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Livestock guardian dogs.

The use of guardian dogs is the most effective modern method in the United States of keeping sheep safe from attack by predators. It has been successfully employed by European and Asian shepherds for thousands of years. Although American farmers and ranchers have historically used dogs for sport and companionship, they have opted for more dramatic methods of protection for their financial investments in livestock. Losses from coyote depredation were kept at acceptable levels by population control. Drs. Lorna and Ray Coppinger, Hampshire College Biologists, report that bait poisoned with a nerve drug, compound 1080 (sodium mono-fluoroacetate), cyanide guns, M-44's, a spring loaded shooting tube covered with bait, and sheep collars toxic to predators were methods employed ("So Firm a Friendship," p. 16). When the federal government outlawed the use of poisons in 1978, predator control relying heavily on nonlethal methods became increasingly high tech, considerably more expensive to employ and much less effective. Repel flashing light systems, periodically exploding devices, and recorded noise were used to scare predators away. Supercharged electric fence was imported from New Zealand to exclude coyotes. It was not effective. As reported by the Coppingers ("Livestock-guarding Dogs that Wear Sheep's Clothing," p. 65,66), the coyote learned to accept and avoid these hindrances. He continued to kill sheep. Golden and Pilcher tell of government funded scientists attempting to teach coyotes to dislike mutton and lamb by seeding the range with mutton cubes treated with a powerful emetic ("Sheepmen Are Going to the Dogs," p. 66). All of these high-tech methods had limiting problems in implementation and were effective only until the predators learned methods of avoidance. In addition many methods were detrimental to the sheep or manner m which the sheep must range to be economically successful. Golden and Pilcher ("Going to the Dogs," p. 66), agree with the Dr.s Coppinger; from 1978 to 1982 over a million sheep were lost to canid predators per year ("Sheep's Clothing," p. 65).

The coyote problem was increasing and spreading into new areas across the United States. Sheepmen turned to the obvious solution, employment of guardian dogs to keep sheep safe from other canid predators.

The choice of dog to work with sheep was crucial to the success of the program. However, all of the American breeds commonly thought of s shepherds were wrong for guardians ("A Sheep's Best Friend," p. 16). The Border Collie, Shetland Sheepdog, Australian Kelpie, Blue Heeler, and Welsh Corgi publicized as sheep dogs are herder-heelers. These dogs are useful in working sheep, as they herd, gather, or single out individual animals. To perform these acts they employ predator type tactics. Maureen Austin describes this activity as stalking, eyeing, nipping, barking, and sometimes gripping the sheep by the throat to dominate the direction of the flock ("Putting a Dog to Work for You..." p. 5). Their appearance is also coyote-like. They are coyote sized, 30 to 40 pounds, with sharp muzzles, prick ears, and dark coats. Their quick, aggressive movements signal |predator' to sheep. Dependent upon the commands of man, the herder-heeler is very trainable. He views himself as a helpmate to man and desires to please a master. He does not develop a bond with the sheep. Left alone with them, herders have been known to practice their skill, thereby running sheep to death ("Putting a Dog," p. 5).

Until 1970 few of the guardian breeds had been brought to America. Dogs were considered to be part of the problem of sheep killing as late as 1976 ("So Firm" p. 16). The initial research done by Winrock International Livestock Research Training Center in Arkansas used Komondors for predator control. There was great indication that the 01 World guardians of sheep in the United States, also ("So Firm," p. 16). These breeds with impressive guardian history, Komondor, Akbash, Shar Plainetz, and Great Pyrenees, are all vastly different from herders-heelers. They are large, 80 to 150 pounds, lopeared, usually blunt muzzled with broad domed heads. With docile, lethargic movements, they drift along as part of the flock. They are usually sheep colored, white to tan and heavily coated. They work independently ("The Ultimate in Flock Protection... Livestock Guard Dogs," p. 274). Their protective nature is not directable by human command "Guarding Dogs, So Sheep May Safely Graze," p. 28). they are aloof, slow to respond to human command, therefore difficult to train.

The working style of these large canine guardians is often misunderstood by casual observance. Lying on a hill or other vantage point asleep is not dramatic. However, canid predators receive the message sent regarding the territory thus claimed ("Guarding Dogs," p. 29). Boundaries are scent marked and patrolled regularly. Territory is further proclaimed by barking at necessary intervals. Primary social signals are common to all canids ("So Firm," p. 24), thus many potential confrontations are avoided. In a confrontation with a potential predator, "flight or fight" signals are sent by the guardian. When challenged in this manner by a guard dog out-sizing the predator three to four times, the predator usually retreats. This behavior is much more desirable than dramatically observable chase and destroy tactics that leave the sheep unguarded in the protector's absence.

In planning a successful guardian dog program, it is important to consider the breed of sheep to be worked. The terrains, climate and size of area in which sheep will graze, also have bearing on the success of the dog ("Protecting the Flock, Guard Dogs Grab Spotlight in Nonlethal Control," p. 15). The abilities of the guardian breed reflect the locale, terrain, climate and predators native to the land where it was developed.

The Komondor originates in Hungary where its native predators are wolves, bear, jackal, and mountain lion. Catherine Allen reports Komondor success against dogs and wolves on a 300 acre farm in Canadian bush country ("The Komondor, Watchdog Extraordinaire," p. 162). The unique coat, matted in cords, repels rain and snow and protects the Komondor from brambles as well as predator attack. A fully grown male will stand 25 inches and weigh up to 120 pounds. It guards by day as well as by night. It is not a roaming breed according to Newell and Joyce Reavis who use Komondors in Killeen, Texas ("Guard Dogs ... for Dairy Goats," part 1, p. 15). Jane Jaggers uses Komondors in Leitchfield, Kentucky to protect against stray dog packs. She describes the

Komondor as independent, business-like and wary of strangers ("Guard Dogs," part 1, p. 14). The United States Sheep Experiment Station (USSES) research done near Dubois, Idaho found the Komondor more likely to play with the sheep than other breeds studied ("Use of Eurasian Guard Dogs," p. 268). They also had a high kill rate during adolescence. Fourteen percent killed sheep and an additional 33 percent chased or played roughly with sheep "Eurasian," p. 310). They were the least successful on range land of the four breeds discussed. Fourteen percent bit strangers on the hand, a warning bite, when approached while guarding sheep ("Eurasian," p. 310). This disparity of Komondor description can perhaps be explained by understanding that the Reavis' dog and the Jaggers' dog operate in a more humanly dominated environment on family farms.

The Akbash dog originated on the Anatolian Plateau where it is widely used as a guardian for sheep ("The Akbash Dog: Guardian of the Turkish Sheep Industry," p. 78). Wolves, wandering dogs, mountain lions, bear, and fox prey on sheep in this locale. The Akbash is used in groups of two or three to patrol around their close flocking sheep ("The Akbash," p. 78). They do not scent mark territory as stringently as do other breeds as their movement with the sheep is somewhat nomadic. They move with the flock in an integrated manner and seem to employ no set routine with which predators are warded off. The size of the Akbash is a deterrent to predators. Males are 110 to 150 pounds and 29 inches at the shoulder. Should menacing behavior and appearance fail, the Akbash will attack and attempt to kill. To lessen the chances of predators getting the better of the Akbash, Turkish shepherds dock their ears and provid spiked collars against a lethal throat grip. The Akbash have never been bred as pets in Turkey, thus their temperament is not malleable or suggested for pet utilization. Marilyn Harned, Secretary of the Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club of America, cautions that this is a primitive breed and a great responsibility to manage ("Anatolian Shepherd Dog: An Ancient Breed," p. 10). Breeding records are not kept in Turkey; therefore hereditary traits might be quite difficult to predict and may vary greatly from dog to dog. The Anatolian Shepherd is sometimes used as a synonym for Akbash, which is further described as Karabash if its ears and muzzle are black. These dogs perform in their native land under vast extremes of temperature and terrain.

In the study performed by the USSES, the Akbash used were least successful on fenced pastures, fairing much better on open range land. As young dogs 29 percent of the Akbash killed sheep in play and another 50 percent played with extensive roughness ("Eurasian," p. 310). Fourteen percent bit their owners during reprimand. These dogs did go on to become successful guardians in later trials. David Sims and Orysia Dawydiak comment that the Akbash is not to be considered a reliable guardian until he is from ten to 29 months of age.

The Shar Planinetz from Yugoslavia looks much like a small Pyrenees measuring 22 to 25 inches at the shoulder ("Livestock Protection," p 26). It weighs about 80 pounds. Shars in Yugoslavia work in pairs or multiples living with the sheep. They are effective against depredation from wolves.

It was necessary to help the Shars during adolescence not to play roughly or chase sheep. After this period, the Shars worked well in the New Hampshire College Research Program. A Shar Planinetz eliminated losses in close flocking Rambouilet sheep, but it was rather frustrated and ineffective with non-flocking Suffolk given the same range conditions ("Eurasian," p. 265).

Most successful in the USSES study was the Great Pyrenees. This giant breed grows to 125 pounds and 32 inches at the shoulder. It originates in the mountains between France and Spain. The heavy coat protects it from severe weather. The white, bear-like appearance belies a gentle, easily managed temperament. According to Daniel C. Russler, Pyrenees breeder from Lodi, Wisconsin, extensive supervision of the Pyr puppy is usually not needed ("Great Pyrenees, Predator Control Dog," p. 34). Pyrenees mature early and are often ready to work at six months of age ("Livestock Protection," p. 126). Younger Pyrenees do tend to be roamers and benefit from the use of a fenced enclosure while bonding with their sheep. They patrol at night and sleep near the sheep during the day. Older dogs do quite well on the open range. The USSES study found that Great Pyrenees perform well on both farm and range situations. There were no Pyrenees bites reported by the USSES study ("Eurasian," p. 3110). Pyrenees are a good choice for use in areas where there is a relatively high human population due to their non-aggressive temperament. Fay and Dwane Knox, Pyrenees breeders in Nail, Arkansas, report some Pyrs show herding ability, although they do not employ herder-heeler scare tactics. A herding Pyrenees runs with the sheep in the direction that the sheep should go holding its head level with its topline, sheep-fashion. This is the same manner which a lead ram would employ in moving the flock. When the Pry reaches the front of the flock, the sheep cluster behind.

Any of the Eurasian guardian dogs can be successful at limiting livestock depredation if individuals for this use are carefully chosen. For a dog to become a successful guardian, he must be protective. He must have a strong desire to stay with the flock and exhibit a strong following instinct. He must act independently in the best interests of the flock ("Guard Dogs Perform Well," p. 8). He must be placid for the sheep to bond with him and accept him as one of them. In turn, he must be able, even as a juvenile, to treat the sheep as dogs (" So Firm," p. 22).

The cost of this 24 hour, thinking protection for a flock of sheep is easily offset by the salvation of a few ewes. In dollars and cents, it is estimated by Green and Woodruff at USSES to cost $850 for the first year. This includes the cost of the puppy, shipping, immunizations and veterinary attention -- plus food. This cost drops to $274 for each following year, based on a ten-year working life expectancy ("Eurasian," p. 268).

Life expectancy has proven by both studies to be considerably shortened in range-used dogs. Mortality causes included malicious shooting, 26 percent; automobile accidents, 22 percent; and miscellaneous causes, 22 percent. The USSES range guardian's mean age at death was 21 months. The New England Farm Center (NEFC) study showed range guardians to have a life expectancy of just 18 months ("Survivorship," p. 7).

Predator control by dogs with an 18-month life expectancy was estimated to cost $1,380 per year. At such expense, is a guardian dog cost-effective for ranchers? One ranch operation in Colorado uses a Shar and a Maremma, an Italian guardian dog. Losses before the dogs averaged 100 head per year with an estimated value of $10,000. With guardians on duty, in a year's time, they lost only two of the thousand head of sheep ("Sheep's Clothing," p. 69). Another Shar in Utah lost four of his flock in a year's time, while neighboring flocks lost several sheep nightly. In Oregon, two-thirds of 32 ranchers co-operating with the NEFC cut losses from 12 percent to zero by the use of guardian dogs. The remaining one-third reported losses remarkably reduced ("Update on Guarding Dog Research," p.3). This represents an annual average savings of $5,000 each. The demand for dogs and participation in the NEFC study far exceeds production of puppies.

Dr. Ray Coppinger maintains that farm guardians are also worth their cost. Flocks to guard are smaller, however dogs in this more protected environment live longer. The amortization of their cost can be taken over a longer period of time. The NEFC study shows that half of the dogs placed on farms, 233 of 449 dogs, were still working six years later ("Survivorship," p. 7). Very few sheep need to be saved to support this cost.

The guardian dog in the farm situation is the most effective weapon against predators ("A Valuable Asset to the Small Farm," p. 8). Small farmers do not have financial access to high tech solutions to predator problems. Often population density in which they operate prohibits such use. Neighborhood dogs or domestic dog packs running loose in small farm localities kill for sport. Losses from these sources often represent 50 percent of a flock or more.

An estimated ten percent of the total sheep population is destroyed by predators each year in the United States ("Sheep's Clothing," p. 65). These losses to depredation have been proven needless by on-going studies conducted by the United States Sheep Experiment Station and New England Farm Center. In addition to being cost effective, self-motivating, 365 days a year protection, the guardian dog does not disturb the wildlife or ecology of the area in which he is employed. His work could be endorsed by the Secretary of the Interior, for as Cecil D. Andrus requested in 1979, he uses nonlethal, noncapture methods. He is human in his methods (" So Firm," p. 16,18). He is the modern answer to predator control.
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Author:Nickel, Bruce
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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