Frequently Asked Questions. Best Practice Manual for the use of Guardian Dogs

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1 Frequently Asked Questions Best Practice Manual for the use of Guardian Dogs Summary Cost & Impact of wild dogs Wild dogs can be devastating to livestock producers. So much so, that they ve even forced some producers out of the industry. An Invasive Animals CRC report issued last year conservatively estimated the costs of wild dogs to wool, lamb & beef producers at around $50 million. A report issued by Agforce in Queensland put the figure at $67 million dollars a year through predation, disease and control in that state alone. Clearly, the financial impacts are horrendous and these figures don t even account for the social costs. Farmers forced to stay up at night to guard flocks or those faced with mutilated animals are clearly impacted by the devastating experiences of wild dog attacks. What the manual will do to address the problem This manual provides landholders with another option beyond fencing, baiting, shooting and trapping to assist them to protect their livestock from predation. The Guardian dogs become one with the herds and flocks they bond with. They work by confronting and intimidating predators, disrupting the hunting behaviour of predators and excluding predators from their territory. The guidelines will help land holders train Guardian Dogs to prevent predation rather that reacting to attacks. Guardian dogs and conservation uses Guardian dogs have been used successfully for wildlife protection and conservation purposes (for example, protecting little penguins on Middle Island see case study in manual for further information). Launch partners Manual sponsor 1

2 Further background What are guardian dogs? Guardian dogs are medium to large sized dogs that are kept with livestock and endangered native animals to protect them from predators. In Australia they are mainly used to protect sheep, and poultry, but they can work with any type of livestock or native animals that need protection; for example, with cattle, goats, horses, nesting native birds or penguins, emu or ostriches. These dogs live permanently with their stock, and regard them as their social companions, protecting them from anything that they see as a threat. In Australia, guardian dogs are mainly used to protect against feral dogs and foxes, but also against birds of prey, cats and goannas. Why are guardian dogs necessary? Wild dog and fox impacts generate an estimate combined loss of $69.7m in Australian agriculture every year. This is a conservative figure and does not account for the severe social and environmental devastation created by wild dog and fox predation on livestock and native wildlife across the land. How do they work? It is thought that there are three main ways in which guardian dogs protect stock from predators; by confrontation, disruption and territorial exclusion. Confrontation involves the guardian dog directly confronting a predator that is attacking, chasing or approaching the livestock. The dog will use intimidation to force it to withdraw, attack and fight the predator off or even kill it. Violent interactions between guardian dogs and wild predators are generally rare. Disruption is caused by the presence and behaviour of the guardian dog interrupting the hunting behaviour of the predator. Guardian dogs become noisy and active when any unfamiliar animal or person approaches and this effectively causes the wild predators to withdraw and seek different prey elsewhere. Territorial exclusion occurs when the wild predator recognises the area used by the guardian dog as the territory of another predator and avoids entering it with the result that they also avoid the livestock in that territory. Who uses guardian dogs and what are the benefits of using them? Some often mentioned advantages of using guardian dogs by farmers and conservation managers are: Peace of mind for land managers and conservation managers Stock are protected reduced predation Less need for other forms of control save time and money Land managers and conservation managers are self reliant in managing predator problems 2

3 Livestock are more relaxed Additional (free) rabbit/pig/kangaroo control Family and property protection Which breeds of guardian dogs are available in Australia? The breeds that are used for stock protection in Australia are the Maremma Sheepdog, the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, the Anatolian Shepherd or Kangal, and the Central Asian Ovcharka. The Maremma Sheepdog is by far the most numerous in Australia. It is important to avoid dogs that are cross bred with non guardian dog breeds. A majority of modern dog breeds display predatory traits which motivate them to chase and harass livestock instead of protecting it. Cross bred dogs can become inattentive or aggressive toward stock. What are the initial and ongoing financial costs associated with keeping a guardian dog? The initial costs to obtain a guardian dog are as follows: Purchase of dog or pup Transport cost De sexing of dogs AU$150 to AU$2000 Cost depends on the breed and choice of breeder/pedigree AU$50 to AU$500 Cost depends on distance of travel and means of transport Bitch: AU$200 to AU$400 Dog: AU$150 to AU$300 Cost depends on weight, age and sex of the dog and additional charges from the vet clinic. Vet check up Vet check: Vaccinations: AU$50 to AU$70 depending on the vet AU$20 to AU$80 Vaccination cost depends on which vaccinations are included. The ongoing costs to maintain the guardian dog are as follows: Dog food Health care Worming and flea/tick treatment: Vaccinations: Emergency treatment AU$300 to AU$400 per dog per year. Cost can be lower or higher, depending on type of food that is used. AU$80 to AU$100 per dog per year AU$20 to AU$80 per dog per year Emergencies can always happen and the cost can be as little as AU$20 to as much as 3

4 AU$3000 depending on what the emergency is. However, few people report the need for emergency vet care for their dogs and, if a dog does require emergency care, it is generally only once in its life. Where can I buy one? Guardian pups can be obtained from various sources. Information about the availability of pups can be found on the internet or in local newspapers. Alternatively the details of guardian dog breeders may also be sourced from veterinarians, local owners of guardian dogs and canine clubs and/or breed associations. Buying a pup from a registered breeder guarantees its genetic background and it will come with pedigree papers. What are some questions to ask when buying a guardian dog? Check the genetic background of a pup make sure it is not cross bred with a non guardian dog breed Ask to see both parent dogs and the whole litter as cross bred attributes are not obvious from the appearance of a single pup. Get a pup from proven working lines some lines of dogs within a breed might be less suitable as working dogs due to their long history of breeding for show or companionship. Check if the breeder will be available for ongoing support, even after you take the pup home. How many dogs do I need? The number of dogs needed to protect your livestock depends on your property situation. A few things to consider are: The size of the main predator The number of predators The number and type of livestock Multiple guardian dogs are necessary to protect stock against large predators like wild dogs. If predators are small like foxes or birds of prey, one guardian dog may be sufficient depending on other factors. Large numbers of predators require more guardian dogs. Large numbers of livestock need more guardian dogs than smaller numbers. Vulnerable livestock such as a group of lambing ewes will need more 4

5 protection thus more guardian dogs than an equally large group of wethers. The size of the area and type of terrain and vegetation If the paddock is large, heavily timbered or hilly, more guardian dogs will be necessary than a smaller sized flat paddock. Are guardian dogs the same as herding dogs? No. Herding dogs work by gathering livestock in groups and moving them from place to place. Guardian dogs protect livestock but do not herd them on command. Guardian dogs have been bred to be inoffensive to stock in their appearance and behaviour. This allows these dogs to integrate themselves with groups of livestock, be accepted by them and live amongst them. Herding dogs have been bred to partly resemble predators in their appearance and behaviour. The herding dogs appearance and behaviour motivate livestock to move away from them enabling the dogs to control their movements. Herding dogs have been bred to be highly trainable and obedient and have a strong work drive. They cannot be trusted with livestock unsupervised as they may chase stock and cause injury or death if left to themselves. Guardian dogs are not as highly trainable as herding dogs and make their own decisions. They are independent of humans and are bred to live and work with livestock unsupervised. How can guardian dogs and herding dogs work together? To prevent the guardian dog from seeing herding dogs as predators, the guardian dog needs to be introduced to the herding dogs when it arrives. They should be allowed to socialise with each other on a regular basis before the guardian dog is put to work in a paddock. A guardian dog s interaction with other property dogs should be supervised and short. If a pup spends too much time socialising with these dogs it may bond to them instead of the livestock. If a guardian dog tries to socialise with the herding dogs they should be separated before mustering proceeds as this experience will be a very confusing to the guardian dog if it has not learnt the appropriate behaviour in this situation. If it tries to block the livestock from moving in a certain direction, the guardian dog should be moved away allowing the stock to pass. The presence of an older, experienced guardian dog could help a new dog or pup learn the appropriate behaviour by showing it the right way to behave. Bonding and training How much time do I need to dedicate to training the guardian dog? There is a significant initial investment in time required when bonding a pup or getting a pre trained dog especially for first time guardian dog users. Although very little time is spent with the pup or dog to ensure the dog doesn t bond too strongly to humans, owners will spend as much as 50% of each day checking on the dog, as well as learning and thinking about the dog during the initial stages of bonding. 5

6 Time commitment will decrease after the initial bonding phase. The only time spent on the guardian dog will be feeding time, behavioural training such as fence training and health checks. Hand feeding does not take more than 10 minutes per day and using a self feeder will require a couple of hours every week. What conditions on my property are necessary to fully bond and train a guardian pup? An escape proof pen has to be ready for the pup when it arrives. It should be taken straight into this pen where it begins the process of bonding with the livestock immediately. It is best if the pen is located some distance away from the house and out of sight of normal farm activities to minimise distractions to the pup. There should be a retreat area for the pup constructed of some sheep yard panels to keep out the stock and give the pup a chance to get away from the livestock if it needs to. Keep the pup feeder inside the retreat to prevent problems that could arise from stock eating restricted materials present in dog food or starving the pup if the stock is eating its food. There should be an area where the livestock and pup can shelter from the elements. What are the signs that the guardian dog is bonding to the stock? Indicators of bonding between the guardian dog and livestock are: The livestock and pup sleep together The pup stays with the livestock instead of avoiding them or running from them The pup licks the faces of the livestock If there is a disturbance, the pup will run to the livestock and stand amongst them instead of running in another direction. The pup submits to the livestock investigating it When taken away the pup is reluctant to leave the livestock What can I do if the guardian dog does not guard the stock? There can be several reasons to cause the guardian dog to reject livestock. A guardian dog injuring or continually running away from stock is a sign of poor management or training. Different solutions can be applied to treat potential causes. The dog is not adequately bonded to the livestock Sexual activity in entire dogs re bonding the dog to the stock by keeping the dog with the livestock in a small area for a longer time that would be needed for initial bonding for a pup. Make sure the dog has a strong bond to the stock before it is let out again. if the dog is not kept for breeding purposes, de sex it. Both bitches and dogs are likely to start roaming with a 6

7 bitch is in season. If a dog is kept for breeding purposes prevent it from roaming. The dog chases wildlife predators, abandoning livestock The livestock harasses the dog a dog that is well bonded to its livestock can still sometimes leave them for a short while when it is chasing after predators. If this is a problem, give the dog fence training and teach it to stay inside its paddock fences or install better fences. start with all the livestock and the dog in a smaller area where they cannot avoid each other and always supervise to make sure the dog is not harmed. If only a few individuals are harassing the dog, remove them from the group. If nothing else works, place the dog with another group of stock that accept it. 7

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