That IS the question......
We have been discussing whether or not to embark on the Livestock Guardian Dog adventure or not. There are many angles to consider and adding an LGD to your farming operation is a big committment. We have finally landed on adding an LGD but I wanted to share our thought process and some resources we have consulted in making this important decision.
Do we need a LGD?
At this point, we haven't lost any sheep to predators (knock on wood!). So, weighing out the additional cost and responsibility versus the financial risk of not having protection for our flock - didn't really weigh out. LGDs are typically very large animals, so the cost of food, vetting, and the dog itself were all part of the equation. Although losing a single sheep doesn't justify the cost of a LGD, you have to think about the value of all the lambs and fleeces that ewe would have produced over her lifetime. When you think about it in those terms, losing a single ewe for us just about evens out the investment in a dog. In addition, we had to put some kind of a value on me getting a better night's sleep and not having to run outside in my pajamas and muckboots waving a .22 rifle because coyotes are close.
Which brings me to the other consideration for this question - what types of predators do we have. Here, our biggest risk comes from coyotes which are very abundant. However, we do have bears right above us, potentially wolves nearby, eagles, and probably mountain lions. Not to mention neighbor's free ranging dogs (which is minor but has happened). Our decision was YES we do need a LGD and better to get one now before we lose sheep.
What breed of LGD would work best for our farm?
Ok - next consideration - there are a lot of different breeds of LGDs out there. I thought I was pretty well versed in dog breeds until I started doing some research. Most people are familiar with the Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherd, Maremmas, and Kangals. At least those were the breeds I knew about. There are so many more! Akbash, Spanish mastiff, Russian ovcharka, Sarplannic, Caucasian shepherd, the list goes on and on. Wading through information about the pros and cons of all these different breeds was mind numbing. Everytime I thought I had it figured out, I would discover some new article or different breed I hadn't researched. For me, it came down to a couple of things. I wanted a dog that could walk that fine line between being bonded with the livestock and still tolerant of people, pet dogs, and our barn cat. I was also interested in a rare breed as those obviously intrigue me and I enjoy being part of conserving a breed. I had met a lovely Karakachan during an on farm class I took last winter. Of the four species of LGDs at that farm, the Karakachan was the friendliest, barked the least, and seemed tolerant of a lot of activity. I did a lot more research to make certain this breed was what I was looking for. Finally, I was really fortunate to find a breeder pretty close by. Second decision made!
Adult or puppy? Male or female?
This one had everything to do with our current pet dogs. For those who don't know - we had two rottweilers - a male and a female. Our male dog was very dominant and the female, well, she's 'special'. It is critical for us that the LGD be able to tolerate the pet dogs wandering by the fence and even more important that if the LGD for some reason got out - no fighting! We decided the ONLY way to make it work with our current dogs was to get a LGD puppy. The decision on gender came down to Angus, our male Rott. I knew that Angus would never tolerate another male dog. We knew that unfortunately from experience. So a female puppy it was! Of course, Angus recently passed away and now this is not as much of a challenge. Even so, we are proceeding forward with a female Karakachan puppy from a reputable breeder and working parents on a farm in Montana.
Setting her up for success
It is of the utmost importance to me that this puppy is set up for success right from the start. Although I am a very experienced dog owner and have always had rottweilers - so very familiar with strong, powerful, dogs that require socialization to be good citizens. LGD breeds are completely new to me and believe me they are not the same as a pet dog breed. These dogs have been bred to live alone outside with the livestock. They are bred to bond to the livestock and don't necessarily bond to people. Like anything, there are reams of information out there supporting all sides of any issue related to LGDs. I've been sorting through all of it and taking away the things that seem to make the most sense for our farm. To start with, we are building an enclosure next to the sheep and not with them. We decided on this for a few reasons. First - Matt and I both work full time and will therefore not be able to supervise the puppy all day while she is in with the sheep. Second - only a few of our ewes have ever lived with a LGD. We need to get them used to the idea of having a dog in the pasture with them. Third - it gives us more opportunity to interact with her and help her understand her role, as well as recognize all the critters that belong here. We pick her up after the holidays so stay tuned! I am planning to do a series of blog posts to share some of the information I found useful.