The Puppy Diaries
7/1/09- I have been wanting some type of livestock guardian for quite a few years. We have not lost any sheep to predators, but neighbors within a few miles have, and coyotes have been killed in the area. I felt it was only a matter of time before they discovered our flock on the hill. We investigated llamas, were concerned they might injure our pet dogs and children, donkeys-heard stories of them injuring and killing sheep. We were not sure about a dog…we didn’t like the idea of listening to a dog bark all night (I’m sure the neighbors would feel the same) and didn’t want to worry about an aggressive dog biting a visitor. Last year I purchased the book Storey’s Working Animals, Livestock Guardians, Using Dogs, Donkeys and Llamas to Protect Your Herd* by Janet Vorwald Dohner. The book starts out talking about the problem of predation, describing the range and hunting habits of predators. There are sections on lethal and non lethal methods of control, including a section on effective fencing. The book then goes on to talk about guardian animals, predominantly dogs. There is a section that describes 31 different breeds of livestock guardian dogs, giving some history, appearance, and character/temperament info on each breed. Each section talks about selection, training and management of guard animals, the pros and cons of the animals and solving problems with the animals (such as aggression towards the family pets). Interspersed throughout the book are reports by shepherds on what has worked for them. One of those reports was from by D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD, Professor of Pathology and Genetics at Virginia Tech, who has written about conservation of rare breeds, and color genetics of animals (including the article Color Genetics in Coopworth Sheep on this website). Dr. Sponenberg and his wife raise rare Tennessee Fainting Goats and after trying several different breeds and crosses of Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs), imported some Bulgarian Shepherds or Karakachan dogs. He chose them because he wanted a breed that was moderate in size, fairly short hair, nonaggressive (he states that good LGDs work by being there, not by being aggressive), non roaming, multicolored , and not an incessant barker. Many of these qualities are what I wanted, too! I contacted him to ask if he was still pleased with the dogs, and he told me he was…and was expecting a litter. We reserved a pup and started making plans for our new addition. Below is a journal of our experiences with "Bob". Most recent postings at the top.
If you would like to read more about Karakachan Dogs, see;
*Another good book is Livestock Protection Dogs: Selection, Care, and Training by Orysia Dawydiak and David E. Sims
2/20/12 A few months ago our son saw a bear sow and cubs pass through the woods. Shortly after, Bob must have caught wind of them, because he took off towards the wood, huffing with excitement, then cleared the 4 foot fence topped with electric! After that there was no keeping him in, it seemed. I am glad he wanted to chase the bears off, but I can't have him jumping fences and taking off to run the county! We ended up getting a stronger fence charger and topping the fences with a strand of 1/2 inch electric tape. I also hung strips of bacon from the hotwire to teach any animals to leave the fence alone. Those strips of bacon are still there, 2 months later, and Bob is staying in the fence with the sheep (...keeping my fingers crossed!).
6/7/11 Well, I think the coyotes found us! Three weeks ago we put the flock in the furthest pasture from the house. Bob was not with them because I was still waiting for the last ewe to lamb and did not trust him yet- I have read to closely supervise a LGD for the first several lambing seasons. The next morning I heard a ewe calling her lamb constantly. I went up to check- saw a turkey vulture in the pasture and found a lamb it had been eating- puncture wounds in the throat…searched the field and found another dead lamb- this one had not been fed on, just puncture wounds and blood on the throat. We moved the sheep out of that field and put Bob with them- wearing his “dangle stick” to keep him from running around the sheep too much. I removed the dangle stick after about a week. I have not put the sheep back in that pasture- have been keeping them in the pastures with the electric netting closer to the house. So far we have not lost any more lambs.
2/13/11 Bob has spent the winter either in the barnyard next to the sheep or in the barn with an area of cattle panel separating him from the sheep- he can enter or leave this pen at will. Occasionally I put him in the field with the sheep on the chain connected to a small building bedded in straw. About a week ago I made a "dangle chain" with a length of PVC pipe. The talented dog can still run with it, though, so the second day I clipped a rubber bucket on to it! My plan was to put him out with the sheep for a few hours each day so they could get used to him again. His ram buddy was back to have his face licked when Bob was with the sheep, but most of the sheep are afraid of Bob, especially when he runs. Apparently Bob has decided it is time to live with the sheep, though, because the past 4 days he has gone over the fenceline manger at night and we have discovered him with them in the morning. He apparently killed a possum in the pasture a few nights ago. This does not bother me, but Jim felt sorry for the possum (Bob has had his rabies shots!). I plan to separate the ewes from the rams and horses soon since the ewes will start to lamb in a little over a month and it's time to start supplementing their feed. I plan to keep Bob with the rams then. He was 6 months old at last year's lambing, and I don't want to leave him with lambing ewes yet, but will introduce the babies to him after they are born by holding them and letting him smell and lick them when I eartag and dock them, as I did last year.
10/13/10 Well, we had to put Bob back on the chain when he is with the sheep. I didn't see him chasing them, but several had torn and chewed up coats. We keep the coats on the sheep to keep the fleeces clean, and maybe he thinks they should be "natural"! We have gone back to putting him in a field next to them at night, and on the chain with them in the day. He is about 14 months old now.
6/26/10 For the past month I have been leaving Bob in with the flock unchained. The weather has been hot, and I figured he wouldn't feel much like playing with the sheep. The flock consists of about 50 sheep at the moment- rams, ewes with lambs (the youngest lamb is about 6 weeks old) and 2 horses. Bob has been very good about staying in the fields we put him in...have not had him try to dig out or climb over. He does sometimes dig a spot up in the shade to stay cool. He does not seem to have a fear of thunder or gunshots- I have a neighbor who sometimes target practices...Bob starts barking when he hears him firing. Recently, a group of buzzards were flying fairly low over the field where our flock was grazing with Bob. Bob saw them and started running after them with his tail and head up high! He never barked at them, but kept running after them until he reached the fence line. What a good pup!
5/6/10 Bob is 8 months old and weighs about 90 lbs. We removed him from the pregnant ewes and put him with the rams back in January. He wants to play with the sheep, so he is only in the field with rams and the horses on a chain when I am not with him to supervise. Lately, we have been leaving him in one of the fields that doesn't have sheep in it at night. This field is next to the sheep so he can be close but not play with them. I am told that LGDs take a long time to mature- up to 2 years, so it may be a while before I can trust him alone with the flock.
12/24/09 Can't believe it has been a month since I last wrote an update on Bob! He will be 16 weeks tomorrow and has started to bark when he hears strange noises. Several weeks ago we had our first snow and he loved it, tunnelling and rolling in it.We had our first instance of inappropriate behavior with the sheep at that time. Bob was still living with the 9 month old lambs, and coming with me into the pasture with the adult ewes at feeding. He was a little afraid of the adult ewes, and they did not like him much, stamping their feet and a few charging him. I used the children's sled to take some hay to the ewes, and a few ewes ran from the sled. Bob started chasing one ewe, and did not stop when I yelled at him. He and the ewe ran past me, and I was able to grab him by the scruff of the neck, threw him to the ground, and yelled at him. He yelped and ran off when I released him. Last week we put all the sheep together with access to the barn where Bob has his "safe corner", a place where he can excape and has a dog house, but the sheep can not get in. Bob did a lot of hiding, and all but one ewe seemed to ignore him. It has been about a week now, and Bob and the sheep are tolerating one another. We have not had to shut Bob up in his corner like I anticipating having to do and we have not seen any more chasing.
Weighed Bob this a.m.- he was 33 lbs!
We have had Bob a little over 3 weeks now.I took him to the vet last week for his booster shots, then we ran some errands around town. This is only the 3rd time he has been in the car, and he was not happy at first, but by the time we got home he seemed fine with the car. After the vet's we
stopped at the body shop to check on my car...hit a deer, a major problem in this area, but the first time for me. The people who own the shop have a Boston Terrier, and she and Bob had a good time playing, then everyone in the shop came in to say "Hi" to him...he enjoyed all the attention.
We then walked on leash to the hardware store. The traffic on Main St. frightened him- guess I need to expose him to that more.
10/26/09 On Saturday Jim remade the puppy pen, using taller cattle panels lined with chicken wire. He let Bob out to play in the yard with our son and Ilse, and pester him while he worked. I chased the seven month old lambs into the barn and shut them in- they can't bond if they can't even see each other! We take the pup out of the inner pen when we are home during the day- leaving him in the barn with the lambs. We have been bringing him out of the barn to play with our house dog and get some human attention. The lambs have gotten used to him, even going up to sniff him. He acts appropriately submissive, avoiding eye contact, but has barked at them a few times when he feels frightened by them (there is a corner he can retreat to that they cannot get in, as well as his inner pen with a small door, which I leave open)...they don't seem too concerned by his barking anymore. He seems to prefer the barn where the lambs are, going back on his own accord after a little time with us and the house dog. Phil had cautioned us that the pups often “shut down” for a while when removed from the litter- refusing to eat and acting depressed, but Bob has not done that at all. He remains playful and hungry! Which reminds me, these dogs are slow to mature (but Bob weighs 17 lbs at 7 weeks!) and Phil says to feed half puppy chow and half adult dog food. Feeding too high protein can cause bone and joint problems. Phil said the dogs are raised on barley and fish meal in Bulgaria, but he does not recommend that diet! Maybe we have spent more time with him than we should, but I feel that the breed is used to being part of the family as well as the flock. Bob does not nap on the stoop like Ilse will- even though he could if he wanted to...he goes back into the barn with the lambs (I have left the door unlatched and he quickly learned to open it with his nose to get in and out...it closes by itself because it isn't plumb!). So far the lambs have not figured that the door is unlatched! I have some chew toys and balls in the barn and he amuses himself with those. He does seem to be content without our company-unlike Ilse. It has only been a few days, but it seems a good start.
10/23/09- We left home about 7:30 am, heading south on Rt. 220 towards Covington, VA, then taking some very scenic secondary roads (narrow and twisted!) south to Blacksburg. We arrived at about 12:30 and Phil showed us the parents and then the 6 pups. Three of the six pups
were more outgoing and came up to greet us. Phil explained that someone familiar with LGDs would prefer the more reserved pups, but of course we wanted a more friendly one! We ended up choosing a light sable male. I had brought my camera, but forgot to take it out of the car and take photos!