Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Livestock guardian dogs

An anonymous person asked this question in the comments section of yesterdays post, and despite the tone of the comment, the topic is worth talking about.  Here's the comment: 

Is this the breed of dog that you suggest that aspiring farmers purchase for their farm?

I don't actually recommend any breed to anyone; the choice is more based on the individual and the objective and less on the breed.  In fact, many of the service dogs that are trained today are picked up from the local animal shelter and trained, and a farm dog another kind of service dog.   Airedales are a versatile and adaptable breed.   In the UK they're used as police dogs.   It's interesting to note that tail docking is illegal in the UK except for working dogs.  I leave the tails on my dogs. 

I think that the single biggest mistake people make in choosing a "livestock guardian dog" is the assumption that the dog will magically perform its duties without any intervention or training.  Horror stories about someones purebred dog eating their sheep or goats, or becoming a terror of the owner, or people who are just fundamentally unprepared for dealing with the needs and drives of a working dog like a border collie or Australian shepherd abound. 

  I happen to like the temperament of the Airedale breed, their tenacity and their hard-headedness, but as far as dog training goes, they're not the easiest dogs to train.  Airedales have a very strong prey drive that you can redirect to other purposes, but left to their own devices they are terriers, and terriers are meant to hunt and kill prey, which they do very efficiently. 

If you'd like some background on the terrier breed of dogs in general (and a few notes on Airedales in particular, you'll find it here.   Terriers, and in particular, Airedales, are a working breed that is still commonly used for hunting in north America.  They are used quite a bit for bear and cougar and this is where a lot of the dogs in BC, and Idaho are used. In the south they're used for wild pig hunting

I cannot use my dogs for hunting big game in Washington state because dog assisted hunting was outlawed a few years ago.  This change in the law (and one primary reason for breeding and keeping Airedales for many people) has resulted in a big reduction of people breeding Airedales and using Airedales for any purpose in Washington and Oregon.

But I do use them to hunt coyote on my land, and to kill rodents and other smaller predators as they appear.  I use a good perimeter fence around my property, and the dogs roam at will inside that fence most of the time.   I vaccinate the dogs, and the rabies tags plus their license and address tags provide a noisemaker on their collars which serves to give fair warning to most everything that the dog is on its way.  I do this to reduce the mortality of things like raccoons and possums and weasels.  While the dogs will attack and kill these smaller predators, I'd prefer that these small predators get warned away by the jingling dog collars and survive to establish territories just outside my fence line, and by doing so provide a "predator buffer" around my property. 

I have a pack of 5 Airedales right now, and that seems like a reasonable number.  They travel in a pack most of the time, and at this time of year they're constantly searching for rats in the field and around the buildings and feeders.  They're useful in herding the sheep, and if you've got a pig in the bushes, they are invaluable in bringing it out. 

So no, I don't recommend this dog except to someone who likes its individual traits and characteristics, as I do.  I do recommend dogs as part of your working farm when you're raising animals on pasture.  They enrich your life in many ways, and make the work easier.  I train my dogs so that everyone has a clear understanding of what the rules are, and my life is so much better for having done so. 


Anonymous said...

Dude, I own two Airedales who are excellent in obedience and agility -- on and off the leash. They're not hard-headed, you simply have to adjust your style of training. Best all-around dogs for hunting, agility and obedience, not to mention a family dog.

Mike said...

I like them. Solid working dog. Mine doesn't kill the farm animals we have, but she does hunt for everything else. She chased after a coyote we killed this last spring, never seen her run that fast.