Cindy Benson featured MSCA Breeder Spotlight
Updated: Mar 28, 2019
I was proud to be featured in the Maremma Sheepdog Club of America Newsletter, The Maremma Guardian. It was the December 2017 Edition.
Here it is.....
I became a breeder because I believe in predator preservation. I wanted to promote that it is possible to live in harmony with predators, who I feel have a place in our ecosystem. To me, producing high quality pups, getting them a good start in their early training, and then sending them forth is like paying it forward. I hope that their example will lead others to consider LGDs as an alternative to getting out a gun.
Maremmas were an obvious choice for me because of their inherent kindness. They have a tremendous work ethic and can be formidable adversaries but they can also be sweet and sensitive with people. I have lots of strangers on the property because they come to see my donkeys. I needed dogs that would be comfortable with this.
My favorite question to ask a potential buyer is “what do you need from your dogs?”. This is important information for sure, but what I am really looking for from that potential buyer is their next question of me, which ought to be “what will my dogs need from me?”. I want to place my pups in working situations where they are valued partners; where their needs and quality of life are as important to their owner as the protection the dogs are expected to provide.
I look for buyers who I feel have a strong intuitive sense and a willingness to learn from their dogs. I have had LOTS of Maremmas. The most important thing they have taught me is that I have more to learn. I find that if I watch my dogs closely they’ll usually let me know what is working for them, or isn’t, and how I might come at fixing the problem. I don’t think a buyer needs to know everything there is to know about Maremmas to be the perfect buyer. Rather, I think they need to be eager to learn. I also think they need to have good fences!
My best advice for a novice breeder is to base your breeding program in science. Take advantage of the wonderful health testing options available to breeders today and health test your dogs. Breed only those dogs who will make a positive contribution to the Maremma gene pool – leave a mark you can be proud of. Establish relationships with veterinarians you can count on, and do this way before you need them. I have several that I use. One is my go-to hip testing vet, one is particularly good with breeding health issues, one is great at foxtail removal from ears (which is an issue in my area in spite of my best efforts), one will provide after hours care, etc. These people are the wind beneath my wings and help me keep my dogs safe. I also look for vets who are willing to teach me, not just to fix my current problem.
My favorite thing about being a breeder is husbandry and training. I’ve had enough litters now to know a little about when to expect certain behaviors from my pups and when to introduce them to their own livestock and to new areas. I love to work at building their confidence and watching them head towards becoming the capable dogs I know they can be. I have kept many of my pups into their adolescence. I particularly like to place my pups when they are four months to a year old because I can get them such a solid start here. Our ranch has many fields of varying size and difficulty, and many different kinds of livestock. This gives me a lot of training opportunities to use in raising pups.
For me the most challenging part of being a breeder is the whelping experience, the first month or so of lactation for the mom, and neonatal care of the pups. There are variables in these situations that are out of my control, no matter how much sleep I give up or how vigilant I am, and that is a difficult reality for me. I love my dogs, and their pups, and keeping them safe is super important to me. So during this time I tend to worry a lot, but I’m getting better about that as I gain more experience.
What is my favorite breeding story??? Well, I’m not sure if this is my favorite but you may find it amusing. Picture cold, cold weather – a true storm in fact. I had been watching Hannah on my camera system every hour, per the alarm on my phone, all night long. Her whelping box was all set up to perfection with heat lamps in place. An hour before she had her first pup the power went out. No heat lamps! So we took the whelping box apart and rebuilt it in the living room. Hannah had her pups in front of the wood stove. It probably goes without saying that she had never been in the house before…. This experience came on the heels of some life things that had taken their toll on me so I was not at my best. When this situation presented itself I was not amused! Hannah took the changed circumstance in stride and had her pups with no problem, and all was well. After she was all done the power came back on and out the group went to the lovely stall. Gads.
I have only owned Maremmas for four years. In the early days we produced two litters of unregistered pups. It was through my experience with the dogs and my admiration for them that I made the commitment to raise only registered, health tested dogs. We produced our first registered pups in 2017 after extensive efforts on my part to create the breeding program we have now. We employ a lot of dogs here; right now there are thirteen working adults. Most of the pups I purchased with the hope of using them in my breeding program I selected against for one reason or another, so a lot of dogs came and went. They went on to be productive spayed or neutered working dogs. In this four years I have had more than 60 Maremmas. Some were adults, some were pups I kept through some point in their adolescence, and many are still here. So I haven’t been at this for very long but I have had a lot of experience in a very short time!
My goals for the future include producing dogs with better and better hips and promoting health testing in general, and in educating the public about the wonderful resource guardian dogs are.
Breeder Information Dr Mitch and Cindy Benson Gold Hill, OR Specialty – Miniature Donkeys and mini cows
The ranch is 360 acres. We have all woven fencing with electric fencing mid-line or along the top. This to keep my livestock from damaging my fences. It may also help to keep my dogs in, but I haven’t had any problems with dogs trying to leave. Some of my gates have openings at the top that are 4’ high. I know my dogs could jump right through, but instead they chose to stay home. I think this is in part because they work in pairs and are content. If they were chasing something threatening I have no doubt they would sail right through!
My dogs guard about 150 animals, mostly donkeys
Our ranch is directly in mountain lion country. We also have coyotes, bears, and the occasional neighborhood dogs.
I use my dogs only in pairs for many reasons, including their own safety.
Prior to the arrival of the Maremmas four mountain lions were trapped and killed here. I find that regrettable. Now that the dogs are here we don’t even find the tracks of the indigenous predators. I like knowing that the wild things are thriving in the natural order of life, and that when I close my eyes at night my dogs get up and go to work. That is very comforting!!!