Words can hurt. They have consequences. People have a choice to read and believe or move on. Dogs don't have that choice. If a dog's owner believes what he reads on social media and brings that information home, the dog is left with trying to figure out the new things that are happening. Sometimes this is a really good thing! But often, dogs pay a high price for the misinformation presented through social media.
People reach out to social media simply to be social, but they also may seek wisdom about something that others have had experience with. I am an Admin on a Facebook page that I am really proud of: the Maremma Sheepdog Open Forum. As admins on this page, we carefully control the content. We welcome differing opinions, but we don't promote opinions that science isn't in agreement with.
One of the prevailing conflicting opinions common on social media platforms is when LGDs must be introduced to livestock. It has been well-documented by responsible LGD breeders that there is an early window of time for bonding LGD puppies with livestock. Still, unsuspecting novice LGD owners make the mistake of raising their working LGD pup in the house, quite possibly because they read somewhere on social media that it was OK, and the LGD doesn't grow up the way they hoped he would. He knows how to be a companion dog, but he is wired to be a guardian of livestock. These dogs often find themselves as part of the 30% LGD failure rate in this country. Many of the failed LGDs are euthanized, so the dog may pay the ultimate price for the misinformation spread on social media.
My recent lesson about the power of social media, as evidenced by the photo above, has led me to believe I am naive about this point. I have honestly felt that the people who make mistakes with their dogs did so because they didn't know a better way. This is part of what drives me to write about, publish, and video record the training I have done with my Maremmas. But I have been tuned up on this point. I learned that even if an owner is presented with what I consider to be irrefutable evidence that their training choices are dangerous to their dog, they may choose to continue to train that way - because someone with a Facebook page says it is right. And that someone can be anyone. They don't have to know anything. Possibly, what they need most is a huge ego. Maybe they make money on social media "hits." There are lots of reasons that people have Facebook pages. Advocacy for the rights of dogs isn't high on that list.
There is a new catchy phrase on the LGD social media platforms these days: "The Shepherd Way." Believers state that LGD puppies must be raised in the house alongside their "shepherd" for the first few months of their life rather than in the pasture with the livestock they are to guard. Ray Coppinger, scientist, ethologist, and LGD specialist, disproved this myth thirty years ago through his scientific research. Silly me, I thought these believers simply didn't know about Mr. Coppinger's studies, so I took the time to pull direct quotes about the subject from two of his books and shared the information in a blog post on my website and on Facebook pages.
One of the comments made on a Facebook page I don't visit often was that the owner was the Shepherd, and that he was modeling behavior for his puppy, thereby handling the training issue, and that the pup did indeed belong in the house for the first months of his life. He let me know that he believed the words of his Facebook guru over those of the renowned Ray Coppinger. Wow. Scary stuff indeed. I submitted my post to said guru, hoping that it would create some differing dialog about the subject on his page. Oh no, a dissenting viewpoint is not allowed, even if you share the words of Ray Coppinger.
Take a look at the description of my blog post and then at the first sentence in the post denial feedback. This is an LGD support training page - and the words of Ray Coppinger are the "exact opposite of what his group promotes"? And what is positive, or negative, about a scientific finding? It is just a fact, no emotional bias attached. He goes on to suggest that I use his guides to learn how to raise dogs "with scientific backing." I don't see his scientific backing. There is certainly scientific backing for raising companion dogs as he promotes but not working guardian dogs.
Part of his position is that the owner, as the shepherd, should spend a lot of time with his pups, as shepherds historically did with their working LGDs. There is a kernel of truth to this, but there is a catch to it: The shepherds were out in the fields with their dogs, not on the couch in front of a television set. My advice? Put on your jacket and your rain gear, and go out in your pasture to learn something from your LGD pup. And what makes an owner a shepherd? I picture this grey-bearded man with robes and a wooden staff. True shepherds modeled behavior for their working dogs in the way they moved around the livestock, not camped in the living room. This owner is a man looking for an easy way to train his dog. Dogs do model the behavior of other dogs, and that can really help a young dog find his way, but it isn't the whole story. To follow this logic, an owner could stay comfortably in his house until the pup is big enough to knock over furniture and then send him out to go to work. The owner could just add a young dog to an old dog, and he'd get a carbon copy in this younger generation.
With regard to social media and responsibility, I don't have all the answers. It is probably obvious that this situation, this string of events, has upset me. I think, as a reader of social media, that I have a responsibility to speak out when things like this come to light. I have no idea if it will do any good. The task seems hopeless and overwhelming to me right now. But I have my one voice, and I will use it.
This is my post that started this drama:
That Essential Window of Bonding for Livestock Guardian Pups https://www.bensonmaremmas.com/post/that-essential-window-of-bonding-for-livestock-guardian-pups
Top 8 Reasons LGDs Fail https://www.bensonmaremmas.com/post/top-8-reasons-lgds-fail
This is an excellent post that adds to the story, written by Kim Crawmer, Prancing Pony Farm: