Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Re-homed adult or rescue LGDs are another option when you are looking for a working dog for your farm. The genetic traits LGDs inherit are powerful. LGD owners have seen individual dogs, even after spending years as a companion, make an astounding transition to life as a working dog. Most LGDs will also make the transition to new humans in their life far better than we emotionally think they will. However, it is vitally important to know the reason why is dog is in rescue or up for re-homing.
Many LGDs that were purchased as pets are later given up by their owners or turned into rescue groups because they bark too much, shed too much, or are difficult to control in an urban or suburban area. This usually happens in late adolescence. Indeed, some of these dogs will be happier with a job to do and the room to stretch their legs. Given careful support and time to adjust, a dog that possesses good genetic instincts often turns into a good farm guardian and perhaps even a good fulltime livestock guardian as well.
If you are enormously fortunate, you might find a good, working LGD to buy or adopt when his owners sell their stock or their farm. Dogs transferring from similar working situations and stock are more likely to adapt, although some dogs are very bonded to their animals or territory. Be especially cautious of dogs that were not well socialized to people. If they are not routinely handled, LGDs can become nearly feral and almost impossible to catch. If they are restrained, they may react dangerously. Be sure that you can handle this dog confidently and that you feel safe around him. Even if he is well behaved, you will need a very secure area to keep him while he adjusts to his new home and new stock. Don’t assume that he is used to the situations and routines on your farm. It takes a year or more for a dog to completely adapt to his new home and perhaps longer to become true working dogs.
On the other hand, if a dog has already failed as a livestock guardian the chances are small that he will improve in a new situation. In some cases, a dog might do better with different stock, a different pasture situation, or a different owner; however, he will also bring with him any serious problem behaviors such as chasing or killing stock or poultry, escaping fences, human aggression, or others. If you are a brand new LGD owner who attempts to rescue a poorly raised or un-socialized dog, you will probably not be able to turn him into a reliable LGD. There are experienced LGD owners who do this retraining successfully but they have many years of experience in handling dogs and problem-solving LGD issues.
Choosing Your Dog and Bringing Him Home
If you are considering a rescue dog or adopting or buying an adult dog, there are several things that can contribute to your greater chance of success:
Look for a dog that was originally purchased from a conscientious breeder. A good LGD breeder not only selects breeding stock based on stable temperament, conformation and health – but also to promote the true working traits and behaviors of their specific breed.
Look for a dog that is comfortable around people but not clingy or fearful. A dog who was socialized and trained is much more likely to be mentally sound and more adaptable to changes. Again, make sure you can handle this dog and that you are comfortable having him around your family.
Look for a dog that is used to living outdoors since he is more likely to make the transition to a working lifestyle. A housedog may make this transition, but it will be more challenging. Try to determine if the dog is prone to escaping fences, wandering, or chasing animals such as cats.
Look for a dog with a low activity level. They are usually a better choice than high-energy dogs.
Most importantly, the dog should be tested for his reaction to stock if this is at all possible. Although he might be initially curious or excited, he should eventually exhibit calm and submissive behavior.
Make sure that you have a very safe and secure location for your dog before you bring him home. He will be very motivated to escape at first and even more so if he has been a housedog. Allow him time to adjust and do not rush new situations. A secure pen near your stock would be an excellent choice. Do not bring him into your house at all if you intend for him to live outside. Give him lots of attention – inside the pasture or barn or wherever he will live. Likewise don’t allow him to become play buddies with your pet dogs if you want him to bond to your stock as fulltime companions. Treat this dog as you would a puppy in terms of his training and socialization as a LGD. Put him on a leash and take him with you while you do chores and go on perimeter walks of your property. Do not expect too much of your new dog too quickly. Proceed slowly when introducing him to other LGDs if you have them. Most importantly, no matter how well things appear to be going, do not trust this dog completely until he has lived through an entire year on your property. Be especially cautious during kidding or lambing season or during other major changes in routine. Even if you are fortunate to obtain an almost perfectly experienced working LGD, this advice is still important. Proceed slowly in adapting him to his new home, new stock and new routines during his first year. You should absolutely not expect him to perform flawlessly from his first day in a new home. And finally, every dog is a different being, so what worked for one dog may not work for another.
At first, a dog that is being re-homed will be insecure and prone to separation anxiety. He may also lack basic manners. He may have bad habits due to boredom, such as excessive barking, chewing, digging, or other destructive behaviors. There are also more serious behavioral issues that might exist. If the dog was malnourished or had to fight for food, he may be over protective of his food. Lack of training or socialization may also produce a dog that is overprotective of food or other objects. Lack of experience and socialization may have left him overly fearful of children or strangers. If he was removed from his litter too soon, he may not know how to interact with other dogs or lack bite inhibition. Lacking socialization, a non-neutered dog may display excessive dominant and aggressive behavior towards other dogs, other animals, or even people. Seek advice from experienced folks when confronted with problems that you can’t resolve. Most importantly, if your dog is not neutered when you adopt him or her, most experienced LGD folks would strongly suggest that you should do this immediately. Not only will you reduce all of the issues you have to deal with, intact dogs are more likely to roam.
Rescue Groups for Livestock Guardians
The best rescue groups to work with are those that are devoted to LGDs or a specific LGD breed. These groups are often affiliated with national breed clubs. These folks are experienced and knowledgeable about LGD behavior and they know how to evaluate rescues for potential homes. They will also help you with the adjustment period. Responsible and reliable rescue groups usually have strict adoption procedures, which may include an application, a reference from your vet, a phone interview or home visit, an adoption fee, and signing a waiver of liability. LGDs require good fencing, so expect the rescue group to demand this just like a good breeder will. Concern over fencing issues is also one of the basic reasons many rescue groups will not adopt dogs out to a working home. A gentle reminder when dealing rescue situations – rescue folks are volunteers with both personal and organizational motivations. Patience and consideration will serve you well.
Be cautious of groups or individuals who rescue many animals, regardless of breed. However well intentioned, they probably lack the experience and ability to correctly evaluate a LGD’s problems or potential as a guardian. If you find a LGD in a shelter, you will have no knowledge or a dog’s experiences, history or problems. Again, this is a job for an experienced LGD owner not someone new to working LGDs. This may also sound harsh, but if you answer an ad for a free or inexpensive LGD, please be aware that the person you communicate with may be highly motivated to misguide you about the truth. In fact, experienced LGD owners who regularly accept rescue dogs for retraining will tell you that their greatest challenge is the misrepresentation of a dog’s issues or problems. It is definitely true, that some of these problems can be very dangerous to you, your family, or your stock. On the other hand and equally frustrating, some dog rescue groups will not place a good potential working dog in a home where it will live outside – even if it is a LGD breed.
You will need support when adopting an adult or rescue LGD. Experienced LGD owners; LGD breed rescue groups; Facebook groups such as Learning About LGDs or a specific breed group; and email lists will be invaluable to you.
Finally, approach rescue or adoption with a true sense of commitment to the dog. Many rescue groups will ask you to agree to keep a dog even if he does not turn out to be a good working guardian. Please remember that it is hard on a dog to be re-homed. Compassion, patience, and time are necessary to make a new home successful.
Thanks to experienced rescuer Mary Hughes for her valuable input.
Photo credits: Great Pyrenees by Michael L Baird; Kangal Dog by Jan Dohner, all rights reserved