Brains are make-or-break for livestock guardian dogs

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livestock guardian dog with sheep
At 1 year old, Lira has proved to be a smart, livestock safe addition to the livestock guardian dog pack. (Farei Kennels photo)

Ever get excited about a new addition to the farm? Really excited?

Last spring, I bought a pup to bring new blood to my breeding program. She was a bit rangy and finer boned then I tend to like for my terrain and predator load. But there was just something about her that spoke to me and after looking at her pedigree and parents, I listened to my gut and brought her home.

She is 1 year old now, and I couldn’t be happier with her progress. While still finer boned than my homegrown dogs, she’s filling out, and looking more like a dog every day.

She has been stock safe with every animal we have since day one. Not a single misstep with sheep, cows, ponies, chickens, ducks or guineas.

Brains

It’s an important quality in a livestock guardian dog, and one I expect, but she has a brain in that narrow head of hers, too. This is something I pay close attention to in my dogs, and it’s a quality that can be hard to find.

Intelligence is a double edged sword. I obedience train all my dogs and expect good citizenship out of them. The more intelligent ones, however, are more likely to have opinions about how things are done. It’s a balance between the job I need to have done and the way my dogs choose to do that job. I’m more inclined to step in with younger ones and be firm about the rules. When you prove you can make good decisions, I’ll step back and let you work out how best to get it done.

Intelligence is an important trait here though. We have predators that are just as dangerous to the dogs, as they are to the stock. I need dogs who know when to engage and when to fall back and take a stand. How to spread out in a line and stand against coyotes or group up and haze off a bear or mountain lion.

Smarts

Livestock guardian dogs are known for their loyalty and willingness to put themselves in harm’s way to do their job. It’s a commendable trait, although I try not to ever put my dogs in a do or die situation. Unfortunately, I’m not always there to back them up, and I’ll take dogs smart enough to retreat with the stock even at the loss of one, to save the majority, and live to fight another day.

Back to Lira though.

As a youngster, she started out near the house, guarding poultry, learning good citizenship skills from me and pack skills from my other dogs. Her confidence in me took time to develop, but she has never questioned her own skills. Smarts that girl has in spades. As she has matured, she’s guarded my muscovy flock, been in with the sheep and even spent time with the cows.

Every time I throw a new experience her way, she’ll scope it out for a day or two, and then she’s got it.

Quiet confidence. It’s enough to make a breeder like myself positively giddy.

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