Guard Dogs

 

Performance Narrative:

The purpose of the project funded by the NSIIC grant is to compare adult livestock guardian dogs bonded as puppies at the AgriLife Center to dogs bonded on cooperator ranches. In January of 2022, we purchased 16 eight-week-old, weaned livestock guardian dog puppies from three different breeders in Texas. The puppies consisted of four Akbash x Great Pyrenees puppies, four Anatolian X Akbash X Great Pyrenees puppies and eight purebred Akbash puppies.

Five producers were located that were willing to cooperate with us for the project timeline that had limited experience bonding dogs to livestock. Three of the producers have over 500 head of sheep and two producers have over 200 head of sheep. Depending on the size of the producerís sheep operation they received one or two puppies to bond to their livestock. All producers have Dorper influenced hair sheep on their operations. The producers are in the following Texas counties: Kimble, Sutton, Maverick, and Pecos. The producers received their puppies in late January and early February. Producers will be visited in person every four to six weeks to address questions and any problems that may have arisen with the puppies. Producers regularly check in via text, phone, or email with us between visits. Puppies are checked for proper health and care at each in person visit.

The remaining 8 puppies were placed in bonding pens at the AgriLife Center in San Angelo for bonding and training procedures we have developed based on repeatable outcomes. The puppies at the Center were observed, socialized, and trained three times a week until they were six months of age. At that time the puppies were released from their bonding pens with the sheep they were bonded with into small pastures for additional training and observation.

At nine months of age the puppies at the AgriLife Center were spayed or neutered. After recuperating they were placed on the cooperating producerís ranches with the dogs the ranchers have bonded. All 2

dogs will be scored for socialization, roaming and overall guarding abilities at 8, 12 and 18 months of age. All dogs will wear a GPS tracking collar to monitor their behavior and location on a regular basis. Data from each scoring will be tabulated and reviewed with the producers.

Producers decided to either immediately release their dogs or give them 5 to 7 days to acclimate with ranch livestock before releasing the dogs to large pastures. Four out of the five producers acclimated the dogs with their own sheep for a short period. All dogs have been staying at their pasture locations as of this date and they are getting along well with each other. Four out of the five producers have their dogs together while the producer in Maverick County has separated his dogs into pairs at different ranch locations. Three out of the five producers are running their dogs with only sheep. Due to the drought two of the producers have had to run the dogs with mixed herds of sheep and goats.

LoRa GPS tracking systems were installed on two of the ranches with limited cellular service while the other three producers received cellular GPS trackers to monitor the dogs. All producers were set up with accounts at Lone Star Tracking to be able to monitor the dogís locations via desktop computers or with cellular phone apps. Dogs are being monitored via their GPS trackers several times a week by AgriLife personnel and/or producers. Producers are notified if it appears that dogs have left the pasture boundaries.

All but one of the producers are very happy with their dogs and looking forward to increased lamb crops. One producer is already asking to acquire more dogs from the AgriLife program to place them at a second ranch. Other than four of the dogs roaming, no other issues such as rough play or chasing have been noticed by the ranchers. The dogs bonded and working as pairs tend to stay as a pair on the ranch locations. The producers that received single dogs have not had any issues with their dogs getting along and they also travel together most of the time.

Four out of the five producers in the project were successful in the use of LGDs to control predation and increase their lambing percentages. Producers saw an increase of 40% to 100% increase in their lamb crops in just 8 months of using LGDs on their properties. All ranchers are planning on expanding the use of LGDs to control predation on their ranches in the future. All the ranchers have seen a value in the GPS tracking of their dogs and plan to continue the service with the current provider.

One producer was found to be neglecting their four LGDs and the dogs were removed from the ranch in May during a ranch visit. The producer had been warned on two previous occasions that the dogs were not being properly cared for but failed to make improvements in the care and handling of the dogs. The dogs were all examined by our veterinarian and found to be in poor health from lack of feed resources and overall care. The dogs were given feed and medication while being cared for at the AgriLife Center for over 2 months. Two of the dogs have been placed with a sheep producer in Dripping Springs, TX and the other two dogs will be sent to a sheep producer in Cuero, TX August of 2023 after receiving resocialization practices.

Slight differences in socialization between producer bonded dogs and AgriLife bonded dogs were seen throughout the project. LGDs bonded in hot wire at the AgriLife Center roamed less overall than AgriLife and producer bonded dog without hot wire in the bonding pens. A large difference in bonding practices 3

was not seen between cooperating producers or between the producers and AgriLife. We believe this is due to the increased amount of outreach by the program through field days, workshops, webinar and social media since 2019 when the AgriLife LGD Program was started.