More than 80 percent of the people who raise sheep in the United States maintain their flocks in fenced pastures during all or part of the year. It is predicted that the greatest growth in the sheep-raising industry will come from pastured flocks of sheep. Although the magnitude of predator losses is often smaller on pastures than in open range operations, the result from losses can be severe. The use of dogs to protect fenced livestock is a workable technique and is currently being used successfully by hundreds of producers.
The following potential benefits associated with using a guarding dog.
1. Reduced risk of attacks by predators. Significantly reduces the potential for predators to harm sheep.
2. Reduces labor (i.e., no longer confining or corralling sheep nightly, sheep graze in a tighter flock, thus they are easier to monitor)
3. If night confinement is discontinued, pastures can be more efficiently utilized and the condition of sheep may improve.
4. Increases utilization of acres where predators made grazing prohibitive prior to the use of dogs
5. Increase in acres for grazing may provide the opportunity to increase the size of the flock.
6. Improved use of acres and greater control of the sheep enhances the potential for increased profit
7. Immediate alerts as dogs alert owners to disturbances by predators near the flock.
8. Increased self-reliance in managing predator problems.
9. Sheep owner’s peace of mind.
10. Protection for family members and farm property.
We recommend the following steps if you choose to make Caucasian Ovcharka to be The Guardian for your flocks and farm.
It would be advantageous to be able to select a pup from a litter based on key behavioral characteristics and have a reasonable assurance that, with proper rearing, the dog would perform the guarding task well as an adult. One researcher determined that the basic temperament of young pups remains with them throughout their lives, and that general temperament can be assessed at 6 to 8 weeks of age. However, it has also been observed that temperament can vacillate and be unstable in a 4- to 18-month- old dog.
Several points concerning puppy behavior need attention. We recommend selecting a pup that is not timid but appears self-confident and alert. Observe the pup’s behavior both with and apart from people and littermates. A pup should bark as an expression of aggressiveness or suspicion but not fear. Often in the field, the dog that is submissive to people, but aggressive to other dogs retains an affinity for sheep. A shy pup may gain confidence when placed with another dog. A dog that is shy around people may show appropriate aggression to predators and have a strong bond with sheep, but the chances for success are probably greater by selecting a self-confident pup.
Most dogs display positive traits within the first 3 to 8 months of life. Although some traits may develop with maturity, most good guarding dogs will show promise at a young age. When the dog reaches a certain level of maturity, it will begin to display territorial and protective behaviors toward predators threatening the flock. This level of maturity can vary; there is no predetermined age when an adolescent dog can be expected to become an effective guardian.
Male or Female?
There is no difference between the success of males and females as a farm dog. Making a selection on the sex of the pup is a matter of personal preference. However, to avoid future problems, consider the sex of other dogs used in the livestock operation. If all dogs are neutered, gender may become unimportant.
Also, there is no significant difference in the rate of success between intact versus neutered dogs. But if you decided to do it - we strongly recommend spaying females not before 18 months of age (extra large breed need time to get mature, otherwise your female just start to gain too much weight) and neutering males at about 12 months of age.
How Many Dogs?
The characteristics of each sheep operation will dictate the number of dogs required for effective protection from predators. The performance of individual dogs will differ. Some experienced dogs may effectively patrol several hundred acres containing hundreds of sheep, while younger dogs may not cover as much territory.
The type and number of predators and the intensity of the predators will help dictate how many dogs are needed. Range operations often use two dogs, but if the predator is a grizzly bear, even several dogs may not be able to deter it. The topography and habitat of the pasture must also be considered. Relatively flat, open areas can be adequately covered by one dog. When brush, timber, ravines, and hills are part of the pasture, several dogs may be required, particularly if the sheep are scattered. The behavior of the sheep is important also in determining the number of dogs needed. Sheep that flock and form a cohesive unit, especially at night (a typical time for predators), can be protected by one dog more effectively than sheep that are continually scattered and bedded in a number of locations. If ram lambs graze in a scattered fashion, and the pasture contains rock outcrops and brush that provide cover for coyotes, an older, experienced dog might provide more effective protection for the lambs than the young dog, but in this situation, two dogs would be more desirable.
However, we generally recommend starting with a single dog and adding a second dog after the first is well established. Once the experienced dog has developed an effective working pattern, it can become a role model for an untrained (but previously socialized to sheep) dog. The younger dog will mimic the older, more experienced dog and learn the routine of protecting the flock.
A pair of guarding dogs with behaviors that are complementary is a most desirable tandem. For example, one dog is aggressive and routinely patrols a wide area around the sheep. The second dog usually remains close to the flock and responds aggressively only when the flock is directly confronted by a predator. It is rather common for two dogs to exhibit complementary behaviors in this manner.
Adding too many additional dogs to the flock may also cause problems. If one of the dogs displays inappropriate behaviors, then the other dogs may adopt them too. These behaviors may include aggression to the sheep, inattentiveness to the sheep and roaming which is the most common potential problem with multiple dogs. Roaming may be more common with multiple dogs than single dogs and clearly can be a significant problem in many situations. The appropriate training and neutering can help reduce roaming. We recommend that first-time users of a guarding dog begin with a single pup. No amount of reading and studying the manuals can take the place of hands-on experience. If additional dogs are needed, they can be added later.
Dog–Sheep Interactions, Rearing and Socialization
The goal with a new puppy is to channel its natural instincts to produce a mature guardian dog with the desired characteristics. This can best be accomplished by early and continued association with sheep to produce a bond between the dog and sheep. If this bond is not developed, the dog may not stay with the sheep. The optimum age to bring the pup home is between 7 and 9 weeks of age. Introduce the pup immediately to the lambs, even place the puppy in a pen with couple of them. A pup that has been removed recently from littermates and the frequent association of humans may not want to remain in a pen with lambs. That would help, if you will be rearing sheep together with the pup and give it your support for the first few times. You would have better success in introducing two pups together or with an older dog.
The ideal place to rear a pup is in a small pen or corral from which it cannot escape. If the pup is able to leave its designated area, the pup will be inclined to escape and return to the kennel, home, and people and becomes progressively stronger. If the pup is unable to escape, the bond with sheep may develop faster. If a particular sheep is overly aggressive to the pup, it should be removed and replaced with other sheep.
Most pups are submissive toward lambs, particularly during their first encounters. Later, as the pups and lambs become accustomed to each other, some pups solicit play from the lambs. The lambs respond either by moving away or by briefly butting or romping with the pups.
Some dogs show a great deal of interest in grooming lambs and may spend several minutes licking them, especially around the face, ears, and urogenital region. This grooming behavior of the dog may strengthen the dog-to-sheep bond.
Socialization in dogs is a developmental phase during which permanent emotional attachments are easily and rapidly formed. Data from one study suggest that the process begins at 3 weeks, peaks at 6 to 8 weeks, and levels off by 16 weeks. After 16-20 weeks, socialization may never be satisfactorily achieved. A dog left in kennels beyond this time may be permanently shy and may have difficulty adjusting to later changes in its environment (a syndrome often termed kennelosis).
Some breeders allow 4-week-old litters to be in the company of young lambs with good results. Body contact between dog and sheep enhances the formation of a strong bond. Separating littermates soon after 7 weeks is desirable. The lone pup seeks companion ship from the sheep, when it is also removed from the intralitter hierarchy. For pups that have been continually dominated by littermates, this solitary experience, which, in effect, places them at the top of the social ladder, can encourage the development of confidence.
Some pups exhibit “pack” behavior in groups of three or more. A pack will often include sheep in its play; including torn ears, pulled wool, and even more serious injuries can result. Rough play is detrimental to the sheep, and it promotes highly undesirable pup behavior. It is a potentially serious problem and must be closely monitored. However, some gentle play behavior with sheep can be tolerated and may even enhance the bond of the dog to sheep.
If a pup plays too much or becomes too aggressive with the sheep, several corrective measures should be taken. Pups learn rapidly at an early age, and a brief shaking by the scruff of the neck and the command “NO” can be an effective reprimand. Excessive playfulness can sometimes be controlled by using larger lambs that will not tolerate as much playful puppy behavior. If a pup can’t be trusted alone with sheep, another alternative is to separate the pup from the lambs in a nearby pen. This should be viewed as a temporary measure lasting from several days to several weeks. During this period, the pup can be released with sheep under supervision.
Training and Obedience for Farm Dog.
Teaching some obedience to dogs is important. A dog should understand what “NO” means and should cease whatever it is doing when the command is given. Use this command (or one similar to it) whenever the dog does something that is definitely wrong (e.g., chewing on a sheep, chasing a sheep or vehicle, and jumping on a person). You want the command to be heeded promptly, so don’t use it carelessly. Consistency is the key to your success.
A dog should also be taught to come when it is called. There are few things more annoying to you and potentially more dangerous for the dog than being unable to catch the dog when you need to. Maintaining proper health (i.e., vaccinations) and properly managing the sheep depend on being able to get your hands on the dog when necessary. If you expect the dog to consistently respond to “Come,” make sure the dog receives a pleasant experience when it obeys. Don’t use the command to call the dog to you so you can reprimand it for some other misbehavior. If you need to reprimand the dog, go to it and give the correction.
Some owners teach their dogs additional commands. However, it is important to remember that by nature guarding dogs are independent and are without human supervision during most of their working life. Although they can be obedience trained, we question the value of teaching commands that may have little utility for the working dog. Excessive or unnecessary obedience training may tend to strengthen the dog-to-human bond and disrupt the dog-to-sheep bond.
Some owners teach their dogs no commands. We feel this is a mistake. You should at least be able to catch your dog.
Various methods of teaching obedience may provide satisfactory results. Several points are noteworthy. Owners should be consistent and decisive when giving commands and expect a consistent response from the dog. Dogs are praised for correct behavior and, rather than verbally or physically reprimanding a puppy, for incorrect response praise is withheld. This positive approach will often achieve the desired results and will avoid the possibility of causing the pup to become shy or fearful of people. Some dogs do not take harsh punishment well. Proper corrections will not cause even the most subordinate pup to become shy as long as the pup is praised more than it is reprimanded.
In some instances a verbal reprimand is not sufficient to get the dog’s attention. A light swat with a rolled-up newspaper may be in order. The intent is to get the dog’s attention, not hurt it. Once a correction is given, the dog should be shown the correct and desired behavior, then praised when it responds properly. The handler should ensure that a pleasurable experience (where praise can be given) follows a reprimand.
An important concept of correcting misbehavior has been revealed in several studies. If punishment is to be effective, it must be given within seconds of the undesired behavior. Reprimands given hours or even minutes after a misdeed has occurred are meaningless to the dog. Also, punishment must be given at a high enough level to immediately stop the offensive behavior. Training should continue as the dog matures, but formal training need only persist as long as it is necessary.
Guarding behavior is largely instinctive. It would be difficult to train a dog without the guarding instinct to perform some of the necessary functions, such as patrolling, barking, and scent marking. Nevertheless, dogs will likely need direction in their development and will need to be taught or shown what, where, and when they are to guard.
The guarding dog is a working animal and should be treated as such. It is not a pet, and making this distinction at the outset is important. One dog owner said that “all you have to do is love the dog and it will guard whatever is yours.” It is true that a guarding dog, lavished with human attention, becomes very protective of its master and its master’s property. And if the sheep happen to be in the back yard, they will be protected as much as the children, the car, and the house itself. But if the sheep are kept any distance from the master’s home, it becomes difficult to keep the dog with the sheep because it knows that it can get human attention where its master is, and that is most frequently at the house.
How much human affection should you give the guarding dog? If a dog recognizes praise as a pat on the head and words “Good dog,” it will work to receive that praise. Giving it no more affection should not be considered cruel or unkind. Dogs become confused when they have been allowed to stay at the house as a pet and then are suddenly placed in a pasture with sheep and expected to remain there.