But, they are so interesting.
Mike and Joe were brought to the farm at 5 weeks of age, early because their mother was killed in a hit and run accident. They would have benefitted from being with the mother for another month or two. Livestock guardian dogs need to be taught the ropes. The behaviour to guard livestock is instinctive, however; natural as it is for these dogs that have been bred for several centuries to live with sheep and goats, the lessons they need to learn are best taught by older, wiser and bigger dogs, not humans.
Mike shows more promise most days than Joe does. Joe is a big goof of a dog, lolly gagging around with his giant tongue hanging out and drool running from his lips. He has a big, big head and smoother coat than Mike does, but they are both basically the same size. They were raised with young lambs, which is a no no, so I found out later. They tended to play rough with one lamb in particular and used her ears as a chew toy. I was horrified and they were penned beside the lambs for a long while. They were also adept at getting out of the pens, digging first, then jumping later. An electric wire would have solved the problem, but I do not know how to set that system up.
I have taught the dogs with positive reinforcement, praise, hugs and chastised them when they were not doing what they were supposed to. Joe, who should protect his sheep with his life, would join Robbie, the border collie, to chase them instead. I threw a stick at his legs and seriously considered hanging one around his neck. It is known as a 'dangle stick' and hangs horizontally to the ground a few inches from his knees. As he would run to chase, then the stick would connect and slow him down, sort of self chastising. But our area is heavy with predators and it would have also given problems for Joe if he had to fight, possibly causing the loss of his life. So he did not get a dangle stick.
Most days now, the two brothers hang out with the sheep. They sleep in the sheep pen and go out to the pasture with them in the morning. Joe tends to come back to sleep during the day, but Mike has stayed and slept in the pasture more and more lately. I am hoping he will bond closer and stay with the sheep all the time.
The job of a livestock guardian dog is to become one with the flock, but given their size and make up , they protect the docile sheep with their lives. They do that for sure already. There have been no predator losses so far, except a little baby goat to a fox this spring. Foxes are hard for the dogs, often sneaking up behind them down wind and running away before the dog knows the fox has even been around. The border collie is better at catching the foxes than the livestock guardian dogs, but they are far better at deterring larger predators.
Along with Mike and Joe, Ofcharka, Harley, Jade and Jenna are livestock guardians too. Harley is a Maremma, Charka a cross of Anatolian Shepherd/Akbash/Maremma and Pyrenees. Jade and Jenna are Maremma females. There are other breeds of livestock guardians and the whole concept and the breeds are new to Canada, only having been here for the last 100 years or so and really in the last 40 they are more common.
This farm would not be able to survive here without the dogs. We have 100 acres of bush, backed on to more bush, beside more bush. There is an abundance of wild life including cougars, bears, coyotes, wolves and other things that like the taste of sheep and goats and chickens. The reason the birds can run free here is that the dogs even watch them and have kept them safe, except for the owl last winter. Arial predators are harder to catch.
No more about the dogs for a while, I promise. In the meantime, can you spot the two that are not sheep in these pictures?