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Pinedale Online > News > September 2014 > Working Livestock Guardians

Adults. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
Three livestock guardian dogs with domestic sheep. The white dogs are Akbash (a breed from Turkey) and the tri-colored dog is a Central Asian Ovcharka.

Birth. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
A livestock protection dog (LPD) checks progress of a ewe beginning labor.

Lambing. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
Knowing that the ewe is at her most vulnerable time, a livestock protection dog (LPD) remains nearby as the lambs are born.

Tending Bums. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
Tending Bums
An adult guardian dog tends to an orphan lamb.

Social. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
Well bonded to sheep at an early age, adult guardian dogs are devoted to their charges.
Working Livestock Guardians
by Cat Urbigkit, Pinedale Online!
September 3, 2014

Domestic sheep producers throughout the western United States often use livestock guardian dogs to protect their flocks from predators. Hikers, hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts may encounter the dogs and their herds while on public land. Livestock producers using public lands do not want hikers being frightened by livestock guardian dogs, so here's a few pointers on what to do if you encounter the dogs, as well as a photo essay that shows how the dogs are raised to protect their herds.

Most livestock guardian dogs used in the American West do not perceive humans as a threat to the herd – that is, unless a strange human is approaching the herd. In most cases, when a strange human is encountered on the range, the guardian’s reaction is going to be an attempt to intimidate the intruder. That means raised hackles and tail, and loud barking as the dog rushes toward the intrusion. I’ve encountered dozens (if not hundreds) of working guardian dogs in my travels here and in many countries abroad, and I’ve always stood quietly, talking to the dogs until they realize I’m not a threat
and go back to their sheep. I would never attempt to hike through the middle of a sheep herd I randomly encountered on the range. Skirting around the herd is appropriate.

Generally, if you are on foot, horseback, or an all-terrain vehicle and come close to sheep, a livestock protection dog should have time to see and/or hear you approach and recognize that you are not a threat to the livestock. But a rapidly approaching mountain biker, suddenly surprising the livestock protection dog, may appear to be a threat. Stop, get off the bike while keeping it between the dog and your body, and talk to the dog so it can recognize you are a human.

Hikers with domestic dogs may be perceived as a greater threat. An unleashed dog encountering sheep likely will be perceived as a predator, which could cause an aggressive confrontation with the livestock protection dog. Uncontrolled domestic dogs are the top killer of livestock in America, and a guardian dog's job is to keep these animals from harming the herd.

People hiking and biking on western rangelands are encouraged to carry pepper spray and be knowledgeable about how to use it. Pepper spray works on many animals that can be perceived as threatening – from bears and mountain lions, to dogs.

In some ares of the west, federal agencies post signs for the public that warn of the presence of livestock protection dogs, describe their purpose, and provide pointers for what to do when encountering these animals with their herds. The Colorado Wool Growers Association provides the following recommendations for hikers and bikers:

• Keep your dog on a leash and never allow your dog to harass the sheep

• Watch for livestock protection dogs near sheep (usually large white or tan dogs)

• Remain calm if a livestock protection dog approaches

• Stop and get off of your bike, put your bike between you and the dog

• Tell the dog to "go back to the sheep"

• Walk your bike until well past the sheep

• Keep your distance from the sheep

• Choose the least disruptive route around the sheep

• If the sheep are trailing, wait for them to pass

• Chase or harass the sheep or dogs

• Try to outrun the dogs

• Throw things at the dogs

• Make quick movements

• Feed the dogs

• Take a dog with you

• Attempt to befriend or pet the dog

Livestock guardian dogs are generally viewed as effective, non-lethal predator deterrents. Producers who use guardian dogs report far fewer losses to predators than producers who do not use guardian animals.

Fleece. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
Pups are given shorn wool or a sheep's fleece as bedding material before their eyes are opened. Later on when the pups meet sheep, the pups will recognize the smell, of the sheep with the warmth and comfort of the natal den.

Introduction. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
Pups are introduced to young lambs.

Raised Together. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
Raised Together
Pups are given free access to sheep from an early age. One method is to raise lambs and pups together.

Spending Time. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
Spending Time
The pups spend all their time with sheep, but are petted, fed, and praised by the sheep owner to ensure easy handling of the dogs later on.

Sneaker. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
The pups naturally gravitate to meeting the adult sheep – both rams and ewes. Sheep raised with guardian dogs understand the pups pose no danger.

Well Guarded Ram. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
Well Guarded Ram
A well-guarded range ram.

PupEweGrazing. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
A young pup "guarding" a ewe while she grazes.

Astride. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
A ewe is careful not to step on her "guardian."

PupEweNap. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
A pup wakens from a nap with an adult ewe.

Continues. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
The close relationships continue as both the lambs and the dogs mature.

Herd Guardian. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
Herd Guardian
The next time you encounter a herd of domestic sheep grazing under the supervision of guardian dogs, you can reflect on the life-long bond between the animals.

Adults. Photo by Cat Urbigkit.
Sheep that have been raised with guardian dogs readily accept new guardians after a supervised introduction.
Pinedale Online > News > September 2014 > Working Livestock Guardians

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