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How to Foster Livestock Guardian Dogs - My First 48 Hours with Roo & Tucker

This is Roo and Tucker the morning after they arrived; Roo is the brown girl, and Tucker is sleeping by the gate.

The foster dogs arrived on the evening of June 30, 2024, via a professional transport service. This means that they traveled in crates, which I am sure was hard on them, but was necessary for their safety as well as the safety of the other dogs traveling at the same time. Because Tucker can be scary, he traveled with his harness and leash on and was never out of the crate until he arrived here. That is a tough situation, but again, the goal was to give these dogs a "second" chance at a happy life; just getting them here safely was the first step.

We backed the transport van right up to the gate of the field you see Tucker in. Roo popped out easily, frightened though she was; not so with Tucker. It took some time, strategy, and a long-line for him to be willing to leave his crate. At my request, the transporter removed his harness and leash. As I watched her do this, I held my breath, hoping he would allow her to do this without biting her. A dog as frightened as he was is an unpredictable animal.

I will share my journey with these two dogs as I learn more about how to work with dogs that have huge trust issues and learned challenging behaviors. Purposefully, re-training LGDs is not something I have spent as much time on as I have doing training right in the first place and teaching others how to do that. With clients' dogs that have come to the ranch for training, re-training is certainly part of the picture as it is with most owners that I work with via Zoom or in my online courses, but most clients' dogs don't have the catastrophic histories the rescue dogs present me with now. Deep breath, going forward....

Getting Started - Separating Fact From Fiction

Any dog that comes to me for training has a disclosed history. Knowing this history is minimally valuable to me, and in fact, knowing the history presents the risk of me seeing the dog through what transpired in different circumstances than the dog is in now. Labels are dangerous: this dog is "aggressive", this dog is "reactive", and the list goes on. The truth? When Tucker was at the shelter and was approached by a staff member, he advanced and was deemed unsafe to interact with in that way. When Roo lived with her foster mom in the city, she was nervous and afraid.

What about here? When I give Tucker the opportunity to move away from me, he choses to do so rather than advancing on me. I don't need him to shout at me as he asks for what he needs. As he learns that I will listen to him by changing my behavior he will begin to reach back to the subtle canine communication skills that stopped working well for him in previous circumstances. Sudden loud noises startle Roo, so I take care to minimize these stimuli. Tucker barking at her makes her crouch and retreat; Tucker lives farther away from her for now. These things are facts. These are my training tools for these dogs right now.

Meet The Dogs:

This is Roo the morning after she arrived. Can you see her stress?

Look closely at Roo. Her stress shows in the shape of her eye and the amount of white showing, her ears are tipped back and held tightly to her head, her head is turned slightly sideways as she tracks where I am, her body is tight, her tail is carried low, and I am sure there is so much more conveyed in her posture that I do not know how to understand at this point in my experience with dogs. It is important to Roo that she be able to move herself away from things that worry her, including me. I will teach her that, on this ranch, she always has that option.

Roo spent the last 2 1/2 years with her loving foster mom living in an apartment in the city, with daily walks as her options for exercise. This was far from optimal for Roo, but she is ALIVE, which makes her part of the minority of rescue dogs in Texas as hundreds of LGDs are euthanized there EVERY DAY. It is absolutely overwhelming to consider how to help, but Roo is one dog now with a future because people turned caring into action, over and over, and that brought her here to me in Oregon

Roo may have had exposure to livestock in her first six months of life as she was found malnourished and lost in a farming community. I will ask Roo about that possibility for her as we go forward, but her genetic background worries me about that. My first impression of her was that I saw a lot of companion dog in the speed that she moves and reacts, the way she carries herself, and what she seems to care about. A few days ago, her foster mom shared Roos DNA results with me. Wow, what an interesting mix of breeds there are in Roo's genetic history. Consider the generations of accidental breeding represented there; staggering and so very sad.

Tucker's whole body shows me that he has been taught he can't say "no."

Tucker is declared as approximately one year old and a cross of Akbash and Great Pyrenees. I do see both those breeds in him, as well his his puppy age, so I'll go with this. Tucker was an owner surrender, along with his partner dog, because he bit his owner on the hand. Say yes?! What was that hand doing??!! But I digress. Dogs bite for a reason and I suspect Tucker has had many, many reasons to bite in his short life. One of my tasks is to show him a different path. This photo was taken the evening of his second day with me. He is changing quickly, even more quickly than Roo, but he presents the unique challenge of being willing to bite me if pushed. I can feel it and I can see it in his eyes and body; learning a bit of his history confirmed what I felt was true for him.

Tucker spent the last couple of months with his foster mom living in a residential setting without a yard of his own; twice daily walks were his enrichment and physical opportunities. Just being on a leash takes away a dog's choices, maybe by necessity, but this is still true for the dog. He is spatially aware and sensitive, so activity around him while on a leash would have been a concern to him. Being inside a house, so not able to move away, while faced with visitors and a multitude of other household factors, leads a dog like Tucker to an increasing probability of biting as his way of getting what he needs. I have no way of knowing what all his triggers for biting are, and how well-established a behavioral pattern this is for him, so I am being very careful.

The Critical First 48 Hours in a New Home

It is imperative that the first 48 hours be managed well for an LGD because of their genetic need to manage property. They need to feel safe, as quickly as possible, but it is equally as important for them to define their new job and responsibilities. Pet dogs need to feel safe, absolutely, but one of the logical next steps for them is to bond to a new human. For LGDs, that is not essential in the first 48 hours because their anchor is property, not people. Being allowed to be seen as a partner, a working partner, to an LGD is earned. I know exactly how to do that with LGDs, so in this aspect of my work with the foster dogs I am right where I need to be. I know how to use my property to quickly create this for LGDs and I know how to become their working partner. In placing LGDs in a setting they feel in control of, and moving around on this property with them, I offer myself to them as a partner for their consideration. Whether they take my up on my offer is up to them; the timetable is theirs and it is my job honor this by allowing them to make the first moves in engaging me.

Here are some videos taken on my first day with these beautiful dogs. Enjoy!

Foster dogs first day, first video - Roo and Tucker

Foster dogs first day, second video - Roo and Tucker

Foster dogs first day, third video - Roo and Tucker

This video is the end of our 48 hours together. Roo is in the creek field for a bit as I do my chores; Tucker is in his new and larger field away from Roo. He loves this change!!! Happy dog! Watching him do zoomies with the pups was wonderful, as was the experience of having him approach me at the fence to kiss my nose. Yes, I will admit that I held my breath the first time I allowed him to come close to my face. Presenting myself to him with my eyes at his level, my body turned laterally to him, and with my hands behind my back are ways that I can use my body to tell him "I come in peace". I do. Tucker, you are safe here. Roo, you are safe here. If you both will give me time I will do my best to come to understand you and advocate for you.

To The Rescue Who Entrusted Me With These Dogs

Thank you. Thank you for taking the first step of taking a chance on me as possibly someone who can help LGDs in need. I have formed a new partnership with you. Piece by piece, day by day, I will do my best for you and for these dogs.

I am a positive reinforcement training professional certified through the Karen Pryor Academy. I use only training methods dogs do not fear or work to avoid.

My extensive experience with livestock guardian dogs and my significant behavioral science and training education make me the right trainer for LGDs and the people who love them.

Would you like to know how to train this way? Learn how to make informed training decisions; this course will show you how:

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❤️thank you

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