It seems to come down to opinions about whether or not breeding or training is the most important thing about dog behavior. Are there just as many variations in outcome within a breed as between different breeds? Is the dog guarding because it was bred to or because it was trained to? I am having trouble finding a clear answer.
One thing is clear. There are those who are purists about breeding, and those who think mutts have their distinct advantages. I lean strongly toward the second category. If dogs were guarding flocks more effectively than some of the folks that Job knew back-in-the-day, then I don’t think the inbreeding can have been that beneficial. (Job 30:1) So, I may not be hugely receptive to claims that only a certain breed can do a certain job. Overall, I am finding more anecdotal stories about dogs than logical discussions about all the recordable factors. Not that I’d be that impressed with statistical evidence, either. Everyone has their assumptions and limited scope of experience. It makes a lovely collage.
I find myself contemplating the question: “How do I decide what parts of common wisdom about dogs are actually wisdom, and which parts are simply common?” All the so-called dog experts disagree on 1) training techiniques, 2) feeding routines, and 3) which dogs should be bred. Then, there is the question of whether dogs are people, too?!
In the book that I just read, Livestock Protection Dogs,the authors speak out against choke collars for training. They don’t seem to have a problem with electric wires and collars, or even attaching a chunk of wood permanently to a dog to keep it from climbing fences. Isn’t it more humane to teach the dog the rules firmly, than to have them drag around a ball and chain for months or years?
The authors do say that basic obedience is the foundation for training any guard dog. If this is combined with regular controlled exposure to the guardees, they seem to say that the dog will just naturally learn to guard. On another page, though, they say you shouldn’t expect a guard dog to be completely obedient. Maybe I’m missing something.
I am only experienced with my dog, but I still strongly recommend The Koehler Method of Dog Training. After a brief stint trying to bribe my puppy, I found that she actually liked understanding what her limits were. (she is in her 7th year now) It is like parenting, in that there are certain basic principles that can be creatively applied to the individual dogs, because no two are exactly alike. (if you are local to the Boise, Idaho area, look up Scotchpines Dog Training classes.)
I can’t offer any more of an opinion about escaping dogs, because my dog seems to think I have put up the fence to protect her. She has accidentally gotten out a couple of times and was glad to get back in. And in most discussions of livestock guard dogs, they are talking about many acres of territory over which the animals range. I live on one acre.
Which brings up another aspect of the equation. Most of the guard dogs are bred to be quite large, to match herd animal size and predator size. Is this size important or good for a dog guarding chickens? Is it necessary on less land? Is it good for me? I am probably stronger than the average 51 year old woman, and I already feel like my Australian Shepherd mix is a lot for me to handle size-wise. Any guard dog I have only needs to be able to take out a fox or dissuade a raccoon.
I did get some other good ideas from the book about livestock guard dogs.
- They indicated that age of a dog when it begins to guard is not that important.
- The fact that we have always had chickens around, including little chicks, should make it easier.
- Their ideas of making the dogs aware of boundaries gave me some new ideas.
I am puzzled by the distinction made in many resources between dogs for herding and dogs for guarding. The actions seem like they have enough in common. Also, what shepherd of yore would want to bother with two sets of dogs? Or want to manage them. Okay, team two! It’s a bear attack! My new book told stories of dogs herding in the midst of protecting. Hmmm.
The bottom line is that
- I already have this
- She is already obedient.
- She is already used to being around chickens.
- She is still going out daily to the chicken pen and seems to be thinking of it as normal.
- She already has a sense of guarding the yard, and looks to me for approval that I am taking notice.