By Brenda M. Negri
In my previous article (“The Aging LGD: Caring for Senior Livestock Guardian Dogs,” sheep!, September/October, 2017, p. 36), we saw how important it is to bring in younger dogs to replace elder Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD) before “old timers” get past their prime.
Many operators incorrectly start their LGD experience by purchasing, training, and using just one dog at a time. They usually find out sooner than later, they should have bought two dogs or more to start. To be used successfully as guardians of livestock, LGDs should be run in pairs or more.
A ravenous wolf pack or bear will make a short order meal of just one LGD. Bottom line: There’s strength in numbers.
Eventually the shepherd realizes he must add more dogs but often is afraid to, or confused on how best to do it.
I’ve run as many as 25 adult LGDs at one time. That’s an exceptional number of dogs to be running together safely and cohesively as a family pack. It has offered me a wonderful opportunity to learn about canine pack life, canine body language and understand dogs more deeply.
In my dog pack, lactating females will often assist in babysitting litters and allow pups from another litter to suckle them. Puppies mingle with adults and other litters. There’s very little conflict and no separation of dogs in a well-adjusted pack.
This depth of intermingling is similar to what’s seen in wolf packs. It only comes about when a domestic dog pack is a content and confident family unit. That comes about when owners, in the role of pack “parent” and leader, trust their dogs.
The Pack as a Unit
A pack provides support, security and psychological and physical development for growing pups. It also provides safety for all, from newborn pups to aged, elderly dogs. The shepherd must understand that the groundwork for adding a new canine to an established LGD pack begins with preparation that starts long before the new pup arrives.
The biggest problem I see with LGD owners today is that they’re afraid to trust their dogs. One often fails to grasp the true nature of a Livestock Guardian Dog breed, good specimens of which are highly intelligent, perceptive and work heavily off of their innate nurturing instinct. They don’t need constant obedience commands and direction from the owner.
It’s all too natural for human beings to feel responsible and to micro-manage and over-control one’s guardian dogs by issuing commands for the simplest tasks. A command to go through a gate for example, instead of using direct, simple body language that would facilitate the action in an easier, straightforward manner: If we fail to trust the dog, the dog never trusts us. It’s a vicious circle and causes confusion, multiple training issues, and other problems.
Dog Adding Tips
From years of experience, here are my tips on how to successfully add new pups or adult dogs to an established pack of LGDs:
1. Buy and use only legitimate LGD breeds.—This cannot be stressed enough. Purchase only legitimate LGD breeds or crosses of LGD breeds. Not much need be said about this obvious fact to the experienced or lifelong shepherd, who knows what “real” LGDs are—and what they aren’t.
However, there are squadrons of relative neophytes in for example, the hobby farming world who are convinced their “Samoyed x Great Pyrenees cross” or “Labrador x Chow cross” is a “legit” LGD. They aren’t. And they can pose serious threats to livestock because of prey drive and lack of guarding instinct.
Risky crosses like those and others have no place in a guardian dog pack and cause more problems than they solve.
2. Respect the dog family pack dynamic.—A healthy, working dog pack is a family. It’s not stagnant. It changes through aging, births, and deaths. That’s what makes adding a pup or an older dog possible and totally natural. It’s not based on an “alpha” ruling the pack.
3. The shepherd as pack parent and leader, not “alpha.”—The “pack parent” (that is, the owner, who is also the leader) sets the tone that will determine if this is a content, confident, well-adjusted family pack of solid, balanced dogs, or a dysfunctional family of frightened, confused dogs, afraid of their own shadows, afraid to be touched by humans, and suspicious of and aggressive towards any new additions. (Recommended reading material at the end of this article has a lot to say about this).
4. Owner as wise, benevolent leader.—A strong pack leader doesn’t bully or raise his voice. He speaks to his dogs in a normal tone. A strong pack leader is calm, confident, quiet and respectful. There are no “alpha rolls” or the use of cruel gimmicks like PVC pipe “yokes” or shock collars.
Adding to a pack can be done with little if any drama and stress when a shepherd practices compassionate and magnanimous leadership. It’s important to be a part of their pack family, not a harsh disciplinarian who only commands and rebukes.
5. Understand and correctly interpret canine body language; learn how to use it to communicate with your dogs.—Body language, tone of voice and facial expressions from the shepherd will be what sends the right (and wrong) signals to dogs.
Shepherds need to learn to understand their dogs’ body language and be mindful of the signals sent by their dogs and by themselves.
Don’t know about canine body language? It is fascinating. Learn about it, because understanding it can make all the difference between failure and success with LGDs.
Books highly recommended for learning about canine body language are included at the end of this article.
6. Importance of patience and trust.—Give all dogs time to adjust. And be willing to adjust expectations. Be flexible and understanding.
This means letting go of controlling and micromanaging every move the pup or the pack makes during introductions. Let the dogs show what they can do on their own. Give the dogs the freedom to move around and send the right body language to each other in order to effect a calm introduction with the new addition.
Many people fail to trust their dogs, and by not trusting their dogs, in turn their dogs do not trust them.
The shepherd must trust his dogs, and the dogs must trust the shepherd, or it is all for naught. Remember LGDs are independent thinkers of a nurturing nature, that by instinct protect stock from predators. Learn to trust that instinct.
7. Timing is everything; bring the new dog in on a calm day with as few distractions going on as possible.—Choose a day when the weather is calm (i.e., no howling winds, extreme heat or cold, storms, etc.). Pick a day for introductions that is not rife with special projects, visitors to the farm, drama or work pressure. Choose the best time of the day, based on when dogs are rested and not overly exhausted from working.
8. Chose an open area in which to make introductions.—Dogs will feel uneasy and trapped in a small, closed-in area and may have the urge to flee. Bring the new pup or dog into an open space area of the front yard or barnyard that’s open and clear when bringing in the new pup to greet the pack. Don’t begin introductions against a building or a wall or in a corner. Make sure that any dog in the pack can easily move away or leave at leisure without running into a closed gate or a wall that impedes its exit.
9. Sit down.—One of the most efficient ways to show dogs calm and trust is to use the right body language. Grab a chair and sit down in the open area during introductions; this powerful calming signal will assist in relaxing the pack and the owner.
10. Let the pack come to the new addition.—Don’t take the pup to the pack. Let your existing dogs come to the new pup on their own time and terms. Most dogs will immediately, if not very soon, come investigate a newcomer in their world. 11. If a reprimand is needed, try my “Mr. Miyagi grunt.”—In the popular movie The Karate Kid, Pat Morita plays Mr. Miyagi, the humble, unassuming black belt karate master who teaches his protégé, “Daniel-san” the martial arts. I have a special way of rebuking my dogs here, a deep, short guttural growl, or as I refer to it, “my Mr. Miyagi Grunt”—the deep guttural noise Morita made in the movie when admonishing Daniel-san.
Learn how to tell a dog it has done the wrong thing by using what I call “the hard eye”: Staring firmly at the dog, in the eyes, with a hard gaze. Combined with the guttural grunt, my dogs know this means business and stop immediately what they are doing that merited the scolding.
12. Adult dog additions to an established pack are where the owner’s calmness, trust, and previous groundwork will pay off.—I reinforce trust in my dogs by letting the new dog intermingle with the pack immediately. No separation for hours, days or weeks, no tethering up and no kenneling apart from the pack. This requires trust on the part of the shepherd.
Learn to let go and trust; for some operators, this is very difficult to do, but makes all the difference in the world. Do not micromanage or try to control every move the adult dog makes.
Understand that ritualized aggression—that is, play-type aggressive behavior that’s played out under strict rules of engagement within a pack of dogs, only goes so far. Allow pack members to exercise this right. If aggression between the pack members and the new dog goes too far, step in with “the hard eye” and a “Mr. Miyagi grunt”.
13. Once the new LGD has met the pack and it is obvious they are accepting the new addition, allow the new dog to accompany the others to livestock.—The owner needs to go into the livestock with the pack.
Take a walk with the pack around the perimeter of the paddock or field. Do this at least once daily, preferably more, so the new addition understands what its new turf is and knows that the shepherd is part of the team.
Encourage the new pup when it shows affection with livestock, with positive reinforcement. Keep it casual, let the dog meander and explore with pack members.
The shepherd’s current pack of dogs and how they were raised from puppyhood will dictate success or struggle in bringing in new pups and dogs. The time to begin planning for new arrivals is before the operator needs more dogs—not the day they arrive.
Build that foundation of trust with patience and respect.
Take the time to learn and use canine body language and how to communicate using physical signals to dogs.
By doing advance work, the shepherd can make adding dogs to an existing pack a “non-event” instead of a stressful drama.
• Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook, by Barbara Handelman, M.Ed. CDBC, Woof and Word Press.
• On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, by Turid Rugaas, Dogwise Publications.
• The Truth About Wolves and Dogs: Dispelling The Myths of Dog Training, by Toni Shelbourne, Hubble & Hattie Press.
• De-Bunking the Alpha Dog Theory: Exerting “dominance” over your dog is the wrong way to build a good relationship, by Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, CDBC, Whole Dog Journal, December 2011.
• “The Numbers Game: Guardian Dog Pack Size Affects Success,” by Brenda M. Negri, sheep!, May/June, 2013, pp. 50-52.
©2017 by Brenda M. Negri a decades-long rancher who raises and trains livestock guardian dogs at Cinco Deseos Ranch in Nevada.
Originally published in the November/December 2017 issue of sheep!.