The value of LGDs

If you ask people how valuable LGDs are, you will hear all kinds of answers. Varying from; expendable to indispensable and what’s in between. This variety of values and opinions about LGDs, among other things, makes the LGD scene very complicated. I find LGDs indispensable. They’re fantastic animals, ambassadors, symbols and  keys to responsible coexistence between man and nature. LGDs were, are and increasingly will be extremely important in our world. Therefore they deserve and need the best care, opportunities and corresponding values from ‘us’.

Prevention is better than curing. Conflict prevention between predators and farmers includes several measures, the oldest and most dynamic one being LGDs. I believe we should aim for the best ways to live, for the long term. Call it idealistic, for me it’s realistic. Temporary ‘success’ isn’t sustainable and will keep us from truly developing. The direction to go is forward and in quite some cases this means going back in time. Not backwards, but back to basic, back to the roots. LGDs, ancient as they are, are a way forward, back in time.

To successfully ‘use’ LGDs; the pack feature is extremely important. Canines are social animals by nature and they originally live and perform best in a pack. Obviously this also goes for LGDs. Depending  the work environment an LGD is in, one dog could be sufficient, however a minimum of two dogs is better for canine development, efficiency and life quality. Nowadays numerous different people have, or turn to, LGDs.

There are people who don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, the importance of predators for the natural and personal environment. They see predators only as threats; enemies of their livestock. In reality predators are both friend and foe, them being the true wildlife managers. Predators are directly responsible for a healthy natural environment, which is beneficial for us and our livestock on the long term. Many generations of (traditional) shepherds understand this and are still practicing their coexisting lifestyles today. Unfortunately there are quite some people who want to, and will, kill every predator in their area. Fortunately this is impossible for a farmer or shepherd to do, since farm work has to be done and they also need to sleep. That’s why many have LGDs to help them protect their livestock.

Their preferred ‘type’ of LGDs are very aggressive, always aiming for the kill. Some LGDs are ‘hotter’ than others, however I do know good examples for correct use of various LGD types. The mentality of people to kill all predators near their livestock goes way back in time and never disappeared. Being an LGD in these situations is very dangerous. Wild predators are formidable opponents. Wild animals in general are stronger and deadlier than domestic animals. Predators are real killers and masters in finding the weakest animals and individual weak spots. Wolves use scouts to lure LGDs away from the flock, while other pack members will kill livestock and/or ambush the pursuing LGDs to finish them off. When LGDs are overly aggressive and always trying to pursue and kill they don’t only risk themselves, but also the safety of the flock and other LGDs.

These ‘types’ of LGDs, or better; the LGDs of these kind of people, are often working in underdog (not enough dogs) situations or in a dysfunctional pack situation (hierarchy problems). For example: Too many males (or females) from the same age, all aiming for top positions. Or a continuously changing group of dogs, consisting only out of the biggest and most aggressive LGDs. Fights and frustrations among each other are quite common, many times right after a confrontation with predators. Animals are injured on a regular bases, making them weak(er) and a target for predators and the other LGDs. The life span of these LGDs is often short. Problems are a continuous factor in these kind of situations.

A long time ago, people started to develop tools to protect their LGDs; protective (anti predator) ‘spiked’ collars and harnesses. When you think of it, it’s quite strange; protection for your protection. Shouldn’t this ring a bell? If you need protection for your protection you are heading for an endless cycle of short term problem solving. Or not? A real, stable pack with the right numbers is a protection cycle, in which all members look after each other. Protection for your protectors secured.

When people don’t, or don’t want to, learn and understand how things in their personal (work) environment are, they don’t develop or even go backwards. The aim should be to keep predators as far away from your livestock as possible and at the same time have your LGDs healthy and alive for as long as possible. When predators keep their distance, LGDs should remain rather close to the livestock. This will result into long term safety of livestock and LGDs. Allowing predators to come close to your livestock, due to underdog situations and/or extremely pursuing LGDs will result into unnecessary losses of both livestock and LGDs.

Today the market for protective collars is more interesting than ever before. The collars vary from ‘old school’ (traditional) to modern ‘medieval warfare style’ collars. They are often uncomfortable and like I said: only a short term solution. Not all ‘protective collar clients’ are the same though and using these collars isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are pros and cons to protective collars, all depending the situation and the long term vision. Let’s take a brief look at both sides of the story.

The collar offers protection for vital body parts (neck and throat) from predator attacks. However predators can still inflict injuries on other body parts. Collars are practically useless against brown bears.

LGDs feel more confident with a protective collar. The reason for that is because they feel insecure without the stability, cover and backup of pack members and the ever-present continuous threat of predator confrontations.

The sharp points are often used as a weapon by some LGDs. The sharp points often cause injuries to the LGD itself, other LGDs, shepherds (handlers) and livestock. This can occur during internal fights and moments of startled livestock because predators are close by. Sheep will huddle when startled and when walking tight spaced passages.

Too heavy built LGDs perform better and last longer with protective collars. Too heavy built LGDs have a higher chance of injuries. Most predators won’t be deterred or defeated by individual size, but by efficiently collaborating numbers. Winning or losing  confrontations with predators is determined by intelligence, speed, swift reactions and endurance. These individual characteristics combined in a pack, or at least two LGDs, situation provides the guardians with huge advantages.  A split second can determine life or death. LGDs should always be strong, fast, intelligent and athletic dogs.

Protective collars help to protect young, inexperienced LGDs and LGDs in underdog situations. Protecting young, inexperienced LGDs and LGDs in underdog situations is very important. Protective collars sure are a helpful tool for the time being, until the LGDs have experience, required numbers (the security of a true pack or duo).

Responsible coexistence with predators in the best possible, non-lethal way for both LGDs and predators. Requirements are a true pack of enough LGDs. There are situations where two LGD scan do the job, even when wolves are present. In some areas wolves hunt and live alone or in duo’s. Every situation is different and should be looked at separately. Knowing which predators and how many there are in your area is important. How many LGDs you need is also depending on how many and what kind livestock you have. Most traditional shepherds are free grazing nature areas with their flocks. Most of the time they have sufficient numbers of LGDs for the local situation, however not all of them have a good pack situation. In most cases the flocks are penned at night. 

More modern livestock farming involves different features. How is the property categorized. What kind of fencing and buildings are there. When dealing with wolves, LGD numbers should at least be matching, but overkill is better. Instead of providing; ‘these numbers for that situation’, I advise people to contact knowledgeable people who can help create a plan for your personal situation. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions. I can help and/or l’ll introduce you to good sources as close to the specific location as possible. 

Underdog, or no LGD, situations aren't necessarily mistakes or faults. Things can suddenly change due to increasing predator numbers and/or activity, or because people are farm &LGD starters and can’t obtain adult, experienced LGDs. They want to work with (enough) LGDs, but it will take some years to obtain sufficient LGD potential. LGDs are very valuable, therefore it is wise to supply them with protective collars in these circumstances. In addition, descent barns for night penning (preferably close by the house) and good fencing (preferably with hot wire) around (part of) the property are required.

It’s all about knowing and understanding what you’re dealing with. Keep learning and studying all features within your field of work. Those who study and learn about predators don’t want to risk their LGDs being injured or killed. There are ways to prevent that from happening, although the chance of a confrontation will never completely disappear. There are many factors involved and we can only influence some of them.

Killing or hunting predators will cause problems for shepherds and farmers in that area. Pack animals, like wolves, will likely cause more problems when their pack hierarchy is destroyed due to the killing of important, high ranked pack members. Solitary predators, like brown bears, who are killed will be replaced by new individuals. Most likely this new animal will test the difficulty degree of livestock predation. Ideally, farmers and shepherds would have to deal with the same predators for as long as possible.

With a sufficient number of good, collaborating LGDs, descent and long-term conflict prevention can be obtained and maintained. The required skills and instincts are already present in LGDs. We only have to allow them to use them and to give them the opportunity to reach full potential. The natural way, for canines, to live and handle everyday events is the pack. Fortunately, there are good examples of LGD owners and breeders. These are the people to learn from if one wants to achieve good, long term results. Shepherds and farmers with solid, efficient packs of LGDs, often produce pack raised puppies, which are valuable assets for others who need LGDs. Instinct, basic LGD fundamentals and pack interaction provide a solid base for further LGD development. LGDs are extremely valuable; priceless! Start (and continue) to work and live with them in the right way and you won’t be disappointed.