parents. We checked the parents and they were doing the type of job we needed, they had good personalities and were friendly to humans. So 13 week old Merlin came home with us.
        Ideally I would have liked to have brought him up alongside lambs and another working dog, , but I only keep the flock for fleece now and Jessie developed extremely bad issues with her stifle after an injury and could not tolerate an active pup.
        My next best option was putting him with an older ewe, Maple, who loved dogs. This worked well for a while until he became too rambunctious to leave them unsupervised. Eventually we lost Maple to old age so I put Merlin with 2 wethers during the day and the adjacent pen at night. The wethers played with him, but when he got bigger, he became too rough and would start to harass them. We used an e collar (vibrate was more consistently effective than shock) and thought we had got the situation under control. However, I was out of commission for several months with surgery for a serious hip injury and my husband and 2 children bravely stepped in to run the farm in between work and college. So Merlin was not monitored quite so closely and one day things went badly wrong.
        When my daughter got home, Benjamin and Merlin were covered in blood from multiple wounds around Benjamin’s face and neck. She did a stellar job cleaning up Benjamin that day and for the next couple of weeks. But it was a terrible shock and the family was divided as to whether or not we should re-home Merlin. However after a lot of soul-searching and reconstructing the scene, we think that Benjamin must have got his horn stuck in the fence and Merlin must have panicked. We have had dogs before that would pull stuck lambs out of fences. I also believe that we put Merlin in a situation that he was not developmentally equipped to deal with. We immediately put Merlin into an adjacent area until I was back on my feet.
        So now I am back to almost full capacity, this is how I am planning to go forward and I should love to have your comments and suggestions. He is still living separated, but next to Benjamin and the other sheep. I had already taught him the commands “Sit”, “Stay”, “Watch”, “Wait” , “Heel”, “Come”, “Leave It”and “Gentle”, but now every day I take him on a leash walk around the perimeter of the sheep areas. He sits and stays at every gate until I invite him through. I have taught “Lead” so that instead of walking to heel he leads (not drags) me round ‘his’ area. I had noticed that anything new made him very nervous, people, noises, trucks, so I take time to de-sensitize him and let him relax around new stuff. He is becoming much more confident in leading me, checking out strange smells and marking the perimeter. We practice “Gentle” around the sheep and “Leave It” if he licks heads, tails or is a little too pushy. He still gets excited round the sheep at times, but if he can’t calm down, I re-direct and we walk away. I have noticed that he barks aggressively at dogs or sheep if they make prolonged, direct eye contact; I correct him every time I see it and he rarely does it now. I plan to spend the next several weeks this way until I put his e collar back on and I closely supervise him loose with selected, more relaxed sheep.
        My questions are:
        Am I correct in thinking that all is not lost and Merlin can be a reliable LGD eventually?
        If so, am I on the right track and is there anything else I can do?
        I noticed that you take your GPs off the property (on leashes). Would this help to expose Merlin to new things and give him more confidence?
        Sorry it is so involved, but I want to do my best for him and my sheep.

      • Hi Sue! I’m sorry for the delay in getting back to you.
        Interestingly, I’m going to do some blogging around the subject of food/object guarding (what we trainers call RG or Resource Guarding). I hope you’ll find some new information there and it’ll be helpful going forward.
        It sounds like you’ve had a rough go of things for a while health wise when Merlin was at his most prime for teaching – this has happened to me in the past as well and could well happen again. It’s hard to have other people in our families “be” us, so to speak, for the dog(s) during this time. It sounds like you’ve reflected well on what happened for him during this time and are more prepared to go forward and meet his needs.
        It’s also tougher to work with a busy pup when our older dogs are unable or unwilling to be puppy teachers. When we have their backup and consistent enforcement of the rules, raising a pup is a whole lot easier.
        The one thing that I’m flagging off to as a very serious problem is the fact that Merlin is not willing to give to the stock on his own. This should be a non-negotiable attribute of a working LGD. Barring any bullying incidents on the part of the stock (think small pup/new mother or pup/intact grown male), pups should always avoid engaging in hard staring with stock. In most dog breeds/types, hard staring is reserved for domination or intimidation purposes and is one of the first steps in engaging in conflict. When a LGD doesn’t avert their eyes in response to stock hard staring, and actually escalates the conflict (takes personally) afterwards, growling, barking, attacking, they are treating stock like other dogs and that it incredibly inappropriate. Working LGDs should do the complete opposite.
        At this point, it’s very hard for me to predict whether you could muscle Merlin into being a working LGD, but I do know that you cannot trust him to be alone with stock atm. The potential for harm is too high, and the chance that he will escalate something to a bad place due to how he perceives stock behavior is very high.

      • Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I read them right away, but in shearing/fiber fest season, I don’t often have the luxury of sitting down and communicating.
        I completely agree with your concerns regarding the staring down and I have been on him as soon as I realized what was happening. I found that there was a particular bark associated with the behavior and so even if I couldn’t see him, I could correct him with a “leave it” until I could get there to address it. So needless to say I have been making sure that I keep correcting until the point of him stopping the behavior and calmly leaving the situation each and every time. I have considered putting him into submission (on his side, my hand on his neck) when it happens. It isn’t easy when a dog is 100 lb and excited, but what do you think? Having said that I have not seen him do this in a couple of weeks.
        He is making great strides in other areas. His job in the morning is to walk out on a leash and open the gate for the sheep to go into the back pasture and to come with me to shut it at night. He “leads” me round his pastures and calmly passes the sheep with maybe a glance or a sniff. He’s still a pup though (about 14 months) and gets excited if they do, but we are working on it.
        Maybe I didn’t mention it before, but he is a super dog, he has a great, personality and very obedient. I can give him commands from a field away and he obeys. I am trying really hard to work him through his issues because I just know that there is a terrific livestock guardian in there somewhere. But you are right, it is going to be quite a while before I can trust him alone with my sheep.

  5. Good you are back! always interesting to hear of your experiences 🙂

  6. Welcome back. Say, isn’t an Armenian Gampr basically a Caucasian Ovcharka?

    • Thanks!
      While the Gampr and the CO are similar in appearance, they are not the same dog. The CO comes from Georgia, a small country in Caucus of Eurasia – or Eastern Europe. The dogs from there were largely taken over by Russia in the middle of the last century, and the Georgians have been trying to rebuild their gene pool ever since. COs tend to be blockier and more compact, typically have a lot more coat than Gamprs and have unfortunately been bred for more aggressive tendencies for the fight ring more often than not.
      Armenian Gamprs, on the other hand, come out of Armenia, which is adjacent to Turkey. If you haven’t read up on the Armenian Genocide, learning about that would help explain some of why Gamprs are more similar to ASDs than any Ovtcharkas.

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