LGD Behavior - What we allow and don't allow

Mary Falk
Reprinted with permission from LGD-L

Hmm, it seems to be a bit of confusion over what is considered to be allowable "management/herding " by an LGD and what wouldn't be allowed...everyone has their own opinions, so I thought that I would write down a few examples of what I have seen exhibited from my dogs for the past 15 years in the field. I will first state what I allow, then what I don't allow.

Allowed Behavior:

My observations over the past 15 years are that most LGD owners try too hard to control what their dogs are doing.  Many times the dogs are kept in small areas of land and I think that it is difficult to really understand the LGD behavior until the dog has the  freedom to express it's natural  behavior. We discovered this when we  went through a very nasty drought a little over 10 years ago. My husband decided to let the sheep freely graze without fencing, figuring that he would watch them and then pen them up, and then repeat the process. When he allowed the sheep free range, he noticed how the LGDs took over the role as shepherd and guided the sheep to and fro. During the heat of the day the dogs took the sheep down to the creek where it was cool, during the night they roamed our pastures looking for tender morsels. It was in this mode of "management" that we awoke at 4:00am  with
dogs barking under our bedroom window. The dogs would enter into a loud chorus of excited barking and then run down the driveway to the county road where loose sheep were strolling about, sheep that had  decided to come home for milking, but the barn door was closed. The LGDs herded (nudged, shouldered ) them back to the barn , then turned to my bedroom window and continued to bark: "Open the barn door dam*it".. Of course the dogs were upset because every time they got the sheep to the top of the hill, they would start to wander down the road again, and again, the dogs had to round them up.This behavior, the LGDs decided was unacceptable LGD behavior, and was SUPPOSED to be part of MY job description...hence, the barking under the bedroom window calling us to the barn.

*Dog stands at paddock gate and barks to the sheep that are grazing in the woods...the sheep charge, single file, into the paddock . Dog quits barking, and then takes a nap. We used to think that he did this because a bear was in the woods until we realized he did this at approx 1:00pm everyday, he simply wanted  the sheep close by while he napped which in reality told me that he did have a concern about the sheep alone while he snoozed.


*New ram loose on property, none of us could catch him, he did not respond to grain and petrified my old border collie. As he headed to the woods I bemoaned : "Oh Cosmo, do something!"
It was that tone of resignation that I believe Cosmo was waiting for, he slowly got up form his spot where he was observing our shenanigans and slowly walked over to this new and excited ram. The ram stomped his front hoof at Cosmo (warning of an impending charge) and with that Cosmo lowered his head and very gently rubbed his shoulder along side of the ram's shoulder. He did this a couple of times as the  ram just stood perfectly still. Cosmo then turned away from the ram and started to walk to the barn, he paused  briefly to look over his shoulder at the ram as if to say, "aren't you coming?' and then walked to the barn, with the ram following perfectly behind him. I whispered to my husband and 16 yr old son ("don't make a move, stand perfectly still) as the two of them very quietly walked past us. I whispered to Cosmo "take him to the barn Cozzy" which I probably didn't need to say,since they were heading there anyway .Cosmo took that ram right into the pole shed and on into the pen that was left open for him.

*After Apollo died, Venus stepped up to the role of Alpha dog. Up until this point she never barked at the sheep ( Apollo was VERY barky). We were bringing the sheep back to the barn for the evening milking and there were some stubborn stragglers that were slowing down the process. Venus stood alongside the side lines and started the "Hup -Two -Three- Hup -Two -Three barking that had been Apollo's trade mark.  But my senile old border collie thought that the sheep were still not moving fast enough with her in charge so he went in and started to grip them by the back legs ( his teeth are nothing but nubs so I wasn't worried) Venus looked at me in disgust and started barking at ol' Digger to quit. Digger didn't quit. Venus barked again, and again, and again she was ignored....so she flew through the air and body slammed Digger. ......he went sailing through air...no worse for the wear. I hate to admit it, it was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Anyhow, Venus brought her charges home, unassisted. Border Collie gave her PLENTY of  room. (Somewhere, there is a story in there  regarding climbing thee corporate ladder and having to stand your ground

Behavior Not Allowed:

Using lambs as chew toys..number one reason to not have young dog in pen with lambs or with weak sheep, or with bottle raised lambs or kids. NEVER put a puppy in with bottle raised anything!

Taking up roost by the stock tank and not allowing the sheep to drink ( only dog that ever did that had other undesirable issues and we promptly got rid of him)

Nonsense barking...as in barking at one's echo.  Enough to drive anyone crazy. Guilty dog will get a bucket of water in his face if he doesn't quit and is anywhere near my bedroom window

Six month old pup claiming newborn lambs as his own...they were "His babies". He didn't actually keep the mother away from them, he had just placed them inside of an empty water trough so they were "safe", she was frantic.
He was scolded and told to knock it off. We allowed him to stay with the lambing ewes, something that  I don't normally advocate, but he was one of those LGDs that had been (as Josephine so aptly put it) visited by the brain fairy early in life..he was also the one that had the ram follow him later into the barn.

Not allowed to pull the placenta out of the ewe..they have to wait for their "treats'. I had a couple of dogs that would get in a rush and tug....a good scolding put an end to that.

Stupid aggressive barking whenever a visitor arrives. My dogs are expected to mind their manners. They don't bark unless someone/something is messing with their sheep or if the person who is visiting is  problematic.
We had a distant relative who had a substance abuse problem visit our farm while we were not home...he went out to the barn looking for us where he found Apollo waiting. Apollo firmly grabbed him by the wrist and walked him back to his car...no bruises,no broken skin, relative said he damn near peed his pants though.

Mary
at LoveTree Farm