As the “new kid” on the block, your LGD will need to be introduced to everything about its new home. A proper introduction will help ensure that your dog will become the guardian you want and need rather than a “problem child” demanding too much of your time and effort re-training and re-orienting it to do the work of guarding your stock.
There are many aspects of introducing your new LGD; let’s look at them one at a time.
If your new LGD is a puppy, a natural tendency is to bring the cute little thing into the house so it won’t be lonesome and afraid in its new surroundings. DON’T DO IT! Your puppy has lived in a barn around goats since birth. Your barn will not only provide a familiar environment for the pup but will start from the beginning teaching it that its home is where your stock is, not where its humans are.
If your new LGD is an older dog, provide a secure place such as an escape proof pen for its first night. Take it for a walk on a lead around the perimeter of your pen(s) or pasture so it will understand the limits of its new area. You may need to do this several times before the dog shows an understanding that this is its new area to protect. Your sensitivity to the animal will help you decide when the dog is ready to be released into its new area.
Although there are headings for the different situations you may have, only the new elements to be considered are addressed in each category.
There are several categories of “other dogs” that may be associated with introducing your new LGD.
- LGDs. If your dog is a puppy, your adult LGDs should accept the pup almost immediately. You may have to witness a short explanation of “I’m the boss and you’re the puppy,” but there should be no serious problem.
- Great Pyrenees are a special case in the LGD world at this point. Pyrs are generally not same gender aggressive if one or both of them is spayed or neutered. Introducing Great Pyrenees in this case should be easy and simple, needing little time but still requiring you to be alert for anything more than a short alpha demonstration.
- Introducing intact same gender Great Pyrenees or the same gender of another LGD breed regardless of reproductive status can be a risky and traumatic business. We recommend that you do not try it initially. You can try penning them in adjoining pens and see how they act. If you just have to put two adult LGDs of the same gender together, wait until they have had time to adapt to their new home, but be prepared to break up a “for real” dog fight. With younger dogs the fight is sometimes not too serious, other times, especially with fully adult dogs; it can be a fight to the death. If you plan on same gender intact dogs working together, start with only one adult and let the puppy(ies) grow up with the adult. There will still be fights as the pups go through adolescence and become adults but the chances of lethal fights will be greatly decreased.
- Pet dogs of any breed. Do not let them into your stock pens, introduce them to your new LGD, or encourage your new LGD to accept them. We strongly recommend total segregation of pets from LGDs. We understand that people often let their pet dogs associate with their LGDs to no ill effect. There is always the possibility, however, that either latent instincts of the pets will come to the fore or that the LGDs will learn to accept other dogs as “OK”. If you decide not to segregate your pets from you LGDs, you are opening yourself and your stock to the possibility of carnage and mayhem on a large scale. We feel it’s just not worth the gamble.
Goats familiar with guardians
If you raise goats that have been around dogs before, you’ll have very little to do in the way of introducing a farm raised or already working LGD to his or her charges. Simply put the dog on a lead and take it into the area where the goats are. Observe both the dog and the goats and when they are all comfortable, release the dog and observe some more to ensure everything goes well. The entire process may take as little time as five or ten minutes but do not take that estimate for granted; stay there, observe, and don’t leave until you and the animals are at ease with the situation. If the dog is mature, or close to it, that may be all it takes. Some dogs, however, require some time to accept new stock, even if the stock is dog friendly. You’ll never know for sure until you watch all of the initial behavior. You may need to pen your new dog in the area of the stock for a while until it understands that this is its new home. (A note here: it is also wise when introducing a new goat into your herd to insure your LGDs accept it. Some dogs require time and you may need to pen the goat in an adjacent pen while the dogs get accustomed to it.)
An immature dog or puppy may become excited or exuberant about all these new friends and want to sniff them all immediately. If this happens, and you’re lucky, a mature goat will teach the pup some manners and decorum and that will be that. If that mature goat isn’t available, you need to take its place. When you observe inappropriate behavior by a pup, immediately interrupt that behavior by shouting harshly and/or exhibiting some form of threatening behavior of your own. Make it short and to the point, stopping immediately when the pup changes its behavior. If you observe this behavior from a pup, you need to ensure that the pup knows it will not be tolerated. The closer you can copy its mother’s behavior in correcting it, the more effective it will be.
In any discipline, immediacy is paramount. If you don’t interrupt the behavior, there’s a good chance that the pup will not know why you’re being “mean” to it. If you believe that the undesirable behavior may continue, secure the pup in an escape proof pen in the immediate area of the goats, preferably in a holding pen close to the barn, and release the pup when you can observe it until you’re satisfied that it will behave appropriately.
Goats unfamiliar with guardians
If you raise stock that have no experience with dogs, you must protect pups and younger dogs from them initially. An older dog will sense the fear and hostility in the goats and should treat them gently while avoiding any confrontations. A panicked or dog-fearing goat will attack a dog and can injure them badly. Many LGDs will not fight back and, if the dog doesn’t understand it is endangered, it will not know about avoiding attacks until it learns by experience. Other LGDs do not tolerate that kind of behavior and will put a stop to it immediately. To say the least, this may lengthen the time you need to accomplish the introductions. Your presence and awareness are paramount during the introductions so that you can avoid this type of potential disaster. Some pups have never had to deal with this situation and will need to be protected. We recommend securing the pup in an escape proof pen in the center of the goats’ area. The goats can make the adaptation to the presence of a dog and you can take the dog among them on a lead until you see that everyone has accepted the situation. Even then, providing an area where the pup can escape an attack is prudent. The stock should adapt fairly quickly, within hours or a few days at the most. Again, you need to be sensitive to the attitudes of your animals and observe their relationships.
Guardians unfamiliar with your species of stock
If possible, it is always easiest to buy your new guardian from a farm that raises the same type of animals that you do, otherwise there is a chance your new LGD will consider them as predators initially. Take your dog in among the animals on a close lead and explain that these are its new charges to guard. Make sure it understands that you expect it to take care of these strange new critters. In this case, the escape proof pen in the center of the herd is a virtual necessity. Your dog will live in close proximity to its new charges until everyone seems to accept the situation. If your stock has not been around dogs and shows aggression toward your LGD, once again, pen the dog in the center of the herd, taking it out into the herd on a short lead regularly until everyone is accepting of the situation
Chickens and other fowl
We don’t know how they decide but some LGDs want to chase chickens and others don’t. If this is important to you, let your breeder know in advance and have him help you select a dog that shows little to no interest in chasing chickens. If you are getting a puppy, the odds are that you will need to pay particular attention to introducing your dog to your fowl if they will come into contact, or for that matter, if you plan for the dog to be guarding fowl. When the dog gets to your farm, have some chickens penned so they are available to you and set the dog in the pen with them. Explain that they are to be treated as animals to be guarded and stay with the dog to ensure it leaves the fowl alone. If you have free range chickens, after penning the dog with some chickens for a short time, arrange for chickens to be in the stock area where the dog will be living. Be alert to its reaction to the birds as well as your other stock and correct any tendency you see for chase behavior. With any undesirable conduct, early detection and fast, interruptive action are the most important factors in stopping this behavior before it becomes a major problem.
Planning for future stock but none are present
If you are starting a stock operation and want a Livestock Guardian to protect them when they arrive, make your arrangements to receive the stock and the dogs at about the same time. If you must acquire one before the other, get the stock first, then the dogs. LGDs need to be “with” their stock, not locked up alone and waiting for them or treated as a pet until the new animals arrive and then expected to turn into an LGD. Getting your LGD early is asking for problems.
General Characteristics of LGD
Earlier we mentioned that your new LGD is not like any dog you’ve met. This is true enough that people with years of experience with dogs often, after acquiring their first LGD, find themselves facing situations they never imagined existed. We’d like to address some of these differences here. At this point we need to tell you that we raise Great Pyrenees and have never raised or owned any other breed of LGD. Rather than make the brash statement that all of the LGDs will conform to the behaviors we’re going to talk about, we’ll say right now that they won’t all fit into one neat mold. We will say that it is our opinion that the more common breeds of LGDs will generally fit the behaviors we’ll mention to a greater or lesser degree but we offer these to you so you’ll recognize what’s happening when you come across one of these behaviors, not to say that it is a “one size fits all” description of LGDs.
Independence is, perhaps, the single most obvious and sometimes irritating characteristic people notice with their first LGD. We’ve even had people tell us that LGDs should all be obedience trained so that the owner should have control of the dog instead of letting the dog do what it wants when it wants to do it. This is an idea we applaud when it’s aimed at pets and dogs that work in close concert with humans. With LGDs it is asking for total disaster.
Your LGD is the result of thousands of years of breeding to teach it to evaluate threat situations in an instant and to act in a way that best counters the perceived threat. Even if you, the dog’s owner, wanted to live with your goats on a 7/24 basis, you could neither see nor hear the threats as effectively as your dogs could. You couldn’t communicate directions to one dog fast enough to counter many of them, and you surely couldn’t be with several dogs simultaneously to guide each one through various behaviors. These dogs are there so you don’t have to live with your stock on a 7/24 basis.
Another result of this breeding is that LGDs just don’t fall all over themselves to please you when you give them commands. You can teach them basic obedience if you choose, but it will never be like watching a Border Collie drop to the ground the second you tell it to. Opinions vary among stockowners about just what kind of obedience their dogs should learn. However it’s phrased, usually the owners will have the dog come when they need it, be quiet long enough to administer medications like wormer when necessary, and not beat them through the gate every time it’s opened. More than that is frosting on the cake.
Your LGD should be bonded to the stock and be glad to see you in the pasture, not the other way around. Some dogs will be more willing to be pets than others, but all should bond to the stock if given the correct environment. This means that you can pet them and give them treats if you want to, but do it in the goat yard, where the goats are. DO NOT do it outside of the goat yard or even by the gate if the goats are not there too. We cannot say often enough that most LGD failures are the result of inadvertent training for failure by the owners and teaching your LGD to expect human attention when they leave their stock is definitely failure oriented training.
LGDs often have dominance issues with each other and sometimes with humans. You want to ensure that your LGDs understand that you are Alpha. If you raise them from pups it shouldn’t be too hard, but we make a practice of regularly standing over our dogs (meaning we stand astride their back-a superior position) of either gender, holding them, and for short times physically controlling their movements. We do this so that if the time ever comes when we must exert a physical superiority over any one of them, they have already given their consent to be treated that way. When you need to work with an injured dog, or in some other emergency, you may not have the time to assert dominance over them.
These dominance issues between dogs will often lead to fights, especially at feeding time, if you allow it. Pups and adolescents will fight and may even draw blood but it is seldom serious. On occasion (the occasion being they’re able to get to each other) adult dogs (strangers or dogs that are always separated, not necessarily those who have grown up together) of the same gender will fight and these altercations may be lethal. We would advise that you break these fights up if possible although your personal safety is critical here. The dogs will not be aware of you and, if you should place one of your body parts where teeth are being used, you could be injured. Here are some ways that have worked in the past to break up fights. If there are two people available, each of you grab a tail (preferably a different one for each of you) and hold the dogs apart until they calm down enough for you to assert physical control over them and take them to separate pens. We have heard of hitting the dogs over the head but don’t recommend it. If you are alone and are lucky enough to have a hose handy, spraying as high a pressure water as possible in their faces will sometimes cause them to stop long enough to get them separated. As a last resort, hitting and pushing them apart with a 2×4 can work although it can be difficult to do and maintain your personal safety. If the fight is truly lethal, almost any means your imagination can come up with, other than placing yourself in the middle of it, is better than losing a dog.
LGDs will sometimes amaze you with the way they respond to the goats. During kidding season, they will often help clean and dry new kids if the mother goat will let them. Some individual dogs will be so protective of new kids that they will not allow the mother to approach it. This is not a breed trait that we know of but individual dogs of different breeds have been known to act this way. Obviously this is not to be allowed and the dogs seem to understand when you correct them.
It seems that many LGDs have an affinity for babies and often you’ll find kids leaving the mother at night and curling up with the dogs. When a goat leaves her kids in the woods and then forgets where she put them, we’ll often find a dog curled up with them, waiting for us or the mother to come back and claim them.
There are, perhaps, more differences between the guarding behaviors of the different LGDs than in any other single thing. Some dogs guard property as their personal territory while others don’t care where they are as long as they’re with their stock. Some have combinations of these two behaviors. Here is a typical guarding behavior for a Great Pyrenees.
First, they’ll warn all predators of their presence through barking and “marking” their territory. In most cases, a wild animal will not attack stock when it’s protected by dogs and the warnings are sufficient. Wild predators that have no other options will fight to get access to the stock, as will domestic and feral dogs on a killing binge. If the predator persists, the Pyr will threaten and see if the predator will leave. If not, the Pyr will stay between its stock and the predator to protect the stock and deny access to them by the predator. Great Pyrenees will fight when necessary to protect the stock but they are not as aggressive about this as some of the other LGDs who will choose to fight if the predator doesn’t heed their early warnings. This is a case where a Pyr will definitely herd its animals while it holds them in a group and keeps them away from the threat. Pyrs and other LGDs will usually work as a team when there are multiple dogs available, some doing guard duty with the stock while others advance to meet the threat. The way that they divide the duties appears as if they had held long meetings, deciding just who would do what and go where. While this is obviously not what happens, their coordination can be amazing when working as a pack.
While this is certainly not an exhaustive collection of LGD behavior, it can give you some idea of what to expect from your new LGD.
We often hear that people want their LGD to do double duty; on one hand they need a livestock guardian and, on the other, they’d like a yard/house dog to keep them company. Right up front, let’s acknowledge that this can work, but we don’t think it can work well. There are two distinct aspects to this idea that need to be examined before you make a decision that may be irrevocable and find that you have a situation you didn’t quite expect.
First and foremost are the laws of physics. No dog can be in two places at the same time. Almost as important is the fact that no dog curled up in a nice warm closed-up house will be as alert or as able to detect and react to predators as a dog out in the pasture with the goats.
The simple fact is, when you have the dog with you, it’s not with the livestock. This may seem obvious but we get the impression that not everyone actually considers this when thinking about dual-purpose dogs. Even if the dog does alert to predators while in the house, the reaction time to let the dog out of the house and move to the area where the stock are threatened may take longer than the predator needs to “grab a quick bite” and be on its way. This lengthened reaction time will hold true in varying degrees whether the dog is in the yard, in a house with a “doggie door”, or shut in.
Most people want the company of a dog in the evening when they’re home. This companionable interlude happens at the same time that the hunters begin their daily quest for dinner so at the exact time when your guardian is most important, it’s in the house. By the very nature of the job description, a dual-purpose dog cannot perform both jobs constantly and effectively. The argument may be made that wild predators will sense the lingering presence of the dog and avoid the place. This overlooks the fact that dogs keep most wild predators away by their immediate presence and the threat of forcing a fight for the opportunity to chase prey. It also overlooks the fact that feral or domestic dogs don’t give a fig if they smell your dog; unless it’s there to confront intruders, other dogs will ignore it. For those who say they have a dual-purpose dog and they are happy with the arrangement, we can only wish them luck and hope that nothing with big teeth or sharp claws falls through the holes in their defensive plan.
Part two of the consideration has to do with the individual dog and its ability to live two separate lives simultaneously. Some dogs can, some can’t. Some LGDs are not suited to live in a household and some can do it. The fact is that your LGD was probably raised in a barn with stock. This is what it has been conditioned to and what it is used to. Your dog, if it is an adult, should be bonded to your stock, not to you. When you teach the dog to value your presence more than the stock’s presence, it can be very difficult to keep the dog’s focus on the stock during those times you want it with the goats. If your dog is a puppy, it should adapt to both you and the goats easily, but it will have a preference. Persuading the pup to accept living in the non-preferred style, while allowing it access to its preferred style on an intermittent basis, can be a Herculean task.
We have also found that LGDs are often quite uncomfortable when brought into a house. They aren’t used to it and usually whatever purpose you had in mind is thwarted before you can even begin. If you adapt an LGD to the house, it will still gladly go into the pasture but getting them to stay there while you go to the house can be a problem. As we said earlier, some dogs can handle this schizophrenic lifestyle while other dogs can’t. The problem is that your dog may be unable to make the sudden and repetitive adaptations between both kinds of existence. If this is the case, there is a good chance that by the time you discover this inability you’ll have lost a good LGD.
LGD Grooming and Health Care
One of the things we hear fairly often is, “I don’t want a dog with a long coat because I don’t have the time to take care of it.” Think about this: “Did the shepherds of long ago spend any time brushing their dogs?” The real answer is, “No one really knows.” It is hard to imagine that they did though. A long coat on a pet or show dog is not the same as a long coat on a working dog. At least with a Pyr, the coat is pretty well self-cleaning and self-maintaining. Sure you can cut out matted hair every few months but the dogs will lose their coat at least on an annual basis and the mats will fall away. Since these dogs live outdoors and often have no manufactured shelter at all, their coats have natural oils that help protect them against the weather. One of the implications of this is that you certainly don’t want to wash an LGD as it will reduce their ability to withstand the sometimes driving rain or other wet or cold conditions in which they may live. Although you do need to notice the condition of your animals and insure they stay healthy on the outside as well as on the inside, all-in-all a long coated LGD doesn’t need the excessive care that other long coated breeds demand.
Goats are often raised in parts of the country where the temperatures can get pretty high. We often hear that a long coated dog will get too hot. Although there is some accuracy in that statement, the coat doesn’t play as major a role in heating and cooling as you might expect. Dogs don’t sweat like people. They sweat through the pads of their feet. They also expel heat through their mouth, primarily using their tongue as a radiator and, consequently, they have some trouble throwing off heat during the hottest parts of the year because the tongue isn’t a particularly large part of the body. A dog is pretty inefficient as a cooling machine so most dogs can use some help during hot weather if we expect them to stay active. Some folks actually shear their dogs for summer to help keep them cooler but we don’t recommend it. The coat is a marvelous protection against the sun (a shorn dog can sunburn easily and white is actually a highly reflective color). It’s also protection against teeth, claws (remember other dogs are predators too, not just the relatively shy wild predators), briars and sharp branches which are possible in much goat country. There are not too many parts of the country where sudden summer storms are unknown so, even during the hot season, they may need their coats intact to keep them dry and warm in a storm. A shorn coat can also open a dog up to attack by various insects that normally can’t penetrate the thick hair. Timing can play a major role here too; if cold weather comes before the coat grows back in, then your dog will surely have trouble coping with the elements. A partial measure is to shear only the stomach so the dog can get closer to the coolness of the ground when they dig a new bed.
First and foremost to protect your LGD in hot weather, we recommend water. There’s nothing like a dip in a pond, tank, or even a large watering trough to cool off a dog that needs to get rid of some extra heat. The constant availability of water for both internal and external use is the single strongest tool you have to keep your dogs healthy throughout the summer.
On occasion, you’ll find an inflamed area on a small patch of your dog’s skin. Usually the dog will bite or scratch at it and remove enough hair in a roughly circular spot that you can see the red and possibly oozing skin. These are called “hot spots” and usually are caused by external parasites or allergies. Fast treatment is urgently needed as these are minor problems that will probably grow rapidly and/or develop infections. There are several remedies for hot spots. Commercially, Sufodene, available in the pet section of department stores, and Cut Heal, available in the horse section of farm stores, are quite effective. We’ve also used corn starch (simply pack the hot spot with it) and found it as effective as the commercial products. The hot spot will usually dry up in two or three days with a daily application and there is no lasting effect. As always, if you have questions about this condition or if it doesn’t go away quickly once you treat it, check with your vet. In fact, we recommend you check with your vet before you have this condition, or any of the others we’ll talk about, so you’ll be prepared with expert advice from your own vet.
Let us add here that everything we say about dog conditions, problems, and medication is either from our limited experience with our own dogs, anecdotal from other breeders, or from our vet for our specific situations. We are not veterinarians and the things we’ll mention here are more for your awareness so you can have preventive consultations with your vet rather than to lead you through any veterinary procedures.
You’ll need to be aware that there are other skin problems your dog may experience including any of several different types of mange. If you have questions regarding any abnormalities in your dog’s appearance, the safest bet is to consult your veterinarian.
External parasites can also cause your dog severe problems, including death, if there are too many of them. Fleas and ticks are the most common and we use Frontline brand flea and tick treatment that we get from our vet. It can get expensive but nothing we’ve found seems to be as effective. Dipping your dog in various brands of poison made for dipping can kill the fleas and ticks if you can get it soaked through the coat (a difficult job at best with some breeds) but it wears off quickly, especially in wetter areas, and it is a real hassle to dip most LGDs. There are other types of treatments for dogs and off-label drugs that we’ve heard recommended but before you use them, once again, please consult your vet.
The most dangerous of the internal parasites of which we are aware are heartworms. These things can degrade the quality of your dog’s life as well as shorten it. Our vet tells us to start heartworm treatment on pups at about four months; check with yours about it if your LGD is a puppy. If your LGD is an adult, insure that you know whether it has been given heartworm treatment before you acquired it. If it didn’t, and has heartworm, if you treat it, you’ll kill the worms and they can create a blockage in the heart that can be fatal to your dog. Your vet can test for heartworm if you’re not sure of your dog’s history and it’s the only sensible thing to do if you don’t know and want to start treatment. As far as we are aware, there are two different types of treatments for heartworm. There are heartworm-specific medications called Heart Guard and Revolution and there is Ivermectin (we need to stress it’s not Ivomec Plus). Ivermectin is significantly less expensive than the heartworm-specific medications but it is off-label usage and may be lethal to collie type dogs. (We have often been made aware that some folks give their collies this medication with no ill effects but that doesn’t change the fact that it may be lethal to them). We give one cc per hundred pounds orally on a monthly basis but we checked with our vet before we started and suggest that you check with yours. Ivermectin also will generally keep your dogs free of intestinal parasites other than tapeworms. Once again, however, you must look at your dogs on a regular basis and, if their coat looks poor, they seem to start losing weight for no reason, or their gums lose color, have your vet do a fecal exam if you don’t have the equipment to do it yourself.
There are several vaccines which are generally recommended to keep your dogs healthy. We use a seven-way shot (there are some differences in brands but ours covers Distemper, Adenovirus Type 2, Coronavirus, Parainfluenza, Parvovirus (MLV & KV), and Leptospira Bacterin). We order from a supply house. It’s much less expensive to give the shots yourself but your vet should be willing to guide you through it and tell you exactly what vaccines to purchase. At this time, multiple puppy shots with annual boosters for adults are generally recommended although there is some talk about not needing to vaccinate adults that often. We still do the annual boosters and will continue to do so until our vet tells us that the new evidence is clear that we need to change.
Rabies vaccine is a virtual requirement for your dogs. Their job is to stand between your stock and predators, all of which may possibly be rabid. You can get the vaccine and give the shot yourself, but in Oklahoma as well as several other states, the law considers the dog as unvaccinated unless the shot is given by a veterinarian. As usual, dog owners and breeders will argue about which way is best but the answer is, of course, “Whichever way you feel fits your situation” and that is a question no one but you can answer.
Finally there’s the question of spaying and neutering. It is a question as much of effectiveness for your LGDs as it is a social or health question. A “fixed” dog tends to keep its attention on the job much more consistently than does an intact dog as well as the fact that a bitch attending to her pups is not out guarding.
A second and quite major consideration is: “What effect will excessive testosterone have on your intact males?” We found to our dismay that one of our dogs who had been an excellent guardian as well as stud dog couldn’t take the pressure when he reached the age of four years. He was in with a bitch in heat as well as a very rutty buck and several does that were in heat. The particular combination led him into aggressive dominance driven behavior towards the buck. As a result, we have one buck that was mauled and we felt after trying several different interventions that we needed to castrate our stud. We kept him away from all the other animals for a month while the heaviest testosterone levels subsided and have since placed him back as a guardian to insure his appropriate behavior before offering him for sale as an adult guardian.
There quite often is a big controversy about spay/neuter any time you gather dog owners and we won’t get into the social aspect of it right now. The health part of spay/neuter you can discuss with your vet. Spaying is a surgical procedure and we have our vet do all the spays for our dogs. Castration can be done on the farm with the same elastrator and bands you use for goats. Again, check with your vet for the details and make sure you vaccinate the dog for tetanus if you do it yourself. Early spay and neuter is a concept that is readily accepted among most vets at this time. One of the big advantages to the dog owner is that the vet often charges a fee for the procedure that is based upon the size of the dog. With LGDs, eight to twelve week old puppies are a lot smaller and, consequently, the procedure is a lot cheaper than with adult dogs.
We recommend that you take a close look at the question of spay/neuter for LGDs and for pets. It isn’t going to go away and PETA is getting more heavily involved in trying to force legislation to mandate it. It’s a complicated issue and when you add the “Animal Rights” agenda, the facts of the issue can get obscured pretty easily. We think that it’s far more than a question of budget or attitude; it’s a question of “What’s the best action that we, as individuals, can take for ourselves, our dogs, our stock, our pocketbooks, and our personal freedom?” Often the answers to these questions seem to contradict each other and we believe that LGD owners have a responsibility to look deeply at the whole issue. If you do, you may very well end up with the same position that your first reaction led you to but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you reached a studied conclusion.
LGD Food Delivery Systems
Perhaps one of the most common issues that people with LGDs have questions about is feeding their dog. We’ve talked about your feed choices earlier so here we’ll address the question of delivering the food to your dogs rather than your goats. Some LGDs will protect their food from all comers while others are real wimps and stand back while even young goats gorge on delicious high dollar food.
For those worried about the goats, our advice is, don’t be. If the goats clean up the dog food, the only real victims will be you and your budget because dog food sure ain’t hay and you’ll keep replacing it until your dog actually gets to eat. If the dog protects its food, it may sound like your dog is going to kill something but, if you’ll watch without panic, you’ll see that there is a lot of threat noise and posturing but no grabbing or biting. (At least there had better not be or you have some heavy re-training in your future!)
Especially if you have multiple LGDs, the most efficient answer we’ve found to feeding working LGDs is to use self-feeders. This will keep you from being locked into a specific time to feed the dogs. It also means there is always free choice food available to the dogs so they’re never stacked up at the gate waiting to be fed just as the goats decide to go back out to forage. We have never had to hold food back from any of our working dogs because they were eating too much and they seem to stay quite healthy choosing when and how much to eat without our interference. In addition, alpha and dominance issues in regards to food can be resolved according to the dogs’ schedule, not yours. It seems to be somewhat less violent that way.
Self-feeders are easy to locate. Usually everyone from the local feed store to the local pet store will have some variation of the self-feeder for dogs. We find that the size that holds about 50 pounds works well for us, but if you have a single dog, you might want to try one a bit smaller. You’ll need one with a capacity that will hold enough to feed your dog for as long as possible without molding in the feeder. The quantity your dog eats daily, the humidity, and the insect activity in your area are the major issues affecting the amount of food you can effectively store in the feeder and still provide quality food for your dog. If you can find someone who manufactures or assembles the actual feeders, you may save a good deal of money buying seconds. These feeders can be classed as seconds for a marred finish on the metal or other similar inconsequential irregularities. We bought ours several years ago for about half the price we would have paid in a retail store. If you have chickens, you’ll need to raise the feeder by placing a milk crate or similar item under it to prevent the chickens from getting the leverage they need to open the door and eat if they manage to find the feeder.
Simply using a self-feeder is not, unfortunately the complete answer. If your goats like dog food, a little thing like a gravity activated swinging door won’t stop them. They’ll have it figured out as fast as your dogs do (if not a little faster, the dogs aren’t as greedy about their feed as the goats are.) You’ll have to allow your dogs access to the feeder while denying access to the goats. Although it sounds difficult to imagine such a thing, the method is quite simple: surround the feeder with a sturdy fence, cut hole in the fence too high and too small for a goat to jump through but placed just right for your dog and, presto!, you have a goat proof dog feeder.
We have placed hog panel, cattle panel and utility panel (but a wooden fence or any barrier too high for goats would work) around the feeder and cut a hole in the panel about 14 inches off the ground with the hole being 9 inches to 1 foot square. The dogs can get through the hole to get to the feeder and the goats can’t. Make sure any sharp edges or points are smoothed off to protect the dogs when they go through because it is a tight fit. Variations of this method include making a hole for the dogs to crawl under or teaching them to jump in over the top. We don’t use these variations because we feel it teaches and encourages the dogs to use skills helpful in circumventing our fencing.
To teach the dogs to use the feeders, put them in the ‘pen’ show them the food, and lock them in. They can almost always figure out how to get out. You do need to check though; we’ve had some rescue dogs that would have stayed in there forever if they weren’t released. You may have to do this two or three times before they catch on.
On occasion, you’ll find that a goat or two will figure out how to get in to a specific feeder. In that case, you’ll have four choices:
- Reconfigure the feeder fence with a different height from ground and a smaller hole.
- Sell the goat or otherwise physically remove it from the pen where the feeder is located.
- Feed the dogs individually.
- Resign yourself to feed that goat dog food.
We have never found a way to un-train the goat from getting into the feeder without either making changes in the way it’s built or making it just as unusable for dogs as it becomes for goats. (i.e. electric fence to keep animals away is just too inclusive!) The goat will learn easily that it is a “bad thing” to be in the feeder but that just means they run when they see you coming.
With a little patience because the really determined goats will provide excellent quality control data, you’ll have a goat proof dog food delivery system that will provide your LGDs with quality food on a continuing basis.
Written by: Dan and Paula Lane, Oklahoma, Langston University /Goat Research