Letter Re: Livestock Guardian Dogs

Hugh,

In regard to your letters about livestock guardian dogs, I would add that we have an Akbash, which is a Turkish livestock guardian dog. This breed is similar in build and appearance to a Pyrenees (white) though less heavily built and shorter (less mess) hair. This is a different breed of cat… if you will!… I am not an expert, but I will say that by and large you do not train these dogs… they do their thing… My wife and I raise various breeds of domestic animals, and we no longer have a predator problem; our farm/ranch is bordered on thousands of acres of forest land, and over the years Lucy has treed and/or run off (that I know of) three cougars; bobcats; bears; coyotes, and who knows what else . She stays relatively close to home; we have four dogs (at present!!). We have two Jack Russell’s for pack rat control; a border collie as a stock dog; and Lucy, our livestock guardian. Lucy is on the lead during the day, and the border collie is on the lead at night, as I do not want them to run, and Lucy does her thing every night– woof woof woof; some nights are more busy than others. This is not a city dog/town dog or a pet. She has a purpose and does it well. That said, she is affectionate to us and I have not seen her be aggressive to strangers. I suppose the biggest problem we have along these lines now is when someone in the area allows their dog to run and I end up having to deal with that issue.

In closing, I would say that the most pressing problems we have in our neck of the woods is noxious weeds and communists, and the priority problem is not necessarily in that order! If I could train Lucy to deal with the latter, we would certainly be living safer lives. Yours in liberty, living in the Redoubt, DB

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HJL,

In response to the letter inquiring about Anatolians, I have had one for the past 10 years. He is the best working dog I have ever had, and I have owned Labradors, Mastiffs, and Great Danes. I acquired him as a puppy of about 30 pounds, and he has developed into an 180-pound giant. His primary objective is to guard his flock, and in my case it is my family that he perceives as his flock. From early in the morning until late at night, this dog patrols the fenced perimeter of my property to the extent that a path has been worn in adjacent to the six-foot fence. If any stranger approaches within about 50 feet of the fence line, he challenges them and as such steps must be taken not to allow him off property, unless leashed under supervision. I live in a rural area and have no fear of trespassers on my property. The dog requires a lot of training initially, mainly to learn that his master is the alpha leader and that they are not in charge. When inside the house, he prefers to sleep in the central area of the house so that he can check on the occupants; he works all of the time. Even as a puppy, he never played with any dog toys or balls; he was all business all of the time. Around family members, he was always gentle and allowed the children to touch and pet at any time. I could go on and on about this guardian I have simply the best dog ever!!! – G.P.

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Hugh,

This is my response to the letter asking about Livestock Guardian Dogs. It turned out quite a bit longer than I expected. I don’t know about the breeds mentioned in the letter, but I have used Marremas to guard sheep on a small sheep farm in southern Oregon. We had 50 to 100 sheep, depending on the time of year, and three Marremas. While the neighbors claimed there where cougars, coyotes, and bears in the surrounding hills, we never lost a single sheep to predation. However, our sheep where in fenced paddocks, and the dogs only had to patrol small areas at any one time. If the sheep had been ranging over a larger area, the dogs may have had more work to do.

That being said, when I first arrived at the farm I was truly impressed at the dogs’ instinct for protecting the sheep. The dogs lived with the sheep full-time throughout the year. Whenever we moved the sheep, the dogs would race ahead and the sheep would follow the dogs. In the pasture, the dogs would patrol the fence-lines or relax with the sheep.

While I’m sure some of their guardian behavior was instinctual, much of it was also taught to them by their parents. One of our dogs was a male about four years old. The other two were his son and daughter who were only a year old when I arrived at the farm, so they were still learning how to behave around sheep. When one of the younger dogs would get too playful with the sheep (sheep don’t like being chased) their father would discipline them. I have heard of dogs being used to guarding pigs and fowl as well as sheep, but ours only protected sheep and goats. They were not used to cows, chickens, or pigs, so they liked to kill chickens and bark at everything else. That’s one thing about LGD’s– they bark A LOT. I did get used to it, but even after several months, they occasionally woke me up at night. Eventually I could tell when they were just barking at a cat or car and when something was wrong, like escaping sheep.

During lambing season, the dogs where quite helpful in that they could tell in advance when a ewe was about to give birth. They would stay close and protect them. They would keep other sheep away but never interfered when a person approached. I’m sure part of that dedication was due to their love for afterbirth. We tried not to let the dogs pull the afterbirth from the ewes who had just lambed, as there is some possibility that it will cause excess bleeding, but I’m sure the dogs did that many times when I wasn’t present and no harm ever came of it. There were a few times that we found partially-eaten newborn lambs. However, since the dogs never killed any lambs, I believe they were still-born and the dogs knew they were already dead. I didn’t begrudge the dogs the occasional bit of dead lamb. When a lamb or sheep would die of illness or accident, I would cut it up and feed it to the dogs. One issue I ran into was that some of the sheep developed a taste for dog food. Feeding a raw meat diet would solve that problem. If your sheep develop a taste for raw meat, you have bigger problems.

The dogs where very friendly and always excited to see people. I never saw them growl or bark at anyone, except in greeting. They were not well trained or obedient. They didn’t know how to walk on a leash or sit or stay. They would come when called, if they felt like it, but I think that independence is normal for dogs that are left without supervision most of the time. Perhaps, they could have been trained, but then they may have become too attached to people. The Marremas were NOT friendly to other dogs. As the younger male matured, he started to bump heads with his father. When they started fighting and wounding each other, we had to separate them. By the way, NEVER get between two fighting dogs. A farm-hand tried that and got bitten, though it was not serious and the dog really did look sorry afterward. To separate fighting dogs, you can grab their tails to pull them apart. Perhaps if they had more room to roam they would have settled their hierarchy and got along. I know other ranchers have larger packs of LGD’s. The father and brother never fought the female, but the breeder told me that female Marremas will actually fight each other to the death. Our older male often had to guard the sheep on his own, because the younger dogs really did not like being alone. I think LGD’s work better in teams and are happier. I don’t believe they see themselves as sheep, so the sheep don’t provide the same companionship another dog would.

Right now I don’t have any sheep or enough livestock to justify keeping LGD’s. They eat a lot of dog food, so you need quite a few animals to justify the cost. You also need good fencing and tight gates to keep the dogs from wandering. Our dogs learned to respect the electric fence better than the sheep did. If I ever have enough sheep to justify keeping livestock guard dogs again, I absolutely will, but I’ll make sure they get along with chickens too. – A.G.

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