By David Heininger
HOW AN ARIZONA COUPLE CAME TO GIVE PREDATORS A ONE-TWO PUNCH
TO HELP PROTECT THEIR SMALL DAIRY GOAT HERD.
Blue with David Heininger and goats
A NEED FOR PROTECTION
In the grand scheme of things, 280 acres isn't much land. Certainly it isn't by the standards and traditions of the sprawling, grand old, cattle ranches of the Western United States. It is, however, a lot of land to keep safe from predators, at least it is in this part of the White Mountain Region of Eastern Arizona.
My wife and I took early retirement to our "dream property" in late 2000. We named the 280-acre spread, located near the town of Snowflake AZ, "Black Mesa Ranch" in honor of the dramatic rocky edifice which rises steeply up behind the ranch buildings. After less than 6 months of taking care of the essentials in life (like getting water running from the well and developing our own power supply from the sun and wind) we decided to start making it a real ranch with some animals. We chose dairy goats to begin with and started off the herd with just 2 pregnant, pure bred, registered Nubian does. We soon had a bunch of little goaties running around, adding to our herd. We then purchased a buck and got a wether companion for him and before we knew it we really had a nice little herd running around on the ranch.
Actually, they weren't really running on the ranch much at all, and that was a problem. Our fear of predator attack had made us keep the goats penned up too much of the time. It was pretty wasteful having all that good goat-browsing land but not feeling like we could have them out taking advantage of it more. The property is completely fenced with 4-wire barbed wire but it, of course, is not even a slight deterrent to the numerous predators our valley hosts. While the goats wouldn't leave (they are quite tame, hand-reared and even come by name when called), the coyotes, bobcats, black bears and mountain lions certainly could and did regularly come onto the property. We had seen plenty of their "spoor" (tracks, scat, and other leavings) and had watched once as two large coyotes boldly passed not more than a fifty feet from our house. On a hike, we had surprised a very big bobcat out of it's hiding place on a ridge less than a half mile from our girls' barn. We also have big owls, and eagles as well as many other "predators of opportunity" in the vicinity just looking for an easy meal, as well as packs of dogs roaming around.
During the daylight hours our dogs (we have an assortment of 5, large, mix-breed pets) would often alert and charge off after a usually-unseen threat, but at night, when predators typically come out in force to hunt, our dogs would be snuggled up in the house where they all expected to be able to sleep in comfort. We were fortunate that with some simple, well applied, training of our already good-natured dogs they all readily came to fully accept the goat herd as part of the family (as the goats eventually came to accept them). The dogs would never consider harming a goat, regardless of the provocation. We had observed them chase off a stray dog before it could even approach near the herd but I couldn't say that any of them were really bonded with the goats. I never got the feeling that any of the dogs would go out of their way to help or protect a goat unless it happened to coincide with their own agenda.
In time we began hearing about more and more livestock attacks and maulings in the valley. Stories circulated about several killer dog packs being seen (one report had the number in one pack at 30 to 40 dogs!), and we began to think that our good fortune in not having had any herd losses of our own to predators was simply due to good luck. We have never been particularly comfortable with counting only on luck, so we began to research our herd-protection options.
WHY AN ANATOLIAN LGD?
Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) soon made it to the top of our list of possible solutions. From what we had read they sounded too good to be true. Primarily using on-line resources, we spent an incredible amount of time looking into the various appropriate LGD breeds. We joined numerous online discussion groups, read all the archives we could, monitored ongoing conversation threads and asked a lot of novice questions in order to find out everything we could about the subject. In a surprisingly short time we found ourselves strongly drawn toward the professed attributes of the Anatolian Breed. We heard many good things about them but of all the virtues extolled, there were several which scored most heavily with us.
First, we were most impressed with the descriptions we read about their inclination to an increasing pattern of threat aggression. Many other breeds, we had read, were relentless protectors, pursuing a perceived threat for miles. Others were purported to be particularly good fighters and would fight to the death (presumably, most often that of the predator) upon any provocation.
Anatolians, we learned, had a much more measured pattern of response: Upon identifying a threat they might just stand to make their presence known, then perhaps bark, followed by an advance toward the threat, if warranted a pursuit might be in order and if necessary they were quite capable fighters with the ability and skill to kill if required. This not only followed a common sense "necessary force" philosophy we appreciated but seemed a much better and smarter way for the dog to actually do his job, which is to protect the herd. If a dog is hell-bent on pursuing a predator to the ends of the earth, who's looking after the goats?
We also liked that Anatolians, as a breed, had not readily been latched onto by the Dog Show Crowd. No offense is meant to breeders who concentrate their efforts on the show circuit but, in our experience, show ring criteria (regardless of the animal species) often has nothing to do with breed improvement aimed at making the breed better at its work. Often, show animals are, through selective breeding and training, manipulated into something light years away from their best and highest (or at least most practical) use.
Anatolians, apparently, were not predisposed to showing well by normal standards. Their stubborn belief that they knew their jobs better than any mere human made them poor obedience training candidates. Pure bred Anatolians, we reasoned, would not be watered-down, pasteurized-processed, or "improved" versions of the type of dog we were looking for. It is worthwhile to note that the showing of Anatolians is growing in popularity but it seems to be following a working dog related path. I understand that the occasional battle wound or scar is usually not even deducted for in scoring.
In reading some history of the breed we also found good cause to appreciate them. Anatolians guard livestock. That's what they do, that's all they do, that's what they've done for a thousand years. Properly raised Anatolians will likely think they ARE livestock (albeit livestock with claws and sharp teeth) and their lives are so intertwined with their charges that for all intents and purposes they are one in the same. There is no question of these dogs needing to bond with a particular herd, not really. They are already bonded with livestock in general and readily adopt a new family and protect them instinctively. I don't know if there really is "genetic memory" for a dog to call upon but I do know that if there's even a chance such a thing exists, then I wanted my LGD's memory to be from that heritage.
The final thing that really swung us firmly into deciding that an Anatolian would be best for us was more pragmatic than intrinsic. Anatolian breeders were easier to find in our part of the country so, consequently, the dogs were more available to us than were those of the other LGD breeds that might have many of the same traits and may have worked for us just as well.
FINDING OUR FIRST
In all of our investigations and research into the world of Anatolians we, quite naturally, stumbled upon numerous breeders. Usually our first introduction to them was via their Internet web pages. In a 21st century version of judging books by their covers we found ourselves evaluating these folks by their web presence. While chiding ourselves for this approach we did have to start somewhere and we began email contacting several breeders around the country whose web pages were most interesting and informative. We were, we told them, just starting to look into getting an Anatolian for our small dairy goat herd and could they please give us some guidance on where we should begin? We also inquired as to whether they currently had any dogs available and their pricing structure.
Most of our queries went unanswered. Several breeders told us "Go do some research and tell me what you want, I'll tell you if I have it". A couple of them wrote back with a few constructive suggestions but one man (Erick) wrote back with a book! Well, OK, it was ALMOST a book. In reading the several pages from him we found his comments informative and his training philosophies sound and well thought out. We followed up with him and my wife realized that she had recently read a very good article on Anatolian training (on the Internet, of course) written by this man. Unfortunately Erick's puppies were well beyond our financial reach, and he didn't have any currently for sale anyway. Despite that, Erick continued a long email dialog with us, guiding our thought processes on the subject and helping us come to a clearer picture of what we could expect from a good working Anatolian and what would be required from us to help it function most effectively once we got one here.
The more we learned the more we began to think that maybe a puppy wasn't the route to go for us even though fully trained adult dogs generally cost quite a bit more. Even an exceptionally smart, precocious young dog, under the best of conditions couldn't be really expected to take on full herd-guarding responsibilities all by himself until at least a year old and we already felt we were keeping our goats' safety intact on borrowed time. There was also the whole training regime to consider. Erick has written at length about his training procedures and I'll not reiterate them here. Suffice it to say that, done properly, it is a tremendously time and energy consuming process that is best begun with the pups born right in a stall with livestock and consists of an increasing regimen of reward-based reinforcement for positive behavior. Further, it is best accomplished in conjunction with the watch-and-learn method that puppies instinctively respond to, which means already having an exceptional, fully trained dog working for them to emulate.
Setting our new, seemingly impossible goal of finding a young, fully trained, affordable, working dog we continued mining for prospects, keeping in touch with Erick who was a more-than-willing mentor to us. After several disappointments with dogs or situations that didn't work out we heard again from Erick. He said that he thought he might have a dog that would be perfect for us and were we interested? Of course we were!
Erick proceeded to tell us about "Blue". He said that Blue was a 4-year-old male "Akbash type" Anatolian that he had gotten as a puppy from another breeder on which to test a theory about "nature vs. nurture". Basically, he wanted to learn how many of the outstanding traits in his line of dogs were due to his breeding efforts and how much due to his training efforts. He got Blue very young and put him in the exact environment with the same training as all his dogs received. Blue had done well and had grown up to be an exceptionally intelligent, intuitive and devoted LGD but, as it turned out had not picked up some key characteristics that Erick had hoped to find, or develop in him.
Blue's most serious flaw, from Erick's point of view, was his easy familiarity with humans. A good trait to look for in any livestock guardian dog is a wariness of anything or anyone unfamiliar. This makes perfect sense in that, sadly, man can, in many circumstances, be as much (or more) of a threat to the herd as four-legged predators. Blue just didn't get that. He thought anybody walking erect was there to be his new buddy. In Erick's situation this was definitely an undesirable trait but for us, with a mile-long driveway and our nearest neighbor almost on the other side of the valley, human intruders weren't really a factor. We mostly needed help with protection from wild beasts and Blue had no difficulties with that, as he had demonstrated on numerous occasions on behalf of Erick's herd. Erick was also reducing his goat herd size and already had more than enough dogs to cover his property. He though Blue might actually like being somewhere he would get a little more action. We were happy to oblige.
Blue with David Heininger and goats
BONDING WITH BLUE
Erick had his vet give Blue a full health check and had him neutered (by an interesting laser procedure that was new to me) prior to my going to get him. After an uneventful drive to central Texas I met up face-to-face with Erick for the first time. Blue, who was healing quickly from his surgery greeted me enthusiastically and without hesitation, but Erick made sure to do an "introduction" for the benefit of the many other dogs there since their trust was not so easily given. I found his introduction procedure fascinating.
Erick took me over in front of the fence separating us from the 6-or so big Anatolians and their goats. Though the fence was over eight feet in height I thought it looked much smaller, dwarfed by these monster dogs. I don't remember their exact sizes but he told me that they were some of the largest in the country with his yearling "puppies" approaching 150 pounds!
Anyway, we approached the fence and Erick made a great effort to show the dogs I was a friend. He took me by the shoulder, spoke gently to me and made a great show of shaking my hand slowly, up and down, so all the dogs could see, the whole time telling the dogs "See? He's a FRIEND" and "Good boys". I think it actually worked too. I don't think I would have willingly walked into their pen alone, but they definitely did stop barking and growling directly at me and were willing to let us wander off to see other parts of the property without going completely nuts anymore.
Erick gave me the full tour of the place. Blue rambled along with us and responded well to being called. He was obviously completely at ease, even deferential around the goats and didn't fight the leash when it was time to put it on him. After concluding the business end of things, Blue and I headed back to Arizona. I had been concerned about keeping a big outdoor dog, naturally not housebroken, in the cab of the pick-up with me for the extended trip but Blue was a trooper. He was obviously new to riding in a vehicle and was smart enough to just lie down until he figured out his "sea legs". We stopped often to "stretch" as a preventative measure but Blue seemed to have no difficulties doing his business, pretty much on command.
One thing I had not prepared for was a dog with no manners. Not only did he have no manners, he had no concept of needing manners. He was right, of course. His job in life did not require of him to be socially adroit. I had never had a dog who did not, within the first few weeks of his life, learn that people food was for people and not for dogs. Nor had I ever had a dog older than a small puppy who would, without a hint of malice tear into luggage. Live and learn. Blue loved my fast food burger (paper wrapper and all) and managed to get to and eat his entire 2-day supply of dog food from my duffle bag in about 2 minutes.
I think the long drive together was one of the best things for both of us. We did everything together in close proximity for nearly 24 hours straight. I learned about him, he learned about me and we became comfortable together. We even slept in the cab of the truck together for several bitterly cold hours outside Las Cruces New Mexico one night. I gave him my only blanket to use and thought for sure I was going to freeze. A few weeks later, after he was well settled in at home, I looked out one night to see him curled in a little ball on our back porch sleeping soundly though a wicked ice storm and decided he probably hadn't need my blanket in the truck after all.
MEETING HIS HERD AND SETTLING IN
Upon arriving back at the ranch our plan was to keep Blue with the goats in their large, 5-foot high fenced barnyard for a week to allow them all to get acquainted. We'd leave the goats in the pen for the duration and not let them out for their customary free-range browsing during the day. We would then, once he was completely comfortable, bring out our house dogs, one at a time, to meet Blue. We'd start with the friendliest, least dominant of them and work our way up the pecking order over the course of several days. That was our plan.
We brought Blue into the pen where all the goats were congregated. He seemed at ease with them right away, they a bit less so with him. After a little while they were coming over to sniff him and our herd mama goat Trudy gave him a pretty solid butt to the shoulder. Just her way of saying "Hello", and Blue seemed to realize that, simply ducking away, not making eye contact and getting very small. Blue's way of saying "OK, you're the boss (and you don't have to bomp me anymore OK?)". Soon all was nearly normal and settled-looking so we headed for the house to let them mingle together unsupervised for a while. To our surprise, Blue practically beat us to the front door. I have no idea how he got out, though I suppose he went over the fence. He obviously had no intention of running off and seemed quite content to hang out with us. The thing was that we wanted him to hang with the goats.
We took him back to the pen, stayed with them all for a while and then, when he really looked settled in (lying in nice dry spot in the dirt under the girls' milk room) we left. Again he was out before we were more than a few dozen feet away, though we still didn't see how he got out. This time we began to worry that regardless how he was getting out, it was probably not good for getting him to heal up successfully from his neutering surgery (I still cringe at the thought of him going over the fence in that condition). So, we decided to let him stay out if he wanted, counting on his bonding time with me in the truck, our remoteness and his obvious appreciation for having goats to protect, to keep him around.
We ended up accelerating the dog introductions too with everybody getting together that very first day. Everything went so smoothly we couldn't believe it. Blue got along with everybody and even subjected himself to a rough-and-tumble roust-about with the two younger dogs with nobody losing their cool or causing any problems. (Erick's cautionary note: This is not tyical for an Anatolian male so don't expect such good social interaction from yours!)
Blue's first night was quite and uneventful. I guess he was pretty pooped from the trip and probably spent his time getting the lay of the land. He found several places he deemed comfortable, made little nests and kept to himself. The next night was another story altogether.
The next night Blue barked. Very loudly, All night long. He was barking in what we now recognize as his "announcing bark". At the time we were asking ourselves "What the heck have we gotten ourselves into?", "Is he going to do this all the time, every night?". Fortunately, neighbors (irate or otherwise) are not a consideration here but it was still half annoying. The other half was concerned. Was he really finding something(s) to bark at all that much? If so why aren't they scared off by all the noise? Of course the other dogs were going nuts every 10 minutes too. It was not a restful night for anybody.
The next night was a little better but still pretty noisy and the night after that was pretty quite all-in-all. We later decided that all his fussing was just his way of telling the whole valley "Hey everybody (especially you predatory-types), there's a new guy in town and I'm the baddest of the bunch, so don't even think of coming around here" (or something similar to that). Blue settled in every other way too, except for staying in the pen for more than 5 minutes if we were not there. On his second day here he started going on our morning walks of the property with the goats and soon had staked out a territory to patrol which he still works diligently.
We were amused to be watching one day a few weeks after he'd been on the job as Blue, observing the goats from a ways away, noticed something he didn't like. He immediately ran up to the herd, circling them a couple of times then loped off to their barn. The goats followed along like he had lassoed them or had suddenly become the herd leader. Once they were all in the paddock, he went back out and intensely patrolled the area where they had all been gathered until he was satisfied that all was well.
Another time, Blue, all the goats, and three of our household dogs were all lazing together in the shade under a tree in a big, sprawling pile. Suddenly something caught the dogs' attention and they all tore off simultaneously, barking like mad, making a bee-line for the other side of the property. We expected this to totally freak-out the goats and have them running for safety and couldn't believe it when they too all took off at a dead run in the same direction, bellowing, chasing after the dogs for quite some distance! Finally Trudy, the herd queen, decided that there was something wrong with that scenario and turned the group around and led them back to the barn.
STRETCHING HIS LIMITS
It was clear , right from the start, that Blue was a wonderful LGD. Even when he appeared to be dozing off in the sunshine he was hard at work, periodically sniffing the air or taking a peak out from his half-lidded eyes. He always seemed to position himself upwind of the goats, facing downwind so that anything approaching would be seen, smelled or heard long before it got close to his herd. At night he was on full alert and actively patrolling, by day he got his beauty rest but definitely kept an eye on things too.
We only noticed a couple of problems with him. Actually the problems were mostly with our needs and physical inability for just one guard dog to get it all done. There was just too much room on our ranch for him to be able to cover it all effectively and if something caught his eye, if he went to investigate, the herd would be left relatively unguarded. To his credit, he managed to enlist the help of our pet dogs whenever possible and it was something to see. He would alert, giving a characteristic bark and growl that both we and our other dogs came to recognize immediately. The house dogs would instantly go to see what it was that he had noticed and would often quickly outdistance Blue in the chase (they are an athletic bunch to say the least). Blue would usually be the first to return to the goats, letting the others take care of whatever they were after.
The other difficulty came from his attachment to people. We had not thought that it would be a problem here on the Ranch but, to a certain extent we were wrong. We never do have any visitors to distract him but we had not anticipated his strong bonding to us. Often the goats would be off browsing up on the side of the mesa, or out behind their barn and we would need to go off to the shop or the orchard (both about ½ a mile away) to do some work. Sure enough Blue would show up, find a shady spot and hang out there with us until we were done and headed back. No amount of telling him to "Go to your goats" (a command he was supposed to be familiar with) could dissuade him from following me or my wife around, completely forsaking his goats.
Only twice, when we left the property did Blue follow the truck and though he did so for several miles I have a hard time faulting him since both times we were taking sick goats into town for a visit to the vet. I have no doubt that Blue thought that he was doing his job just fine despite our concerns. His excursions away from the herd were almost always in broad daylight and we never had a single loss to imply that he was wrong in not being there near them, but WE felt uncomfortable. That's how much we had come to appreciate the peace of mind that came from knowing he was there for the goats if needed.
Predation in the area was picking up again as spring approached and newspaper articles with banner headlines reported new livestock attacks by dog packs in locations ever nearer to our part of the valley. Within a two day time frame Blue got into a couple of rough scuffles, one with a coyote who subsequently died up on the mesa and one of undetermined nature that left him with several puncture wounds to treat and a minor limp. The guy was doing a great job for us and we were thrilled with his performance but we started thinking that another LGD on property might be just the ticket to ease some of his work load and help cover some of the gaps in his protection.
TAG TEAM GUARD DOGS
As you can probably tell, we were completely sold on Anatolians and began researching how they might work in tandem. To our great delight we found that not only were they supposed to get along well together but they apparently could be expected to understand working together and would divide up territory and/or duties in order to provide the best possible protection for their herd in any given situation. Thus encouraged we began looking for another dog to complement Blue's efforts.
We had heard that female LGD's often stuck closer to a herd than their male counterparts, an attribute often accredited to their innate mothering tendencies. Anecdotally, we learned from some K-9 unit police officers, when we were living in Tucson, that one of the greatest difficulties they have with their highly-trained female dogs is their tendency, in dangerous working situations, to insist on coming back to check on their human partners instead of going after the bad guys as they were supposed to. This, when applied to livestock guarding, sounded like just what we were looking for so we kept our eyes out for a suitable young, working female Anatolian to bring to the ranch.
As good luck would have it, soon after we began looking in earnest, Carleen Conyers, national director for the National Anatolian Shepard Rescue Network (NASRN) posted a notice to an Internet discussion group we monitored advising that a rescued dog had become available in our state. From the brief description the dog only marginally met our criteria. She sounded much too young and it wasn't clear whether she was really a trained, working LGD. We had also heard mixed reviews about dogs from rescue groups with the chief complaint being that the groups were more pet dog than working dog oriented. Some groups apparently completely refuse to place their dogs in working environments at all, regardless of the animal's training, upbringing, aptitude or preference. This, while baffling to us, fortunately did not apply to NASRN which actively and proudly handles working dogs. We decided to get some more information on this dog.
Follow-up emails and phone calls to Carleen and to the woman who was fostering the dog until it was permanently placed, were very encouraging. The dog "Kira" had come to the rescue organization by way of a Humane Society in TX where, before being turned in to them, she had been working with sheep. Her former owner had not been able to work with her and had said that she "interfered with a ewe trying to suckle her lamb" and had gotten rid of her because of that. We bottle feed all of our kids here so that particular trait was not consequential to us. Kira was currently in a foster home with goats and other dogs and was reported to be working well with everybody. She was two years old Kangal type Anatolian, healthy (if a bit undernourished) with a strong instinct to stay with the goats. She had just been spayed and had already been "Low Jacked" with the Avid identifying chip. She sounded just right.
The way the NASRN normally works is that an application is made to adopt a dog. The organization then goes out to do a home visit and suitability assessment of any new adoptive family and their surroundings. If the adopters are approved, an appointment to have the dog picked up or delivered is scheduled, fees to help offset the organization's rescue expenses are paid and the dog begins a trial period at his new home.
In our situation, being in a remote location far from the foster home, we did much of the qualifying by email and telephone. Probably the greatest concern of the rescue people was our lack of adequate fencing but the fact of the dog's own proclivity to remain tight with the herd, and with our property's large acreage and no near-by neighbors (plus a good word, again from Erick!) they seemed to think it would be OK. We arranged for the foster family to bring the dog all the way out here (several hundred miles) on the assumption that we would check out. If we did, we would take the dog right then, if not they would take her back with them.
The introductions with Kira at the ranch were interesting and surprising. We saw the foster family driving in a long way off and put all of the household dogs inside before they arrived, leaving only Blue and the goats out. Blue, true to his nature, ran up to the car to greet the newcomers and was startled by Kira's warning barks and growls from the back seat. Kira had quite a lot to say to Blue through the partly opened car window but eventually we decided that they'd have to meet sooner or later.
With Kira on a leash, we opened the door and out she rushed, straight for Blue. To our amazement, Blue let her right up to his face without a flinch or a move. She gave him a good sniffing and then started some dominant behaviors, snapping and mounting him. He let her do it with little more than a grunt. We were flabbergasted but apparently it is not at all uncommon for the female, even thought she is the newcomer, to assert, and be granted a situational dominance. That bit of anti-climatic melodrama dispensed with, we headed over to the goat barn to see how she would act with them.
Our goats, very used to having dogs around them, eyed Kira suspiciously but when she showed them respect by not crowding or running up to them, and by averting her eyes and turning away when the goats challenged her, they quickly dismissed her as a threat and lost interest completely soon thereafter. I suppose that having Blue there, obviously unconcerned about Kira's presence, helped comfort them too.
All the while we were giving Kira the once-over for suitability to our operation, the Rescue folks were, of course, doing the same to us. I don't know exactly what they were looking for but I guess we passed and after filling out some forms and paying them, Kira had a new home.
NIGHT AND DAY
We've had Blue on the job for a while now and Kira only for a short time. We are still getting used to her modus operandi (and she to ours) but already it is clear that these two Anatolian LGDs are as different as night and day. Literally. The dogs have divided up the work load most equitably into a night shift and a day shift.
Kira takes the day shift that begins just after morning milking duties. She is on full alert all day, patrolling the grounds some but, most importantly, staying very close to the goats on their browsing wanders around the property. Her toughest duty comes when the herd splits up. Today was banding day for a couple of little buckling twins to make them little wethers and while they remained in good health and spirits after the procedure they just didn't feel up to as much moving around as the rest of the herd was doing. They tended to stay close to their barn, though nearly always in sight of the rest of the goats.
Kira kept very busy, traveling from one group to the other. In the afternoon all the grazing goats had settled down under a tree to rest. The little boys chose that time to come out and, having lost track of where the rest of the herd was, began to holler. The herd mama was sound asleep but Kira was on the job, rushing over as the first little cry died in the air. She touched each of the little guys then headed off toward the herd. Seconds later they followed behind at a trot, happy as could be.
Just four days after Kira arrived on the ranch we had a goat kid born on her shift. We separate our kids immediately from the mothers at birth, and only bottle feed them for a multitude of reasons. As I carried the kid out to the house our pet dogs came to meet the new arrival. They sniffed him and did little licks to his face being as gentle as could be. Suddenly, for no reason other than that he was a baby goat, he let out a scream. Kira, who had been in the midst of all the dogs, instantly whirled on them, snapping and growling. I guess she thought maybe one of them had hurt it. She then escorted me and the baby toward the house, not letting the other dogs get even close, then hurried back to the paddock to check on the rest of the herd.
Blue takes every opportunity to sleep during the day. He has a half dozen favorite spots where he hunkers down, scrunches his eyes closed and appears dead to the world. If an intruder comes along (as did a passing stray dog today) he will be one of the first in pursuit but his druthers are to be left alone. Kira still tries to get him to play from time to time but he is amazingly firm in his refusal to even get up and will severely correct her for abusing his nap time if she persists.
Night is a different story altogether. Beginning after the evening milking, the shifts change. The goats are shut up in their barnyard along with Kira and the night belongs to Blue. Blue usually comes on duty with a patrol of his territory.
He has staked out a fairly extensive chunk of real estate to protect (having nothing at all to do with our property lines) and he will generally make a circuit stopping often to "announce", a distinctive woo-woo-ing bark, just to let the world know he's there. He will then find a place to settle in for a while, watching, listening and smelling for danger. On an easy night he may change his look-out location 4 or 5 times. On a night with trouble in the air he may move dozens of times in reaction to where he thinks he will best be positioned to act.
Recently we have had several HUGE bulls visiting the property that have been keeping him quite busy. I don't think Blue has anything against the bulls himself and I'm sure he understands that they are not a life threat to his herd BUT he also knows that, for whatever reason, our goats are terrified of them. He's seen their reactions and is instinctively trying to protect them from what they fear. His method is to approach the bulls, making a big fuss. He will come to within about fifty feet of them and just sit there, positioned between them and the goat barn and bark. And bark, and bark, and bark. Eventually the bulls will move off in the other direction. Blue will move with them, barking constantly, until he deems that they are far enough away at which time he will go settle in and continue his watch. I think that there is a special bark he is using for the bulls now as our household dogs completely ignore this ranting (but will instantly respond to a different alert minutes later).
Blue's shift ends as the sun hits our solar panels and we head out, again for the morning milking of his goats. It's shift change time and Kira is well rested and raring to go.
There are a lot of considerations to take into account when deciding on whether or not a herd guardian dog (or two) is right for your operation. We were fortunate to have some really excellent advice and support our very first time out which made finding the right dog for us a real pleasure. That having worked out so well, we were much better positioned to know just what we needed to round out our herd protection needs and find a second dog to suit those needs. The best advice? Don't skimp on your homework, learn what it is that you need and then be patient and persistent in looking for just the right animal for you. Don't compromise. You, your herd and your LGD should be a symbiotic partnership designed to last a very long time so it should be done right, right from the beginning. Work with breeders or other whose judgment you trust and listen to the experts where ever you can find them. Finally, don't immediately dismiss the possibility of getting a good working dog from one of the rescue groups. Dogs end up with these organizations for many reasons, not all incompatible with their continuing a useful working life at a new home.
CONTACTS AND MORE INFORMATION
David Heininger (author)
Black Mesa Ranch
Web Page: Black Mesa Ranch Online
Lucky Hit Ranch
Exceptional Anatolian Shepherds
Web Page: Lucky Hit Ranch
National Anatolian Shepherd Rescue Network
Carleen Conyers, National Director
Web site: http://www.nationalanatolianshepherdrescuenetwork.com
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