Guard Dog Blog

on Livestock Guardian Dogs and small farm life…


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Cleaning up your F’ing messes.

I am going through some major life changes right now that mean the farm is being sold off.  Believe it or not, selling the stock and leaving the property hurts miles less than having to part with the dogs.  I tried and tried to sort out a way to keep at least my best girl, Ivy, but in the end it became clear that I would need to do what always allows me to sleep at night: whatever is best for the dog.

At this time, all that’s left on my farm is a few sheep, the poultry and Ivy.

All I wanted to do with this blog was to come back and write a farewell and good wishes post and hope that somewhere along the way some of what I said got through to some people.  For all intents and purposes, I was done – that is, until I got a couple of desperate messages from people who were at their wits’ end with with their LGDs.   To be fair, this is nothing new and I’ve spoken about that at length before.  What makes the stress different for these people is that they are far from uncaring and stubborn; they have been working hard to do everything RIGHT.

Both personally and online, I’m seeing a huge, alarming rise in the number of people who are trying everything to do right by their LGDs and STILL ending up with messes on their hands.  It used to be that people didn’t want to hear the truth about themselves and their dogs (don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of those people around) but the new breed of LGD owner knows they don’t know much about these dogs and actively seeks knowledge.  They know how to use Google to their advantage, they know to order books and join social media groups for more than just posting cute pictures.  They are thirsty for information…. and guess what?  There are plenty of idiots willing to give it to them.

The LGD world is no different than any other dog world niche in that the information pipeline mainly consists of two types of people.  The first type is the ‘old timer’ who constantly points out how many years of experience they have.  They often reference the old Yahoo groups and talk endlessly about how people need to just shut up and LISTEN to those who have been in the game since the first color TVs came on the market.   That kind of experience is, honestly, hard to argue with.  Newcomers are dazzled (I know I was) by the claims these people make and the sheer numbers they spout continuously.  Unfortunately for them, some of us have other hard won dog knowledge – and know that a dog person can have two types of experience: the same year over and over again or an evolving kind.  You can spot the old timers who have the former by using one simple trick.  Do they say they know it all and have seen it all?  Then they haven’t.  The latter, aka anyone worth their salt, will always say that they are continuously learning and cannot possibly have seen it all in one lifetime.  They don’t want to preach, yell and wag their finger as much as they want to listen and help people sort out their dogs.  They are often too busy living their lives and actually working with dogs and stock to be constantly online waiting to pounce on the next newbie to come along.

The second type of information source is what I call the nouveau expert.  These are people who have other types of dog experience – training, showing, rescue, etc. –  and who have decided that they’ve listened enough to old timers to make up their own minds on things.  Truthfully, this is a very good starting point for building up a library of knowledge.  Unfortunately, this is where most of these people stop.  Many of them have very little experience to weight their “knowledge” against; further, they don’t actively seek out this experience.  They may have bred a litter they needed a lot of help with but haven’t had any working dogs (like the President of the Maremma Club when she took office), they may have been showing one type of LGD in the ring but haven’t successfully kept one in a pasture (like a certain Kuvasz breeder in BC, Canada), they may talk beyond their abilities, make things up and have an inflated sense of importance  because of their old timer friends and a ruthless dictatorship policy (like a certain young owner of a couple of large FB LGD groups), they may want all dogs to respond to positive methods only, despite any evidence to the contrary (like a certain FB troll), or they may have rescued a breed for years that has little working ability any longer and now claim to be a fount of knowledge which includes sending working dogs to pet trainers (like the head of the GP rescue in my province).  You get the idea.  These are people who are capitalizing on their tiny bit of experience with working dogs for profit and prestige.  You will never catch them saying that they don’t know something – they’ll either just make it up or ask someone who does behind the scenes.  If you press them on any point or provide evidence to counter their speeches, things do not go well for you.

Both of these types are infallible – one has little understanding that their limited bubble of experience isn’t the sum total of global reality and the other is peddling their preconceived point of view without earning their stripes in any way, shape or form.

After these years watching them and dealing with their messes, I have a message for these people:

 I AM SICK TO DEATH OF YOUR BULLSHIT.  The games you are playing out online are costing LGDs and their owners way, way too much.  Your agendas may look all neat and tidy as you’re pounding the keyboard and perusing your online empires, but they are NOT.  People like me have been cleaning up the fucking messes you’ve been making – and the hits just keep coming.  STOP.  Grow a conscience and stop.  These are lives you’re fucking with.

 You claim to want to stop the unnecessary destruction of LGDs, but guess what’s really happening?  You’re CAUSING IT.  Get a grip, get out there and learn a thing or two.  Actually look at these dogs you’re “helping”.  Look at pictures, look at video.  Go to see them.  Bring them to your farm – if you even have one.  Rehab a couple and be transparent about the successes and failures.  Do the heavy lifting once in a while.  Get experience with all kinds of LGDs, all sizes, all breeds, all temperaments – and stop slagging things you don’t understand.  

Shut your mouth and listen – learn something new as often as you can.  Give up the power trip and stop being such a fucking fake.  People like me see right through you.  

I have something else to tell you.  Owners keep telling me that I am the most knowledgeable and helpful person they’ve ever talked to.  This does not comfort me, especially not now that I have to leave the beautiful world of the working LGD.  This means that the other people they can reach out there don’t know what they are doing and haven’t been listening to what I and a few others are saying.  This means that even though I cannot always give owners hope for the problems they are facing, even though I am a straight shooter and I don’t always have the answers, they still find me the epitome of what they sought.  Unfortunately, by the time these people get to me, the problems they have are so compounded, so messed up from all the shitty advice they got from you that all we can do is try our best to fix them.

Don’t worry, I know full well that you are not listening to me.   You didn’t listen to me when I told you straight to your face that you were playing with fire.  You  kicked me out of your kingdoms, treated me like shit behind my back and carried on as before.  That’s why I’m writing it down on the internet where nothing truly ever disappears.  At some point the tide will turn and people will have had enough.  They will find this blog and hopefully they’ll find what they need.  I’ll have moved on, but you won’t have changed – you’ll still be digging yourself and all the dogs a big grave just like Coppinger did.  

I, for one, will not cry for you.

 

One last note.

I’d sure like to spend the last few months on my farm reminiscing and working through all my conflicted feelings; instead I’ll be trying to rehab a LGD who learned early on that he could intimidate his owners into giving him whatever he wanted.  His owner came to the experts ages ago to get help, and she could have fixed this problem easily then.  Instead, thanks to their crappy advice, the problem grew and grew to where this dog is looking at the business end of a rifle.  I may not be able to save him, but I will do my level best.  I know he will have the chance with me that he could never get anywhere else in this area.  Not only did his owner seek help when he was young, but she sought help all the way through his life; at every turn, online and in person, these self proclaimed experts let her down – sending her to pet trainers and giving her advice that was a complete 180 from what was needed.  I would much rather had these people said that they couldn’t help or didn’t know than to do this.

I’m giving this owner my best girl, my heart dog, my Ivy.  It’s all I can do as an apology for the painful situation she finds herself in because of my community’s failures.  Because of Ivy, this family will learn that an LGD can control themselves with humans and can be both an effective guardian and appropriate with their people.  Because of Ivy, they will see that the knowledgeable effort you put into a good dog comes back to you ten fold.  I am thankful to be able to give them this gift, no matter how painful it is for me.  I know they will give her the love she so richly deserves.  It’s a good ending to a very bad, very common story.

 


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July 2015 Update

A short update of what I’ve been up to online lately….

 

I took a long awaited leap and joined the great wide world of Twitter.  Follow me and the blog at @guarddogblog – I’ll look for you!

 

I’ve also been wanting to have a Facebook group that focused on the conservation aspect of using LGDs and was more inclusive than the Big White Dog Working LGD Forum can be.  After watching Bruce Elfstrom’s TEDtalk (below) detailing the last three years of his Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project , I was inspired to form the Livestock Guardian Dogs and Conservation: The Way Of The Future group.  It’s a bit of a mouthful, but I hope that it will serve as a place to meet and discuss the various projects already in place all over the world, as well as consider our way forward.  I’d love for you to join us on this journey.

 

Here is Bruce Elfstrom’s talk.  His Facebook group for this project can be found here.

 

 


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Dude, I hate you because you don’t agree with me….

I am constantly amazed at the places conversations go to on social media.  I’m sure it is no different in any passionate circles such as stamp collecting or pet rock ownership (seriously, have you seen the drama on the Canning pages on FB?) , but all aspects of the dog world are quite famous  for frequent episodes of infighting , dramatic gestures and grand proclamations.   So I really shouldn’t be surprised that if anything, it is worse on social media outlets than in “real life”.

067-Religious-Fighting

At one point in my life I decided I would like to show dogs, GSDs in particular.  I fell in love with the idea of improving on and preserving a breed and with the comraderie I imagined I saw at the shows.  I use the word ‘imagine’, because it is quite literally the only word that could describe what I was doing – living in my imagination.  While I would never paint all breeders and show people with a broad brush (but if I did at the time, it would have likely been black), my experiences in those tumultuous years left a very bad taste in my mouth.  If I had been looking for a crash course in back stabbing, lying and how to form highly questionable motives I would have been in luck.  Unfortunately for my pocketbook and my sanity, I was looking for what my vivid imagination had prescribed – support and working together for the betterment of the dogs.  I think the word I am looking for to describe my viewpoint at that time is: naive.

Luckily, I didn’t give up on dogs all together and sorted out a path of my own (that currently doesn’t involve a show ring) where I have encountered a number of amazing people (including a few wonderful breeders/show people) who feel just as strongly as I do about dogs, specifically regarding their behavior and their welfare.  It hasn’t been an easy road by any means however.  Politics, egos, a plethora of badly executed or underinformed literature and hero worship have all been serious hurdles and potholes on my journey.  By far the most difficult, however, has been the far too common human tendency towards line blurring during discussions or debates – the one that causes people to put out contracts on each other and dream of running them over with their lawn mowers.  Yes, I’m talking about the inability to separate the desire to prove one’s point and attacking the person who has an opposing view.

Pauwel 'Paul' De Vos - Dogs Fighting, 1620

Pauwel ‘Paul’ De Vos – Dogs Fighting, 1620

Are we, in this area, any different than our dogs?  In reward based training circles we talk often about how to increase harmony between our dogs and marvel often at their efforts to avoid conflict.    We talk about how important it is to encourage generosity and kindness in this other species we are so devoted to, and yet behave too often like scrapping canines in full display of territorial aggression.  “My opinion is the best!” we proclaim (and very rarely back it up any further than with pop literature or references to our heroes who may or may not be themselves well informed)  – “My experience trumps yours and yours and yours…” .  “My dogs can do such and such and were never so much as looked at sideways.” says one party.  “Well, my dogs needed something different so I gave it to them.” says another.  ” If you had only more experience or more skill or more Wheaties for breakfast, you could be like me.” trumpets the first contributor.  ” You’re both wrong – not to mention, a couple of morons!” a third party exclaims.  And….. we’re off….

Unfortunately this race has a lot of casualties it can’t afford, not the least of whom are the bystanders silently listening.  We often forget that social media isn’t confined to our living rooms, despite the fact that we are sitting in ours wearing our chocolate stained pyjamas.  We aren’t on the phone with our mothers and we’re not in a closed room with the other people commenting on our posts.  We are, in fact, in front of a large, mostly silent audience, writing permanent phrases that are easily copied, shared and forever etched on the minds of people we don’t even know.  It’s been a while now, but I still remember reading an emphatic response to one of my early and tentative questions – a response that cut me down to size through the use of some pretty harsh language and which ended in a statement about my capabilities as a trainer… all based on very little information.  Thinking about it now gives me a very visceral response – it had that much impact on me.  I have to wonder how it affected other people who were reading that thread and considering whether or not to post their stories.

Working-Together-Small

jmco.com

The truth is, we are passionate people who will never agree on many of the details of dog stuff – and neither should we.  This past year at the SPARCS 2013 conference held in Seattle, Washington, Adam Miklosi gave one of the most compelling and important talks I had heard in a very long time, all about how diversity in scientific circles is so very critical to the health of science as a whole.  He argued that those who believe in what couldn’t be explained are just as vital as those who require unimpeachable proof.  Together, they keep each other striving for better understanding and inspire the evolution of thought and method, which in turn strengthens their institution.   I believe strongly that we can borrow of this wisdom to better our canine communities.   While there are some absolutes on which we should all agree (and likely do already), we do not need to have everyone agree with us about every detail in order to live and interact in harmony, or at least without plotting to blow one another up.   I truly believe that diversity makes the world a beautiful place, a wondrous place;  a place where we can continue to learn and grow – and yes, defend our viewpoints with passion but never lose respect for the worth in the views of our neighbor.

I challenge you to not allow your passion and “right fighting” to keep us from working together for the welfare of our canine friends.  When the public is being innundated as they are with the confusing methods and dominance theory spouted by the likes of Cesar Millan and Nat Geo, it is far beyond time we look for the good in each other and help each other to grow, learn and become productive proponents of this kinder method of training.  The dogs are the ones who will benefit.

No small victory on social media is worth jeopardizing that.