\ Working Livestock Guardian Dogs -- The Great Pyrenees of Clear Creek Farms Protecting Goats

Livestock Guardian Dogs at Work

Have you ever had the opportunity to watch your livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) at work? We are always fascinated with ours.

We have, at the present time, three LGDs – Dixie, a pureblood Great Pyrenees whom we've had since she was 9 weeks old; Dale Dell, a 1/2 Great Pyrenees and 1/2 sheepdog (who we bought as a "long-haired Pyrenees") who also came to live with us as a young pup; and DeeDee, a female we kept from Dixie's first litter. Dale Dell was neutered and DeeDee spayed. Dixie is bred to a neighbor's pureblood Great Pyrenees and continues to produce marvelous pups.

Before we bought Dixie, we listened to our friends and neighbors who had LGDs; we read books and articles about the Great Pyrenees breed; and we learned:

1. You should get your puppy when he/she is very, very young so he/she will bond with your goats. (The people we bought Dixie from were selling the puppies at 5 weeks old. We paid extra for them to keep Dixie another month because our fences were not completed and we didn't have our goats yet.)

2. When you bring the new puppy into your herd, you should refrain from petting him/her. Your only job is to feed the dog. You shouldn't even talk to the puppy. The dog's only friends must be the goats so he/she will bond with the goats.

3. LGDs will never leave their charges.

Unfortunately, Dixie didn't listen to our friends and neighbors nor did she read very well. Almost immediately she started to dig out of the pen she shared with three young goats and three kittens. So much for the myth a LGD will never leave her goats. Over the years we've also learned a puppy of 5 weeks is not mature enough to protect himself, much less other animals. We've also learned the petting rule only applies for about three weeks; if you don't socialize with the LGD to some extent you will have trouble catching him for medicine and shots.

Dale Dell lives with the bucks. He doesn't seem to mind the odor and enjoys the challenge of keeping the boys in shape. Several times a day he will play a short game of chase-the-goat, alternating which buck/buckling he wants to exercise. He never bites or nips a goat; his size is intimidating enough that when Dale Dell chases, they sprint. Dale Dell has a very deep, ferocious bark and keen hearing. Dale Dell never digs underneath the fence, but he does go over when an emergency arises. We put an electric fence around the top of the field fence, and for the most part that keeps him inside his area. But during true emergencies – at least what Dale Dell perceives to be emergencies – the electric fence doesn't slow him down....he's up and over and out!

We have long since given up trying to keep Dixie and DeeDee confined to any area. Oh, if we put electric fencing around the bottom of all our fences, they won't dig under. And they don't go over. But we have determined that cramps their guarding style; and since we have the space and the neighbors don't complain too much, we allow them to go where they think they need to be to do their job.

We highly recommend goat farms have a minimum of two LGDs. They seem to work best as a team. One of the dogs will detect something that doesn't seem right and bark. We have learned that different barks apparently mean different things to different animals. When Dale Dell barks his deep, non-stop bark, the other two dogs will perk up; but the goats totally ignore him. When DeeDee barks, the goats stop where they are and listen; but they don't seem unusually alarmed. Dixie apparently has two barks – one to call all the goats to her and one to send the goats to the barn.

When a strange animal appears on our farm – dog, opossum, cow, coyote, human – one of the dogs sounds the alarm, and the other dogs become instantly alert. It doesn't matter if they are out in the pasture with the goats, sleeping on the creek bank, or visiting with someone at the barn; if the alarm is sounded, it's time to go to work!

Dale Dell will run up and down the fence line of his pen, barking. DeeDee will take off in a hard run, barking every breath she takes. She will go under fences, around fences, or into the creek if she has to, never taking her eyes off her target. Dixie will run to the goats (or call them to her); get them in a circle around her; then position herself between the goats and the danger. The terrified goats will stay as close to Dixie as she will allow them. If DeeDee's barking pitch changes, and Dixie believes DeeDee needs help, she will direct the goats to the barn then dash off to DeeDee's assistance.

When we first turn the goats out into the hay field or day pasture, Dixie and DeeDee patrol the area – running all along the area the goats are allowed into. Once they determine the area is safe, they may wander off to the old house on another part of the farm or wander up to check on any goats we may have in quarantine or check on the babies in a different field. They patrol roughly 1,000 acres belonging to various relatives, leaving their scent in the different pastures and fields. Prior to getting the LGDs, our immediate neighbors used to lose at least one or two calves every year to coyotes. Since Dixie and DeeDee started making the rounds on their patrols, the calves have been safe. But somehow the LGDs realize the goats are their first priority.

DeeDee will not let the cows next door get too close to her goat friends – at least not while we're at the barn. Sometimes we think they perform their guard routine for our benefit in their attempt to convince us they are necessary. And they succeed! The LGDs at work is an impressive sight to behold.

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Ken and Pat Motes
Clear Creek Farms
33 South Clear Creek Road
Fall River, Tennessee 38468
Phone: (931) 852-2167
Fax: (931) 852-2168

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