As rescuers we have participated in the successful transition of a number of companion animals to livestock guardian dogs (LGDs). We use the word participated very deliberately, mindful that although we have selected these particular rescue dogs for this purpose, the main participants who deserve the credit for these successful transitions are the new owners and of course, the dogs themselves.
The most important ingredient in the successful transition from companion animal to LGD is a dog who wants to guard. Some dogs are by temperament better suited to this task than others. Sometimes it is the former owners who recognize these traits and bring them to our attention. Other times when the dog is in rescue the foster notices how the dog is watchful, concerned, just a little more involved and interested in the surroundings and what transpires than other dogs. This is a good LGD candidate.
Proper selection of the farm family is as important as proper selection of the dog. Extreme care must be exercised by the new owners during the transition period. Those that go slowly and follow instructions carefully are usually rewarded for their efforts. It is important not to push too hard or too fast and to spend time carefully observing the animals. One farmer tells us that she speaks to her dogs when they misbehaveand they listenwithout requiring forceful correction. Time is needed for everyone to get to know each other, adjust and trust to the new situation. This includes people, dogs and livestock.
There are those who believe that only puppies can be trained as LGDs. We have seen that this is not true. This is an ancient breed and the instinct of these dogs to guard is thousands of years old. Those of us who have witnessed our companion animal's protectiveness know the instinct to guard is strong in many dogs and needs only to be encouraged and nurtured under the right circumstances. We have seen adopters use techniques designed to familiarize puppies with livestock deployed to train mature dogs successfully. We have heard of how the livestock themselves (using time-honored techniques like head butting) bring erring dogs into line!
Great Pyrenees are the most popular breed used for LGD work in this country. They are highly adaptable creatures, whether they are minding sheep in the remote pastures of Western Montana or working in fields not far from a 19th century farm house in New England. We have seen dogs who have come from pet stores, and/or who have been placed in inappropriate homes as companion animals and ultimately threatened with euthanasia, eventually find work and thrive as LGDs. That is the rewarding part of rescue.
We are learning more about this, too. How to identify the most suitable dogs. How to locate responsible, caring owners. How to best share the experience and tell others about it. As rescuers we take our role seriously as the caretakers of these gentle giants, who still have a very important, ancient job to do in the modern world. We have asked those who have gone through this transition to tell you about their experiences and to act as mentors for others. The farmers speak for themselves on these pages, telling in practical terms what ultimately in its larger sense is a story of renewal and redemption or for those of us who are more practical, recycling and its rewards. We have seen someone's cast-off companion animal become a farmer's most trusted ally, and we want to share this hopeful message and its valuable lessons with you.