Prepare Livestock Guardian Dogs For Summer

Sheep! Preview Story from the May/June 2017 Issue

“Trees, tall shrubs, or manmade structures can give a dog and your flock shade and a respite from the brutal heat.”

“Trees, tall shrubs, or manmade structures can give a dog and your flock shade and a respite from the brutal heat.”

Originally published in the May/June 2017 issue of Sheep! magazine. Subscribe for more great stories! 

©2016 Brenda M. Negri
Cinco Deseos Ranch LGDs
www.lgdnevada.com

Longer and warmer days are often a time to rejoice in many parts of the USA where winter is a snowbound affair of many months. Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs), like other creatures, need some pre-summer preparation, care and maintenance. Just like winter, summer can bring its own challenges for working dogs. An overheated, miserable dog will not have its mind on guarding duties. Instead, it’ll be on surviving the heat wave and keeping cool. In the heat of the day, LGDs will need rest and sleep, as they’ll be busier at night fending off predators, which are more active in the cooler hours.

Here are some recommendations for keeping your guardian dogs comfortable and healthy when the temperatures begin to rise.

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Shade and Cool Water

It should go without saying that in the heat of summer, a working LGD must have 24/7 access to clean, preferably cool water to drink from, just like the sheep flock.

All animals need hydration when it’s hot. Don’t deny them that life-sustaining drink. Likewise, if you’re in back-cooking triple digits for months on end, don’t expect your LGD to be able to survive it, or be able to work at peak form without some adequate shade.

Overheated dogs will not have their minds on their jobs. They’ll eventually lapse into exhaustion and survival mode. If left without respite from the sun’s burning rays and without adequate water, a dog will shut down, and eventually succumb to heat stroke and in worse case scenarios, death.

There’s no reason for letting this happen.

A shade shelter can be easily built from old pallets or shade cloth that can give a hard-working LGD the shade it needs. One of my personal favorite summer solutions is the $9.99 plastic kiddie wading pool available at Walmart and many other retailers. My dogs not only drink from them, they will step in, cool off their feet and legs, or even lie down in the water to cool off. Doing so reduces their body temperatures drastically. I typically get two to three seasons from one pool, so it’s an economical solution.

Guardian Dogs

An inexpensive “kiddie pool” makes a good drinking trough and a fast-relief cooling bath on hot days.

Coat Care

Did you know most Livestock Guardian Dog breeds have a double or triple coat of hair? Even short-haired breeds such as Spanish Mastiffs, Akbash, Kangals, and Anatolians have a soft, almost downy and thick undercoat. They’ll “blow” their winter coat in the spring, as the softer undercoat begins to loosen and comes up and can be plucked, combed or brushed out. There’s a reason for these coat layers. The layers enable warm air to be trapped next to the dog’s body in winter, keeping it warm.

When spring arrives and a dog begins to shed its undercoat, the longer guard hairs remain and are what keep the hot sun’s rays from overheating the dog and burning its skin. This is why most professional groomers of long-haired breeds will recommend NOT shaving a dog completely in the summer. Instead of shaving the dog entirely, what’s often done instead is an underside/underbelly trim or shave, where the sun’s rays don’t hit the dog’s skin as they do the back.

Breeds such as Great Pyrenees and Maremmas have “pantaloons” or “petticoats”—longer hair located on their rear legs at the base of their tail. These can be combed out and trimmed lightly to allow fresh air to circulate.

But the topside of an LGD should never be shaved down short. If shaved down to the skin, it actually makes it harder for the dog to stay cool because they lose that precious insulation of the longer hair, and their skin is exposed to the sun’s boiling rays.

Foot Care

Keeping toenails trimmed is a regular chore that nonetheless needs to be done in order to keep your dog comfortable. Breeds with extra rear dewclaws—either solo or in pairs—need to have those trimmed regularly as well. If left to grow unchecked, they can grow into a dog’s skin, causing him great pain.

The following handy chart shows how to trim a dog’s nails in a safe manner. LGDs should have their feet handled from puppyhood to accustom them to having their toes and nails examined.

The chart shows how to safely trim back long nails on a dog.

In some parts of the country, the dreaded foxtail is a regular scourge of mid to late summer. These pesky seeds are shaped like their namesake with a sharp pointed end. Once stuck between a dog’s toes, the sharp point can puncture flesh and work its way into the dog’s skin, and travel throughout its body, often coming out elsewhere. Have a good pair of tweezers handy to pluck them out between toes.

Another way to lessen their getting between toes is to take snub-nosed scissors and carefully trim the long hairs between each toe. On longer haired LGD breeds, you’ll find the toe hairs act like magnets for foxtails. Trimming the hair—and keeping it shorter—lessens the foxtail’s ability to enter the toe area and become stuck.

Guardian Dogs Nail Care

1. The “quick” supplies blood to the toe nail.
2. Left untrimmed, the quick lengthens. Trimmed at the blue arrow, the blood supply shortens. Trimmed at the pink arrow, the nail bleeds and is still too long.

Guardian Dogs Nail Care

3. Trimmed a little every few days, the nail’s blood supply recedes.
4. The shorter the nail, the shorter its quick.

Guardian Dogs Nail Care

5. Only nails kept short can be trimmed close without bleeding. The same cut made on image two above would bleed.
6. A correctly trimmed toenail.

Eyes and Ears

Foxtails can also lodge into a dog’s ears and eyes, causing great pain and discomfort. If a foxtail travels too far into an ear canal, an expensive trip to the vet is usually in store. Daily inspection of eyes and ears is a “must-do” in foxtail country.

If you run livestock in a dust prone area, make sure your dog’s eyes are clear, and not runny, or pus-filled. Wiping them clean with a damp cloth can help remove particles and dust.

Fleas, Ticks, Ear Mites

In tick, flea or ear mite-prone areas, regular inspections for these unwanted pests is a necessity: Ear mite infestations sometimes are mistaken for ear infections.

If a dog shakes its head often and scratches its ears continually, check them. An ear mite infestation often looks like a dark, almost “coffee ground” substance within the ear. Mites can often be curtailed by squirting a small amount of mineral oil into the infected ear; the mites suffocate in the oil and die.

Ticks and fleas are usually easily spotted with close inspection. Check behind ears and in the groin area of a dog.

By laying a dog on its back, you can run your fingers over its stomach area, parting the hair, and can usually see fleas or their feces on the skin and in the hair. Fleas and ticks can be curtailed by using collars, liquid drops, powders or sprays. There are several holistic and non-toxic remedies as well.

Ticks can harbor disease and should be prevented, so your dog remains healthy and fit. A veterinarian can also prescribe what’s best for your area.

Feeding in the Heat

Many dogs experience a reduced appetite in warmer weather. During the “dog days of summer” your LGD may not need as many calories to keep warm or full. Some LGD owners cut back all corn or grain based kibbles during the heat of summer. If a dog’s feed is too “hot”, just like a horse, he can suffer skin maladies or hair loss. To keep a dog’s coat from drying out and glistening there are many recommended oils, such as fish oil or coconut oil, to add to a dog’s diet and help the dog’s hair from becoming too brittle and dry in the heat.

LGDs will typically want to eat in the cool of the morning and after the sun goes down, during the cooler evening hours. Consult with your veterinarian on recommended dog food types and brands to feed in hot weather.

Hot weather months need not be so dreaded if the operator will take the time to “prep” his flock guardians for the coming warm months. Your dogs will thank you for it by suffering less and being better able to perform their jobs “in the good old summertime.”

Originally published in the May/June 2017 issue of Sheep! magazine. Subscribe for more great stories! 

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