Livestock Guardian Dogs For Your Flock: A Pictorial Primer

Isaac demonstrates for puppy Khloe how to guard

I leave my Soay flock to their own devices today in order to talk about an essential part of any heritage sheep operation – predator control. For today’s essay, livestock guardian dogs, or LGDs.

In the last 14 years, we have acquired nine LGDs: two mixed Maremma/Anatolian/Great Pyrenees and then a wonderful succession of seven Anatolians from Chyril Walker at Shepherds Rest. Along the way, we made countless mistakes but also learned what works and what doesn’t work for our flock and our “style.” Although we are firm believers in the uniqueness of each shepherd’s way of raising and handling her LGDs, we hope others considering LGDs will find something useful from our experience. And besides, I just love talking about my dogs.

How I wish I had a good picture of every task, every challenge, every reward and every question associated with LGDs, but of course I don’t. If I can refrain from running at the mouth too much, the pictures I do have should give you a pretty good notion of how LGDs operate … at least on our farm. Please note that I have interspersed pictures of all our dogs, but if you have a favorite, you can follow his or her pictures throughout the post. Or send me a note for more pictures of your fave!

In a nutshell, we got all our Anatolians as 7-10 week old puppies; they live 24/7 with our sheep and llama; we have them sufficiently leash trained to be able to take them to the vet in the event of injuries; and they will sit quietly for food. They do not “show,” they do not do tricks, and they do not get treats. In 14 years we have not lost a single sheep to predators when we had an effective dog on patrol. All of our dogs are affectionate with us.

BRINGING AN LGD PUPPY HOME TO YOUR FARM

The cushiest job Khloe will ever have!

Because Chyril lives near Portland, a robust half day drive from here, by the time we get home with the puppy it’s way dark and not a good time to throw the pup out in the pasture with a total stranger adult dog and a bunch of sheep.

Is it any wonder we called him Cool Paw Luke?

So the pup gets to spend one night in our house on the heated cement floor in the back hall. Nice gig if you can get it.

The next morning, the pup goes out to assume its duties with the sheep and we summon our vet to check out the puppy’s health, something Chyril insists on.

Khloe inspects Steve’s boots while Mollie Collie indicates her displeasure at having to put up with this little pipsqueak

Doctor Susan checks out Luke as a puppy, declares him fit, and amply endowed in the paw department

We place our puppies in a pasture with the adult dog we think will be the best trainer based on the temperament testing Chyril does with her pups. [Author’s note: we were deeply skeptical about these assessments at first, but by and large they have been spot on]. The main job the first day is to be sure the puppy is introduced to each of the other dogs, the sheep, the llama, and adult feet.

2009 Jacob welcomed Khloe. 2012 Khloe welcomed Alfie.

I cannot stress enough the importance of all these early interactions between the puppy and the other creatures on your farm. The goal is to have the puppy feel safe and to have it begin positive imitation as soon as possible, and there’s no better way to ensure these goals are met than getting the puppy out there in its home in the field.

OLDER DOGS MODEL FOR YOUNGER DOGS

People often ask us how we train our dogs to protect our sheep. Simple answer: we don’t. Most of it is instinct, with a healthy dose of imitation. Each puppy learns how to behave from watching his or her paired older dog.

Isaac letting Jacob know who’s boss

Luke imitating Jacob’s watchful eye. A biker on the road or a coyote in the upper pasture?

In fairness, our older dogs are not above goading one of the younger ones into friendly retaliation.

Notice how stately older Luke provokes Ben just when Ben is finally lying down peaceably?

Game on!

WHERE HUMAN TRAINING COMES IN

No matter how aloof and independent a good LGD is, and they do need a high degree of self-confidence in order to make their own judgments about how to respond to real or perceived threats to their flocks, we still need to train our dogs in the basics of good behavior with us and to some extent with the other dogs. The good news is that LGDs, or at least Anatolians, can be trained in basic commands (sit, stay, follow on leash without lunging). The side benefit to training is it also creates a vital bond between us and our dogs. For example, we routinely put our hands in our dogs’ huge mouths so that if they get injured in the mouth area, they will trust us enough to let us feel around in there. I don’t have a picture of this, maybe in the next update.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, those trusty LGDs will have their own way.

THE PAYOFF: ADULT LGDs “SETTLE DOWN” TO WORK

As we’ve said often on the website and on social media, it takes between 6 months and up to a year and a half for an LGD, or at least our Anatolians, to settle in, not chase the sheep in play, and become reliable enough for them to live 24/7 with the sheep. When that happens with each puppy, it’s glorious to behold.

Khloe was fairly quick to settle down, to the point that we can have her with the little lambs or in a large field of adults.

Luke took longer to “settle,” but when he did, boy, was he settled! Ditto Alfie.

YES, LGDs REALLY DO PROTECT SHEEP

Not much commentary needed here. Sometimes the dogs are alert but not worked up, sometimes they just see something, and occasionally they are on full guard pose.

LGDs APPRECIATE COMPANIONSHIP, TOO

A high percentage of hobby farms and ranches have one LGD at most. Our dogs can see each other in their separate pastures, of course, and they love playdays or just loafing with each other for a few hours.

Normally aloof Khloe can’t resist snuggle time with puppy Maggie

Only once have we had all our dogs together for a playday, and they loved it!

THE JOYS, AND OCCASIONAL SORROWS, OF HAVING LGDs

Until you’ve had upwards of 160 pounds of furry affection leaning against your leg for no reason other than to share canine/human love, or watched a dog that can kill a wolf roll over for a belly rub, you can’t fully appreciate why anyone in their right mind would keep even one of these huge dogs, much less several of them. It’s not that easy pushing 400 pounds of dog food through a crowded Costco, hoping a child won’t dart in front of the cart and test the laws of inertia. But the satisfactions and joys have been worth it for me and even more for Steve for well over a decade, and we wouldn’t have missed this part of our Grand Sheep Adventure for anything.

I decided to write this post because we are facing the loss of our aptly-named Cool Paw Luke within a short time, and as I scrolled through my pictures of him, I unearthed a lot of fond memories of all our dogs. I hope you have enjoyed a brief glimpse into a few of the aspects of successfully, and happily, owning Livestock Guardian Dogs.

2007 with TJ, Isaac, and puppy Jacob

2011 with Jacob, Khloe and young Luke

2012 with Jacob, Khloe and Luke

2015: Luke is more interested in a good head rub than in my new red boots

For now …

Post a Reply

Top