A Spell Caster’s Christmas-ey Complaint Letter

ChristmasComplaintWe got another anonymous note complaining about our livestock guardian dog’s living conditions again. It’s been a while since the last one. I logged another Sheriff report on it, and will keep the evidence, as usual, as the Sheriff has advised. That way, if anything ever escalates, we’ll have a clear history of harassment with handwriting samples and fingerprints, on which to prosecute.

The envelope said, in scrawling cursive, “To our neighbor” and was sealed with a cheerful Christmas sticker. 😉 Here is what the note said [sic]:

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New Laws For LGDs in SnoCo

image Ok, I’m writing about something other than copper! 🙂 I read about some proposed changes to the Snohomish County leash and noise ordinances that relate to livestock guardian dogs (LGDs). As the law currently stands, dogs can’t run loose in our county, and they can’t make continuous noise (aka kennel barking, where they go on and on for more than a half hour).

But, there is an exemption for LGDs in the barking category, since they are doing their job protecting an agricultural crop. When people purchase land zoned R-5 or Ag-10 in our county, they must sign an affidavit that they understand there will be “agricultural activity, smells and sounds”. (Mmm!) And LGD barking falls under this umbrella. So if people call the county to complain about this, they’ll just be told, “sorry, it’s within the law for your area.”

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The Maremma: An Ancient Racing Breed

BronteRunning Not really. Maremmas are a centuries-old livestock guardian breed, of whom you’d expect general laziness and un-inventiveness. Really only confidence, territoriality and brawn is needed in such a dog. But Bronte is something else. Just passing her yearling birthday, she is still very silly, and creative in her daily play.

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Princess and the Pea: The Pursuit of a PC LGD Bed

BrontesBed An update for those who may still be losing sleep at night wondering if our livestock guardian dog, Bronte, has adequate shelter or not. I had originally built her an A-frame style house. I find that usually dogs prefer a cozy, den-like space for sleeping, as opposed to spacious ones, so I made it just her size. Dogs in my house will often cram into a cat crate or squish under a desk to take a nap, rather than choosing the broad, cushy beds I lay in the middle of the floor for them, or even the couch. There is just no accounting for their tastes, but I suspect it’s due to some long-harbored instinct to snooze in a protected space that conserves heat. Or something.

I also chose an A-frame design for Bronte originally because I didn’t want it to have a flat roof that would provide opportunity to do undesirable things, like launch at me from four feet in the air, or vault over fences.

But Bronte would have nothing to do with the A-frame.

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Grooming the Maremma Coat

I’ve been really happy with the coat quality of our livestock guardian dog, Bronte. Maremmas are long-coated dogs that do develop some mats in their winter coat. But Bronte’s coat shed nicely in the summer, and almost all of the mats fell off on their own. She had a few along her backline and behind her ears, so I trimmed them during the summer, just to keep her tidy.

BronteMat

 

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More: Sheep Summer Camp Fun and Learning

Sheep

The second stop of the KHSI Expo learning experience was to tour Jo-Le Farms in Scio, Oregon. Jon and Leslie Carter have been raising commercial Coopworth sheep for many  years, and decided to “breed the wool off” their sheep in 1999 when Jon started having back problems and no longer wanted to shear. Jon used mainly Dorper and White Dorper genetics to do this, but recently has been experimenting with Wiltshire Horn terminal sire influence as well. (More history on that endeavor is on their blog.)

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Integrating Young Guardian Dogs With Sheep

SheepEnclosure

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and experimenting with training methods to harness our LGD’s talents and minimize her undesirable behaviors. The biggest challenge has been preventing her from getting rowdy with the sheep. She has affections for them, which does translate to guarding them. But it also translates, sometimes, into her wanting to engage them in a good game of wrestling, ala teenager dog style. This is injurious to the sheep, so obviously has to be prevented. Continue reading “Integrating Young Guardian Dogs With Sheep”

Livestock Guardian Dogs in America

 

BronteI really appreciate the below quote from the book Livestock Protection Dogs: Selection, Care, and Training by Orysia Dawydiak and David Sims. They capture well some of the thoughts I’ve been having about how to mold our young LGD into a good long-term sheep guardian.

In Old World countries where livestock protection dogs have been traditionally used, lifestyles and farming practices are different than those we know in North America. Throughout Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean Basin, full-time shepherds are common. Sheep owners in a village often form communal flocks of sheep during the summer months when high country pastures can be used for grazing. Shepherd and livestock protection dogs accompany large bands of sheep to mountain meadows,. During these times when many protection dos are present, older dogs help to discipline and train younger ones. With one or  more shepherds always on duty, undesirable behaviors can be spotted and corrected immediately. In this setting many stimuli act on a protection dog, including social interactions with other dogs. Boredom is unlikely to occur. If attacked or threatened by a predator, a protection do can reasonably expect to be backed up by his fellow pack members. He can also expect that a shepherd will be somewhere nearby, if not always in sight. …

Most North American farms would not fit into the scenario described above. Farms here have fenced pastures in lieu of open maintain rangelands. Livestock are moved abruptly from pasture to pasture, sometimes by truck.There are few full-time shepherds, goat herders, or cattle tenders. Protection dogs are often required to work along without aid or training from an experienced pack of peer dogs. Many protection dogs are initially placed with livestock that have learned to fear dogs. A significant part of the task of protection is having the confidence of the animals being guarded. North American guard dogs may be expected to develop their self-confidence with livestock that will run away from them or even show hostility. After a protection dog has gained the confidence of the flock or herd and has matured into a successful guardian, he is almost always left alone to perform what can be a very boring duty.

When such factors are considered, you may wonder why protection dogs transplanted from the tranquil mountains of Europe and Asia are able to work at all in the United States and Canada. Yet they do! The reason for their success is not so much the training techniques that are described in the succeeding chapters, but rather the highly evolved instincts of the dogs. If you have purchased a healthy protection breed puppy with an established guardian pedigree, he will probably  become a good livestock guardian, in spite of any errors, you, the owner/trainer, might commit. In fact, you will never actually “train” your protection dog to protect. You will instead attempt to create an environment in which the dog is able to develop and express  his inherited talents.

The challenges I’m observing and facing about our LGD are these: She has no “role model” of an experienced guardian dog to mimic, and there is no older dog, or me, out there 24/7 to scold her if she abuses the sheep. She sees the Border Collies, whom she admires, “chase” the sheep; and is somewhat inclined to mimic this behavior or try to join in. The sheep have learned to move for dogs, so they need to learn a new thing: which dogs to respect, and which dogs to ignore (and even further: eventually they need to learn to go to the LGD if they are fearful of something). Bronte was properly raised in a barn with sheep, so she is dearly bonded to them and has the capacity to walk and sit amongst them calmly. But her desire to treat them like peers gets her into trouble when she sometimes plays to rough with them, in the manner she would wrestle with another adolescent dog.

But, as the above quote points out, the situation is not hopeless. The goal is to create an environment where the dog can make good choices and learn desirable habits, so that over time, her guardian instincts will deploy in the manner I desire. I’ll try to write a bit about my training methods with her in the coming days, and how things have been going so far.