Saturday, January 24, 2015

Three Letters Re: Livestock Guardian Dogs

We’ve had Anatolian Shepherds for twelve years. They are very independent dogs and very protective of their charges. They must be acclimated early but will guard your herds and flocks thereafter. Ensure you have good fences to keep wandering animals away from your herd and flock, as the dogs will kill them. I’ve had to bury all manner of animals that have tried to eat my chickens. Get two dogs, so they have each other to burn off excess energy with each other rather than try to do so with the herd. I don’t allow visitors near my guardians, as they take their job seriously. – W.H.
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This is in response to a post, concerning (Herd) or guardian dog. Russian Shepherd may be a excellent choice! RLK
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Dear Hugh,
We have goats, sheep, cows, and chickens and live in cougar, wolf, bear, and coyote country; consequently, livestock protection dogs are a must. We have over the years owned seven pure bred Anatolian Shepherd’s and currently have four. They are awesome dogs, but they are NOT for most people. More in a minute.
I put dogs into four categories of protection.
  1. Useless but a lovable pet.
  2. A “yapper” that is a good alarm but not capable of defending you.
  3. A guard dog. German Sheppard, etc.
  4. Livestock protection dog.
The primary difference between a guard dog and a livestock protection dog is size, strength, and intuition. A livestock protection dog because of size and strength has a good chance at killing a cougar or a wolf, and when the dogs are run in pairs it would be a very bad day for a cougar to try to attack the livestock, or us. More to the point, the dogs should act as a deterrent, which is where size helps. After all, why fight a dog to get at a goat when there are plenty of unprotected deer running around. While German Sheppards, et cetera are awesome dogs in their own right, they are, on balance, no match for a cougar or wolf. Organizations such as the AKC categorize the typical guard dog as a “Large Breed” and the livestock dogs as “extra large breeds”. As an aside, the Anatolians are a 6,000 year old breed of dog from the Anatolian Region of what is now Turkey.
To be successful, all livestock protection dogs need three things– good fencing, a job, and plenty of space. These dogs will roam great distances if you let them, and for two reasons I would not utilize these dogs without good fencing. 1) I want them around the homestead when I need them. 2) I want to define their “line in the sand” if you will. I don’t need them scraping with a cat two miles from the homestead that is no threat to my livestock. Just because they are capable of killing a cat doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing, and it certainly doesn’t mean they will be uninjured doing so. Most of these dogs will intuitively know what their job is and how to do it better than you could train them to, but there MUST be a job to do. That is what they were born to do. The smallest pasture we have one works in about an acre, and that is space enough when supplemented with an occasional run with a four-wheeler. We once had a family arrange to visit and see our dogs that had heard of the Anatolians and wanted one for their city house back yard pet. We couldn’t have discouraged this more.
These are pack animals. That’s how they know who to guard and who is okay. You’re either part of the pack or you’re not. If you, and in our case we (wife and myself), do not authoritatively assume pack leader position, you will have problems, because the dogs will sense that void and they will assert themselves as pack leader. Caesar Milan’s book “Be the Pack Leader” is an excellent primer on this. This is where most people get into trouble with all dogs and especially guardian dogs. It was more challenging for my wife than me, as I am big; she is small. I grew up with large dogs, and she did not. One breeder we got two of our dogs from gave her excellent advice. Bearing in mind that our two males weigh as much or more than my wife does. If the dog is challenging your role as pack leader, she was told to take it to the ground on its side, lay on it with your chest on its front shoulders, and scream at it like it just killed your child until it relaxes and submits. With one of our males that we adopted, she had to do that 20+ times and still has a chipped tooth to prove it! Five years later, he knows his place in the pack, is very sweet to us, and would trade his life to protect either one of us without hesitation. This will not be nearly as much of a problem if you get the dogs as puppies and follow Caesar’s plan in the book.
To reinforce “pack” we do not allow guest dogs to come to the homestead, you NEVER take dogs like these to a dog park, and when they do go to the veterinarians its pre-arranged that they go in the back door straight to the exam room. Animals who are not members of the pack are not to be seen as “friendlies”, as you will confuse the mission of the dogs. Additionally, it would be bad manners for them to attack Fido in the waiting room! I think your audience can envision scenarios where feral dogs are a problem and they will need to be seen as threats and run off or killed, not as potential play mates.
Health wise, these are generally extremely healthy and strong animals with one exception. In the past two years we have had two cruciate ligament problems. In both dogs they were complete tears. We have been told that this is not attributable to the breed of the dog as much as the size, strength, and intensity. With the female, since she was younger and had no complications, our local veterinarian was able to perform the replacement surgery, and the total bill for that was $1,200. The male was older and had some complications, so the surgery was done at Washington State University Veterinary Hospital, and it was over $4,000.
The AKC web site under the “Meet the Breed” section of Anatolian Shepherds says they are “a working guard dog without equal”. We have certainly seen things to support that claim. For example, I have witnessed a dog get a smell of a problem; they bark a certain unique way that gets the goats attention; she rounded them all up and herded (ran) them into the barn, and then ran back to the perimeter fence to address the problem. All this in well under a minute. I personally would never own another breed than an Anatolian now. None the less, I hope I have painted a picture of a type of dog that serious consideration should be given to before adopting.
As a side note, the person requesting information did not mention the Great Pyrenees’ breed, which along with the Anatolian is one of the most common protection dogs, at least in our part of the country. They are awesome dogs also worthy of anyone’s consideration. We opted for the Anatolians over the Pyrenees for two reasons: 1) Where we live, it gets very hot in the summer. Pyrenees tend to be thicker bodies with long hair, so we felt the heat would be tough on them. 2) Pyrenees, in our unprofessional experience, tend to be happier, family-oriented pets that are capable of protecting the livestock, while the Anatolians have more “edge” and consequently work as both a livestock protection dog and a formidable guard dog. None the less, I know people who are very happy with their Great Pyrenees dogs.
A couple of resources;
We have gotten two dogs from the National Anatolian Rescue people. They do great, often thankless work. We have had zero regrets about the dogs we have gotten from them. Please support them if you can.
One of our Anatolians was adopted from the Columbia Cascade Great Pyrenees’ Club. They also do good work and frequently have great dogs for adoption, and undoubtedly there are regional chapters around the country. You look at the pictures on their web site and you can’t help but love that breed.
We have purchased two Anatolians from a very reputable breeder that I would recommend. I am sure there are others as well, yet this is the only one we have done business with personally. For a first Anatolian, I would buy one from a breeder. It is more expensive, but you’re not adopting someone else’s problems. The Anatolians that we have adopted have come with some behavioral “issues” that needed working through. It’s not a problem once you are experienced with the breed, but it’s way easier, for example, to assert pack leadership when you get them as a puppy.
Anatolian Breeder; Marcia St, John of St. John’s Creamery.
Best of good luck on your journey to walking down your path of livestock guardian dog ownership. I hope it will be as rewarding to you as it has been to us. -JP

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