Catherine de la Cruz

Livestock Guardian pups are most often purchased during lambing season so
there are young lambs for the pup to grow up with. So the first time she is
left alone with lambing ewes is around the age of a year - a time when her
own development is still incomplete. The following story is common:

The sheep grower comes out to the pasture and finds a ewe who has recently
lambed. Her nose and ears are torn and bleeding, and the rancher's first
thought is "dog attack!" The livestock guardian dog is found, often with
blood on her fur and an uninjured lamb nearby. The rancher's first thought
is usually that the dog has "smelled blood and gone crazy." Many potentially
good livestock guardian dogs have their careers cut short at this point.
However, had the sheep grower witnessed the "attack," this is the most likely

A ewe - usually a yearling at her first lambing - gives birth to a lamb.
Confused, she wanders away to give birth to its twin. The livestock guardian
dog finds the apparently abandoned lamb, licks it clean and begins to treat
it like a puppy. (This is true whether the livestock guardian dog is a male
or a female.) Something about "motherhood" gets through the dim processes of
the ewe's brain and she decides to take care of the second lamb. Shortly
afterwards, she vaguely remembers she has another one around somewhere and
goes to look for it.

At this point, the young dog, not sure of its responsibilities, decides to
"protect" its lamb against the pushy ewe who seems to think it belongs to
her. In the unequal struggle, the ewe butts the dog and the dog retaliates
with her teeth. The ewe is injured, and the sheep grower now has several
problems on her hands - new lambs, an injured ewe and a confused dog.

It is of little comfort to learn that many young livestock guardian dogs go
through this stage; it is probably more reassuring to learn that almost all
of them outgrow it and it never recurs. The most immediate problem is how to
deal with the dog's behavior.

Lock the dog up alone until ewe and lamb are cared for and penned together.
Then plan to watch the ewes closely for the next birth, hoping to correct the
dog's behavior before more damage occurs. When you see a ewe about to give
birth, put the dog on a leash and allow her to watch from a distance
comfortable for the ewe. (Some experienced ewes actually seek out the dog's
protection when they lamb; others want the dog as far away as possible.)
Before the lamb is on its feet, lead the dog around the ewe, keeping the ewe
between the dog and the lamb. The dog needs to learn here not to separate
the ewe and lamb. If the ewe charges, let her hit the dog, if she can do so
without hitting you as well. Correct the dog sharply if she attempts to

Repeat this supervision as often as possible during the lambing season;
learning when not to interfere, and when to care for a lamb that has actually
been abandoned, takes experience. See to it that the dog has the chance to
learn this during her first lambing season. Encourage her to spend time with
the "bummers" - lambs that are being bottle fed - as this will satisfy some
of her curiosity about the newborns. Teach her, by physical restraint, not
to get between a ewe and her lamb. If a ewe butts her, forestall
retaliation with a sharp "No!"

Once she is through her adolescent period, your livestock guardian dog will
be a calm and reliable guardian, even for lambing ewes. The "episode of the
bloody ear" will be turned into a positive learning experience for both of
you. One day, when your livestock guardian dog is older, experienced and
sedate, content to sleep in the sun, you will see the old torn-eared ewe and
remember when you were all younger and still had a lot to learn. And you
will be grateful you had a chance to learn it together - you and your
reliable old dog.

(copyright 1996, all rights reserved)

Livestock Guardian Dogs