When my husband Adam and I bought our 100 acre block 12 months ago, I screwed up my nose at the property name, but I think it rather fits in this context…
The first job on the new block was to set up fencing for our mixed herd of goats and sheep. We picked the front paddock so we could look out at them from our veranda. Soon the herd and their brand new, six-month old Maremma friend, Banjo moved in. Adam has traded Banjo for a piglet, and the old farmer who bred him said to put him out with the herd, and do not have any interaction with him or he won’t bond with the animals. He was such a cute little fluff-ball that I never fully followed the instructions, but would sneak a quick pat on the head at dinner time while Adam wasn’t looking.
Banjo settled in ok over the next few months, but would bark regularly for no apparent reason, so we thought maybe he needed another canine companion. Adam conjured up another deal with an old mate, and along came Henry, only he was a wee 10 weeks old! The idea was that Banjo had a handle on things, so he could teach the new fella the ways of the LGD…
Being just a pup, Henry was waaaay too cute for me to resist the odd cuddle, but we still kept to the farmer’s advice to not be too friendly, taking their word for it that if we did the dogs would be less effective in their role.
Banjo and Henry got along like a house on fire, and before we knew it, Banjo had given up barking duty, and Henry had taken over the job with gusto! He would bark at the owl in the tree, the horse over the fence, and of course the neighbour’s dogs. So inevitably we had complaints from said neighbour, “We can’t get any sleep… the dog has to go… you need to lock him up or something…” In retrospect we picked the worst possible place on the block to house our herd and their barking guardians, but we were defensive of our boys, they were just doing their job, even if it was a little overzealous…
The only thing we could do was to pen the herd, with the dogs, close to the house at night. We immediately discovered that this had no effect on the barking, and the neighbours didn’t appreciate the effort.
The neighbours started making threats and I was genuinely scared for Henry’s life.
In total desperation and despair, I posted a plea for help on a Facebook farming group, and within minutes, Erin from Livestock Guardian Dogs Australia had commented, offering her expertise.
Erin immediately started messaging me, and offered her phone number. She seemed genuinely invested in the safety of my dogs. We texted over the next couple of days and arranged a phone call. On the phone Erin was not only sympathetic and supportive, but so knowledgeable and helpful. She respectfully told me that a lot of what I had been told about managing and training livestock guardian dogs was not correct. She also advised me that developing a closer relationship with the dogs from the beginning is what establishes the trust and in turn it results in a “partnership” of working together rather than leaving them to their own devices where stress and anxiety can result from a lack of guidance in their junior years. This is how they develop confidence in themselves. Erin emailed me with a library of helpful resources and research-based tips to understand livestock guardian dogs.
I immediately felt like my boys had a chance. With Erin’s encouragement and the wealth of knowledge she shared, I had the confidence to start building a relationship with Banjo and Henry.
I started by simply patting the boys. At first, they weren’t quite sure what I was doing, but it wasn’t long before they figured it was actually enjoyable, and soon they were jumping up for cuddles (further obedience training required there)! I slowly introduced a brush to them, which they now LOVE, and even managed to put a collar on them both. When either of them would bark, I took Erin’s advice and rather than get mad at them I would take a look. If there was something to bark at, I would thank them for their service, if not I’d ask them to ease up. And at some point, while all this was progressing, I noticed it was quiet! In my newly educated opinion, Erin was spot-on. Banjo and Henry were just anxious. They had no leader, and didn’t know when to be on alert and when it was ok to relax, so they were just switched on all the time. Once I stepped up, gained their trust and responded to their cues, they were able to figure out their role.
Last night, at around 11pm, Henry and Banjo were both barking. Considering it’s rare these days, I decided to check it out. As I went to the pen, the dogs came for a pat and then laid down next to a young nanny goat who had just prematurely given birth. I couldn’t be prouder of my boys.
I can’t express just how thankful I am to Erin and Livestock Guardian Dogs Australia. Without Erin’s response to my desperate Facebook post, I am sure Banjo and Henry would both be long gone. Instead, I now have two healthy, happy and productive livestock guardian dogs.
It will always be a work in progress. My next goal is to be able to lead the boys, with the aim of being able to take them in the car to a vet should the need arise, but with Erin’s help, I feel we are well on the way. Banjo and Henry have certainly settled down.
Article courtesy of Jessica Harding.