Posts Tagged ‘livestock guardian dog’

great pyrenees

She was one quarter Maremma and three quarters Great Pyrenees. She was as white a snowdrift by genetics, but life among the sheep and the thick mud meant she always was stained a little grayish brown.

Her abdomen was distended now, and her nipples were now hairless and hanging pink with milk.  She was in the final days of her nine-week pregnancy, and she had spent much of the last month locked up in the shed behind the master’s house. She pined for her charges, the nice flock of Katahdin sheep that grazed the hill pastures that spanned out across the big acreage. All day, she and her companions patrolled the pastures, scenting the air and barking at any sort of danger that might be coming their way.

Her name was Grace, and she worked with two other dogs. The massive Badger, who was full Great Pyrenees and the father of the young in her womb, and her own half-Maremma mother, Isobel, who had since been spayed and left to full-time guard duty,  ambled along the fence edges. And when the heat of the day took its toll on the big hairy dogs, they would lie about in the shade and position themselves so that wind blew toward their nostrils and that the could see any forest edges where the blasted coyotes lurked.

Life had been good with the sheep. The meals were readily coming. The work pace was avuncular and steady, and the dogs lived out fine lives among the sheep. The winter snows and driving rains didn’t faze such ruggedly constructed canines. Only the summer heat and mugginess got them down.

These dogs grow close to their charges. They come to see the sheep as part of their pack, and although a sheep is far less sagacious than a dog, a dog can come to see sheep as something that must be protected from the horrors of the world. Those horrors come mostly in the way of sheep-killing coyotes and wayward dogs that become so stimulated with the lupine predatory behavior when they set themselves among the flocks that they often surplus kill.

Dogs and coyotes, though, respect other dogs, especially those that are much larger than average and bark with deep growling bellows across the farmland. So they usually avoid slinking among pastures where these big guard dogs are residence. It’s easier to kill chickens out of a clueless homesteader’s yard or lift little fawns from the multiflora rose coverts than to risk a fight with a guard dog.

And so the wiser farmers have set about getting these Old World guardian breeds. To the uninitiated, their doe-eyes and heavy coats give them the appearance of being nothing more than a larger version of an English golden retriever or a very pale-colored St. Bernard.  But behind those docile eyes is the instinct of a true guardian, a dog that will stand up and fight if it feels its charges are threatened.

But the droopy ears and shorter muzzle and that sweet, soft expression of the dog just isn’t threatening to the sheep. And that is the point. The goal is to have a dog that the sheep trust, so they will graze out in the pastures with the dogs milling about and patrolling and will not rush about in terror just because a dog is there.

On the dogs’ side, too, they have such a heavy threshold to stimulate predatory behavior. So much so, that if you were throw a ball for one these dogs, it would look at, pant, and then turn its head as it looked for a place to lie down. Such dogs are calm with the sheep and the best of them are never even remotely stimulated to chase or spook their charges.

These dogs work well, and farmers want them, especially those farmers who want to sell “predator friendly” meat to the public or who feel some deep ethical obligation to avoid killing coyotes.

And so this farmer, a simple hobbyist whose main profession was as an attorney in the little shire town down there road, decided to breed a litter of Great Pyrenees every couple of years.  He knew the pups would sell pretty well, and he knew that most of the farmers around him simply could not afford to buy purebred stock of that breed.

So he bred from crosses that worked well and generally scoffed at the hobbyists who told him he was ruining breeds by doing such things.

Grace was now heavily pregnant, and the lawyer knew that his bitch in whelp could not be risked in the pastures. So he moved her to that shed behind his house, and Grace howled like a lonely wolf all the night long. She did so for the first week, but regular leash walking after work gave Grace her exercise and eased her worry enough that she no longer howled from the shed.

In the back of the shed, the lawyer set up an enclosure at the back of the shed, where the big white dog could whelp on clean straw.

And so the lawyer checked on her one last time on that cooling August night. Her heavy panting told the story. Puppies would be coming soon, probably in the collied darkness of the night.

The lights in the house went dark. The air grew soft and still. In the distance, Badger and Isobel barked a few half-hearted warnings at any coyotes that might be lurking about. A sheep or two bleated The katydids filled the air with their hot stridulations, beating out the tensity of a cadence that come from some ethereal maraccas

Grace pushed out the first squealing pup and licked him clean of his afterbirth. She ate the placenta and bit off the umbilical cord, and the first pup of the litter squeaked and mewed and scutter-crawled his way to his mother’s milk. He was badger marked on the head just like his father.

Another pup came 15 minutes. He was solid white like his mother. Another came 20 minutes after that one. It was also badger marked but female.

And the pups came all through the blackness of night, squealing and mewing as they writhed away from that state of fetus to the state of puppy and situated themselves on their mother’s warm milk bar.

The last two pups were born as the soft red light of dawn filtered down upon the countryside. There were 13 in all. 6 were male. 7 were female. And all were ether latched onto the their mother’s dugs, sucking in the gallons of that acrid colostrum, or wriggling about wildly to make sure they got a good helping.

The lawyer heard their squeals from the open bathroom window, when he rose to take his morning urination. He ran out of the house in his wife-beater and boxer shorts and flicked the light to illuminate the shed.

Thirteen puppies born. That would mean lots of work monitoring the puppies and making sure they didn’t starve or become too cold.

But Grace would do most of the work for the first month or so. He would just have to be her assistant.

And so on the early morning glow of an August morning, a new set of guardians entered the world. They were helpless and blind and deaf, and one good cold snap would wipe them off the face of the earth. But they were writhing and wriggling little larval forms of the canine, and soon the miracle of time would knit them into proper puppies, cute little things that most people would want to buy for their children.

But not these dogs. Cute though they would be, they would have that guardian’s savagery deep within their psyches. They would grow to be white and lackadaisical dogs on the surface. But their eyes and ears and noses would always be casting for coming danger.

And if it arrived, they rise as growling, roaring bears of dogs, fellest of fell beasts, and meet the sheep killers on the green battleground.

But for now, they would nurse as the helpless beings of newborn canines. Their mother’s watchful eye and warm milk would be their main sustainers, but so would the lawyer’s constant monitoring of their lives and weights and condition.

One day, though, the majority of them would be among the pastured sheep or goats in the field, casting their noses and eyes for danger and booming out the barks of true guard dogs.

It would just take time for them to grow into their forms and into their nature.

That is the way of all puppies, after all. Even these very special ones that stand to as guards for the bleating hoofed stock mus be puppies before they become dogs.

And for right now, they were just barely puppies, and all they could do is nurse and squeal and mew and stay warm and survive. And begin that solemn process of growth and learning that would turn them into true useful dogs.

The journey had only just begun.












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In this article about Ryan Bokyo collecting DNA samples from village dogs throughout the world,  I found this amazing quote:

“It was also a good thing this collaborator was used to dealing with large mammals since the shepherds’ dogs near the [Lebanese] border with Syria were very large and not used to handling,” he adds. “There were also enormous guard dogs in that area. After the DNA was analyzed, we found out one of these dogs was actually a full-blooded wolf.”

In Lebanon, the wolf sometimes guards the sheep.

This wolf was probably raised from a pup to live with the livestock guardian dogs, and it adopted their mores and “culture,” which involves considering sheep as part of the family group and doing the utmost to protect them from predation.

I’d like to see how Coppinger would handle that one. In his theory, only dogs that have been bred to have no predatory behavior can ever be livestock guardian dogs. Exactly how many wolves have undergone that selection pressure?

There are no dogs that will never exhibit predatory behavior. There are only dogs that have a lowered tendency to exhibit it  and that have also learned from other dogs what the proper behavior is.  And those same dogs have to have bonded with the stock at some point. Otherwise, why would any dog consider a sheep part of its family group?





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That is Ralph Wolf in that clip, not Wile E. Coyote.

I don’t know what Sam Sheepdog’s breed is.

My vote is South Russian ovtcharka.

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