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THE PREVENTION AND TROUBLESHOOTING OF PROBLEMS WITH LIVESTOCK GUARDIAN DOGS

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Presentation

By

Dan and Paula Lane

 

 

 

 

For

The Meat Goat Master Certification Course

Tuskegee University

August 9, 2011

 

 

INTRODUCTION

The intent of this presentation is to provide both new and experienced LGD owners with information to help prevent, recognize and stop problem behavior by LGDs as well as understanding some common actions useful for retraining LGDs that are exhibiting undesirable behavior.   References for further study will be included at the end of the presentation.

              PREVENTION              

Spay and Neuter

As with human medicine, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.   Since LGDs are independent thinkers, a trait that causes a huge amount of frustration among those who do not understand it and without which there would be no LGDs, it is far easier to guide them to develop effective habits from the beginning rather than to try to “outstubborn” them.  As with cats, you are bound to lose a stubborn contest although you may well destroy their effectiveness.

The first and easiest preventative is spay and neuter.  Altering an LGD does NOT affect their guarding ability nor does a female need to have a litter to “calm them down”.  What it does do is to insure the dog will not “go looking for love in all the wrong places”.  Male dogs can scent a female in heat up to a mile away and the easiest way to understand the sex drive an intact male has is to compare them to human male adolescents.  While some human males function quite well as adolescents, at least in many areas, many, if not most are driven by hormones to an excess of focus on sex to the exclusion of concentration on their studies and/or work.  There is no doubt that some intact dogs work well but they are in a minority and no amount of repetition of the old myths will change that fact.  Females that are intact will often invite male dogs or even male coyotes in as breeding partners unless there is another guardian available to keep them out.  Remember, every male canine within a mile will come to visit if they can every time your female is in heat.

Every time a female guardian becomes pregnant, her effectiveness will virtually disappear for three to four weeks and be degraded for as long as two months after whelping.  In addition, the surfeit of hormones showing up in the female can cause unexpected behavior such as refusing to let other dogs or even goats into the same area where she is making her nest.  We have had to drape a female’s whelping pen with opaque fabric so she would allow both dogs and goats to eat within her sight.  While this is extreme behavior and not all females go to these extremes, one never knows what behavior will manifest during a pregnancy.

Altering also goes a long way toward mitigating the same gender aggression that is so common in LGDs.  While it appears to be most effective with Great Pyrenees and somewhat less effective with most other breeds, altering the sexual viability of your LGDs will be advantageous to you in too many ways not to do it.  Stopping one lethal fight over dominance between same gender alpha dogs will make the practice of altering your LGDs well worth the effort.

Mental Preparation

Perhaps the single most important idea to accept when considering an LGD is there are extremely few failed LGDs and a very high number of failed LGD owners.  The number of dogs shot, dumped, turned into “shelters” and given or sold to unsuspecting buyers is in six figures annually.  There is no question that these dogs are showing inappropriate behavior, most often allowed to continue until the behavior is habitualized by an owner who is not aware the problem could have been prevented nor how the problem can be “cured” while not losing the dollars invested in the dog to begin with.

The most difficult part of mental preparation for many people is to understand that your LGD is neither a companion animal nor a farm tool.  This means that a new puppy needs to go to the barn, or holding pen, and will be most comfortable with the animals it has been with since birth.  Taking a new pup into the house so “It won’t feel so lonely.” is one of the very best ways we know to make a potentially good working dog into a companion that prefers human company to that of the stock it was purchased to protect.  It will not make the pup feel anything but more isolated because it has most likely never been in a house until that moment and it will be in a totally foreign situation rather than a familiar one but missing it siblings.

The other extreme, a total lack of socialization, while not affecting the ability to protect the stock, is economically foolhardy in the extreme.  An unsocialized dog is a lawsuit or a tragedy waiting to happen.  To these dogs, humans are just one more predator and they will be treated that way.  Unaware humans wandering into the dog’s domain are subject to attack and many of the sheep ranchers in the western states have lost grazing rights or had them curtailed due to LGD aggression toward humans using the federal land for recreational purposes.  While trespassers on a fenced farm or ranch have considerable less justification for their presence, the owners are still liable for injuries sustained by trespassers and even thieves as the courts have repeatedly shown.  Socialized LGDs can intimidate more humans when necessary and prevent the trespass or theft without the potential for liability.

Socialization also means you are less likely to lose a dog to illness or injury.  While some maintain they can shoot a dog with a tranquilizer gun when it needs regular preventive treatment (i.e. Heartworm prevention or rabies shots) there is just no good way to tranquilize an injured dog and unless that dog trusts you, there is also no way to handle it without injury to yourself or your hired help.

The optimum solution to the question of socialization is to handle your LGD as often as you check your stock.  Pet, give treats, or otherwise develop a relationship with your LGD only when it is with its wards and never when it is away from them.  This will reinforce the knowledge that its job is with the stock while gaining the dogs trust and friendship. 

It is also necessary to realize that each dog is an individual and that while there are perfect dogs, they are not in plentiful supply.  This means you need to watch and monitor your LGD until it has reached maturity [2-3 years of age, generally] or until your adult dog has been working with your herd long enough that you know it is trustworthy.   Until that time, noticing and altering inappropriate behavior is the only recourse to throwing away your money.

Physical Preparations

Fencing

Among the myriad physical preparations possible, fencing must take the highest priority if you wish to keep your LGDs where they belong.  The single exception to this statement is when the stock is run on open range, covering thousands of acres and fencing is totally impossible.  Most goat producers today must have fences to keep their stock and their dogs away from the neighbors’ property, off the roads and out of trouble with the authorities. 

Net wire, whether goat and sheep, field fence, or even hog wire with barbed wire to give it some height are the usual solutions while stock panels are becoming more common.  With any of these options, we recommend an interior electric fence to supplement the physical barrier.  We have had both goats and dogs jump four foot field wire, both goats and dogs rip field fence apart and both goats and dogs go under wire that is not tight to the ground.  Dogs can also climb quite well if they are not inclined to jump.  While neither of these species is guaranteed to breech your perimeter wire or cross fencing, both of them can do it quite handily.  Your choice in the matter is to stop it before it is ever a problem or to wait until you are forced to move quickly to stop a specific problem.  It is our opinion that, sooner or later, you will be faced with that specific problem with one species or the other, if not both.

We also recommend a 12.5 gauge barbed wire along the bottom of any wire fence to help prevent traffic under the fence by predators, the stock or their guardians. 

The electric wire may be soft steel, aluminum, or high tensile of 14 or 12.5 gauge.  We believe that 17 gauge wire is a waste of resources due to the high maintenance requirements and the ease with which animals and nature can totally disrupt the system.  Without going into excessive detail, we strongly recommend a three wire system inset about six inches from the barrier fence.  One low to prevent crawling under, one in the middle to prevent walking through or destroying the fence by rubbing (a problem with heavy bodied goats) and one even or slightly lower than the top of the fence to prevent climbing will cover all the possibilities needing electric.  An additional high tensile smooth wire not connected to the power system but installed about 12-18 inches above the physical fence and flagged to make it visible will stop jumping.  In exceptional cases, you may need a second wire with the same spacing above the first one and again, flagged for visibility.

The equipment necessary for an effective electric fence is a good fence tester that shows the voltage and we recommend that the minimum voltage be 5000v.  A quality charger or energizer using pulsing current is a must as continuous current presents a danger to stock, wildlife, and humans (especially children) because when the electricity contracts the muscles, they can only be released by an exterior force unless the power is turned off.  Electrocution under these circumstances is an all too real possibility for any who encounter it.  The system must be well grounded and as the methods change from location to location we recommend you discuss your situation with a knowledgeable person for the most effective methods.

The Escape Proof Cage/Safe Haven

An extremely useful tool to have on hand before the arrival of your LGD is an escape proof cage.  This cage is made of either stock panel or Mason brand chain link.  An LGD can destroy common chain link in a hurry if it is of a mind to do so.  The cage must have a top and a bottom if you expect to find your dog in it the next time you go back.  The top needs to be made of the same material as the sides but the bottom may be a good sturdy fencing material that is wired to the sides and covered with dirt.

This cage should be at least semi-portable and staked down if necessary to prevent the dog from tipping it. It can be as small as a Goat Tote or as long as a 16 foot stock panel with a width of at least four feet.  It should be used to house the dog on its first night on your farm; it is an excellent way to introduce your dog to your stock or to other dogs; it can be moved to an isolated area if your dog contracts a contagious disease or if you need to use the concept of “jail” or “time out” to help your dog recognize inappropriate behavior and, if you have an intact bitch, there is no safer place for her to spend her heat cycle. 

A variation of this can be used to protect your new puppy from mean or fearful goats by simply making one with a small entrance where your pup can escape to safety whenever it may become necessary.  There is no question that a goat can significantly injure a pup and providing one with a safe haven is only good sense.

Shelter

Livestock Guardian Dogs should shelter with the stock the guard.

Introducing

Introducing is, perhaps, the single most overlooked aspect of problem prevention for LGDs.  It may consist of a short meeting of two animals to make sure they get along or it may mean weeks of slowly accustoming a herd that has never had their own dog to a dog that has never had its own herd.

All introductions start with a gradual meeting between the dog and a goat.  If it goes well, more goats can be added gradually until the herd is at ease with the dog and the dog is at ease with the goats.

 

Introducing an Experienced Dog to Goats that are not used to an LGD

When goats are unfamiliar with LGDs, it is usually most effective to place the dog in an escape proof cage in the midst of the goats’ lounging area.  Most goats will be fearful of a new dog while a few will attack it.  Placing the dog in a pen among the goats will let those that are fearful have a chance to smell the dog’s scent and get used to it.  It will also allow you to identify the goats that may attack it.  With either group, exposure to the dog will tend to mitigate their behavior although with this method alone acceptance by the herd will take a very long time, during which you will have to exercise your dog and walk him among the goats on a lead.

After allowing the dog time to get its bearings in a new home and the goats to begin to realize the dog is not necessarily an animal to induce terror, we recommend this procedure if the dog is calm around the goats:  put your herd in a small enclosure where they can have no more than 50-100 feet to escape your presence with the dog.  Walk in with you dog on a lead and stand calmly while the goats race to the opposite end of the enclosure.  Walk slowly toward the goats on a slight slant away from a direct line toward them.  As you approach, you will see their nervousness increase and before they decide to panic, turn you and the dog away from them and sit down.  Then wait until the goats quiet down again as it is difficult to maintain terror when nothing is threatening.  When they have calmed gently rise and continue your oblique approach with the dog, stopping to sit down and face away from them each time they appear close to panic.  Soon you will find yourself and the dog sitting calmly in the midst of the goats while they come to you both to sniff and get a better look.  Both of you need to stay still for this part of the introduction but when the goats are finally satisfied, they will accept the dog well enough for it to be effective working with them although it may take a while for them to fully accept it.

Introducing a Dog Without Experience to Goats that are Used to LGDs

Again, this starts with the dog in the escape proof cage among the goats.  The goats will be curious about the new dog but it should not be a problem for them that it is there.  Once the dog has adjusted to the new place, walk it among the goats on a lead and let the dog sniff the various goats, most often the rear end, while you hold the lead.  If a goat runs, as some will, see if the dog wants to chase and stop and correct the behavior immediately.  Failure to keep the dog on a lead for this process can result in wild chases through the pasture with the goat becoming more terrified as it is chased by the dog who only wants to get a sniff.  It will appear as if the dog is aggressive and the goat can suffer heat problems and stress enough to kill it if this behavior is allowed to go on.  Continue taking the dog on a lead among the goats as often as possible for as long as it takes to see that the dog will be calm among them and the goats have all accepted the dog.  Once you are satisfied, take the dog in on a long lead [a twenty foot rope works nicely] and do the same thing.  The dog will not realize that it is on a lead unless it hits the end of it.  If every animal stays calm, move the goats [or at least a good sampling of them] into a smaller pen and turn the dog loose while you are there to monitor.  Again, if all goes well, release the dog in the same pen while you place your self in a covert position and monitor.  Finally, if all goes well, release the dog among the goats and check regularly until you are sure there are no troubles.  At any time during this introduction, if the dog shows signs of chase, biting, or any aggressiveness, go back to the beginning and start over.  Some dogs, even though they are LGDs by breed, will never quite make it to LGDs in practice although any LGD with good instincts should respond to this introduction fairly rapidly and in a positive way.

Variations and combinations of these methods should be used as dictated by the situation.

                                                                                              Introducing a Puppy

Puppies should never be left with goats unless they are being supervised by a human or an adult LGD.  Puppies play, like any juveniles, and their play consists of playing Chase, mock fighting and wrestling, and practicing intimidating behavior like growling.  Goat kids also play and their games include Chase and King of the Hill.  Nowhere can we find a single word referring to any similar activity with such lethal differences as “Chase”.  Goat kids will work to entice puppies to play Chase with them, never knowing that the game ends very differently for each species.  The behavior of each juvenile is perfectly normal and is part of their nature so expecting anything different in the way of behavior is not realistic.  Pups will go through stages during their development when they can revert to playing chase and must be monitored until they are mature enough not to do this.  Twenty months generally seems to be the cut off but there is quite a bit of room on each side of that number.

If there are no kids in the herd, often there will be a goat or two that is neither mean nor aggressive but that will not put up with inappropriate play by a puppy.  They will hit the pup and teach it not to bother them and they will do it without injuring the pup.  Goats can be very aggressive to puppies and that is the reason we mentioned the safe haven earlier.  Having one in place before releasing a pup is the only method to insure its safety when with a herd.

If there are not adult LGDs and no goats that will teach the pup appropriate behavior, it is safest to keep the pup in a pen that shares at least one side with the fenced goat yard.  Frequent walks through the heard with the pup on a lead will allow a gradual acclimation by the pup and the goats while keeping all animals safe.

Puppies are not guardians although they can start to be effective at preventing predator incursion at 4-6 months of age.  They will generally begin to mark and bark at this time but will also be easy prey due to size and inexperience.  Even dogs of one year and older will not usually be prepared to meet larger predators or packs of canines.  At this age they can begin to effectively back up adult LGDs and learn from the adult behavior.

 

Introducing a New Goat into a Functioning Herd

Some LGD breeds were asked to prevent thievery by the early shepherds.  A common method to suddenly gain a larger flock or herd was to merge two herds and when they were separated, one herd was often considerably larger.  Consequently dogs were trained to reject new animals and to keep them away from the herd.  Today this once valuable trait can cause major problems when bringing new animals to your farm.  Release them without introducing them to your LGDs may work well or it may result in the dogs not accepting the new goats.  They will chase them away, segregate them alone, away from the herd and in some cases attack them if they won’t leave.  Realizing the cause of this behavior and preventing it at the outset can save money time and frustration.

Introducing a New Dog to an Existing LGD Pack

The only way to do this is to supervise the meeting between the new dog and each individual old one if you expect any kind of problems at all.  You can turn the dog loose but you must then be in a position to stop any fights that occur. Of course, this should be in a small pen but often making it clear that the new dog has your blessing will be enough to stop any real fights.  There will almost always be some discussion of where the dog fits into the hierarchy of the pack and no amount of interference will stop them.  In many cases, especially with Great Pyrenees, altering the dog and letting it recover before introducing it to the pack will reduce dominance fighting.  Some packs will not accept adult dogs and the only way to add to them is with puppies.  Babies, especially puppies, will generally not be harmed by adults but they will be taught both their place and their new job by a pack.

TROUBLESHOOTING PROBLEMS WITH LGDS

If you have been thorough following the regimen for the prevention of problems with your LGDs, the need for troubleshooting will seldom arise.  When a problem does arise, however, be prepared to follow these steps: first interrupt the behavior, then correct it, then monitor its behavior.  Never allow an LGD to repeat inappropriate behavior, even once, after you have identified the behavior and the dog responsible.  Correcting aberrant behavior becomes more difficult with each repetition of the offense and if it becomes the norm for the dogs behavior, retraining can be a lengthy process.

Interruption

This literally means stopping the behavior while it is occurring.  It is the optimum way to specify to the dog what the exact behavior is that you find objectionable.  Unfortunately, due to other responsibilities, this is not always possible as often you cannot be with the dog constantly.  If you determine that the dog is misbehaving in some way, interrupt its ability to do that by removing it from the herd and hold it in the escape proof pen which you have readily available.

 

Correction

A correction may consist of a scolding to a jail term.  Jail is confinement to the escape proof pen for a relatively short time [half a day to a couple of days] and if the dog is bonded to its goats, the isolation from them will be enough to motivate the dog to rehabilitate itself and its behavior.  Jail is not effective unless the behavior can be literally interrupted so the dog is aware of the nature of its transgressions.   We advise against physical punishment in most cases because it will be ineffective.  We stress that this is a general statement but there is neither space nor time to go into specifics and there are other, more sure ways to correct when scolding is not effective. 

The most consistently effective way to retrain a dog is to use the introduction process for introducing a dog new to goats to the herd.  It will prevent the dog from repeating its behavior, allow you to monitor its progress through the steps and give the dog time to forget the advantages it reaped from the unwanted behavior.

Monitoring

If you neglect this aspect of retraining, you will never know if your correction was effective unless you find the problems recurring.  This can be expensive as well as undoing the time and effort you spent in the correction process earlier.  If you can assure yourself that the behavior is either corrected or that you will find any early signs of the recurrence of the behavior, you can build upon the work you have done with the dog rather than taking the same length of time to re-do your efforts.

Your Behavior

In all of your actions with your dog, be consistent.  When the dog knows what to expect from you, it will be more at ease and learn easier anything you want to teach it.  If you are consistent in refusing to allow inappropriate behavior, the dog will learn that doing that behavior is not an effective way for it to behave.  Consistency in giving affection and friendship to the dog will encourage its trust as well as its dedication to the job if it is always given when the dog is among the herd when it is given.  If you consistently treat the dog with the respect you would give any partner working with you and demand the same standards of behavior from it that you would from that same partner, Your LGD will be a significant asset to your farm for many years.

RECOMMENDED REFERENCE MATERIAL

URLs: www.bountifulfarm.com click on site map, then find the informational pages

www.LGD.org then click on library link                                                                                     

On line lists:  workingLGDs-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

LDG-L-REQUEST@APPLE.EASE.LSOFT.COM

Videos:  “Starting Right with LGDs” at 33372 Calhoun Road, Shady Point, OK 74956 price $18.50 or go to http://bountifulfarm.com/Starting%20Right%20with%20LGDs.html 

Books:  Livestock Guardians, by Janet Vorwald Dohner, ISBN 978-1-58017-695-8, Storey Publishing, 210 MASS MoCa Way, North Adams, MA 01247

Livestock Protection Dogs  Second Edition by Orysian Dawydiak & David Sims, ISBN 1-57779-062-6, Alpine Publications, Inc., P. O. Box 7027, Loveland, CO 80537

DAN AND PAULA LANE BIOGRAPHY

Dan and Paula Lane own Bountiful Farm, located in the hills above the Poteau River Valley in Southeast Oklahoma.   There they raise Boer, Kiko and Sawyer Spanish meat goats, custom cross bred to provide F1 vitality to a commercial herd and to provide second sequential F1s as market kids.  They also raise Great Pyrenees Livestock Guardian Dogs and are active in rescue and evaluation of GP LGDs and train them with their own dogs and goats.  Both bred and rescued LGDs are available for national placement pending transportation availability. They have raised meat goats and Great Pyrenees since the mid-1990s, have published several articles on LGDs and have presented on LGDs at a variety of different venues over the years.  They are always available for consulting on LGD problems free of charge at bountiful@hughes.net

 

 

 


Dan & Paula Lane
Copyright © 2011 [Bountiful Farm]. All rights reserved.