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~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 131............Spring 2007  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: Live Stock Guardian Dogs part I



I wrote an article about my loss of our first Livestock Guardian Dog ( LGD) in the Black Sheep Newsletter. He was a purebred Hungarian Kuvasz weighing approximately 150 pounds and was an extension of my right arm when it came to goatherding. Within two weeks of his demise the predators began to slowly return. I first noticed the fox scat carefully positioned by the wiley animals on the tops of large flat tree stumps in the meadow. It seemed the foxes were purposely taunting us by leaving little signs that read, "Hey, where's that big fat white dog of yours?"splash dot!


It was when I skirted the fence line with my angora goats in tow just a week after spotting the fox scat that the four coyotes appeared. Walking in neat formation and not far away, the biggest in front, they turned their heads my direction. Their steely gaze was on us, the goats and I. They seemed fearless, hungry, watchful and just biding their time. They, too, had known for awhile that "the big white dog" was gone. His scent was now missing from our property borders. Rather depressed, I herded my goats back to the barn that day.splash dot!


It was certain that we needed another LGD and soon, but we didn't know how to find a good one – one that could fill Uzi's great white shoes. Getting a young pup and training it all over again to the "routine" of this farm seemed a formidable task. I sure missed Uzi and it wasn't until he was gone that I realized what a boon he'd been. I did some investigation on LGDs on the internet and came up with nothing.splash dot!


Then circumstances soon fell together like they so often do for us shepherds and goatherds, and I heard of a two year old rather "shy" LGD (not people oriented) available, whose job it was to guard sheep at his farm. I pondered the fact that we had goats. Would that make a difference and would he work for us? We had some sheep, of course, but our main focus was the goat herd.splash dot!


yearling pup

LGD yealing pup

We took the chance and that's when Mogen arrived. The first day that the big black and white dog came to us I wondered a bit about his color. His black coat gleamed in the sunshine. He had a white chest and paws. Would the goats and sheep accept him as one of their own like they did his all white predecessor? His parentage was Great Pyrenees/Maremma/Anatolian – and he was LGD through and through, so my reservations were actually subdued by that fact.splash dot!


However, on top of his different color, he was a shy LGD. How different from Uzi who followed me everywhere while my hand lay atop his soft white coat of fur. How very different. This new dog was shy with people and completely at home with livestock, I was told. Well, I'll win him over to me, I thought to myself. Little did I know then that a shy LGD will no doubt always be a shy LGD. There is no such thing as "winning" a shy LGD over to being a people dog. So be it, and I learned through keeping the great Mogen that there is nothing at all wrong with a shy LGD. They make tremendous guardians of the flock.splash dot!


So, though months flew by and I never could go near him to pet him, I soon noted that all the fox scat had dissappeared and the coyotes had retreated to far distant lands. Stan and I slept so soundly when we heard his warning barks in the distance. He was doing his job, just as Uzi had done.splash dot!


Things can go awfully wrong on a farm, and we lost Mogen way too quickly (to salmon poisoning.) It was not long after for we knew now our need for them, and we had acquired our two present LGDs, Tatra and Luba. Currently there are approximately 60 angora goats on the place, a few Suffolk sheep and lambs and the two LGDs. Our present dogs are again white in color. Both have those curled plume like tails that arch high over their backs. They are stunning to look at, but it is not their outstanding beauty that makes us keep them here. It is the fact that they work and they work well and the coyotes, lions and bears just don't come around anymore.splash dot!


One of these dogs is a Polish Tatra/Maremma cross. He's medium boned (not as large as some of them can be) and is pure white. I sure like him. I feed him his dog chow in the morning while I open the barn gate to let out the angora goats. He is a seasoned soldier by now and he knows his job. He eats his breakfast in a hurry and then rushes out the barn door to follow his goats. I'll always find Tatra in their midst. He follows them steadfastly all day. Just now I looked out the window and saw the herd eating under the big oaks. There he was also, as usual, in their midst, that big plume of a tail a banner. He loves his goats and knows they are his to protect.splash dot!


Luba, full blooded Great Pyrenees, is a bit different and loves to test the limits of the fences, so I have her tethered mostly. She's the kind that needs electric fence. That's a project to come. For now the tether on a tire is working.splash dot!


I've written enough about our early predation problems (especially with the lions), so most of the newsletter readers know our story. Simply put, before we acquired livestock guardian dogs we were plagued pretty consistently by predators that continued to take down our animals. It's been about ten years now since we first brought our first LGD here. It's also been ten good years since we have seen predation in any form. The lions no longer consider our 77 acres their territory. The long corridor along the shady creekside is no longer their corridor.splash dot!


yearling pup

One of Cis Hansen's LGD's

These LGDs have always intrigued me. Their ability to "smell" the predators and detect danger from seemingly miles away is phenomenal. What's more intriguing is how they alert the flock to danger and drive them home with insistent barking. I've been in the midst of my flock many times, just sauntering along with my head in the clouds, when the dog with us suddenly turns a nose into the air, sniffs once or twice, and begins to drive us home. The goats understand the "language" of the LGDs. In no time they are all on a run for the barn. That's when the LGD comes to my side and herds me on home, too, until we are all safe. What he saw/or smelled sometimes is usually never known. But we have all come to learn to trust his instinct.splash dot!


The following is an interview with Cis Hanson, whose expertise with these dogs I have come to admire and respect. Her sheep breed of choice for many years were the small bodied Shetland sheep and she still keeps a few sheep on the homestead along with her many LGDs. It was like pulling teeth trying to get this interview. Cis is a very busy woman and so I feel fortunate to have her words for BSN readers.splash dot!


Here is the interview, done in two parts because of its length. I couldn't see taking anything out – all of her input was much too valuable, especially to those who need a ready answer to predation problems and are considering acquiring an LGD or two.splash dot!


The Interview: Cis Hanson, LGD Breeder

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1.  How long have you been breeding/raising LGDs?

We got our first Livestock Guardian Dog in the mid 90's.  We had heard rumors of cougar attacks on livestock in our area of S. Oregon but when a nearby neighbor had his brood mares attacked within his barn we knew it was time to take action beyond the 'lock'em up at night' and 'keep the fences secure' tactics we had been using. Our Veterniarian advised looking into LGDs.splash dot!


2.  Why did you begin breeding the LGDs?

Well, our first dog was bought in haste and turned out to be quite a disappointment. After much research and questioning other ranchers and farmers in the area the name 'Leffler' kept coming up.  Neil and Rita Leffler raised Great Pyr./MaremmaX in S. WA.  Though their dogs, Samantha (Maremma) and Rufus (Great Pyr.), were both white in coloration, all their pups were white with black spots.  Quite striking and intimidating looking animals though very gentle in nature to human and livestock alike.splash dot!


I bought two pups from them and named them Klickitat (named for the county he came from) and Tasha (named for my heroine, Tasha Tudor, of course).splash dot!


We were amazed at the early age in which these young dogs began to work in unison.  A perfect team they were, though they worked individually as well.  We were still dealing with the misfortunes of our first LGD.  Though she did have her good points, her faults became ever more apparent as these two new dogs matured. It took less then a year of watching these wonderful animals care for our small herd/flock of goats and sheep before we began regretting having them altered.splash dot!


Who knew if we would ever find replacements ten years down the road.splash dot!


We quickly contacted Lefflers and soon had a beautiful female from their current litter.splash dot!


Finding the right male turned out to be easy, for I had a friend nearby that raised dairy goats.  I had much admired her Anatolian male in the past and when she added a Great Pyr female to her farm with the same outstanding qualities, and the two had puppies, we knew we'd found our male pup. (As luck would have it she ended up having 9 males.) Home came Toolie (named for a character in a 'Northern Exposure' episode) very close to the same time that Martha (Beatles song... White Album) arrived on Guinea Lane.  (Yep, The Beatles again)splash dot!


3.  What are the LGD breeds most used in the USA?

To my knowledge the Great Pyrenees seems to be the best known breed.splash dot!


Many other breeds are used by shepherds and animal keepers, however, and with the success of these animals it seems the list keeps growing. Maremmas might run a close second to the Great Pyrs.splash dot!


4.  What about LGD hybrids (none purebreds?)

I did not set out originally to own hybrid LGDs specifically.  I was simply looking for dogs that would work. My first dog was a purebred...100% Italian Maremma. She did not work for me nor the people I eventually allowed to "try her" on their farm (they had angora goats.)splash dot!


(*Author's Note: Cis has a way of describing these rare LGDs that are just too aggressive with livestock that they actually kill a young kid or lamb, whether purposefully or inadvertently. She tells me when I ask her about this that "their wires are crossed." If an LGD can't be trusted to protect livestock, in her view they are essentially a useless animal.)splash dot!


Back to Cis Hanson:splash dot!


I have learned to love these hybrid dogs because of the great variety of personalities and traits they possess, as well as their independent intelligent nature.  They are as different and complex as any two people can be. This diversity helps me to be selective when placing these dogs. There is always one LGD (or a working pair!) that fits a specific environment better than any other LGD. I like to say that I don't sell dogs, I "place" them. I have never raised purebred animals but I have seen and been with many purebreds that I have admired greatly for their working ability.  This, of course, includes all four parents to my original dogs.splash dot!


Specific breeds do tend to have certain characteristics, though I must admit that I have found even these characterists can vary greatly within a breed.splash dot!


The bottom line is that I have learned to value the individual animal over all else.splash dot!


5.  Is it a good idea to try to make an LGD a people dog - a pet?

My first impulse is to give a firm "NO!".splash dot!


These are working dogs and I do not believe personally that they can be trained to a level where they can be fully trusted to obey your command. These dogs think for themselves and though they may try to please, their ultimate decision will be their own. This could have serious consequences, considering the size and strength of these dogs.  Why risk it.splash dot!


On the other hand, I do have some customers that due to special circumstances have chosen these dogs for pets. These customers have large acreages, no livestock, and children that want the freedom of wandering the wilderness around their homes without fear.splash dot!


In the few instances that I have placed dogs in these homes, I have picked people- friendly, mild mannered pups myself and then had the customer spend time with the animal before deciding.  Special socialization training is imperative for these dogs and we have had great success with the few that have gone to homes such as these.splash dot!


6.  What about LGD crosses like a herd dog/LGD cross?  How good would that be with livestock?

These are both working breeds of dog and their jobs are very different.  I would find it hard to imagine such a cross working satisfactorily.splash dot!


But then the best bird dog I ever had was a German Sheperd/DobermanX. Never lost a quail and never left a mark on the bird retrieved.  She guarded the poultry and rabbits on our farm with extreme gentleness.splash dot!


On the other hand, my Chesapeake Bay Retriever never fetched anything but her ball, but did manage to eat a fair share of my chickens.splash dot!


Though I would never encourage anyone to try breeding a stock dog with an LGD, I have to go back to my original statement that it is the individual dog that will determine an outcome.splash dot!


7.  Tell me a story or two about one of your LGDs saving a goat or lamb or even flock.

Martha's first litter of pups coincided with lambing/kidding that year. She had chosen her older brother Klickitat to assist with the pups and a fine pair they made.  Martha divided the 12 pups up equally on either side of a bale of straw.  (I guess she decided it was easier for her to nurse the pups in smaller groups.)  Klickitat actually showed more attentiveness to the pups than she did, with Martha coming in to feed for short periods throughout the day and night.splash dot!


One early morning I noticed both Klickitat and Martha on either side of an angora doe on the far side of the paddock away from the pups.  Martha stood facing the pups' shed and Klick lay beside the doe facing the other way.  I watched with interest for a bit because I had become accustomed to this stance only when the dogs were assisting a birth.   I watched for some time and was confused when the doe walked off, bouncing new kid at her side, but the dogs remained where they were.splash dot!


It suddenly dawned on me what was going on.  I grabbed my first aid kit and ran to the big dogs.  Martha had laid down beside Klick by now but still had her eyes fixed on her pup shed.  In between them I found what I was looking for, a very weak but safely warm kid.  I felt like a fool as I milked some colostrum from the doe and helped the little guy to his feet.  Under Klickitat's watchful eye, I administered a shot of BoSe and got some of the colostrum down the little guy. In no time he was bouncing alongside mom with his sister.splash dot!


I have no idea how long the dogs had stayed with that kid.  I had watched for more than an hour.  Obviously the doe had tired of waiting for the weak kid, with her one frisky offspring bounding all around her.splash dot!



I do recall Martha's disdainful look when I had finally arrived on the scene. (Or did I just perceive that?) Now that I'd finally gotten there, Martha quietly walked over to the afterbirth which was cold by now and gently carried the morsel back to her pups waiting in the shed.  Klick looked at me like he was a bit embarrassed for me, but stayed by my side untill all my mess was gathered up and I started back for the house. Klickitat then went about his business of morning patrol without a backwards glance.  Just dogs, but I'm sure my face was red with shame nevertheless.splash dot!


Oh there have been numerious times that I can thank my dogs for saving a life.splash dot!



(Author's Note: Me, too, Cis. Just the other day, in fact, had to be two days back, a big doe heavy with twins, I'm sure, got her feet caught in the field fence. I don't know how she got turned on her side, but there she was with two back legs well secured by field fence.splash dot!


What alerted me to the problem was the frantic bark coming from Luba, the Great Pyr. I had been in the house and heard it in the intercom. "I don't like that bark," I told my husband. "Something is wrong." Sure enough, it was the goat so forlornly caught in fence.splash dot!


"Good girl, Lube!!" I said to Luba, who took it all in stride and smiled widely at me, the way these dogs do. Just part of a day's work for them, but it sure saves us some grief, as shepherds.)splash dot!


Back to Cis Hanson:splash dot!


They are always on call, it seems. From alerting me if the stall door gets opened and the goats get into the grain in the middle of the night to frantic barks if a doe or horned ewe gets her head stuck in a fence.  It is amazing how fast you can learn the different barks, though hard to explain.  I've learned to roll over and peacefully drift back to sleep when I hear my big dogs barking at night. I'm secure in the knowledge that they are working hard to keep the cougar and bear that inhabits this area at bay.  Other nights I'm up like a shot if a certain warning bark sounds in the night, for that particular kind of bark always signaled an emergency that needed care immediately.  You just learn the language.splash dot!


Cis Hanson, LGD Breeder, Days Creek, Oregonsplash dot!



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Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


Stanley & Alexandra Petrowski
34620 Tiller Trail Hwy.
Tiller, Oregon 97484