By Pam DesJardins, Owl Acres Alpacas, Granby, MA
Inanna Byron Bay of Lucky Hit (Byron) working at his new home -
Owl Acres Alpacas in Granby, MA
We had begun a new journey - raising alpacas. We started slowly and as we began to grow and add to our herd we began to be more and more concerned about protecting our herd and our investment. We had spoken to several alpaca farms that had dogs and the options appeared to be Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherds. After some investigation we decided that we would look for an Anatolian. I went to the internet to begin looking for information and the sight that continuously came up was a southern breeder who had amazing references. After many conversations both with the breeder and numerous references we decided to purchase a puppy.
She was shipped to us at five weeks old. Any dog I had ever gotten in the past was never allowed to leave their mother until eight weeks. When I questioned her being sent at only five weeks I was told that between six and eight weeks of age was the best period for the dog to bond with the herd. Some of the reading I had done to prepare for her arrival had supported that so although I was uncomfortable with her being shipped at that age - I agreed. She was shipped to us at five weeks with all her papers confirming that she was eight weeks old from the breeders paperwork to the vets paperwork and health records. We were beginning to become more uncomfortable with the breeder.
Angel was a beautiful puppy, all white, good top line, full of curiosity and energy. As soon as she adjusted to her new home she was non-stop, assertive at a young age and had no use for correction of any kind - an obvious alpha female. I had had Rottweillers in the past and had believed that since I had been able to train a strong Rotty I would be able to do the same with an Anatolian.
Even at her young age Angel resisted any form of correction. I called the breeder for some assistance and was told: "Bop her on the nose with a newspaper and tell her firmly NO." I'm not one who believes that hitting a dog in any way is necessary in training so I began to seek other sources of information.
Finding information on this breed was not an easy task. One of our local colleges had run a study on training Anatolian Shepherds as guardian dogs. They were of no help. I searched the internet and had difficulty finding good information. No real help there. Time was passing. My puppy was growing and some of the things she was doing made no sense to me and were beginning to concern me.
At six weeks old while on a lead and in the pasture with me Angel cut out my only pregnant female alpaca, crouched close to the ground and began to show what I interpreted as stalking behavior. When I corrected her she postured toward me. This behavior continued with her posturing continuing and her behavior becoming more directed and more positioned.
Again I called the breeder and again I was told: "Bop her on the nose and tell her NO." "You are not being firm enough", he would say to me. I explained to him that it is clear to me that this method of correction just doesn't work with Angel, that she becomes more aggressive and more persistent. But he continued to insist that I just was not being firm enough.
After a couple of months I was becoming more and more concerned. Angel was mouthy she had an excessive amount of energy and all she wanted to do was chase and jump on the alpaca, never showing any submission to the animals in any way. Correcting Angel as I was being directed simply was not working and I could tell that she and I were entering into a power struggle - I was concerned. She was approaching five months old and I was spending over seven hours working with her daily with little positive results.
I searched and searched for someone who knew more about these dogs than I. My concern was that my learning curve was going to ruin this dog, who was growing with terrible habits faster than I was learning how to correct them. I finally tripped on one of the Association websites and found a woman in my state to speak to. When I told her my story I could hear the disbelief in her voice. I was not describing Anatolian behavior, it must be something I was doing wrong. This person had good history with Anatolians and she gave me good advice - when I tried to put her direction into effect with Angel - my results were the same. After some time she suggested that I speak with Erick Conard of Lucky Hit Ranch in Texas to see if he could help. She described Erick as someone who knew Anatolians, a quality breeder who devoted himself to breeding and training Anatolians in working situations.
I gave Erick a call. As I described my situation to Erick, once again I could hear the tone in his voice - it was me who had not been able to work effectively with this puppy - not the puppy. I was willing to accept that. My bigger concern was the progression of this puppy. We had several conversations with training tips and direction and I would call back and share my concerns about Angels' mouthyness, her tendency to chase, her constant focus on playing and her total unwillingness to take direction or correction. Erick offered to take Angel to evaluate her to see if she could be retrained to work with our livestock. Through all of this the original breeder was kept informed as to how I was proceeding and attempting to work with Angel. I got more help from a stranger than from the breeder.
After four months of working with Angel, Erick conceded that it was not all about my inability to train this dog. She had every trait that was supposed to be bred out of an Anatolian: excessive energy, play, chase, and stalking. She had turned on him twice over simple corrections. She was wearing out the three training dogs he used to supervise her behavior with the goats. She was so bent on playing with the goats that she would wear down the other dogs then sneak around to the other side of the barn and chase a goat, visciously grabbing it over and over on its spine in a predatory manner. It was confirmed that Angel really could not be used around livestock nor should she be around kids.
That conclusion made for a difficult decision. Erick and I agreed that the best option for Angel would be a person who knew and understood the breed, was not in a working situation, had no children and lots of time to devote to this dog. I called the breeder to share the results of the evaluation and see if he could help in any way. He was suspect of the situation and questioned what had happened to the dog while with Erick. After some discussion it was agreed that Angel should go back to the breeder.
That was our experience with our little Angel. I put the experience behind me, went back to raising alpacas and at this point with Angel back in her original home, almost one year later to the day, I did not give any more thought to having an Anatolian Shepherd. I was told over and over, both by the breeder and by Erick not to give up on the breed but I was worn out.
Time passed and about a year later the coyote situation had expanded itself in our area due to some development and I was again considering another dog. I had a conference I was attending in Texas and thought I would take a moment to meet face to face the fellow who had helped me out with my little Angel, Erick Conard. We met and at that particular time Erick had two new litters of Anatolians at his ranch. I had a chance to see him with his pups, to watch first hand the socialization process that he carried out with his pups who were then six and seven weeks old.
Here were two litters of pups with several adult Anatolians in a large fenced area with some goats and a llama. And all of the puppies are with the livestock and interacting in a reasonable manner, acting like puppies but behaving themselves nonetheless. We talked about my taking a puppy but I was very, very "gun shy". I was again considering a dog but was just so concerned about another puppy experience like the one I had had with Angel. Erick and I visited for a while and I went home with the agreement that I would let him know about the pup.
Time passed and we spoke frequently but I was not jumping at the chance to have another Anatolian puppy. One Sunday morning, Erick called offering me the opportunity to purchase Byron, a two year old, proven male that he had just taken out of his breeding pool. Byron was two years old and proven as a working dog and proven to be good around birthing situations. Was I interested? I'd seen Byron when I was in Texas at his ranch, an older dog, proven - it made a lot of sense to me. My partner and I began planning the trip to pick Byron up and bring him back to Massachusetts.
Inanna Byron Bay of Lucky Hit (Byron) working at his new home
To me Byron is amazing. He is so very different from the puppy we had a couple of years ago. He made the 1,700 mile trip with two people he had only just met. He traveled easily where he had seldom before been in a truck, never been in an elevator or hotel, never seen snow and he did it all without complaint or aggravation.
He came to a new farm and immediately began to fit in and do his job. Not only is he a beautiful Anatolian, slender, agile and strong, he is also calm, steadfast and stands up to anything with no indications of aggression. He is exceptionally intelligent and alert. He trains easily and he is amazing with our alpacas. He is calm and laid back and works well with the llama that came before him. My greatest pleasure is to watch him with the alpacas as he lays on his back in the pasture with them all poking at his belly and him rolling in the hay.
There have only been a couple of times that I have called Erick for a question and he has been available with advice and direction. With this dog there is little reason to call. Byron is so completely different from our first experience with Anatolians that it is hard to believe they are of the same breed. This dog and this breeder have completely turned around my attitude about Anatolians.
Anatolian Shepherd Guardian Dogs are not a simple breed but of all breeds they are the one that I would be very careful of the breeder. It is obvious to me that references are not enough. One of Erick's requirements was to spend a couple of days around the dog before taking him home. That gave us the opportunity to work with the dog and with the breeder. It gave us the time to learn the commands that the dog was familiar with, the training methods that had been used to train him and the way he was accustomed to being dealt with.
It is ever so clear after this past year that the breeder, the socializing, the training, the consistency and the support on the backside after the dog has left and come home with you are paramount to one's success with Anatolians. These are the things that make a difference between a purchase from a breeder who produces 25 pups a month on a regular monthly basis and one who is focused on the breed and the success of the breed as working animals into the future.
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