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Guard Dogs and Your Neighbors

by Bonnie Brown-Eddy


I appreciate the invitation from Kelley to talk about dogs.


First off, a little history on vernacular, specifically the use of livestock protection dogs (LPDs).  In the West, many sheep ranchers graze on U.S. Forest Service (USFS) or Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grazing permits as part of their operations. Unfortunately, over the years there have been several incidents on public land when someone got bit by a guardian dog or their pet dog got killed (usually a result of startling a guardian dog or mindlessly walking/riding into a band of sheep).  Of course the media always has to build a lot of drama into situations, and we found that the media and general public want to equate “guard dog” to a perceived more aggressive breed such as a Dobermans, Rottweilers or Pit Bulls.  In 2010 the American Sheep Industry Association put together a working group on dogs spearheaded by Bryce Reece (Wyoming) and myself.  It was a producer suggestion to use “livestock protection dog” because the term would help the general public understand what our dogs really do.  Some people don’t like the term, and that’s fine but please use “guardian dogs” when dealing with the public instead of the abbreviated “guard dog” term.

If you’re interested in reading the American Sheep Industry Association’s (ASI) Recommended Best Management Practices for Livestock Protection Dogs, use this link: American Sheep Industry | Publications (sheepusa.org)   scroll to the bottom of the page, it’s the last document listed in the Resources section.


Secondly, I live on 5 acres in a somewhat rural area and I have a two year old Anatolian Shepherd named Oakley. Let’s be honest, I’m kind of a failure when it comes to LPD training...Oakley naps on the couch with my husband (maybe I’m  not the problem after all?) she gets too many dog treats, and likes to play fetch which is kind of a slow-mo deal as she moseys back and forth.  On the flip side, she IS a good guardian dog, extremely alert, and lightning fast when she needs to be.  My tiny homestead has horses, a few goats, poultry, dogs, cats and rabbits; and one troll across my fence line that hates Oakley, my farm animals, my husband and I and seemingly life in general.  FYI  I have had my place for 25 years, and you guessed it, the troll is a recent transplant.


With all that being said, I’ve worked for the Colorado Wool Growers Association and been involved with ASI since 2000, so this isn’t my first rodeo regarding conflicts with working dogs.


Oakley has taught me how incredibly strong-willed these dogs are whether they are gently standing guard over young livestock or valiantly fighting off predators.  Their strong-willed nature also presents some challenges when you have neighbors that don’t like dogs or livestock.


My place sits on a small rise and you can see a couple miles away.  Oakley thinks everything is her business!  She sees movement on the horizon and she’s all over it with plenty of alert barking.  Since I work from home, I can go investigate with her.  I never get after her for alert barking, that’s her job, but I do get after her for incessant barking.  We’re not the only ones in the neighborhood and we need to be good neighbors.  I also think chasing vehicles down the fence line is not ok.  I use a shock-collar (which isn’t an option for some people and situations) but it works very well for my situation.  I’m very consistent in its use and never use it in anger.  Ninety-five percent of the time, she just gets a tone and stops what she’s doing, I have only had to shock her a few times to get her to refocus. Why did I choose this tool?  Because my beautiful, strong-willed girl has refused to listen.


The issue that I think creates the most animosity with neighbors/public is LPD owners that don’t manage their dogs and fail to respond to complaints.  If your dog is off your property and someone has made the effort to contact you, go get your dog ASAP!  Many farmers and ranchers are quick to pull the trigger if a domestic dog gets in with their sheep, but don’t show the same level of responsiveness if their dog has left their property.


Be proactive and set your dogs up for success.  Talk to your neighbors, animal control, and the county sheriff. Let them know that you have LPDs and they don’t always respect fences, so when they are pursuing predators they may end up off of your property.  Make sure to provide your contact information, and ID your dogs.  If you have neighbors nearby go out and check on the commotion at night. About once a week, I’m up at 2:00 a.m., I grab a lantern, and walk the fence line with Oakley when she’s sounding the alarm on incoming foxes and coyotes.  That’s enough of a presence to calm things down and I’ve had no losses since she’s come on to the farm.  A neighboring ranch winters their LPDs about ¼ mile from my place, they have about a dozen dogs. There are some nights with non-stop barking from them.  I have to bring Oakley in for the night to keep her quiet.  Even understanding LPDs, after many a sleepless night, I am not “high” on LPDs but instead tired and frustrated; so I do have a sensitivity for non-ag neighbors that get upset about barking.  One of my sheep friends is quick to point out to his complaining neighbors that fox lights, propane cannons, and cracker shells are a lot more disruptive than barking dogs!  It’s also worth mentioning that the presence of LPDs can help adjoining neighbors as predators steer clear of the area.


Signs and fliers/brochures are good public outreach to help people understand about your dogs.  You can view the Colorado Wool Growers Association brochure (Colorado Sheep Grazing & Livestock Protection Dogs)  at Livestock Guardians — Colorado Sheep Industry  ASI is working to have updated private lands signs available this summer.  If you’re posting your own signs be careful of the wording.  Over the years, I seen signs such as “Don’t approach – Dangerous Dogs” or “Our Dogs May Bite”……probably not the best choice of words from a liability standpoint.


Make sure your dogs have a current rabies vaccination by a licensed veterinarian. A rancher related an incident regarding taking their LPD to an event at a school and the kids got to pet the dog.  A couple of days later, they discovered a rabid skunk in their barn.  It was a heart-stopping moment for them when they realized their goodwill school outing could have had unintended consequences.


In the crazy world we live in now where everyone is an expert and wants to inject themselves in your business, I do like the signs I have seen that say something to the effect that “my dog is a working dog and prefers to sleep with the livestock.” aka mind your own business.


Be sure to stay involved with your county and state ordinances regarding agriculture, especially regarding “dog-at-large” or “dangerous” dogs to make sure there are appropriate exemptions for working dogs.


You’re never going to win over the trolls.  My offers of farm fresh eggs and home-grown peaches have been rejected every time, and recently I had to call the sheriff since my dogs and I were being threatened.  The good news is most people aren’t trolls and with some good communication expressing the need for some patience and understanding about LPDs you’ll likely gain goodwill and even appreciation for your hard working dogs.

 

Bonnie Brown-Eddy, is the Executive Director for the Colorado Wool Growers Association



 

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