New Security- A Lesson In Sensitivity

We’ve got a new dog in town at EEC Forest Stewardship. After loosing three sheep to predation this year (a record), we decided to address the issue in the most humane way possible- LGD. Livestock Guardian Dogs have been working with herders for thousands of years. Not to be confused with herding dogs, guardian dogs watch the flock, but do not move them around. Our herding dog, an Australian Shepherd named Valentine, moves the sheep around the land as needed- mostly blocking the sheep from running away as I move them to the pasture on foot. It’s an extra pair of legs which can move fast and assist me in herding the sheep. She’s a great assistant, and does alert bark at mischief in the field, but could not defend the sheep easily against predation.

We’ve seen many threats on the trail cam this year- two cougars, coyotes, bobcat, and bear. These are all serious animals who would happily chow down on livestock- and since that’s their nature, which we can’t fault, it’s our responsibility as good livestock owners, to protect both the wildlife and domestics from coming together in a fatal way. Many ranchers use poison, guns, or traps to kill off unwanted predators- but here at EEC, we belive in working with nature, rather than against it. Our ancestors came up with a great answer to this biological challenge- they bred BIG dogs with courage.

Meet Gill, a 120 lb Anatolian Shepherd from Turkey. He’s only two- and still growing. These dogs are called Çoban Köpeği in Turkish, which morphed into Kangal in English, and later Anatolian for the region of the world where they originated. It is important to note that Turkey does not recognize the Anatolian breed, and will not call them Kangal once they are exported from the country. Hence- Anatolian Shepherd, and the AKC recognition of Kangal as the same breed in America. Over 6,000 years ago, herders created this magnificent animal to protect their sheep from wolves and bears. Gill was bred in Turkey, but found his way to the USA as a family dog in a large home with children. He was socialized as a puppy in a daycare, and showed fantastic temperament with small children. Unfortunately, for the family that purchased him, Gill was not a good house pet. Not many LGDs (Livestock Guardian Dogs) make it in the home- they are large, barking behemoths, with strong instincts to protect their territory. They are NOT attack dogs- and should never be trained aggressively towards people.

Gill showed aggression towards other dogs, especially around food and toys. He was not getting the work he needed in a family home, and was quickly put up for adoption with a local Anatolian rescue. At the same time, EEC Forest was experiencing a predation crisis, after coyotes attacked and killed our breeding ram in broad daylight. Our forest has not seen this kind of bold attack before. One theory is the fact that in the past year, a neighboring farm has brought in 3 LGDs, which are deterring the predators from that property, and funneling them over to our land. Loosing this ram was the final straw, and rather than standing out in the dark with a gun like a mad woman, I took a better path towards deterrence by looking for a dog. My mentor in sheep has an Anatolian named Topher (Christopher). Since she acquired him about 8 years ago, she has lost 0 sheep. He has a great temperament with people, and tolerated Valentine on many a visit. He is also calm, steady, and imposing- all at the same time.

I cannot stress enough the challenge of taking on an LGD. These breed is large, imposing, and easily domineering if not properly trained. Gill is already 2 years old, has never worked with livestock, and has some bad habits from being inside all the time. It was clear from my talks with the fostering family that he needed a job. All working breeds need a job- and if you do not provide one, they will make one up. This can be a nightmare for the owner, as in this case, even in foster care, Gill was obsessed with guarding the back yard from rabbits. He barked day and night if any of the fuzzy creatures came into the clearing just outside the fenced yard. It was driving the fostering family nuts, and they were thrilled to help him find a farm with real work.

Here at EEC, Gill will have a great job protecting a flock of sheep, exactly what his instincts desire. Though he has never been employed in this work before, his natural talents are awakening fast, and he’s amazing. On the first evening here, he settled in next to the sheep in our new barn, and though it was his first time sleeping outside, you could see the relief in his frame as he flopped down on his dog bed to sit with his flock. They are his sheep now, and I’m doing all I can to bond him to them- rather than me. Though he sees me as boss (I feed him), he will eventually be completely attached to his flock (we hope), and will move around the land with them making sure all is well. That said, we are investing in 6′ woven wire stock fence for the entire property to keep him where he should be. LGDs will often wander, or chase a predator down no matter what. Anatolians are known for sticking with the flock, but will chase down a threat if they can- which includes other dogs not properly introduced (we’ll come back to this).

They are agile and motivated, so you must have a good fence. In the mean time, we’re tethering him for his own safety, and letting him have good walks around the property on a long leash so he can map out his territory and know the boundaries. His introduction to the animals on the farm is also a delicate process. Because he has no formal herding experience, livestock can seem like a great game- chickens flap and run, and he wants to chase- but firm correction and oversight are teaching him that the farm animals are not toys. He’s picking up fast. The sheep are also getting used to him, though they are still separated to ensure the safety of all animals. Soon we will have an introduction, on the long line, to show him the sheep are there to protect, not play with. He seems to be getting the message already, and has taken his duties on patrol quite well.

When I walk him, he takes one of two circular routs around the property. I do not allow him to explore or wander in the wildlife corridor, as that’s where the predator animals are welcome to traverse, and Gill must learn it is NOT part of his territory. I can’t stress enough the important training which will go into his establishment as a good LGD for EEC. Don’t think you can just go buy a dog and put it in with your animals to solve any problems. Please don’t do that- guardian dogs are running on great instincts, but need the human guidance to learn good habits in the field. Gill will take months to fully establish here on our farm, and his success will depend almost entirely on my strict teaching. He has to trust me and know we are working together, and the rest of the community living here will have to buy in.

LGDs bark, and some breeds are very constant with their alarming. Anatolians are less vocal, but still alert and deter with loud vocalizations. Up until the neighbors brought some in, we never dreamed of having them because of the disruption. But now that the barking is established in the neighborhood, and predators are zeroing in on the farm without a large dog, EEC Forest had to adapt, and we selected a breed that is quieter- relatively. Gill does bark, but he’ll quiet down once he sees something is not a threat. So far, the other members of our community have been understanding, and say he’s not too bad. But months down the road, that feeling may be quite different. It’s a balance of good protection without sleep disruption, and Gill has shown remarkable adaptation and restraint.

On his second day at EEC, Gill met our stock dog Valley. The two have had a few great play dates, but these are both working dogs, and too much play can be a distraction. It’s a challenge to work two dogs at once (in two different jobs). On Gill’s third day, we pushed the envelope and let him walk out with the sheep. Valley was moving them, and all was good. The sheep and Anatolian had a moment, sniffing one another, instinctively, Gill moved out ahead of the sheep and they followed. Valley drove from behind, but as we went through a gate, valley suddenly broke out and ran after Gill (through the sheep). They had ran through that gate together earlier that morning, setting a precedent. The sheep ran back to the barn, Gill continued to sniff around, and Valley went back to the house for some down time.

The following day, I took both dogs out in the morning. Without sheep, I worked with Valley to stay behind Gill and I as we walked the property. At each gate, we went through some clear signals to wait, get back, and move through. The character of these two breeds came out in force. Gill will wait, if I have his leash and can gently pull (like reigns on a horse). Valley has to lay down or she’ll keep weaving back and forth behind us. Anatolians are not obedience dogs, they will be mindful of boundaries that are set, and generally, respond to commands like “leave it” or “wait”, but that’s the limit of this breeds training. Gill is uncatchable- hence the long line, and he will go on patrol no matter what, once let out to do so. Valley wants to run, move, and drive, but she is also much more malleable to training.

I’d like to brag about my Australian Shepherd, Valentine, for a moment- though she is not a guard dog, she is a dedicated companion who aims to please. Her ability to read a situation and anticipate has astonished me on several occasions. In this new relationship with Gill, she’s starting to shine. After only a few corrections, she began to understand that we let the Anatolian lead in our walks. At one point, we changed directions and moved towards Valley. She could have engaged Gill in play, but she was in the work with us, and as I said, “get in back” (which I’d never used before as a command), she darted around my left side and got behind us. It was a great moment of complete cooperation and communication.

So much learning in this new partnership- like all relationships, though non-humane companions are always a bit more challenging with a language barrier, not to mention, species. What Gill is teaching me- priceless awareness of self and environment. Another training reflection that comes to mind is a walk yesterday afternoon in which the two pups were playing in the back field (without sheep). A sharp barking from the neighboring yard suddenly drew Gill and Valleys attention. I did not have hands on the leash and watched in distress as Gill began charging towards the fence where this other agitated K9 was dissenting. It could have been a bad scene.

Anatolian Shepherds are serious guard dogs. Please understand that this dog is about protection from other predators- not people, though some idiots do try to make them aggressive towards people, and woe to both the dogs and the people who try. This breed was developed in Turkey to guard flocks, and as the dogs became too old to go out into the surrounding hillsides, they would stay at the village watching over the people, especially young children. All Aantolians had to be good with humans, and were selected for temperament for thousands of years. However, the drive to protect against other animal threats was encouraged, and unless an animal, especially predators like dogs, are properly introduced into an Anatolian’s flock/pack, a strange dog is a wolf in the eyes of the Anatolian breed, sometimes called “wolf killers”.

male Anatolian (Kangal) on right- ears are cropped in Turkey

Gill stood at the edge of the hedge barking in high alert as the neighbor dog continued his complaint. This was an important training moment. I did not want to stop Gill from alarming, or showing good guarding instincts, but I did want to shift away from the neighboring fence to deescalate the aggression. Grabbing the leash (much like the man on left pictured above) I gently gave a tug on the leash and called Valley to come with me. Both dogs shifted, still in erect postures of protection, but moving calmly with me across the field. We went back into patrol mode- with Valley being more interested in maintaining contact with the neighbor- most likely with play drive in mind. Gill went back to sniffing the trail ahead, ambivalent to the neighbor dog now that he could see I was non-reactive.

If I had yelled at Gill to shut-up or stop barking, coming on with high energy agitation, I would have been reinforcing the protection message to Gill, imprinting on him a feeling of aggression from me (pack leader) when another dog barked. This breed, as I have mentioned before, is not an obedience champion. They are pure instinct, reading the sensitivity of their pack at all times, guarding the flock by keeping a close contact energetically as well as physically. We as people, especially “Westerners” are not so in tune with our energy or physical communication. It’s part of the domestic sedentary prescription, which most people in America take. Screen time isn’t helping, so our general ability to relate animal sensitivity continues to wane. It’s an argument to remove animals from most households- *gasp*.

coyote photographed at the sight of our ram’s slaughter on the night after the kill

Gill will continue his work at EEC Forest Stewardship, keeping the flocks safe and teaching us all about the importance of staying connected. The coyote will still be moving through with his agenda, and Gill will be there to help remind all visiting predators, that this forest is a predation free zone. Our trail cams will continue to monitor activity around the landscape, and especially in the wildlife corridor, where the habitat still belongs entirely to the wildlife, including out resident cougars, coyotes, bears, and bobcats. My hope with this project is to demonstrate how agriculture and wilderness can thrive together. I don’t have to shoot something wild and not considered a food source. The sheep don’t have to keep being sacrificed on the landscape. What amazing continued experimentation between wild and domestic living!

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