When I first started this blogging category I thought I’d just give a general monthly update about what’s happening on our farm. However, winter months can be a bit quieter, and this past month most of what’s going on has to do with me saying, “Oh, Enoch!” So – he can continue his month of highlights on here.
Enoch is a Livestock Guardian Dog, or LGD. Many people mistakenly use this term to describe any breed of dog that they choose to use to protect their animals. However, this is not the correct usage. There are several breeds that are considered LGDs, such as Pyrenees, Maremma’s, Karakachan’s and many more. Collie’s are not LGDs. They are not bred to be guardians and to bond with livestock in the same way as an LGD. Most of us are more familiar with the term Herding Dog. That’s the category a Collie fits in to. So the Collie works with livestock, can be commonly found on a farm and generally gets along with the livestock but they will not guard and protect with the same skill and instincts a LGD will. You do not want an LGD to herd your livestock in the same way you would want your Collie to. They are basically each their own specialized equipment that we use on our farms for specific tasks.
I’d been talking about wanting sheep on our farm for a number of years, but it’s not generally a decision you just make over night. I began doing research, trying to learn about the sheep world and the pros and cons of the various breeds. During my research I began to hear a lot about these LGDs. Some in the sheep world believe if you don’t have a LGD you might as well not have sheep. Sheep are prey for pretty much everything it seems, from the expected coyotes, wolves, cougars and foxes, to the more surprising ravens, hawks and eagles. LGDs are the perfect bodyguard. They bond strongly with the livestock you put them with, they have a low prey drive, so they’re not going to chase your stock to death or boss them around constantly herding them and they tend to be energy conservationists. They like to chill until called into action. If they do not have livestock to bond with they tend to assign themselves the duty of guarding the people in their family. So I decided if I was going to have sheep I was going to do it right and get a Livestock Guardian Dog. Begin second topic of research – and the seemingly bigger learning curve of sheep ownership at the moment.
Because of common puppy behaviors LGDs should not be left unsupervised with the stock they are going to protect until they are older than two. However, you do want them living in close proximity to the stock so they begin bonding with them. While they have the instincts to do their job, they still need to be “parented” to encourage them in the right direction and correct from unwanted behavior. A trained adult LGD is sometimes so bonded to their livestock that they are difficult to re-home and have bond to your new livestock. They are also very expensive. So that left me with a bit of a conundrum – do I look for a puppy, that requires a lot of time, energy and skill to train and won’t be able to fulfill it’s work load for 2 years, or do I try to find an adult that has been well trained and living on a farm with the same type of animals we have on our farm? That’s not so easy to do, there is a high demand for those kind and a glut in the market on available adults that have huge behavioral issues related to how they were raised, making them unsuitable for the task you need them for. The problem resolved itself when I was offered Enoch. He was six months old at the time and living with a family that loved him dearly. However, this family lived in a city. While some LGDs can be raised to live safely in the city, it is not the kind of environment where most of them thrive. This family he was with made the difficult decision that he needed farm life and they were connected with me through a mutual friend. And so began my Enoch journey.
When I got him his name was Bear. The name suits him, however, we already had a Bear on the farm. I chose Enoch because in Hebrew it means “dedicated” and “trained.” Enoch and I quickly fell in love. He arrived a month before the sheep and we had time to get him used to us and the farm before we introduced the sheep. He was born in November, so currently he is almost 15 months old. 9 more puppy months. 9 more puppy months. These dogs are smart. Crazy smart. As in he’s figured out how to open and get the chain out of carabiners. I’m starting to wonder if he’s got opposable thumbs I haven’t seen yet. He constantly amazes me the way he learns. He is very responsive to praise. If he thinks he should play with a bull for example I’ll tell him no. Sometimes I have to say no a couple times, but usually he pauses long enough to look at me. If I can get a “good boy” out fast enough then I’ve pretty much stopped the behavior. He may “consider” a couple more times, but always stops before acting with a gently spoken no followed by more “good boys” when you can see his intent has changed. And you can see him wavering between his desire to continue but his willingness to please almost always wins out. The challenge comes in with his age. He’s a mixture between a rebellious teenager and a two year old. You may have a good teachable moment followed by him starting something else that leads to another teachable moment and another lol. LGDs should not be considered stranger safe. As in, if they don’t know you they will protect their area from you. Each breed is a little different in their level of guarding and each dog is an individual in this area as well. There are people that have been in Enoch’s life and area consistently and he is safe with them, but if he is scared, hurt, unsure or unfamiliar with something his reaction is protect first, ask questions later. If you ever visit someone with a LGD do not approach the dog until the owner has told you it is safe to do so. These dogs often look so kind and cuddly that people make that mistake. Enoch could never be a free to roam about the yard dog because his protective instincts are quite strong. It has also posed a challenge the couple of times he’s been injured. Once he got several porcupine quills in his nose and feet and he had to be taken to a vet and sedated before we could get them out. The second time was when he got his tail tangled in the frayed ends of a cable he chewed through. Thankfully, after the first incident I’d purchased a muzzle and so the neighbor and I were able to get everything sorted out without being eaten. So in the end I have a super loveable dog that is smart and independent and a puppy, so it has come with it’s challenges! I’m really enjoying him and I’m really looking forward to his 2nd birthday!