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A Maremma bitch’s head study - Photo A Sim

Many people purchase a LGD (the predominant breed in this area is the Maremma Sheepdog.) because they hear that all predator problems will cease. They check the local paper and find two litters advertised and pick the cheapest. The breeder then gives a little information. To be a breeder one needs no experience or qualification. Just a fertile bitch and access to a fertile dog (not always of the same breed). Then when the four-month-old pup does not repel a dog pack attack it is the fault of the breed. But it is always too great an expectation.

When you are thinking of acquiring a LGD you must first assess your situation. Consider - are you losing stock? To what?

  • Foxes
  • Single dogs
  • Dog packs
  • Eagles and crows
  • The two legged predator (the most dangerous)
  • At lambing, or is it all year round.
With packs of dogs you will need about half the number of LGD's as are in the pack. Certain lines are better with birds. If theft is a problem a dog must be very forceful and fearless, but this may be a difficult dog to handle. On the other hand a pup that hangs back may be too soft to attack if required. You need to investigate the breeding of the proposed purchase. You need to see the parents, you need to know if the pups have been bonded to stock, and you need to know that they have been adequately fed to ensure good future growth and life expectancy.

All this is so obvious but sadly often much of it is ignored.

Forget all you think you know about dog training. These dogs are very different. All pups need supervision and guidance. This is best done in a small pen near the house with a few weaners. If you have goats or sheep use young, small animals. Older ones may intimidate a pup. The same with poultry. Not aggressive roosters, or turkey toms. You have to make the initial bonding pleasant.

Family group at work - Photo R McCarroll
As the pup grows the pen is enlarged and the number of stock increased. What you are now doing is bonding more stock to the pup. A pup must be fed good quality feed two to three times a day reducing to once a day at nine to twelve months. He must have a place away from the stock to eat uninterrupted.

During this time behaviour must be monitored. Without litter mates the pup may try to play with stock the same way. Chase, grab a hind leg and have a wrestle. Lambs, kids and poultry do not do this and continue to pull away. If left unchecked injuries will occur. The remedy is to separate the pup with a fence for a while. He can still see and smell his animals, and when you are right there let him have access to them. By the age of six months he should be able to be in a small paddock - but still with some supervision. A dog is not mature or experienced enough until he is about 18 months old to be a fully effective predator deterrent.

Rearing and training a pup is a lot of work. Some people prefer to purchase a trained dog. You understand the work which goes into training a dog so be prepared to pay reasonably for someone else's efforts.

A typical Maremma bitch - Photo D Sim
This has the advantage of a well-trained dog. But you must first bond the dog to you. We do not subscribe to the 'don't touch' method of handling these dogs. You must be able to call them to you, you must be able vaccinate them and you must be able to check a sore foot. It does not reduce their working ability. On one occasion I was checking sheep with the dog rolling at my feet. Suddenly he was gone. I went to where he was and looked in the same direction. After a couple of minutes I could see three foxes playing in the next paddock.

In many cases you purchase a trained dog because you are having problems now. The stock are already jumpy and more so when they see a strange dog. Do not try to make an introduction at lambing or kidding. It really will make matters worse. And sometimes the older stock will never accept a dog.

Then there was the case of owners finding a dog lying each side of a dead sheep. The owners presumed they must have killed it although there was no blood and no attempt to eat the carcase. We believe that these dogs had been doing their best to save the life of a sick animal. This type of behaviour was shown in the case with a herd of very pregnant does. When a very severe cold snap hit many aborted. The bitch collected many of the foetuses together and tried to keep them warm. Many dogs have been shot because the owner believed they had killed the dead lamb they had been found eating. In the majority of cases the dog has only been cleaning up carrion in the paddock so as not to attract other predators.

Typically bonded Maremma - Photo R McCarroll
We had a beautiful example of a good dog and new sheep. We had bought in a mob of weaners who had had no contact with a livestock guardian dog. The old dog said he wanted to go and check them out. (Yes, they do talk, just listen). He went out very slowly, head down, with no eye contact, in an unthreatening way. They allowed him to get quite close before running off. He turned his back and just as slowly walked away. A dog had never done this before, so the weaners turned and went to investigate this large hairy thing.

Not all introductions are so well done so the owner must intervene. Bring the dog home, and pen with a group of your stock. This has a dual role in bonding the dog to you and bonding the stock to the dog. When that group have settled with the dog, spray mark them, put them out and bring in the next lot. You may want to give all the flock this contact or if the dog is working well with them, perhaps half the flock can be bonded

Daily feeding is a time of contact with the dog, a time to check for problems and to check your stock. High quality feed should always be fed, preferably with some raw meat. Raw meat does not create a killer as some people will tell you. It is a natural part of a dogs diet. If you cannot have daily contact a self-feeder can be used.

From time to time we get calls from people who believe their dog is not working. An example is a dog that the owners always found asleep in the shed at night. After quizzing they admitted that they had lost no lambs or sheep. A dog works by establishing a territory and if the pressure of predators is not huge he does not always have to patrol. In this example the owner's yardstick should have been "What are the losses?"

If you do have a problem, ask for help before irreversible action is taken. Firstly, go back to your breeder. If you do not get a satisfactory reply, phone someone else. Ask for another name, just in case they can help. There are many solutions to one problem, and that solution has to suit both you and the dog. Very few dogs are beyond redemption. Sometimes it requires patience and time.

Further Information

  Anne & Daryl Sim 5433 6300
Rosemarie McCarroll 5865 5267
Chris and Peter Wood 9744 3431

Anne and Daryl Sim

Last Update: 26/01/07 12:38 Views: 2184

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