Guard Dog Blog

on Livestock Guardian Dogs and small farm life…


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Give to get.

It’s New Year’s Eve today. It’s a natural time in the year to reflect, and I find myself doing just that as I sit at my table in the early morning silence. Ivy is finally resting after a restless night indoors; I made her come inside due to the extreme cold we experienced last night. She’s getting to (hopefully!) just past middle age and the Lyme and Anaplasmosis she contracted during her year away aged her prematurely. Maybe some day she will forgive me for leaving Titus on his own with the stock for a night, but right now I’ll settle for her begrudging acceptance – which, quite frankly, is all I’m likely to ever get.

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Isn’t she the cutest? It does my heart good to see her get some rest. It’s been a big year for all of us: the kids, dogs and I moving out of suburbia and back to land in a new province, my partner, J, learning about small farm life after a long while in the city, Ivy leaving Manitoba after a year away from us, Titus flying from Ontario to us at Rolling Spruce Farm to begin training as Ivy’s backup. Settling in and getting our bearings has been the name of the game for most of the latter half of 2017.

Living away from the land for a year before this was brutally hard on my heart and my soul. I spent every waking moment that I could hiking in the forests or walking on the beaches – anywhere, really, where I could get some space and breathe fresh air. I missed my big dogs terribly. Thankfully, it just so happened that the sister of my Saluki boy, Sami, needed some rehab and a new home, so I ended up with two yearling (sibling!) dogs who required a great deal of exercise. It was a perfect match for my restless self. If you’ve ever been owned by serious sighthounds (the parents of these two came from families in Saudi Arabia), you’ll know that it’s not easy to give them appropriate mental and physical stimulation on leash. You’ll also know that it’s not easy to gain their focus or have them listen to you when there are a lot of other competing interests around, not to mention when they can do exactly what they were bred to do – run. Running and chasing are to Salukis what guarding and nurturing are to LGDs, so you get a good idea of how important this is to them.

Salukis sleeping, Salukis running, Salukis playing, Salukis posing… I couldn’t decide which pictures to leave out, so you get inundated with them here (click on the thumbnails to see them in bigger format if you’d like). Ara (the brindle) and Sam (the tri-color) taught me so much about dog handling and dog training during this year of suburban purgatory. They are polar opposites in personality: Ara, stranger friendly but shy and aloof in most new situations, independent and sassy with her family and Sam, stranger wary and forward with other dogs, lovey, playful and devoted with his family. Both are Salukis through and through however: picky and particular, always looking to hunt, run, chase – alert and ready to go at a moment’s notice, but calm and relaxed for the most part at home. Sighthounds embody what dog people call the “off switch”, the ability for a dog to turn off their internal drive when it’s not called for. It’s this innate ability that makes them wonderful to live with, but also a challenge out of doors.

While I still lived on the old farm, I learned a training skill from a wise young trainer friend of mine. This skill came in handy for many different dogs, but none more so than the sighthounds and the LGDs. I call it simply “Give to get”, but I’m sure there is a better technical trainer term for it that I can’t recall. In essence, the skill requires the dog handler to give the dog what they want most in exchange for a short, easily displayed behavior. In time, the dog’s behavior requirement is extended and the criteria increased, so that the handler gets more and more of what they are looking for (within the dog’s ability, of course), but what is given to the dog afterwards remains the same. Most of what we call “positive” or “reward based” training operates on this principle of giving in order to receive, most notably where the dog will comply to a request in order to receive a food or play reward.

The difference between this approach and say, giving the dog a treat or a toy after they give the handler a certain behavior is that the reward in this case requires giving the dog freedom. For instance, if I am walking a dog, I will ask them to walk beside me with a loose leash (a leash with a good amount of slack in it, not tight/taught) and then ask for a short behavior such as eye contact, short sit or down (lie down). As a “reward” for the offered behavior (I put reward in quotations because in my opinion freedom should be a given, not a special thing),  I’ll allow the dog the full extent of the leash/rope/long line to sniff or romp or do whatever their heart desires. I can then resume the more structured walk after a while and then rinse and repeat. If I am going for a walk with a dog off leash, I will ask for a similar such behavior before allowing them off the leash, or before releasing them after I’ve called them back to me. For independent minded dogs whose ultimate happiness lies in being left to their own devices, this is typically good trade-off in their minds. They rarely resent being asked for it as long as we don’t pester them too much after the routine is established. This is also a good option for dogs who don’t like to take food or engage with toys outside of the house, although I will also train dogs to take the food from me as one of the behaviors that results in achieving freedom.

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Walking Laima, a Gampr, on a loose leash along with Piper and Sami off leash

In a world where freedom for dogs is no longer a given and trainers teach highly structured walks as a matter of course, independent, unrestricted movement is hard for many dogs to come by. For many dog handlers, it can initially seem counter-intuitive to offer freedom as a reward; after all, isn’t it highly desired to keep the dog as engaged and obedient as possible? Isn’t freedom time when nothing happens for the dog? I argue exactly the opposite, that the time when we are not directly affecting every movement of our dogs is when the most growth and the most learning happens. It requires as well as fosters a great deal of trust in the dog/human relationship as well. We trust them enough to let them go, to learn from their free interactions and behaviors, to let settle what we’ve taught them, to make mistakes. They trust us enough to happily return, even out of roaring play or wild chase, safe in the knowledge that we won’t rob them of what they desire the most: independence.

For some dogs, autonomy is like breathing – it’s something they must have. For others, it’s less comfortable a notion. Regardless, it’s essential to achieving a healthy state of mind, high levels of resilience and the ability to make appropriate decisions for any situation. “Give to get” is one way we can help even the most independently minded dog stay willingly connected to us during training and free time. If all that my time away from the farm did was to hone my understanding of how important this principle is, then it was absolutely worth it.

 


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For the birds.

Please stop saying that LGDs were never meant to protect poultry and therefore inappropriate behavior with poultry should be tolerated.
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Ceaser patiently watches over his chicken friends.

STOP IT!
 
While LGDs may not have been bred to specifically guard and bond with poultry (although flocks of geese were tended to in some European countries just like sheep/goats), poultry are a long standing pastoral staple in the countries where these dogs were developed. They were meant to guard them by default, and definitely NOT meant to help themselves to a snack of bird flesh whenever they felt the urge. Meat/eggs are valuable things in developing countries, and prized possessions in countries with historical agriculture bases. Even more interesting is the fact that chickens were sacred creatures for some ancient cultures, and even rode into battle with Roman armies.
 
Some LGDs, like the Great Pyrenees leaning BWD (Big White Dog) of North America, is capable of bonding well with poultry of all stripes. ASDs (Anatolian Shepherd Dogs) are also more prone to being natural poultry guardians. Others, like the more traditional Gampr , Akbash, and Kuvasz are more likely to want to protect them by default. The poultry is in the space they protect, and therefore are protected. At the very least, they are not harassed nor assaulted. For many producers, this would be enough. No requirement would be made for the dog to take care of the poultry in a maternal fashion.
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Sammy guards her flock. She even killed an owl that tried to make off with some of her chickens.

Remember, most of these dogs were born in, spent a great deal of their lives around and ended up living in pastoral settings. Their active working lives were only a portion of the sum total of their lives. They doubled as guard dogs for the home front, for the producer’s families, as family dogs (which is why they are so innately good with children, the infirm and the elderly) and as village dogs. Many are still used for these purposes today. These dogs were and are required to get along well with the people, to appropriately distinguish between benign and threatening activity in amongst the busyness of village/home life. Occupying themselves with chasing or killing people’s poultry would not be acceptable behavior by any stretch of the imagination.
The more I hear online and from producers directly about the advice being given for handling and training these dogs to work, the more concerned I become about our future. Slow, inappropriate maturity is being held up as the expected standard for our working dogs. Effective, efficient training is being actively discouraged in favor of what I call the “killing with kindness” methods. Dogs are being confined more and more without the appropriate guidance and real working time experience needed to become confident guardians. Dogs are being micromanaged to the point where they are confused and unable to meet expectations, a serious blow to their self esteem.
Over and over, I see a lack of understanding about how the canine mind and life stages work from those in positions of influence. I’m seeing the fruits of what has been sewn by people who are more interested in self promotion and specific breed promotion than in caring for the working dog as a whole. This is never more evident than when I have to step in to a situation with an adolescent or young adult LGD who has not received what they cried out for from day one.
LGDs should NOT chase/mouth/attack/kill your poultry. If you can’t manage to convince them not to (or to find someone who can), keep them separated. Full stop. These inclinations should be identifiable from early on, and most easily addressed at early ages. Any focused staring, stalking, pouncing and chasing should be actively discouraged. Proper behavior should be modeled and praised. Ideal modeling is by an older LGD. Placing a young pup with larger, more aggressive poultry such as geese is a good way to keep the connection with winged stock whilst ensuring a rambunctious pup cannot push them around. As a bonus, geese tend to be slower moving and don’t trigger the chase instinct as easily in young pups. If you don’t have access to larger poultry, early supervision with timely corrections is the best way to start. These corrections include redirecting (physically moving or distracting) the pup away, verbally discouraging the behavior, using spatial pressure (moving into their space in order to block or move them away) and physically correcting.  Avoid allowing the pup to have long periods of time to watch flighty birds from behind a barrier. This encourages arousal and frustration over the inability to chase. Instead, tethering for limited periods in an area where the poultry can escape from the dog or judicious use of the dangle stick can be good options. Whatever you do, don’t inadvertently encourage the inappropriate behavior by allowing the dog to practice it unchecked or by using “nagging” (ineffective) corrections.
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Photo of pup and poultry from gampr.org

Yes, it’s true that we do often see in an otherwise reliable pup incidents where they are inappropriate with poultry as they mature. Those funny birds can be very tempting toys for a bored adolescent pup. That said, those dogs respond quickly and very well to correction and limited periods of separation, going on to return to their stable roots. Stay the course, give clear information/expectations in your training, enforce those expectations effectively while taking into account the life stage of your dog(s). Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can change all in a slow and sweet way. Equally, don’t believe that you can spend little time with your dog and still properly affect their behavior. This is especially true if you lack an older mentor dog or a familial group to help train.
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LGDs can be and should be just fine with poultry. There are exceptions to this rule, but there are many less than reported.  Let’s keep that in our manual of expectations. Let’s keep our expectations high. Let’s not let down future generations of working dogs and the people who need them by unnecessarily affecting breeding selection in negative ways. Most importantly, let’s stay the course with our dogs so that they can protect to their full potential.
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A small question of obedience…

Recently, in conversation with a well-regarded trainer in the US about one of his client dogs, I stopped his description of intending to train “Place” (asking the dog to stay on an object or in an area until invited off/out) with this question:

“But what do you do when you can’t use obedience training as a short cut to building relationship?”

There was a silence and then he replied that he wasn’t sure.

I continued with:

“How do you get what you need from a dog in terms of self control when you cannot use food/play/force or repetition to get there?”

He was a wonderful sport and played along, responding by asking me what I thought should be done instead.

These questions are, in my opinion, at the crux of all of the problems we run into when working with dogs who have an innately independent mindset. Ask anyone who has spent any time with a working bred aboriginal type dog, be it LGD, hound, spitz or the less common herding breeds and they’ll tell you that these dogs embody the very definition of the independent mindset. For many of them, food can be a simple way to encourage them to bond with us, but others, like LGDs and sighthounds quite often won’t be manipulated in that way. In fact, the more we insist on ‘making’ them do things, the less they respect us. This is what people are actually dealing with when they claim that certain dogs are too “stubborn” or “dumb” to train. They claim that these dogs don’t have a brain in their heads, when it’s actually the handlers who don’t know how to speak their language.

People who don’t know how to handle certain animals resorting to allegations that it’s the animal’s fault? Say it ain’t so. This is has been going on since the beginning of domestication.

You’d think it’d be obvious that the human in the equation should try a little harder and work a little smarter. If the arguments I’ve seen on social media and the conversations I’ve had with other dog people are any indication, it’s not so obvious as it should be. It’s never acceptable to ignore an entire subsection of the canine population like this. Shame on the industry for encouraging that to happen.

So what do you do with an independent dog like our LGDs? Well, for some people, their answer has been to try to breed that out of them. Their dogs and their progeny become hollow shells of what they were intended to be. While it’s true that our LGD breeds/types are all found along the spectrum of biddability (biddable: easily led, taught, or controlled :docile), they should always retain what I call a ‘split brain’. This means that a significant portion of their brain should be dedicated to autonomous, independent thought processes. We should never be able to, nor should we even want to, hijack this portion for our own ends. The retention of this precious quality is VITAL for their ability to work effectively. We have no need of a LGD who needs to look to us for every decision, for every move. How could we leave them with our precious stock then?

At the same time, we need to be able to shape their instincts and help them learn how to control themselves. This part of their brain is dedicated to relationship and is where we need to take our influence very seriously. We need to be able to step in when they get it wrong (think over-guarding with newborn babies for instance or if they decide to take matters into their own hands with a human stranger); this is especially true when we raise them outside of a familial grouping as we do so often in developed, westernized countries.

So what is the answer to this particular issue of retaining fierce independence while impacting behavior and motivation? It’s pretty simple, really. Learn. Listen to them. Up your observation skills. Increase the methods in your repertoire. Acknowledge that there is more than one kind of dog out there. Stop approaching this work from an idealized ethical standpoint or with all kinds of force. These dogs don’t care what you learned in a book or from Koehler. They care about doing what they were meant to do, and if you aren’t relevant to that, you won’t be relevant to anything. If you don’t want to get hurt, if you don’t want the dog to check out on you and you still want to get from A to B, put your ego aside. Put away any piece of you that thinks you know what these dogs are about because you’ve had x number or x other kinds of dogs all your life. Approach this as a novel experience, a learning opportunity to expand your horizons and your toolbox. Resist the temptation to extrapolate endlessly from the few experiences with LGDs you’ve had or the stories/advice you’ve heard on Facebook and in poorly written literature. Those are nothing more than interesting fairy tales. Anything you follow should be able to withstand scrutiny and be able to prove results, period.

Utilize critical thinking. If you’re not getting the results you need quickly, if you’re relying more and more on management as a way of getting where you need to go, if you can’t handle or control these dogs without all kinds of equipment/set ups, you’re on the wrong track.

Yesterday, I fed Titus and Ivy from my hand in various spots on my property. They took each piece of kibble from my hand with respect for me and for each other. Titus put himself into a “Sit” and waited patiently while I fed one first to Ivy and then to him. When a piece landed on the ground, he refrained from jumping on it. We walked from place to place without leashes, without manipulation or force. We repeated the feeding exercise. I shared with them how wonderful I thought they were for offering deference and staying engaged with me. At the end, we played together and had a few cuddles. When I fed him the rest of his meal in a dish later, he ran ahead of me and put himself in a sit, waiting patiently until the bowl hit the ground and he heard me release him to eat. When he was done, he didn’t even attempt to touch Ivy’s dish.

Last week, Titus picked a fight with Ivy because food was present. He had his ass handed to him since she is still able to do so. This was not the first time he’d picked a fight like that. He’s had trouble with self control since the get go. He’d knocked food out of people’s hands, he’d jump up and down like a pogo stick, he’d walk in front of people and throw himself at their feet to get what he wanted (whether affection or food), he’d put his face in whatever and wherever he thought appropriate without so much as a thought process. Ivy’d dealt with his obnoxiousness more than once. He wasn’t learning.

Now he is.

This is literally a dog who has outstanding LGD instincts, who has simply lacked self control. I’m not going to just manage that until he matures. That’s not sustainable and doesn’t teach him anything. The lack of self control bleeds into all kinds of areas of his life. I don’t have an older male to teach him and keep him in line, so it’s been down to me. He didn’t have that enough where he was bred either (this is quite a common thing especially with small litters and not at all criticism), so I’ve been dealing with counteracting a lifetime of reinforcement for inappropriate behavior. My life was chaotic when he first arrived and for a while afterwards, due to the move, kids, school…so I didn’t get on it quickly enough either.

The point is that it’s fixable. It’s trainable. I’m doing that, and not with rote obedience regimes. Titus is responding and we’re all getting to that place of mutualistic symbiosis we need for this farm to run smoothly. Will he get to a place where he’s the boss of all things LGD here? It’s quite possible and I fully anticipate that that will happen. Right now is not the time as he’s not mentally or physically ready for that. So he has had to learn his place, outside of the strong family pack he would have had to help teach him in his country of origin.

To his credit, he’s getting it. To mine, I know how to speak to him so he listens.

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Titus offering a “Sit” to my daughter

 

 

 

 


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Returning

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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Training Tools: The E Collar, An Introduction

I’ve had a number of requests over the last while to detail exactly how I use the e collar (aka “shock” collar) when training LGDs.  As I have worked with dogs at different stages of their lives and at differing stages of training and levels of instinct, I’ve decided to concentrate on the most common uses for the collar as opposed to specific, more rare usages.  You are always welcome to contact me for clarification on any of the points I share, but please know that I hesitate to give broad suggestions when it comes working with the e collar and LGDs, especially with adult dogs.  In  my opinion, there are far too many variables in the dogs, their handlers/owners, and in life circumstances to do such a thing and still remain ethical.  While electronic (e) collars have come a long way in the last number of years in terms of quality and efficiency, I cannot caution enough against using them indiscriminately.  They are not a “magical” tool; slapping one on your dog and hitting the activation button will not automatically give you the results you are looking for, and may indeed cause more problems than the one(s) you intended to address.

My daughter works in a local pet store and tells me that a lot of people come in asking to buy an e collar to modify their dog’s behavior.  I’m not going to touch on pet dog behavior and e collars here, but I will say that unless you frequent an enlightened pet store that stocks high quality collars, it is a very bad idea to buy one there.  The vast majority of collars at retail stores are of low quality and do not have the range of levels or reliability needed to communicate effectively with your dog.  The exception to this may be at hunting/outdoor stores, although for the prices asked there, you will do better to order a versatile collar through a trainer/dealer or directly from the company itself.

I am a dealer for E Collar Technologies and use and recommend their products only.  I’ve found them to be reliable, rugged, effective and user friendly with a high level of customer service.   Their collars come with a minimum of 100 stimulation levels, from imperceptible (to me) to a high that I rarely use except in life threatening situations.  Robin MacFarlane, a noted low stimulation (stim) e collar trainer and the creator of the acclaimed “That’s My Dog!” video series, endorses Dogtra collars.  You can buy those collars and videos directly from her site as well as from Steve Snell at Gun Dog Supply. (Side note: Gun Dog Supply has the best, most cost effective biothane collars out there for LGDs.  I especially like the inclusion of the top “O” ring and the free engraved ID plate, as well as the wide range of colors.  On my dogs, I like the high visibility colors so that there can be no confusion as to the fact that they are owned dogs.  Not everyone collars their LGDs, but if you do, check them out.)  Linda Kaim, of Lionheart K9 in Westminster, Maryland, who also uses e collars as an integral part of her dog training programs, recommends both Dogtra and E Collar Technologies.  She has a preference for Dogtra collars for their “latitude and craftmanship”, but says that she recommends E Collar Technologies to clients who are more budget conscious.  It is of course important to remember that a good e collar is an investment that will pay dividends for years to come.  It is much better to pay for a reliable collar up front rather than to pay for multiple box store cheaper ones over the course of time or risk having your dog “shocked” randomly.  If you buy a used set from someone, approach the company that manufactured the collar to see if they will test and/or refurbish it for you to ensure that it is still in good working order.  Replacement parts are also typically easy to find through a dealer or manufacturer.

Whichever collar you choose, there are some important safety considerations to consider before it ever makes it on to your dog(s).  Most e collar trainers encourage their clients to try the collar on their forearms first in order to get a good picture of what the stim feels like.  I have done so myself, getting to level 16 of 100 levels before finding it aversive.  The levels below 16 were, for me, surprisingly pleasant.  It is really important to remember, however, that the reaction to the stimulation is extremely subjective.  Your dog(s) may not find certain stim levels bearable even though you did.  Conversely, your dog(s) may find moderate or mid ranging levels imperceptible or unimportant, and even higher levels insufficient to deter highly arousing behavior.  High levels of stimulation can imprint random information on the brains of dogs as well (the tree the dog was looking at when you hit the button now becomes the source of the pain in the dog’s mind), and should only be used with good timing in emergencies or a last resort.

Another thing to remember is that an e collar was not designed to wear for long periods of time.  Do not leave the collar on overnight, or all day.  The collar requires a snug fit for the nickel points to contact the skin around the neck, and can result in not only  what is called “pressure necrosis” but also allergic reactions in a portion of dogs.  Both of these are what typically show up in anti-e collar campaigns and other related propaganda in the form of pictures of extensive wounds that have been debrided by veterinarians.  There is no doubt that the claims these organizations make that this type of injury is commonplace are ludicrous, but it is crucial to understand that it does occur at times.   An allergy to the contact points can be hard to predict, but the dog will soon show a high level of discomfort with the collar, and frequent skin checks should be sufficient to identify it easily.  If an allergy is suspected, replacement hypoallergenic contact points are readily available from the same place where the collar was purchased.  Pressure necrosis is similar in terms of how it affects the skin, but  it develops due to prolonged contact with the skin and/or moisture in the environment and on the dog.  It can be avoided by moving the position of the collar each time it is used, frequent skin checks and reducing the amount of time the collar is in use, especially in wet weather.  The appropriate coat for a LGD should keep moisture away from the skin, but it is always wise to err on the side of caution.  The vast majority of pressure necrosis cases are superficial and heal well on their own, but it is crucial to access veterinary care if healing is delayed and to suspend use of the collar on affected areas.

Use the correct length of contact points for the dog you are working with.  Short points are appropriate for short coated dogs, long ones for long coated dogs.  Place the stim box with the contact points to the side of the dog’s trachea as shown in the picture below.  This ensures that the contact points are sitting over one of the major muscles; away from extremely sensitive parts of the dog’s neck and well away from the spinal cord.

Photo origin: E Collar Technologies

Photo origin: E Collar Technologies

Used properly, an electronic collar allows the handler to extend the reach of their control and allows the dog to move freely, untethered.  This makes it especially useful for training dogs who have learned to employ a certain set of behaviors while under direct supervision, on a leash or long line and another when out of reach.  It also allows the handler to convey information to the dog effectively in the moment.  In my opinion, and in the opinion of other trainers who use e collars humanely, it also allows the handler to train more thoughtfully in distracting environments.   The concern that control will be lost or that information won’t communicated well at a distance is greatly reduced.

In the next post, I’m going to go over a training session with a LGD pup I am training.  Before I wrap up this post, though, I’m just going to take a moment to reiterate this crucially important point:

An e collar is not a replacement for training, instead it is a helpful adjunct for some dogs in a training program.  

The training program we’re talking about here is the one that results in a mature, confident, effective Livestock Guardian Dog.

*** Important note:  Most high quality e collars come with a vibrate function.  This function is a vital part of my training approach.  I use it in different ways, depending on the dog’s response to it.  Some dogs find it more aversive and some find it less aversive than the stim function.


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Companion living.

I’m working on a post about life stages and expectations for LGDs, but it’s a bit slow going as farm life is in full swing here, leaving free time in short supply.  In the meantime, I want to take a moment to remind LGD breed owners of one undeniable fact.

Whether you think your dog is a working LGD or not doesn’t matter.  If he has working ability, HE thinks he’s a working dog and will act accordingly.  This is what he was bred to do.

 

More often than not, when a LGD breed is kept as a companion or in an urban setting and they have significant working ability, their owners run into trouble leaving them on their home turf unsupervised with strangers, unfamiliar animals, etc., as they mature.  This is especially true of the harder or less stranger tolerant breeds such as the Caucasian Ovtcharka, Central Asian Shepherd, Kuvasz, etc..  These dogs are hard wired to assess risk, to identify threat and then to drive it off or eliminate it.  This can bleed over into their life off property, especially if they are regularly taken to certain places or walked on certain routes, since this can encourage them to believe that these things and places are also “theirs” and meant to be protected.

Unlike many other breeds, where the maturing process is difficult, but maturity brings with it a dog who is MORE biddable with their owners and steady with strangers, LGDs become hardened with time and tend to listen less and be less tolerant of threat behavior by others.   Unfortunately, many people who acquire LGD breeds expect that their dog(s) will see extended family, visiting family, close friends and playmates of their children as completely safe… just like the owners do.  They expect that the loving and sweet dog(s) who allow their children to sit on them and who cuddle with them on the couch will extend that behavior to others who don’t live with them.  This is not at all what these dogs were bred for, and it is unfair to expect that of them.  Thousands of years of selection pressure has brought us dogs who act independently to address threat, swiftly and unforgivingly (in varying degree) and who don’t understand that Aunt Martha or Uncle Bob aren’t stealing from you, or that Sammy’s little friend from school was only play fighting.

Both breeders and owners share responsibility for this issue.  Breeders should know their dogs well, and sell only to suitable homes that are prepared to deal with any issues that may arise.  Owners should think hard about their expectations for any dog they plan to bring into their home, and ask themselves if they would be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, so to speak, or if they are truly willing to do what it would take to keep a large, powerful and ever-suspicious dog happy and safe in that setting.

With proper management and understanding, LGDs can make good companions – in fact, they can be absolutely wonderful in that role.  Setting them up for success is the kindest and most appropriate thing that we can do for them, which sometimes means passing them over for a more suitable dog.  You can take the dog out of the working environment, but you will NEVER take the working ability out of the dog.

Anneke, one of our working LGDs,  enjoys some inside time.

Anneke, one of our working LGDs, enjoys some inside time.

 


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Training tools for independent dogs

If there is one thing that unites our various hard working LGDs, it’s their ability and desire to work independently.  Upon maturity, they ought to be able to work without direct, constant supervision and still make appropriate decisions.  It is my firm belief that training ought to begin early, be consistent and fair, and utilize appropriate but heightening expectations throughout the maturation process.  Many producers will find that they need a little help in terms of training tools, especially during the fairly long adolescent period.  We’ll go over these tools more in depth in future posts, but here’s a quick overview for reference.  ALL of these tools are meant to be used in conjunction with training and under some supervision.

1. Dangle Stick

young kuv learning to herd sheep 3 of 3

Young Kuvaszok with the Nagyragadozók Természetvédelmi Program

Dangle sticks are used the world over to impede young LGDs from chasing stock.  They are a stick, metal or PVC tube that hang across the chest from a chain attached to the dog’s collar.  When the dog begins to run, the rod bangs against their chest and makes the movement uncomfortable.  Some producers have had success with graduating to a small dangling flap or hunting dog bell attached to the collar as a reminder to the LGD not to chase.  As the desire to chase their charges should be short lived in LGDs (especially if caught early enough), these tools should only need to be used for a limited time.

2. Yoke

Our own Anneke modelling a PVC version

Our own Anneke modelling a PVC version

An innovative yoke using smaller pipe

An innovative yoke using smaller pipe

A training yoke is a temporarily worn by LGDs who need to be prevented from escaping through fences and/or kept out of certain areas (a creep feeder, for example).  It can be made from sticks, pieces of wood, or PVC/rubber pipes.  The yoke should be inspected regularly for wear and tear and should allow for full expression by the wearer.  This means that they should be able to lie down, eat, drink and otherwise live their life comfortably.  It should be lightweight and is often attached to the regular, flat collar so that it cannot be easily removed.

3. Prong Collar

Herm Sprenger prong collar

Herm Sprenger prong collar

Plastic version

Plastic version

Prong with rubber tips on points

Prong with rubber tips on points

A prong collar is used strictly for correction and prevention training purposes and should only be worn under direct supervision.  It should never be left on the dog when in the pasture alone, and the dog should never be tethered by it.  Here is some good information on the prong collar from LGD.org.

Any prong used should be of good quality in order to prevent failure and to ensure that it releases quickly and consistently.  As this collar has a high risk of improper usage resulting in over correction and pain for the dog, it should only be used when the mechanics are well and properly understood.  This can mean under the supervision of a trainer.

4. Electronic Collar (E-Collar)

E Collar Technologies Mini Educator

E Collar Technologies Mini Educator

An E-Collar is a remote collar that delivers a stim or electronic “shock” to the wearer.  Many, such as the one pictured above, also have an option to use a vibrate.  Depending on the dog, the vibrate may be more useful as a signalling tool than the electronic stimulation.  Old school E-Collars had only a few settings and were often too harsh and inconsistent for successful training; the new generation of collars are much more flexible and reliable, often with 100 levels to choose from.  I recommend testing the collar on yourself first (the back of your hand is a good spot) with the lower levels to get a feeling for the stimulation.  As with the prong collar, always buy the best quality collar that you can afford.  Its longevity and reliability will more than pay for itself in time.

The mechanics of some forms of E-Collar training are complex and need more indepth discussion, but the collar can also be used in a simple way to correct serious unwanted behavior such as chasing, grabbing, rough play, stock food nabbing and fence breaching.  When your dog is doing little and in a space with few distractions, test the level at which your dog responds to the stimulation by starting very low and going up 2 or 3 levels at a time.  If you are getting no response for some time, go up at a higher rate of 5 or 10 levels.  When you find the level where there is a small response (ie. ear twitch, small movement), make a mental note of it.  This will be your working level or starting point.  Next, hang back and wait for the LGD to do something undesired.  Catch them early in the behavior, as waiting for the behavior to be in full swing will require a much higher level of stimulation to correct and may not be well understood in the dog’s mind.  Pair your verbal correction with the stimulation: say “No” or “Leave It” or whichever term you’ve previously chosen just before activating the stimulation.  Eventually, this will mean that the dog connects the memory of the correction with your verbal correction which means that you won’t need the collar anymore.  If the behavior doesn’t diminish, go up levels again until you get the desired response.  Call the dog to you, comfort them and praise them.  Never correct the dog on the collar after the behavior is completed and never when they come to you.  In this way you will also be encouraging the dog to see you as a safe place, and their previous behavior as the sole reason why the stimulation occurred.

5. Tether

Our Ivy on a tether; fences under snow

Our Ivy on a tether; fences under snow

 

A tether, or tie, can be useful for times when a LGD needs to be restrained, kept in one area, or prevented from following predators for a short period of time.  All LGDs should be trained to accept tethering as young pups. No dog or growing pup should be left on a tether for an extended period of time, and should be allowed off for free exercise daily.  Some LGDs much prefer a tether to a pen, given that they can access the stock and bond better with a tether, and it helps to prevent barrier frustration.  It also can allow for better free movement for the dog if the tether is of a sufficient length and kept away from areas where the dog could become entangled.  If stock is in the area where the dog is tethered, place it along the ground and use a swivel clip on both ends.  The dog should have easy access to shelter, shade and water in the area where they are tethered.  Tethering highly territorial LGDs can lead to guarding that area from the stock and their owners, so moving the tether to a different area periodically is highly recommended.

The tether should be lightweight, but strong.  If you choose a chain, use the “passing link” variety like this one. Ensure that it is only attached to a flat collar with a strong “O” or “D” ring.  An alternative to a full tether is a “drag”; a chain or cable attached to something heavy or cumbersome such as a small log.  The drag is a controversial training tool and if chosen, should only be used under supervision and for very short periods.

7. Horse Whip & Bucket

whip  I’ll spare you a picture of a bucket, as I’m sure you can conjure up one on your own.  The bucket is used to make a big, booming noise by holding it in one hand and banging on the bottom of it with the other.  It helps as a “back up” or as a primary corrector.  It makes a good seat in the pasture as well for prolonged times of supervision.

The whip is used as an extension of your hand and is especially useful when training young pups with stock.  It helps to guide them away or to tap them on the shoulder or bum and encourage them to leave something alone.  It should never be used to hit the dog, except perhaps in life or death situations.  A lunge whip, with the loose end wrapped around the stick or removed entirely can be used as well.

7. Long Line

Bevis_09_04 The long line or tracking line is one of the most useful training tools for LGDs.  You can purchase them already made, or make one easily yourself.  It allows for space for the dog to behave and move freely, while still allowing for control by the owner/producer.

Strength and length and the two important factors when buying or designing a long line.  In general, you want a longer one (20+ ft) rather than a shorter one; adding knots at various spots along the length of the line will allow you to hold on or stop movement short.  If the line is rope, wearing gloves will help prevent burns.

Hold the unused portion of the line in folds in your non dominant hand.  Do not wrap the line around your hand or loop over your hand.  Hold the rest of the line loosely in your dominant hand.  When the dog is very young, or behaving more reliably around the stock, you can drop the line and allow them to drag it.  Step on or pick up the line when you want more control of the dog.  If you attach the long line to anything other than a flat collar, be careful of stopping the dog short too quickly or harshly.

8.  Clicker

clicker Clickers are, as well, one of the more useful training tools for LGDs.  It allows for precise marking of desired behavior and can be followed by a chosen reinforcement such as food, affection, play or praise.  It is especially useful for training obedience behaviors (manners) such as “Sit”, “Off”, “Come”.  Try to stay away from long sessions or repetitive ones, as LGDs can lose interest quickly.

The chosen reinforcement must be rewarding to the dog, not just what the owner finds rewarding.  It is not advised to use food rewards in the pasture with the stock, except when the LGD is a very young pup.  It can lead to resource guarding and/or mobbing by the stock.

 

As in all list posts, this is not an exhaustive one.   What are some training tools that I haven’t thought of here?  Feel free to add them in the comments.