Preventing LGD Failure - Meeting Your LGD’s Needs
It can be confusing, especially for new owners of livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) to sort out which information to follow as oftentimes the advice they hear is contradictory. For example “never bring them in the house and don’t handle them a lot” versus “bring them
inside where they feel safe and let the puppy/dog hang out with you”. So, how about we take a look at how these dogs have been raised for thousands of years in their countries of origin? After all, the shepherds in those countries truly needed these dogs for survival so
in my opinion, they are the experts.
One major problem with many LGDs is that they are difficult to contain, resulting in the dogs leaving their pastures and leaving their livestock behind, leaving the livestock vulnerable to predators and the dog at risk of being hit by cars or shot but other livestock owners. Why a dog starts leaving their pasture and livestock can of course have many reasons. So here is one - every dog has basic needs. If these needs are met, the dog is content. If these needs aren't met, the dog will try to find a way on its own to have those needs met.
What are those basic needs?
1. Food and Water
This may sound simple, but it is important to make sure that the dog, and especially a puppy, has easy access to food and water, without being intimidated, crowded or interrupted by livestock or other dogs when the dog or puppy wants to eat or drink.
Dogs, and especially young puppies, have an instinctual need to feel safe. That means they will stay close to their mother, other adult dogs or humans, because they know that they are vulnerable and cannot protect themselves from danger. The same is true for single LGDs, when faced with major predators or large numbers of predators, the single dog will look for a way to stay safe himself. In addition to that, puppies and young dogs can go through fear periods during which they can be very fearful even of situations that they were previously okay with.
If you observe a puppy, or any LGD, being worried about livestock, being left alone in the pasture or barn, afraid of certain noises or equipment, don’t ignore it, as that means that dog’s basic need for feeling safe is not met. Try to meet that need.
3. Comfort and Shelter
The LGD needs to have adequate protection from bad weather, heat and cold as well as from parasites and flies. They also need to receive adequate grooming, hands on inspections to check for mats, injuries, infections, pain or other physical problems that would affect their comfort level. A dog that does not receive adequate care may
display behaviors such as aggression towards livestock, other dogs or humans. The dog may also try to escape its pasture or become destructive. Flies for example can make a dog miserable and he may seek for ways to get away from an area that is infested with flies.
Enrichment to prevent boredom and provide both mental and physical exercise is important for any dog. Play for example is very important for LGD puppies. Through play the puppy learns and practices skills needed to fight a predator. If you do not have another dog your puppy can play with, you will have to be creative to meet the dog’s/puppy’s needs for play time and exercise. Take walks
with the dog/puppy around your property, Offer a variety of toys to provide opportunities for your dog/puppy to use its teeth, use its nose, practice a shake and a pounce, as well as tugging, pulling and chasing toys. Enrichment is not just entertainment, it allows your dog/puppy to develop confidence and skills.
Keep in mind that if a dog’s needs for mental and physical exercise are not met, he may look for it on the other side of the fence. Once escape behavior starts and the dog is being reinforced by having fun exploring, it can become very difficult if not impossible to convince the dog to stay in its pasture.
5. Social Interaction
Social interactions are crucial for a dog’s development and mental health. Most dogs thrive on companionship. In the case of working LGDs, the companions that the dog spends most of his time with are usually the livestock and other dogs. Observe your dog and make sure his needs for companionship are met. If there are other dogs, how do they get along? Do they hang out near each other, do they work as a team, do the play with each other? If the dog has livestock for companionship, are there interactions with livestock that show they like to hang out with each other?
If a dog has no satisfying social interactions with livestock or other dogs he will feel lonely and may escape the pasture to be near his humans to try and meet his needs for social interactions. If you recognize your dog’s need for social interactions are not met in the pasture, make plans to meet those needs before the dog gets into a habit of getting out of the pasture to look for companionship. It is much easier to prevent problem behaviors than to fix them. Some training, hanging out together, grooming, coming along for chores go a long way in making the dog feel more content.
Before bringing home an LGD of any age make sure that you have a plan to prevent the dog from getting out of fenced areas. This needs to start with the breeder who should contain the puppies in a way that they don’t learn to get under/over or squeeze through
fencing. Once dogs have learned they can overcome simple obstacles like fences, they never forget and they can be extremely resourceful in overcoming such obstacles.
Back to our LGDs countries of origin
For the most part, the human shepherds live with the stock and the dogs. Many times puppies are whelped and spend their first few months in the village in the yard of their owner’s home, at other times they are whelped and raised out on the pasture with their
human shepherds and the rest of the working dog team. They are free to explore and play, but they are never left alone, they always enjoy the security and social interactions with humans, livestock and other dogs. The human shepherds interact with and handle their
dogs. There are no rules that the dogs can’t hang out near the campfire or where the shepherds are resting. The shepherds have confidence in their dogs’ intelligence and superior senses to do their job. In this environment puppies slowly grow into their role as
working dogs as they always have the backup of more experienced dogs.
Also in many cases the shepherds, livestock and the LGDs return to their villages in the winter months where livestock is being penned and the LGDs hang out in the barnyard. Thus they live a different life in the winter than they do in the warmer months.
Keeping all of this in mind. It’s best to keep an open mind and not insist on rigid ideas of
how an LGD should live or be raised. They are quite flexible and adaptable and sometimes we just need to sit back and observe and let the dogs tell us what they are good at and how they go about getting the job done.
More on meeting the needs of your LGD:
We talk a lot about meeting the needs of your dogs. Livestock guardian dogs holds a very important place and job at their farms. However it is very easy to lose sight of what they are - livestock guardian DOGS. They are still dogs that have needs like any other dog. Many issues with behavior can be boiled down to a need not being met. This gets discussed often with people (in order to learn and do your job well, your needs must be met first). Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a well known idea in the field of psychology. It breaks down what needs are necessary for someone to fulfill their potential. Those needs apply to all living things! If you want a dog that will actually learn from the training you give it and perform its job properly, the dog's needs must be met!
Physiological needs always come first. These are the needs of hunger, thirst, and sleep. Does your dog get enough food? Are they underweight? Overweight? Is the food meeting their nutritional needs? (If not check out our sister group on health, Livestock Guardian Dogs - All About Health). Do they have access to water at all times? Do they get enough sleep? That can be an issue for solo dogs. Even on a small property, a partner can be helpful even if just to take turns sleeping and guarding. Does the dog get enough exercise? If your dog is too playful with stock it probably needs a walk or enrichment.
Once those needs are met, consider the need for safety. Does the dog need to fear anything? Loss of resources? Feeling vulnerable? Not secure in their environment (especially for a dog in a new place!)? Health conditions that make them feel insecure?
Does the dog have a good shelter option they can use if they choose? Any phobias? Any bad experiences with the livestock, people, or dogs they may be worrying about?
If you are certain your dog's basic physical needs are met and they feel safe and secure the next thing to consider is their need for belongingness. Do they have their social needs met or do they feel neglected and lonely? Play time with people and other dogs really
helps in this regard. Also building a relationship with your dog and earning their trust is
important as well.
A dog with sufficient social outlets will need to make sure they are confident. They need to build up their esteem just like we do. By praising them for what you want them to do (even if you know they know what they are doing) you help them stay confident! Make sure to respect them and listen to their communications just as you want them to respect and listen to you. Help them feel a sense of achievement to continue what they do best!
Now the best part! If all of your dogs needs have been met (and they really build on top of each other well) you can now think about their need for Self-Actualization! This is their learning potential, their problem solving skills, their guarding instincts. Help them practice what you want them to actually do! Manage them and their behaviors to help avoid them doing something that you don't want to see in a LGD. Set them up for success to be the best guardian and partner they can be!
Hopefully this has helped clarify the needs your dog has. This is why we ask a lot of questions on some posts. There are so many factors to consider that can contribute to certain behaviors. As much as you may want a quick fix, getting to the root cause of what is happening will help guide your dog on a wonderful path for success that will be a
much more long term solution