Thursday, February 09, 2017

Central Asian Arrivals

  A week ago Jim and I made a late-night run to the Salt Lake airport to pick up the newest members of our ranch operation: two Central Asian Ovcharka pups, arriving from Tajikistan. We’ve had a few CAOs in the past and found them to be effective guardians, and were glad for the opportunity to obtain pups from the region where the breed originated. We made quick introductions of the pups to our adult guardian dogs, which readily accepted the pups since they were presented by us.

But these pups are a little different than any of the livestock guardian dogs we’ve had in the past. We’ve used multiple breeds, and had dogs that were white, tan, red, and brown, but never black and white. The only black and white dogs our sheep have ever experienced are herding dogs.

The job of a herding dog is to move the sheep around, so the sheep move away from herding dogs. But the job of a guardian dog is to stay with the sheep and keep them protected.

When our sheep flock met the CAO pups, they immediately moved away from them as they would in response to a herding dog. It wasn’t just the color, but the size of the pups – the same size as herding dogs.

The pups are siblings, a tri-colored male named Omar and a female named Taji. Even at only a few months old, it is apparent that they both have strong but different guardian traits.

Taji is a communicator, able to “read” how others are responding. She looked at the sheep from a distance, then put her nose to the ground as if investigating something interesting, and moseyed her way closer to the sheep. Her careful approach ensured the sheep didn’t flee, and when the sheep started to back away, Taji sat down on the ground looking away from them. It was a clever ploy, and it worked. Several of the sheep gradually made their way closer to investigate as she maintained her submissive posture.

Omar, on the other hand, has the soul of a warrior, and when he detects any change in his world, he boldly charges forward to investigate. His posture is always head-up, tail-up. That’s how he tried to introduce himself to the sheep, which of course didn’t work. He used the same attitude with the burros, and after investigation, the burros decided to let him live, although one burro was tempted to take him out. (These introductions were all supervised by humans and other guardians, so it wasn’t as though a strange dog had simply appeared among the flock.)
But settling the sheep to these two arrivals has been more challenging than it has been with any other guardian dog pups we’ve raised, and it’s my view that it’s primarily because of the color difference. The sheep will eventually learn that the pups are guardians, and subsequent generations of sheep will also learn that guardians come in this color pattern as well. But the sheep are currently naïve, so we’re altering our management to give the sheep additional time to adjust.

While the pups are given supervised time out with the flock every day (despite a winter of record snowfall), most of their time is spent in the yard or large outdoor kennel. We feed hay along the fences so that the pups and sheep spend plenty of time face-to-face time, with the fences separating them. That way, the sheep can watch the pups, and do nose-to-nose exploration from their safe locations.
The pups don’t bark at the sheep, but cry for them and lick them through the fence. The pups have the desire to be with the sheep (as guardians should) so it’s just a matter of allowing the sheep to adjust to the new constants in their lives. We've got two other pups from another litter coming in a few months, so the socializing will begin anew.


Deb K said...

Hi Cat, That's an interesting observation of the new pups and their coloring. It makes perfect sense. It's also amazing that the pups and their personalities are so different in their interactions with the sheep. I'm looking forward to following their progress on your ranch. Thank you for letting us all share your world!

Pip said...

Hi - new reader of your blog (I found it while looking up tazi dogs after starting your "Hounds of Heaven" book). It's always fascinating to see how innate some character traits are in working lines--the photos of your little pups already wanting to guard the flock are both awe-inspiring and "awwwwwwh"-inspiring.