Questions about livestock guardian dogs and alpacas
How will the alpacas like having a dog around them?
In the beginning, the alpacas were very concerned. Most of the high ranking females tried to stomp them. The rest just tried to avoid them. Luckily even as pups, they moved slowly and calmly and eventually won the respect of the herd. Now they live together peacefully and I’m pretty sure the alpacas know that the dogs will take care of any problem that might come near the boundaries of the ranch.
Do we need more than one?
You would not send a soldier into a battlefield alone and for that reason it didn’t seem fair to ask one dog to work alone. Watching over a herd is a 24 hr a day job and with 2 dogs the job can be shared. Also, some predators will work as a team to get at the herd so a dog needs a partner to combat this. They do take shifts and have different responsibilities. One is often sleeping while the other patrols and Abby, our female is the one who takes charge of the babies, with the mom’s permission of course.
Does it matter if they are registered?
For us, no. We did want purebred dogs, but more important was that they came from working parents and grandparents. A show ribbon means little if a dog has lost the ability to guard livestock.
Should we not handle the pups so they will bond with the herd?
The breeder we bought our first 2 pyrs from encouraged us to put them with the herd and not handle them. Well not lovin on a puppy was more than I could stand, and especially because the alpacas were intent on stomping them, we did get rather bonded in those early months. They arrived in December and I think I spent more hours outside that winter than ever! I believe that my Pyrs do take care of the herd out of love for me as well as following their instincts to be good guardians.
What kind of fencing do they need?
Good fencing! And because they love to roam (part of checking out the local predators I believe) you might need to hot wire the top or bottom of your fencing. We did both – since Gideon jumped over and Ajax dug under every kind of fence we put up. One zap with the hot wire and they have stayed within the boundaries ever since.
How will we deal with dog poop in the pasture?
We decided to feed our dogs a raw diet, so their bodies absorb most of what they eat – the feces from a raw fed dog is white, doesn’t smell that much and is of much less quantity than a kibble fed dog. We still need to scoop, but it is a minimal issue.
Are they easy to train?
We wanted them to know basic commands like sit, come, stay and their names but the important part of the job, guarding the herd, they are just wired to know. We were fortunate that they never chased the crias, never jumped up, and lowered their heads instinctively as they walked slowly past the alpacas. They knew to walk around the herd, not through the herd, and they seemed to know from day 1 that they were here to do the job of protecting the herd.
They do not follow commands that well, because they are supposed to be able to think on their own. If you need to tell them what to do when a predator is challenging your fence, they aren’t much use as a guardian.
Do they bark a lot?
Only when they need to. When they were pups they barked a lot more than they do now. If I hear barking at night I know there is something lurking about that the dogs feel is a threat. And that is why we employed them, so I am glad they are doing their job, not snoozing in the barn! Their first line of defense is barking, it lets any predator know that the best place to harass livestock is NOT at Blue Moon Ranch. If a predator comes closer to the fence, the barking escalates. If you have close neighbors, you might need to consider this before using LGD’s on your farm.
Will they try to hurt our house dogs?
When we first added Ajax and Gideon, we had a Newfie and a Golden retriever that lived in the house. We do not allow our house dogs in the alpaca pasture so it seemed pretty quickly that all dogs knew and agreed to stay where they found themselves. Fast forward, our newfie and golden had gone over the rainbow bridge and we added 2 labradoodles to be house dogs. Our male Jack was a fence jumper. His goal was to find me, but the pyrs made sure he knew he was NOT allowed to be near the alpacas. A little growl told him he was where he didn’t belong but we have since raised the fence so the Pyrs won’t have to try to teach him where he belongs. I doubt they would kill him, but they might have roughed him up if he approached the alpacas.
Isn’t it abusive to leave them outside in all kinds of weather?
First, we provide shelter for the alpacas, so the dogs have the option to be inside the barns with the herd. But most often, they prefer to be outside. Predators usually show up at night, so to bring them in at night would defeat their purpose. Most of all, they PREFER to be outside. It took me a while to understand this, because my experience had been with house dogs. We check on them frequently especially in bad weather. Our guardian dogs are much loved members of the team at Blue Moon Ranch and they know it.
Here is an excellent article about warning signs of problem behaviors in livestock guardian dogs. Click here for the article.