Monday, June 16, 2014

Guardian Dogs & Wolves in the Alps

Wolf damage to livestock herds in the southern French Alps continues to be a chronic problem, with more than 2,400 head of livestock killed by wolves in 2013. Researchers have indicated that the region is facing the limit on the efficacy of the use of Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) in that region.

Researchers
Preliminary results of the most recent detailed research project were published in the Spring 2014 Carnivore Damage Prevention News. The paper, “The CanOvis Project: Studying Internal and External Factors that May Influence Livestock Guardian Dogs’ Efficiency Against Wolf Predation,” was written by Jean-Marc Landry, Gerard Millischer, Jean-Luc Borelli, and Gus Lyon of the Institute for the Promotion and Research on Guarding Animals in Switzerland, and Parc National du Mercantour of France.

Methods
Researchers were equipped with a long-range infrared binocular with recording capabilities. They were able to record night-time interactions between wolves and LGDs in the Maritime Alps. Research involved three flocks of sheep, two of which had high wolf pressure, including one grazing in an area where no wolf shooting permits are issued – not even to livestock producers experiencing wolf attacks on their herds. Flock sizes ranged from 1,750 to 2,500 sheep. One area had two flocks at the start of the grazing season, but these were combined at the end of the summer due to frequent wolf predation on one herd. All three flocks were protected by LGDs, mainly by Great Pyrenees dogs, or Great Pyrenees/Maremma crossbreds. One flock had 11 LGDs, while the other two herds had four LGDs each. The LGDs were fitted with GPS collars each evening, and their movements were tracked until sunrise.

How did the LGDs react?
LGD reactions ranged from no reaction, to barking, social or close contacts (33% of the events), and chasing. Using the infrared binoculars, researchers were able to document wolves passing by the flock, feeding on freshly killed sheep, and attempting to attack sheep – despite the presence of LGDs. The researchers noted: “Wolves were apparently unafraid of LGDs. Although wolves were chased by LGDs or had agnostic encounters, these experiences did not prevent them from returning the same or following nights. Moreover, we recorded several occurrences in which a single LGD faced a wolf and exaggerated its behaviors instead of attacking, allowing enough time for the wolf to escape. Thus, the LGDs observed (either naïve or experienced with wolf encounters) seemed to be very cautious around wolves.”
The researchers suggest that LGDs should be considered a primary repellent by disrupting a predator’s behavior, but they do not permanently modify that behavior. Wolves become habituated to the presence of LGDs, according to the researchers. They found that both LGDs and wolves seem to evaluate the risk of escalating confrontation.

Aggression
Great Pyrenees LGDs are often selected for use in areas with a high degree of tourism, because they are known to be less aggressive to humans and other dogs. In fact, they are now bred and promoted for their docility. But LGDs that are expected to be effective guardians in wolf territory must have a higher level of aggression to predators. They must have a willingness to confront and fight the predator, as certain LGD breeds are known to do. Researchers pointed to the Karakachan from Bulgaria as a breed known its aggression to intruders.

Stepping away from the research paper for a moment, I would note that our family started with Great Pyrenees LGDs but found they were not aggressive enough for the predator challenges they faced. Thus we moved to Akbash, which have a higher level of aggression to predators while not posing a threat to humans; and to Central Asian Shepherds, which have a high level of canine-aggression. We have found them to be very effective in wolf-inhabited areas of western Wyoming.



Yearling females: tri-colored is a Central Asian Ovcharka, while the white dog is Rena, an Akbash.

Barking
The researchers found that LGD barks do not modify wolves’ ongoing behaviors, but these vocalizations do seem to transmit information. “Because barking is easy to pinpoint, they might give valuable information to the wolves about the LGDs’ location, the number of individuals, their distance and maybe even temperament. Nevertheless, LGDs’ barks can attract other LGDs, even if they are not able to observe the scene.”

Marking
The LGDs in the study were often seen leaving the flock in the early mornings to defecate and urinate before returning. Some LGDs and wolves defecated on the same spot, so these “scent markings” did not serve to deter wolf presence.

Age & Courtship
Just as wolves become more sedentary and their predatory performance declines with age, the same appears to be true with LGDs, especially as it pertains to a weakening physical condition that comes with age. Thus, the age structure of the LGD pack is a key factor in protecting skills.

The researchers also noted that female LGDs in heat poses a separate problem that needs managed by the herder or flock owner. “The energy to protect the flock is wasted on courting females and fighting males,” the researchers noted. “In our case, a strange male LGD managed to reach a female in heat in the middle of the flock despite the presence of three males, probably because they were wounded during a fight at the beginning of the evening.”

Young Wolves
Particular wolves were seen staying near the flocks, attempting (and failing) to attack, and interacting with LGDs. Researchers believe these were young wolves learning to hunt and testing the LGDs. “Consequently, if these first encounters are not associated with negative consequences, we hypothesize they will learn that LGDs and shepherds are not a danger and will perceive sheep as an available resource. This knowledge may then be passed to the next generation through associative learning. Thus, more aggressive LGDs may be necessary to teach young wolves that encounters with LGDs have severe consequences.”

Shepherds aren’t a threat either
The researchers found that shepherds aren’t viewed as much of a threat to the wolves either. Since their only option is yelling and throwing rocks, the effect on wolves is negligible. The researchers found that the wolf flight distance when confronted by the shepherds was sometimes as short as 100 feet.
Recent wolf attacks on sheep herds are happening more often in daylight (52% of all attacks) and a shepherd reported being challenged by a wolf while trying to retrieve a wounded lamb.

Future
The CanOvis project research project will continue, with researchers continuing to observe how LGDs react to wolves and how wolves counter-respond. To read the full paper, click here.

20 comments:

Brenda Negri said...

Good post Cat and thank you. Unfortunately, the study does not dig deeper into how the dogs used, were raised. The longer I breed LGD breeds - and I have owned and breed many, ranging from Kangals to Pyrenees, Spanish Mastiffs, Pyrenean Mastiffs, and crosses of all these - I am more and more convinced, how the pups are reared up, the degree of confidence instilled in them at tender ages, makes for all the difference. This can only be accomplished, I think, in rearing pups within a pack structure, very similar to wolves. When I say a pack, I mean several other dogs unrelated (and related) to the litter, of all ages. How else to explain that pups out of what is termed a 'docile' Pyrenees, crossed on an affable Pyrenean Mastiff, that I have working now in the US, who have aggressively held off feral dog packs and predators outnumbering them? I truly believe pack raising pups, no matter the breed, can make the difference. They seem to sustain a stronger urge to protect, to be bold and confident in face of conflicts. I have no hard science to back this up, only litter upon litter working out there now, of purebred and cross LGD pups, exhibiting exemplary and advanced tendencies to courageously defend what is theirs. I look forward to the day when someone in the science world will go beyond breeds and begin to delve deeper into what makes or breaks a good LGD. I am convinced, it is in the rearing, and have the proof out there to back that up. I swear by pack raising of LGD pups. I truly think it makes all the difference, no matter the breed.

eldriwolf said...

Does the flock size have an effect on predation?
Are bigger flocks more attractive targets, or is it harder to pick out just one sheep from so many?

What number of sheep per LGD is optimum---do we know?


I get that with small flocks one animal is a bigger percentage of your flock-,and that profit-per-sheep is small, and that the dogs are not cheap.

--As someone who had less than twelve goats and sheep combined,(obviously not a commercial operation!) those numbers looked scary- big to me.

How could you keep so many safe?
How would you even know who was missing?

eldriwolf said...

Does the flock size have an effect on predation?
Are bigger flocks more attractive targets, or is it harder to pick out just one sheep from so many?

What number of sheep per LGD is optimum---do we know?


I get that with small flocks one animal is a bigger percentage of your flock-,and that profit-per-sheep is small, and that the dogs are not cheap.

--As someone who had less than twelve goats and sheep combined,(obviously not a commercial operation!) those numbers looked scary- big to me.

How could you keep so many safe?
How would you even know who was missing?

gwood said...

“The energy to protect the flock is wasted on courting females and fighting males...”
Been there, done that.

Brenda Negri said...

More than the size of the flock, the amount and types of predators in the region you are talking about, play key role in effectiveness of dogs. Twelve or two thousand - if wolves, bear or lion or coyote are hungry enough, lacking natural prey or, enticed by the ease by which they might take a lamb, they will come, and do so; I don't think the size of the flock plays that big of a role in this.

In America, on large commercial operations, there is often less human presence than say, in Old World countries, where many shepherds live 24/7 with the bands of sheep. This contributes to vulnerability of the flock, I think.

I neglected to say in my original post, I do feel there can be a difference in breed types - a well bred authentic Kangal dog (and I don't mean some bred-down milquetoast being pawned off by show breeders) is in most cases going to be more intense and formidable than say, your average Pyrenees. But then, I personally know of a huge cattle and sheep operator in N. Nevada, with a Pyrenees who managed to kill - single handedly - a mountain lion, preying on his band of sheep. An exceptional protector, and a Pyrenees, no less.

Hera Hexspur said...

Interesting article, I have also experienced the difference between LGD's raised in a pack environment vs a quieter less populated environment and have noticed marked differences between the two. Dogs brought up in the pack environment, are more confident of their abilities at an earlier age and are less likely to fear confrontations.In addition, perhaps the number of dogs expected to cover such a vast area is not enough?

Cat Urbigkit said...

Thanks for all the comments. While I agree that how the dogs are raised is important, I also think that there is a big difference between breeds in terms of their general tendencies for canine aggression, which is an important factor when you are using the dogs in wolf territory. Most Pyrs don't have a high level of canine aggression – but that doesn't mean they aren't good guardians when it comes to predators other than wolves. They do well here in the Upper Green, harassing grizzly bears away from the herds, while not harassing humans using the area for recreation.

There is no magical formula we can use to keep flocks safe. Terrain, flocking behavior of the sheep, behavior and interactions within the dog pack, are variables that impact how the herd is protected. For commercial flocks on public lands here in Wyoming (and in our neighboring states), there is a herder present with the herd around the clock, but even that doesn't ensure the herd will be safe from predators. The herd moves, encountering new predators in the process.

We've noticed that sometimes the herd seems most vulnerable when a herd first moves into an area - before the dogs have had time to displace predators from the immediate area. Wolves are active, seeking beings. They are constantly on the move, seeking, exploring. The dog pack associated with a herd is rarely stagnant: individual dogs age, die, are killed or removed, and younger dogs are incorporated in an ever-changing environment. Wolf packs are the same, and as a livestock producer, you never know if you are going to encounter one or two wolves, or a pack of eight.

While some may view the cost of livestock guardian dogs as high, it's a worthwhile investment. Even if the dogs don't deter all predators, imagine the magnitude of losses in their absence.

What I like about this study in the Alps is that the researchers are finally able to view and record interactions between individual dogs and wolves, which can give us new insights. Usually a producer may hear battles during the night, and see the aftermath at first light, but are unable to witness the individual interactions. I'm fascinated.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff indeed! I recently watched(on YouTube during lunch at work), a great documentary(as I am in the habit of doing--TONS of great animal documentaries on that YouTube thingie!) called "Dingo; Wild Dog At War", and they had a great bit about the use of Livestock Protection Breeds in Australia for sheep--you ought to check it out, Cat!(if you haven't already!). A MODERN problem with the "BREEDS", is that people in the past had no qualms about mixing this type with that type to try to get a dog that WORKS for whatever given situation(which, of course, is WHY we have the plethora of breeds that we do today!)--and of course some few people still do! Were I saddled with this problem, I'd likely be "experimenting" with all kinds of combos(also because I'm just a total canine nut case would certainly influence things, as well.....) It's tricky, no doubt, to preserve aggression against other canines, while keeping the LGD's gentleness to livestock. But I would try adding some bull terrier types(like Ernest Thompson Seton's tale of Snap; "takes GRIT to raise cattle!"), or, by gosh, a bit of wolf--fight fire with fire! I wonder if those LGD's with recent wolf genetics ARE more effective guardians against their ancestors? Another thing I'd try to select for is a tendency for LOUD, constant BAYING--so long as this didn't panic the sheep! Maybe it would.....but I know that the off-the-charts NOISE that trailhounds give tongue to when holding large, dangerous animals(or human intruders! Ahem!) at bay, has A LOT to do with their success in that role in hunting--the noise is so overwhelming that the targeted animals can't even THINK straight, and just want to GET AWAY! Anyway, again, fascinating stuff! thanks for posting--I always enjoy this kinda stuff!.....L.B.

Gil said...

Brenda, that is remarkable that a single dog of any size or breed could kill a mountain lion equipped with claws that can disembowel with one swipe, lightening speed and quickness, and a mouthful of apex predator's teeth.
Gil

Brenda Negri said...

Gil, are you calling me a liar? Of course, you weren't here, either, were you? Its easy for you to armchair pontificate from the safety of your computer screen. The dog almost died. He did live. A testimonial to how tough a dog can be, and how ignorant many people are…..

Steve Bodio said...

Easy, all-- I know Gil and I doubt he was calling you a liar, just expressing amazement. Gil, for the record, this wasn't the only time I have heard of LGD's killing big predators-- only grizzlies seem to get away relatively unscathed.

Steve Bodio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Yeah, without facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice, it's WAAAAAY easy to misinterpret comments on the computer! Happens to me all the time! One of the contraption's drawbacks in communication. I only thought Gil was expressing amazement from his comment, not doubt--but the VEHEMENCE and negativity I've experienced on other blogs, I could see it being taken either way. Not to stir-the-pot, but there IS a story that's been around for years of an Anatolian Shepherd single-handedly killing a GRIZZLY--I DO doubt that story, and despite researching it, have yet to find verification of any sort, but it has become very widespread with Show Conformation(sigh) Anatolian folks! Like a lot of the "purebred histories", that have such parroted incidents/beliefs! Despite my doubts, you just never know--stranger things have happened--maybe the grizzly was a cub? Maybe they fell off a cliff fighting and the dog landed on top? Bizarre accidents DO happen! Just try and convince some Show Oriented Rhodesian Ridgeback people that Ridgebacks DID NOT pull down and kill African Lions themselves, but just held them at bay for hunters to shoot(a FORMIDABLE ENOUGH ability to just do THAT!) One unlikely incident I fully believe, bizarre as it is, is of a grown female pet cougar--Leemo--raised and kept in South America by none other than the incomparable Stan Brock(from old "Wild Kingdom" TV fame) being KILLED by a much smaller and outclassed(normally) pet ocelot, when the two cats got in a fight. The ocelot just got a lucky hold on the much larger, certainly more powerful cougar's throat, in this fluke of an incident. So you just never know. Wolves kill adult cougars readily, but then there's usually several wolves involved. Just my two cents(okay, that's more like a nickel's) worth.....L.B.

Steve Bodio said...

In Roderick Haig Brown's neglected novel Panther, the lion protagonist is killed by wolves when he gets old. Haig Brown is now remembered as a fisherman and conservationist, but he trapped for years in BC, and I doubt he would have put in anything he hadn't seen.

Gil said...

My choice of the word "remarkable" agrees with most dictionaries definition meaning "worthy of attention", " striking". No offense intended nor such a heated response expected. A man I know raised a bobcat. Two Boxers, 70 lbs. @, attacked it. 30 lbs of fur, claws and teeth killed both dogs in under 15 seconds to the horror of bystanders. I am still amazed that a 100-120 lb. Cat was dog killed one on one.

Anonymous said...

Although I'm straying a bit from the subject(straying is good exercise!), this conversation reminds me of how amazed I was when I recently read about wolf packs in British Columbia(some of those almost aquatic, fascinating coastal wolves) readily and regularly killing and eating fully grown, apparently healthy black bears--quickly and with seeming ease! I'd always heard wolves sometimes dig out and kill winter-sleeping, lethargic black bears, and certainly take cubs now and then, but fully grown, wide awake adults? Checking other sources, I found this was not that unusual, although it seems only certain wolf packs in certain areas specialize in this ability. Still, wolf-o-phile that I am, it was news to me! Amazing, and interesting!....Also reminded me of the story of African explorer/hunter Jim Sutherland's bull-terrier that was grabbed by a leopard(those master dog assassins--normally!) out of his tent one night--something leopards are especially likely to do, fond of eating dog as they are. However, the bull-terrier was NOT your typical mutt, and this one didn't waste time trying to escape, but gave as good as it got! If I'm remembering right, Sutherland was responsible for the leopard's final "coup de grace", but his dog was still latched onto the cat! And alas, I think the dog did die of it's wounds......L.B.

Anonymous said...

.....oops--some corrections here; I looked up those stories about Jim Sutherland's dogs in my African explorer/adventurer book(by the always entertaining Peter Hathaway Capstick, no less!), and I got a coupla thing wrong(well, it has been some years since I reread that book!). His first bull-terrier (named "Brandy")did have that altercation with a leopard, but survived the encounter, actually--though it took him 2 months to recover his wounds. And Sutherland did shoot that leopard, with Brandy still latched to it's neck! Sutherland had another bull-terrier("Moloko") after Brandy passed away, that had a similar encounter with a leopard--again, it tried to snatch the dog out of a tent at night, an enormous fight ensued, the leopard broke free and high-tailed it with the bull-terrier in hot pursuit, and both were found dead the next day, only a few yards from each other. If true, that was SOME DOG, even if the leopard was, say, an inexperienced small one!....L.B.

ironrailsironweights said...

The researchers found that shepherds aren’t viewed as much of a threat to the wolves either. Since their only option is yelling and throwing rocks, the effect on wolves is negligible.

Perhaps if the Europeans had more reasonable gun laws, the shepherds could be a wee bit more effective.

Peter

Anonymous said...

Regarding Roderick Haig Brown's great animal novel "Panther", I do have that, Steve, and despite it being written in the 1930's, long before any of the official scientific studies done on cougars(panthers, painters, pumas, mountain lions, etc. etc.), it is surprisingly dead-on-it accurate for real cougar behavior! Just goes to show, a lot of those old hunter/naturalists did know their animals quite well! This book is usually quite rare and hard to find and/or exorbitantly expensive, but I kept rechecking Amazon for a cheap copy for several years, and finally got a very reasonable one! Excellent illustrations in my copy, too. But sorry, Cat, to keep straying from the main topic again--back to that. Regarding Peter's comment, I think not only European gun restrictions, but conservation efforts at wolf recovery have a lot to do with it being taboo for shepherds to kill any wolf harassing/killing livestock in some areas. I wonder if they'd be allowed something(if it could be made available) like rubber bullets that hurt like hell, but don't usually do any permanent damage--that might get the shepherds a bit more respect! Wolf-hugger that I am, even I realize that eventually, there has to be some sort of lethal wolf control in some areas--there will be just no getting around that. The pendulum "AGAINST" wolves swung so far for so long against, that it is not suprising that it is swinging very far, and often unrealistically, in the "FOR" direction now. Eventually, hopefully, things will sensibly balance out. Then again, people have always had very strong feelings regarding wolves, far and above any other predator! I think there should be some areas where wolves are left strictly alone, but that people with livestock, if they are experiencing depredations(which always will occur sometimes when wolves and livestock live in close proximity), they should be allowed to protect their livestock, as they are with other predators--as long as the really vehement ones who want to totally exterminate ALL wild predators forever don't have their way!....L.B.

Cat Urbigkit said...

Peter, I'm in complete agreement. They have no reason to fear humans at this point.