Onion Creek Ranch, Lohn, Texas
Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Lohn, TX
Lohn, Texas
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Livestock Guardian "Charlie" with bucks

LGDCharlieWbucks

LIVESTOCK GUARDIAN DOGS

Goats are a prey species. They are also sprinters, not long-distance runners. For both reasons, they must have predator protection. Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD) have been bred for thousands of years to provide this protection. From bears to coyotes to packs of roaming dogs, LGD's are the best predator protection available. Other types of livestock guardian animals (llamas, donkeys) are sentinel (making sounds of alarm) animals that don't seek out predators and engage them like livestock guardian dogs.

There are many breeds of Livestock Guardian Dogs. Anatolian Shepherd, Karakachan, Great Pyrenees, Komandor, Maremma, Ovtcharka, Karst, Tatra, and Kuvasz are a few of the most recognizable LGD's in the USA. All breeds perform their jobs similarly, but with subtle differences. Some mature faster intelligence-wise, others have long coats adapted for comfort in very cold climates, and some breeds are more even-tempered. I prefer the Anatolian Shepherd breed because of its short hair (perfect for usually hot and dry Texas), its good disposition, and its early mental maturity. Anatolians are smarter than most people you will meet.

The Livestock Guardian Dog is single-mindedly focused on the protection of its herd. Livestock Guardian Dogs are usually not social animals, tending instead to stay with the goat herd. Although some folks make pets and companion animals of them, their "alpha" nature does not particularly suit them for this role. They should never be left unsupervised with children, pets, or livestock other than those that they are guarding.

Some people believe that you should never interact with your LGD. This is wrong. The LDG has to be socialized in order to handle, feed, and medicate it. If you have dogs, cats, poultry, or other livestock, you must be careful with the introduction of the LGD to these animals. Unless the Livestock Guardian Dog is taught otherwise, all other animals, even other Livestock Guardian Dogs, are enemies to its livestock. A LGD puppy raised with an older Livestock Guardian Dog allows the older dog to temper the rough playfulness of the puppy to avoid injuries to livestock. There are drawbacks to beginning with a puppy, particularly if predators are a current problem. A puppy isn't ready to handle predators on its own and won't be until it is about 18 months old. From weaning to about 18 months of age, the LGD is puppy-like in behavior. Then one day the light will go on in the dog's brain and it will all come together. Suddenly you have a capable Livestock Guardian Dog.

LGD's work best in pairs. A male-female pair, preferably neutered/spayed, works well together. Dogs that are sexually intact are not working when they are breeding or raising pups. An older dog works well with a younger, less-experienced animal, teaching the pup how to refine its instincts and control the playful behavior that can result in injured or dead goats. Don't run two unspayed females or two intact males together and don't get caught between two fighting LGD's. To separate two fighting dogs, use a strong water spray. Sibling rivalry usually prevents the successful running of littermates together.

Livestock Guardian Dogs are highly intelligent and sensitive animals. Their ability to sense what is happening makes them good at their jobs. Don't shout at them and never strike them with any object, including your hand. Speak calmly and slowly when instructing or correcting the actions of the LGD. You must at all times be the 'alpha' ( the dominant one) in the relationship. Take a misbehaving LGD by the scruff of the neck and turn it upsidedown to let the dog know that you are in control. Ninety-nine percent of the dog's activities will be the result of instinct bred into it. That other 1% can make or break its effectiveness, and that is where the 'alpha' human's role is critical.

LGD's are big animals, often reaching weights of over 100 pounds in 12 months or less. Their bodies mature faster than their brains, so remember that you will have a large puppy on your hands for some time. Livestock Guardian Dogs under 18 months of age should work in tandem with an older LGD. Recently weaned puppies should be put in a pen separate from but adjacent to goats before being introduced into a goat herd. After several weeks of this arrangement, carefully introduce the young LGD into a small group of goats in a location where you can monitor all activities. Don't put pups in with juveniles under a year of age, kids, pregnant does, or does that are nursing kids. Don't put multiple puppies in with the same group of goats; their rough-housing can hurt or kill goats. Put a pup with an older experienced LGD who is assigned to a herd of mature bucks or does. The pup needs to get knocked around by the bigger goats so it learns its place in the pecking order. It is fast enough to get away and harder to hurt than the goats.

When an adult LGD is put into a pen of goats, it will usually walk the perimeter fencing, stopping to smell and urinate on fence posts. It may also walk up to each goat in its newly-acquired herd and lick or gently paw its face. This is normal get-acquainted behavior. You should be there to supervise until the goats accept the dog.

The biggest challenge facing most LGD owners is getting the dogs properly fed. The Livestock Guardian Dog thinks of itself as one of the goats in the herd. The dog will assume a subservient place in the herd and will sometimes give up its food to its goats. Some Livestock Guardian Dogs will eat goat food at the trough with the goats it is guarding and may try to eat hay. This nutritional level is much too low for a canine. Establish a location where the dog can eat undisturbed by the livestock, and feed the dog at the same time that the goats are fed. Always feed your dogs daily.

The Livestock Guardian Dog often looks like it is doing nothing. Don't be fooled. It is always on watch. During the daylight hours, the dog may be hard to find and, if located, will appear to be sleeping. In fact, it is resting and watching everything. Two or three dogs working together will be spread out around the pasture at strategic points and inconspicuous to all but those who know how to look for them. Introduce a strange animal, person, or object into that pasture and watch what happens. A huge ruckus ensues as the dogs make their presence known by calling out to the intruders and to each other.

Nighttime is when the Livestock Guardian Dog becomes active, vocal, and really goes to work. As dusk approaches, the dogs begin to call out to each other and to predators. The LGD has sounds for each situation. When predators are around, it makes a distinctly recognizable bark that is different from the sounds made when you offer feed or when a goat is down. Specific sounds are vital for protecting the herd from predators. LGD's are barking machines. If the sound of dogs barking all night bothers you or your neighbors, then Livestock Guardian Dogs are not for you.

Some LGD's are guarders and some are patrollers; unfortunately you won't know the difference until you observe the mature dog at work at about 18 months of age. A patroller does not become a guarder easily, if ever. Patrollers need acreage over which to roam. Patrollers don't know your goats from your neighbors' goats; to the dog, they are all animals in need of protection. Neighbors generally don't understand this, sometimes making for difficult confrontations. A fence is not going to contain a Livestock Guardian Dog determined to do its job.

Some LGD's stay with their herd; if you move them, they will return to their herd. Others stay in one pasture and you can exchange goats as often as you desire. Some dogs prefer female goats; others, male goats. You won't know these idiosyncrasies until you see the dog working. You must adapt your management to the Livestock Guardian Dog's skill set or find a good home for it and start with another dog.

If you are on small acreage or in a suburban area, predator protection other than Livestock Guardian Dogs may be your best choice. The NiteGuard solar-powered predator light has been proven to provide predator protection to goat producers on small acreage or in suburban areas that the LGD finds too restrictive. Check the product out at www.niteguard.com. Used in pairs and inexpensively priced, Jeffers carries them (1-800-533-3377). If none of these options works for you, ask a male family member to walk the perimeter of your property and urinate along the fence line. This is not a joke. Predators rely on their sense of smell; unfamiliar smells cause them to shy away. However, this is NOT a long-term solution to predators.

Behavioral traits of Livestock Guardian Dogs can be confusing to people unfamiliar with them. Example: A doe gives birth in the pasture and the kid is stillborn or dies. To protect the rest of the goats, the LGD may decide to eat the dead kid so that predators are not drawn to the herd. It would be easy to misinterpret this situation as one in which the dog killed the kid, but an early examination of the corpse reveals no bite marks. Another example: The Livestock Guardian Dog may stay with a sick or lame animal and sometimes appear to be harassing it, when in fact the dog is trying to separate it from the herd for the herd's overall protection, or the dog may force the downed goat to move towards its herd for protection. A good Livestock Guardian Dog will sense if the goat is dying or has a good chance to survive.

LGD's should be vaccinated against rabies, parvo, distemper, and other serious diseases annually since their exposure to these diseases is high. Livestock Guardian Dogs do not need us. It is we that need them.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto
ONION CREEK RANCH 2.1.19

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All information provided in these articles is based either on personal experience or information provided by others whose treatments and practices have been discussed fully with a vet for accuracy and effectiveness before passing them on to readers.

In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Suzanne Gasparotto is not a veterinarian.Neither tennesseemeatgoats.com nor any of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.

The author, Suzanne Gasparotto, hereby grants to local goat publications and club newsletters, permission to reprint articles published on the Onion Creek Ranch website under these conditions: THE ARTICLE MUST BE REPRODUCED IN ITS ENTIRETY AND THE AUTHOR'S NAME, ADDRESS, AND CONTACT INFORMATION MUST BE INCLUDED AT THE BEGINNING OF THE REPRINT. We would appreciate notification from any clubs or publications when the articles are used. (A copy of the newsletter or publication would also be a welcome addition to our growing library of goat related information!)

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