Updated: Jan 22
This photo is worthy of a blog all its own. It tells a story of proactive management of the dogs as well as the livestock that live with them as well as the other side of the fences.
LGDs learn most of what they know from the environment they live in, as young dogs and all through their lives. I think of barns and fencing as training tools. The dogs and the livestock live in an area as a community. If you think of a barn as a house, where rooms are used for differing purposes, and you understand that LGDs own real estate, you may appreciate why strategic design matters.
It is very important not to feed LGDs in barns, near gates, or other areas common to livestock that have high value to LGDs because the dogs may learn to guard these areas as resources they own. LGDs believe they own the area where they are fed, sometimes even after the food bowls have been removed.
Katie has fed her dogs well away from the barn and gates.
Notice where the sheep are. Training livestock regarding feeding LGDs is as important as training the dogs. Katie has taught her sheep that nothing of value is present for them when she feeds her dogs, but she also stays with her dogs to ensure the sheep don't put pressure on the dogs. Her dogs have been taught that she will protect them from sheep as well as from each other.
The low electric wire is there to keep pigs from rooting at the bottom of the fence. The non-climb fencing you see here is new and beautiful. Katie is wise to protect this investment. For part of the year, Katie raises a group of pigs for slaughter. Pigs can be hard on fences, so when they are in pastures the low wire stays hot. Because of this, the dogs and pigs will never live together in this long alley.
The fence has a hot top wire. This is there to prevent horses from putting their heads over the fencing; good idea!
If you look at the fencing on the right you'll see three strands of electric tape on the outside of this aisle in addition to the top hot wire. The tape is there to keep absolutely everything away from this fence. There are no LGDs on the tape side of the fence.
I admire Katie's barn design very much! When Kathy and I visited her property before she had the dogs we talked about some of the inherent challenges in putting a barn in the middle of this aisle. Katie came up with this barn. It is perfect in its simplicity and ease of function.
The barn is built on skids so that Katie can drag it to other locations using her tractor, or pick it up using the forks of the tractor.
The barn sits far enough away from both fences that dogs and livestock can pass through on either side. In this way she has prevented any possibility of the dogs cornering livestock, even accidentally.
The large, open doorway design prevents the livestock from becoming cornered in the barn as well. LGDs don't like to be in areas that they can't see well out of to guard so if an LGD is given a house or shelter that limits his view the dog will often choose to sleep outside instead. Katie's barn welcomes her dogs as well as her sheep.
Katie's decision-making in her use of this area is flawless for both the livestock and her dogs. Through her wisdom, she has made it unlikely that her dogs will learn behaviors around livestock that could get them in trouble.
Inappropriate guarding of resources by LGDs (per the view of the human) is one of the most common reasons LGDs are euthanized in this country. Thank you, Katie, for protecting these lovely dogs!
****What would happen if those low wires were hot when the dogs are present?****
LGDs need to feel brave and confident in the areas they guard. A dog that gets hurt will run from what hurt him and try to hide. The dog might hide in the barn but he also might move low against the fence on the far side; in this case, the dog would be shocked again. This is a very long, narrow alley. A young dog, particularly, could be shocked over and over as he tried to run from danger.
I've seen dogs shocked by electric fences run to the center of a field and refuse to move, sometimes for several days, because the dog is afraid and doesn't understand where the danger is.
I watched a young dog of mine try to hide against a fence with a hot wire; he was shocked repeatedly, immobilized. While I ran to unplug the fence he reflexively gnashed his teeth while he has being shocked. At first, he screamed while he was being shocked. When he did this his litter mates attacked him, so he became silent as he suffered in pain and fear, continually being shocked for what felt like forever.
After I unplugged the fence he continued this reflexive behavior. When I tried to move him from the fence I had to use real caution because he was not discriminant in his fear; I had been present so I was part of his terrible experience. It took several tense minutes to move the pup from the fence and into my arms and nearly an hour before he would walk among his litter mates with even a slight degree of confidence. This six-month-old pup wouldn't go near that area for several months.
There are times that I employ electric fencing with my dogs but I think hard about other options first.
Compassionate Use of Electric Fencing For Maremmas: https://www.bensonmaremmas.com/post/compassionate-use-of-electric-fencing-for-maremmas
Fencing Options & Considerations for Maremmas: https://www.bensonmaremmas.com/post/fencing-options-considerations-for-maremmas