How Livestock Guard Dogs Work: the Question of Genetic Behaviors


| 10/31/2013 2:19:00 PM


Tags: livestock guardians, guard dogs, Jan Dohner, Michigan,

livestock dogsIn a previous post, “What is a Livestock Guard Dog?,” I described what livestock guard dogs do but it is exceptionally important to know how they do this job. Understanding how not only helps us work with our LGDs but also explains why other breeds or crosses with non-LGD breeds are not likely to do this same outstanding job. The how is a set of behaviors shaped over time through human selection.

To understand how LGDs work, we have to step back into the actual domestication process because that has shaped the behaviors we see in dogs today. Of all the thousands of species in our world, humans have only successfully domesticated a very small handful. We have domesticated only two predators – cats and dogs – and many of us question just how domesticated cats are? Scientists have come to understand that the animal specie itself must possess certain characteristics that actually allow domestication to occur and chief among them are the abilities to live in social groups and use some form of communication. Wolves have these traits, which enables them to form strong bonds in their groups.

Some students of domestication actually believe that both humans and dogs stepped together on the path of domestication, with the wolf choosing to come into the camp of humans and form a bond of mutual survival. In either case, the wolf cub that was adopted by humans within his critical early period of social development began the process of domestication. The dog is also humankind’s first domesticated animal - a marvelous partnership that has a very long time to develop.protecting sheep

Domestication is a complex process, which affects both physical and behavioral traits. Mammals, in particular, change a great deal in shape and development as they grow. This potential is what humans have selected and shaped – actually stopping physical and behavioral development in different stages. To see the proof of this we just need to look at the more than 600 breeds of dogs found around the world, some with more wolf-like appearance and behaviors and others with extremely puppy-like appearance and behaviors.

One aspect of canine evolution that can be manipulated through selection is neotony – the retention of juvenile traits in an adult dog. These traits include behaviors such as attention seeking, begging for food, submissiveness, waiting for the adult to return, the delay of a fear response to strangers, barking, and playing. The delayed fear response is especially important because it allows puppies to more time to form social bonds to humans or other animals, such as sheep or goats. The delayed fear response ends much sooner in wild canines than in dogs, where this critical period has been extended to 12 weeks or more. LGD breeds, in particular, have a very long period of delayed fear response.

Neotony explains the very basic nature of livestock guard dogs, even in their physical appearance. Most LGDS look like big, over-grown puppies even in adulthood. And these big puppies with their curvy tails and floppy ears don’t look very much like wolves or coyotes anymore and so our sheep have come to accept these “not-wolves” among them.


sarahs
11/4/2013 10:27:28 PM

GREAT article! I just shared it & am now clicking on your other one to read that. Thanks! :) Sarah/Lost Nation Farm/South-central MI - raising/rescuing/etc.-ing herders since 2000 (& also using LGDs!)




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