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Last month we discussed the marketing of our farm products - most noteably, the goats. This month, we're going to digress a bit and discuss the livestock guardian dog. Then next month we'll go back to some of the financial aspects of "goating".

The livestock guardian dog is a type of dog developed by Asian and European sheepherding cultures to protect their flocks from predation. These guardian breeds are similar to each other. They tend to be large, droop-eared, double-coated, and possess a tail that flags or makes a wheel when they're ready to fight. They weigh from 80 to 140 pounds and come in all colors from white to black. The dogs tend to resemble the animals they traditionally guarded, with the darker dogs being more prevalent where the sheep and goats were of colors other than white - e.g. Arabia, Russia, and Asia. Livestock guardians are followers of the flock, and may choose to oversee their animals from a convenient overlook, or simply move along with their goats as the herd grazes. The urge to protect is instinctive, territorial, and pack-oriented. At bedding time, the dog may bunch the animals so the herd/flock is easier to protect.

I personally have two Great Pyrenees as my LGD's, so I'll give you a narrative that discusses my own experiences with these marvelous protectors. I guess you can tell from that last statement that I heartily recommend that every herd of goats have its own LGD. I got my first dog after some stray dogs attacked the goats belonging to a friend who lived about 10 miles from my farm. His goats were not killed - a few torn ears and some severe trauma. But that was enough to prod both my friend and me to get livestock guardians. He located a breeder of Pyrenees in South Carolina who had three seven-month-old pups. He got the larger male and female, and I got the "runt" of the litter. I went over to my friend's farm that evening to pick up my pup. Peppermint Patti was in the truck - scared half to death by the trip and unfamiliar surroundings - so I climbed into the bed of the pickup and rode home with her. Patti had preferred to stay near the breeders house rather than with the flock, so I had my job cut out for me. If you have a choice, always get a pup that wants to stick to its flock/herd like glue. That way you can skip this next part of the training.

Since Patti would have preferred to be a back porch (or house) dog, I fenced her away from the house. I couldn't just stuff her in with my goats, as they had never been with dogs, and were terrified of Patti. They were also heavy with kid, and I certainly didn't want the does chased or harrassed. Patti could go all around the goat pen - she just couldn't get in. That way the goats got used to her presence, and she was forced to be with the goats all the time. When I was working with the goats, I'd let her in with them. Mind you - I watched her like a hawk to be certain that she didn't harrass the does. This went on for some time. I should explain that as puppies (and seven months definitely qualifies as a puppy) guardian dogs like to romp and play like any other dog and could conceivably choose a goat as a "playmate". You don't want that to happen. The pup should never be allowed to play with its goats. The goats are creatures to be protected - period. This went on for some time. Finally, I trusted her enough to put her in with my young buck (Volunteer). We had a few mishaps, but by and large, they coexisted quite amicably. If she slipped and tried to play with Vol, I'd swat her with the broom (soft part, not the handle) and yell at her. I'm sure that for the first 9 months she was with us, she thought her name was Patti No. After she did good with the buck, Patti was put in with an old ewe who had a lamb. That ewe put the fear of God into Patti, and "disciplined" her if she got anywhere near that lamb. By the time the ewe finisher with her, Patti was ready for the big time, and was then put in with the does. By that time she was a bit older and wiser animal. And the does accepted her because they were familiar with her presence on the farm. From that moment on, Patti took over all the hard work. She has stuck to the does like glue. Nothing has slipped by her vigilent attention. She has run off stray dogs by the dozens. She has nailed ground hogs, possems, and foxes. She prefers to warn a stray animal off, but once its in her territory, she just goes after it with nary a sound. Manys the time I've heard a frantic scramble in the front field, followed by howling as the stray dog sails through the electric fence rather than face Patti. By the way - my runt grew into a handsome creature. She may not be the largest Pyr ever, but she can sure get the job done.

I got a second Pyr about 18 months ago. Louise was 6 weeks old. I could put her in with Patti and the herd, as I knew Patti would never let Louise chase the goats, nor would she let the goats abuse the puppy. The second time around was sooooo easy. I just let Patti do all the work of training her replacement.

So in summary;

All told, a guardian dog is a useful tool for the farmer/rancher, and like all tools must be used with understanding of its abilities and limitations. Unlike other tools, however, it returns affection, loyalty, and service. These are pretty good qualities for any partner, be she two or four footed.


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Welcome PageDescription of Dairy HerdWhat's New at the Site?Crafts and Nifty StuffAlchemy's MenagerieTip of the MonthPrevious Tips of the MonthOther Resources of Interest