In our area, predator/livestock conflicts continue to be a concern, so many ranchers are turning to an age-old solution to these conflicts. Using livestock guardian dogs (LGD) to protect herds is becoming a common method of predator mitigation. Anatolians, Pyrenees, Kangal, and Sarplaninac are just a few of the breeds used to guard all livestock, including cattle. These dogs can be highly efficient at protecting their herd; in fact, a well-trained livestock guardian dog can even be a benefit to wildlife populations as well.
A livestock guardian dog study by Texas A&M (DPGazette.com/livestockdogs) found that, “…dogs that do not interfere with deer and keep predators away provide a safe haven for deer to rear their offspring…guardian dogs that do not disturb game birds might reduce predation and improve recruitment of their offspring.” These dogs can provide a great service for ranchers and local non-predatory species. However, as the popularity of these dogs increases, understandably, so does the chance of conflict between outdoor recreationists and livestock guardian dogs.
If you encounter a guardian dog while out recreating, remember these 3 steps:
- Stay Calm
A livestock guardian dog is often raised with its herd and trained to protect them from all threats. If you pass too close to a herd, especially on something foreign to the dog, like a bicycle, they will feel the need to protect their herd. The first and most important step is to remain calm, as this will help reassure the dog and let it know that you are not a threat. On his Cesar’s Way blog post titled ‘How To Get A Dog To Trust You’ at DPGazette.com/cesarsway Cesar Milan advises, “If you approach a dog in an excited state, it can make the dog excited and lead to an unwanted greeting, like it jumping up on you. It can also trigger a dog’s fight or flight instinct if a stranger with high energy approaches. Stay calm and speak softly.”
- Keep Your Distance
This can be slightly more difficult when public land is leased for grazing or when the herd is near the road, but do what you can to maintain a safe distance from the herd. A general rule of thumb is to give them at least 4-6 feet of space, possibly more if there are young nearby. This is beneficial in two ways; the herd remains calm and the guard dog will begin to realize that you are not a threat.
- Slow down
If you are running or riding a bike near a herd and gain the attention of the guardian dog, you may want to consider slowing down until you are out of range again. Running can activate the chasing instinct as can a bicycle. Dismount your bike, place it between you and the dog, and walk until you are out of the dog’s guard zone. A minor setback on your split times can make the interaction go much more smoothly.
Tips for Training
It is important that owners of guardian dogs take steps to help minimize conflicts as well. Proper training from an early age is especially important, as is continuing that training year after year. If owners take special care and maintain training, their dogs can be a benefit to the herd, help local wildlife populations, and minimize conflicts with outdoor enthusiasts. Some annual training exercises can include:
A properly trained livestock guardian dog will remain within close proximity of its herd; it is not possible to protect a herd from a far distance. If the grazing area is fenced, it is advisable to check the fencing often to make sure that it is secure for the herd and the guard dog. In areas where securing the fencing is not possible, walk the perimeter with the dogs and issue a correction if they stray outside of your desired boundary.
Training the dogs to recognize their herd is vital, as is general socialization. When they are puppies, keep them with the herd so that they will form a strong bond with the animals they are expected to guard. During this time, you also need to expose the dog to many different scenarios so that it can recognize threats and non-threats alike. Have someone ride a bike or walk past the herd at a safe distance while you are near and correct any undesirable behavior. Be around at times that wildlife pass through your grazing area to ensure that they are not chasing non-game or protected animals.
Livestock guardian dogs are an efficient tool for minimizing predator/livestock conflicts, and they can be beneficial members of the community if owners and the public work together to make sure that each encounter goes smoothly.