Thursday, 9 March 2017

Part 2: Looking for the good signs

In last month’s article, I wrote about the behaviour of a “naughty” dog, I touched on what motivates the dog and listed some warning signs to watch out for. 

Remember, a warning sign is indicative to what is going on in his mind, sometimes a sharp “no” is enough to convince the dog that he should change his behaviour. To be successful in correcting a dog, the dog must be caught “in the act” but preferably, a warning before he acts. The signs are subtle, it could be the start of a “play bow”, or a hard stare, or a short quick movement directed at the stock. Correcting at that moment, will do wonders in stopping the immature dog’s behaviour. He will think you are a mind reader, and that is exactly what you want him to think! 

To get that timely correction, you must be able to observe and supervise the young dog. If he is stuck on the “back forty” with no supervision, you will have no influence on his behaviour and will be unable to correct unwanted behaviour. Adolescent dogs are best kept in a pasture with livestock that can be seen and monitored by you. Remember, your stock will give you indications if the dog is being trustworthy or not. 

Every time the dog gets to play and chase, it reinforces his desire to do so, it becomes harder and harder to correct. If you come to the pasture and see that he has rough housed your stock, the first thing to do is to tether or place him on a zipline, kennel him or remove him from that pasture. He needs to be stopped immediately and prevented from reinforcing his own behaviour. By removing him from the livestock, you know that he cannot get into any more trouble and the stock is safe.  Once he is on lockdown, you can form a plan of action on how to move forward. Most young dogs can be corrected for naughty behaviour, and many go on to became fantastic guardian dogs. 

I like to “change things up” with a naughty adolescent dog. This means change the dog’s life completely; moving him to a different pasture, or give him a larger area to work in, or place him in with another type of livestock, place him with a grumpy older dog, or a bigger flock, or on a zipline, or even for a while in the barn.  This change in environment, will take him out of his comfort zone and will force a change of behaviour and attitude.  This change can be like a reset for him. We have multiple groups and livestock in various pastures. We have a bull pen, a draft horse pen, a ram pen, we have various pastures adjoining where the flock grazes, we can place a dog with the cows or even in the barn where we always have some livestock inside.

All these animals are used to dogs and not easily intimidated by them. My favorite spot for the adolescent dog who needs a lesson in humility, is in the bull, ram, and stud horse pasture.  These animals do not run, play, and bounce away from a dog, they do very little to encourage play behaviour and are big and strong enough to stand up to a young foolish dog.

As we are a “hands on” operation (meaning we touch and handle) our dogs, I will also expect/demand more compliance from a naughty dog. I will be stricter on everything I do with him. I require him to wait calmly while I set his food down, I will reinforce that more. If I need to open a gate, and do not want him to dive out of the gate, I will be strict on him backing off and only be allowed through the gate when invited. He will need to move around in calm manner. If he comes to greet me, he had better do it with respect and have a quiet approach. There will be no “holding” my hand in his mouth, or bumping into me, or super excited behaviour.  I normally reinforce this type of behaviour in a younger pup, but I will be stricter in enforcing calm and respectful behaviour with a naughty adolescent. 
So, being vigilant to warning signs, and acting directly, is perhaps the biggest factor to preventing unwanted behaviour. 

Changing things around, and preventing a continuation of bad behaviour for an extended time, supervision, demanding calm behaviour and, a timely correction do wonders to the attitude of a young naughty dog.

Looking for the good signs is also very important, they too reflect what is going on in the mind of the young dog. Good signs will tell you about the trustworthiness of the dog and its attentiveness to the livestock:

Some signs to watch out for are:
Calmness around the stock

A quiet demeanor, (head low, tail low)

Treading lightly around the stock (I wrote a blog about this and you can see it here:

Moving out of the way of the stock
soft eyes
Looking away ( so glancing away, to not intimidate the stock)

A lower tail carriage, with a soft slow wag when meeting or greeting a sheep
Ear carriage is relaxed
Laying next to the stock without being intrusive in the space of the stock

Butt sniffing and licking, 
some ear licking, as long as it is cleaning and not obsessive

Walking around the stock rather than barging through

Content and comfortable to hang out with the stock, stock is content and comfortable with the dog

“Reading stock”, if the sheep are uncomfortable with the dog too close, the dog will move away, or turn its back and give the sheep more space.

Following the stock out while grazing

Happy to return back to the stock, greets the sheep

 The dog and sheep have a trust relationship

Some dogs really value their own personal space and may not be super tight with the sheep and yet, are still attentive and trustworthy. Some sheep also prefer more space from the dog than others. All of them are individuals. A dog who has a bigger personal bubble, will simply give the sheep more space, he will still show all the good signs. A trustworthy and attentive dog does not necessarily have to be all cozy and snuggled up with the stock. 

The role the stock play in the development of the young dog, is also important to consider. I have seen rams trying to mount a dog, I have seen: some goats that will butt a young dog continuously, bouncy lambs and kids may encourage a dog who has more chase tendencies, flapping chickens are irresistible to some dogs and young dogs being bullied away from their food can all result in the dog showing inappropriate behaviour.
A young dog who is bullied away from his food might learn to lunge and bite the stock, a pup getting hurt by goats might become fearful and want to escape the pasture.  

Careful consideration of the age of the dog, its temperament and the type of livestock can play an important role in preventing problems. I am all for preventing potential problems before they start, and that requires me to be flexible in my approach and a willingness to facilitate the young livestock guardian dog during its journey to becoming a reliable adult.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Part 1: Warning signs, play behaviour, hunting sequences and the young LGD

This article appeared in the Shepherds Magazine

©Louise Liebenberg 2017

Let me paint a picture for you; the owner walks outside to go and check on the livestock, do chores, feed, and water.  As the owner approaches the area where the livestock and their now adolescent LGD reside, the owner see’s that the livestock have tufts of wool pulled out, the ear of a sheep is bloody, the stock is standing tightly in the corner of the pasture and are they are panting. Further away, the LGD is standing guard over one animal.  The owner looks around and immediately thinks that perhaps coyotes paid the flock a visit. The LGD comes up to meet him, the dog is a little excited but nothing really concerning. The owner is concerned for his flock, and while checking the animals over is somewhat relieved that at least the young dog was “guarding” or protecting the one animal further away. Except for the bloody ear and the few tufts of wool, everything is okay. 

A few days later, the owner once again notices the dog sort of “herding” the sheep together. Nothing concerning, just an observation. The owner wonders if the dog is herding the sheep to keep them safe.
A day later, the owner catches the young dog standing over the same individual animal, the sheep is separated from the others, is not hurt, but is wet from slobber from the dog. Another few days’ pass, and the owner comes to the livestock and see’s that all the wool has been plucked off that animal, it has scratch and bite marks, the sheep is badly hurt.  

The owner is in total disbelief as this dog has been so good, and why now, is the dog suddenly harassing the animals it is supposed to protect? Is the dog ruined for life? What is happening?

The scenario I have sketched has many variations, however most of what I have described are typical of a young adolescent dog harassing the livestock.  

Understanding this behaviour and, learning what the warning signs are, may help you stop this behaviour before it escalates and the dog becomes a stock killer. Just this past week, I spoke with someone who had a similar build up of events, the result was dead livestock, and the dog being shot. A tragedy that could have been prevented had the owner been more aware of what was going on.

Most LGD pups show excellent behaviour around the livestock; they sleep with the stock, are respectful and the young pup seems to be bonding well to the animals it will guard in the future. The owner is thinking that they have hit the jackpot regarding LGD, until the above scenario starts to play out. The owner is most times caught off guard and is devastated to find that the dog has turned “rogue”.

It is hard to say why this behaviour occurs with some LGD, it could be poor breeding, or it could be hormonal (the teenage phase), or be triggered by new animals being brought on to the farm, even a change of events (lambing time), sometimes we just do not know why the dog goes from being good one day to being rough with the stock the next day. Understanding the behaviour, and having the ability to recognize the warning signs may prevent damage to the livestock and by intervening earlier, may prevent the dog from escalating this behaviour.

Unfortunately, when this type of behaviour happens, it is unexpected. Most owners have missed some of the subtle “warning signs” indicating what is going on in the dog’s mind.  Some people are initially in denial, that their guardian dog would do such a thing, they discount the warning signs.
Unfortunately, some owners will dismiss the behaviour (he is just playing, he is guarding just the one animal, he is “hugging” the stock, he is herding them to safety), and this dismissal is the start of a cycle of problems. Most young LGD do not go from zero to killing stock overnight. The dog does give clear signals in his behaviour what is going on in his mind.

All stock worrying starts off as play behaviour. To understand play behaviour, we need to take a step back, and look at predatory behaviour. 

What is prey drive? Well, simply put it is the driving instinct in any predator to hunt down, catch and consume its prey. It is an instinct in every single predator, including our dogs. Dogs, with a high prey drive are easily stimulated to chase after and catch their prey. It is an instinct that is often used in the regular dog training world as it is highly rewarding for the dog to do. Usually the “prey” is a toy, ball, or a tug of war game. The reward for fetching the ball, or finding the “lost” person, is for the dog, getting to play ball. Dog trainers capitalize on this instinct to motivate and reward the dog.  For some other high drive breeds, this instinct is “modified” to become a useful tool, the border collie utilizes this same instinct to herd sheep. 

Prey drive is a not just a single action, it is a chain reaction, with the following elements; search (see, hear, smell), stalk, chase, bite hold, kill bite, dissection and then consuming. 

Watching nature films with lions hunting on the savannah, we see this sequence in action. With the border collie, we can clearly see the dog gathering the livestock, then it uses its “eye” to stalk, herding the stock to the handler (chase), and it will do hold type bites if needs be. For most border collies, the sequence is ended at this point. 
Selective breeding in border collies is focussed on optimizing this part of the sequence, to have a great working dog.  

As LGD are bred to have a very low prey drive, their reactivity to wanting to chase after things that are moving is low. Most LGD will watch you throw a ball away, but very few will be motivated to go and fetch it. 

To perfect the whole prey drive sequence, predator babies need to play. Through play they learn to initiate the game, they learn how to stalk, how to pounce, how to chase. Playing is very important in all predators, play teaches a myriad of lessons such as how social structure works, team work and of course, ultimately how to hunt. Play behaviour is the precursor to the prey drive sequence. 

One needs to understand how stimulating this behaviour is in predators,  it is the driving force for its survival (it needs to eat).  It is what is called a “self rewarding behaviour”, by doing these actions, it is rewarded by being able to eat.
Self rewarding behaviours are the hardest behaviours to change or modify.

Back to the original example, at some point the young LGD does become stimulated by the livestock, initially it might have started off with a play bow to the livestock. The dog wanting to initiate play with the stock. As sheep, generally do not respond to this, they might have moved away, triggering the young dog to maybe chase a little. This of course is fun and stimulates the dog, as this is a self rewarding behaviour,  the dog will often toss in a bark or two towards the livestock to get things moving. The dog then starts to escalate his game, to the point where he is showing elements of the prey drive sequence. He will stalk, corner, chase, nip, pull wool, separate his prey, harass. The escalation from a simple play bow to harassing or even wounding the livestock, can be very rapid, as the dog is getting self rewarded for what he is doing.

An owner may wake up one day and see the consequences of what started out as seemingly innocent play behaviour, to finding hurt and injured stock.

Here is a list of some of the warning signs.
Remember, warning signs are indicative of what is going on in the dog’s head. 

1. An overly  playful/immature dog, ( even older dogs)
2. The dog that play bows to the livestock, trying to initiate a game.
3. Dog likes to mouth your hand, and or the stock 
4. Chasing the livestock
5. Nipping at the legs.
6. Standing on, mounting the stock.
7. “Holding the stock” either with its paws or mouth.

This is not cute! Goat is wide eyed and stressed.

8. Herding or pushing the stock around.
9. Keeping them cornered, or in a group or not letting them move about freely.
10. Controlling/dominant behaviour, not allowing stock close to "resources, such as feeders, water etc)
11. Staring, stalking, hard focused looks, lower head and staring.
12. Pulling wool.
13. Scratching or pawing the stock.
14. Disrespectful or rude behaviour, barging through the stock, bumping them.
15. Stock that is tired, panting, restless, uncomfortable when the dog approaches.
16. Running and nipping at tails, and ears.
17. If the dog is excited, stimulated, hyper-attentive when the stock move around.
18. Separating one individual, standing over it, often the same animal.
19. Barking at the stock.
20. Humping the stock.

Thank you to Novelty Farms for allowing me to share these pictures.  I appreciate you allowing me to post these pictures as it is not often people want to show the bad things.
This dog never worked out as  a LGD.

Being attentive and giving a timely correction for any of these warning signs may mean the difference between a successful LGD or one who becomes a stock killer.

Part 2, will focus on the good behaviours!


Thursday, 16 February 2017

For sale

It is not very often that we have an adult dog for sale, but we do now and he is awesome.
Meco is a 2 year old, neutered male, looking for a flock/herd to guard.
He is great with sheep, cattle and horses.
He is a serious guardian dog and very protective of his stock and territory.
He is quite formidable.

Meco would do well on a flock or herd,  working alongside a few females.
He will not tolerate other mature males as guardian dog partners.
(This may change, as he is only recently neutered.)
He is good with cattle and would work as a cattle guardian dog too,
or even on a  mixed operation.

Meco is great with people, friendly and happy to see you.
He is well behaved and has basic manners such as walking on a leash, is used to been chained, and travels okay in a vehicle.

He is respectful of fences, and does not look to escape. He is content with the stock.

Meco comes with support from us to integrate him into a new job,
and, we are always available to help in any way we can.

For more information about Meco, please feel free to email me.
If on FB, please private message for more details.

This is a great dog and would be a great addition to a flock or cattle herd.

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