A Dog Named Shark Week


choosing-and-training-lgds We’ve been talking for awhile about adding a third dog to The Farmstead.

In my opinion, Livestock Guardian Dogs work best when part of a pack. Especially in our area, where we know coyotes travel in packs themselves, it’s not right or fair to ask a single dog to defend our flock. Even two is a stretch. Coyotes will often work as a team, tiring out a single dog while another one goes in for the kill. And even though we have very secure perimeter fencing we're not idiots. Coyotes dig holes and fences break. Plus, aerial predators have and will continue to be an issue for us because of how we farm in the forest.

And so when it looked like Turkish and Cleo were finally established as trustworthy we  knew it was time. I’ll admit, I stalled for as long as I could. I am so not a puppy person. When I look at a puppy I don’t see a cute ball of cuddliness. I see a lot of work. But, our general feeling on LGDs is this: Once you have a good one, get another one. Working dogs don't work forever...they retire. Training your first LGD is tough. After your first one is trained though she/he will do 85% of the training for all of your subsequent LGDs. (ps: I totally made up that percentage so don't quote me on it).

And then I went on petfinder and there he was. A sweet puppy who had already showed signs of being an excellent livestock guardian. I started researching.

Turns out the rescuing organization is pretty awesome. Adopt an Indian Desi Dog (AIDD) was founded in 2009 to help find homes for the indigenous puppies and street dogs found on the streets of New Dehli. The rescue airlifts the dogs and pups to Seattle and Vancouver (it’s actually based in Abbotsford, BC) where they reside at the AIDD facility until they can find their forever homes.

The breed of dog has never mattered to us. What does matter is temperament. Turkish is a German Shepherd Mutt and Cleo is an Anatolian/Great Pyr. Both were adopted from  nearby rescues. When we’re choosing a potential flock guardian we look for a few things.

Mainly, quiet confidence. We like the puppy who sits on the periphery and watches. We like puppies who respond well to praise and who are not overly food motivated. So far we’ve had success. Cleo does have some food aggression issues (I’ve since read this is the Anatolian in her…it’s nothing we haven’t been able to work through though).

AIDD works very closely with Kathy of Custom Canine. Her model of Cooperative Social Teaching© addresses obedience from the dog’s perspective, not the humans. As part of our adoption fee to AIDD we received training consultations with Kathy.

We were sold. Let’s do it! So one Saturday morning Nick and I piled in the car with Gizmo and drove the three hours to Canada. Well…we drove to the Canadian border. Gizmo doesn’t have a passport so even though she could cross into Canada, there was no crossing back over. Thankfully Barbara was kind enough to meet us at the border for our completely legal, mildly scandalous, parking lot exchange.

We named him Shark Week. A long time ago we ran a contest to name one of our first pigs. The winner chose the name Gumball (who we still have). One of our friends entered and shared with us, had he won, he would have named the pig Shark Week. We love it. It's also perfect because we have a Turkish and a Cleo...we wanted something that sounded very different than either of those two.

When people ask us why we named him Shark Week we answer, "Because it's the best week on tv!" The irony of course is that we don't have tv and, we've never watched a single Shark Week in our lives. But it sure does make us smile.

Once we got him home we put him in a kennel in the milk room and waited.

Shark Week

And waited.

It took a week for Shark Week to come out of his kennel. And then, one day I came home at lunch to check on him and Shark Week was no longer in the milk room. A quick search of the flock and I found him, snuggled up withTurkish, Cleo nearby, and all the goats ruminating. He was ready to be part of our family.

Training Shark Week has been a dream. I credit this to two things. First, Cleo and Turk have really come into their own as awesome LGDs. It took about two years, but they were worth the wait. As the youngest member of the pack he is constantly modeling their behavior. Second, Shark Week is smart. Super smart. The more I read about Desi Dogs the more I learn this is normal. Because they’re street dogs their self-preservation instinct is extremely elevated, so we’ve approached training him differently (with the hands on help of Kathy) but, now that he feels safe and protected at the farm he is eager to please, responsive, and picks new tasks up almost immediately. We just couldn’t be happier.

A few of you have asked how we deal with Shark Week around the chickens. Here's how I answered that question on our facebook page.

We use the command "Leave It". We don't allow the dogs to fixate. When they start zoning in on a chicken we say "leave it" and then as soon as they break contact we praise. We also do a lot of positive praise when the dogs are found just lounging around amongst the chickens, this reinforces that this kind of behavior is what we want. I have to say, Shark Week has been a dream to train, probably because he's so smart, but also because we already have two established LGDs...he is modeling their behavior really well.

Are you looking for a Livestock Guardian Dog?

You may have noticed that we don’t have purebred dogs on the farm as we always try to rescue where we can. If we were going to support a breeder to purchase a working dog  there’s a few things I would insist on:

  • Are the parents on site? Can you meet them?
  • Do the parents have jobs? Can you watch them work?
  • Have the puppies grown up modeling the working behavior? Has the puppy already been acclimated to livestock?
  • Does the puppy show signs of being a good working dog? We look for a decreased sense of prey drive (ie: small, flighty things, like baby chicks, don’t excite them), thoughtfulness and a quiet watching behavior.

In three dogs this has served us well.

And, as an important note, rescuing has never been a cheaper alternative for us. In all cases we have spent as much, if not more money, to rescue then to buy a specific breed of dog off of craigslist. Just because a dog is the correct breed (Great Pyr, Anatolian, Maremma) does not mean they’ll be well suited to the working farm lifestyle. They say you should know your farmer…I agree. I also think you should know your dog breeder.

The Farmstead Pack of LGDs