Monday, July 12, 2010

Transferring Old World traditions

As some of you will recall, husband Jim and I just had a paper published in the Sheep & Goat Research Journal in which we summarized the problems western livestock producers are having in dealing with expanding and increasing populations of large carnivores, including grizzly bears and gray wolves in our area. The livestock protection dogs (LPDs) we’ve been using have worked wonderfully against smaller and medium-sized predators, especially coyotes, but when it comes to larger carnivores, our dogs have been taking a beating – too many of our dogs have been killed while guarding their herds. That prompted Jim and I to go back through the published literature and take a fresh look at those regions of the world that have all of the following components: bears, wolves, domestic sheep, and livestock guardian dogs. We found that there are LPD breeds more suited to facing wolves than most LPDs used in the Northern Rockies today.

I’m thrilled to be able to report that the Wyoming Animal Damage Management Board has decided to support our research project on what makes Old World livestock protection dog/ agricultural systems sustainable in large carnivore country. With funding from the ADMB and sponsorship from the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, Jim and I will travel to Europe and Central Asia in October to interview livestock producers who use livestock protection dogs in areas of dense wolf and bear populations to learn what they are doing there that might be of assistance to producers in similar situations here in Wyoming. This knowledge transfer will be the beginning of our work, with the eventual goal of establishing a program to distribute LPDs more suited to facing wolves onto western ranches, directly from working lineages in their countries of origin. We’ll also meet with non-government organization representatives, government officials, and dog breeders in those countries who sell into the countryside.

Our short list of breeds includes Transmontano Mastiff of Portugal, Central Asian Ovcharka, Karakachan of Bulgaria, Shars of Macedonia, and Turkish Kangal. At this point, our travel plans call for us to visit Portugal, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, and Turkey. We would welcome the opportunity to see other LPDs not on our short list while we are in those countries, so we aren’t limited to just the breeds listed (for instance, we want to see Romania’s Bokuvina, Carpathian & Mioritic shepherds, and the Kars dogs in Turkey. Our general criteria is the breed must be canine aggressive, but not human aggressive, and must originate from areas of large carnivore occupancy.

We will need to hire English-speaking guides/interpreters everywhere we travel, and would prefer to hire local people who can drive us into areas where we can see LPDs at work with sheep or cattle, and interview their owners. Of course, we are not opposed to hiring professionals either, but we would like to help rural economies if possible.

In addition to seeing the dogs at work, we need to learn about the traditions and animal husbandry practices used in these regions, and of course we want to learn all the specifics about those spiked anti-wolf collars used in certain regions, as well as bring some of those collars home with us.

I don’t want to take up too much space on the blog, but wanted everyone to know what we are planning. If there is something you think we should try find out about in terms of LPDs in these regions, hit us up about it. Right now our questionnaire hits on about 30 topics, so it is fairly comprehensive. We have an intensive information dissemination campaign planned upon our return, and I’ll be blogging and posting photos while we travel. We feel so fortunate to be given the opportunity to do this research.

We are excited about the possibilities for this project to be beneficial to livestock producers in the United States who are continuing to struggle with wolf and bear issues in their livestock operations. We sincerely welcome input, contact suggestions, and advice from those interested in assisting our efforts. Comment here, or private emails to catu2 at macdotcom.


Heather Houlahan said...

This sounds like a big first bite of this project. How long will you be gone?

I wonder if, when the time comes, the success of transferring such effective guardian dogs to a new continent will depend on starting with adults who have been working for a few years, rather than the usual road of importing puppies?

I'd be willing to bet that these dogs have a culture to transfer, as well as a genetic package.

Looking forward to reports on this.

Matt Mullenix said...

Cat let me say on behalf of Steve and everyone at the that you couldn't possibly "take up too much space on the blog" with reports from your upcoming trip. :-) Keep us posted!

Steve Bodio said...

Congratulations, and I agree with Matt (and envy you!)

I'd like to see your questions-- could you email them?

Are you getting help from Vladimir and the Primitive And Aboriginal Dog Society? (Readers-- we are members of the PADSru(ssia), which publishes-- in English!-- on native livestock protection dogs, Asian sighthounds, laikas, singing dogs etc.).

Have fun!

Chas S. Clifton said...

Wyoming: Where men are men, and sheep are well-funded.

Sounds like a great trip--go to other countries and ask about dogs.

Cat Urbigkit said...

Heather: We plan at least three intensively scheduled weeks to start with, and then we will re-assess. As for the pups versus adult dogs, I'm not afraid of basing the program on pups again. We know how to raise LPDs, and the dogs know what to do based on thousands of years of breeding. And you are right, there is a culture of knowledge that we need to learn about. Just to export the dogs is not enough.

Thanks Matt! I plan to take up plenty of space when we actually get past this planning stage and actually get to the traveling, which will commence in early October.

Steve: I emailed the questions to you and look forward to your review. Some of the people we'll be making contact with are PADS members, and it is their knowledge that led us into this project in the first place.

Chas: The support for our project has been very humbling. We livestock producers are struggling to responsibly respond to increasing depredation problems, and have used about every tool available. We honestly believe this is our best shot for improving the situation.

Anonymous said...


I would be interested to hear about the population density where these dogs are that you will be looking at. A while back someone (I believe it was matt) asked why not just add more dogs and you replied that if there were too many dogs they got bored and there was a danger of them going off and getting hit on the highway or getting into trouble at the subdivision. I am wondering if the dogs you will find might be too much dog?


Cat Urbigkit said...

Yes, the density of dogs and the density of humans will be interesting. One line of our questioning is about how the dogs get along with each other, and other LPDs they encounter, as well as recreationists, etc.
However, the question I answered was about our stationary farm flock, not dogs on the open range, which move with the seasons. Big difference as you can imagine.

Jess Ruffner-Booth said...

Take lots of pictures! :) I would be very interested in any husbandry practices, puppy raising, breeding, etc. I find that stuff fascinating.

Cat Urbigkit said...

Jess, our interests are the same. Lots and lots of pictures will be one result. Can't wait to share!

Jenny Glen said...

Oddly enough, I was just talking to someone about this topic. I'm glad you are doing research into it and I will be keen to hear your insights.

Anonymous said...

I have no useful comments, but I do have to say that I am jealous and wish I was going along. I will be looking forward to your updates!

Federico said...

Just yesterday I was on the phone with my mum who told me of a colleague of her who keeps sheep. Apparently he's losing tons to wolves (that's in Italy, where wolves are many and expanding in numbers). I asked if the guy has dogs, and he does, but the dogs do not like fighting with wolves apparently. The dogs are the bog standard maremma dogs, but the missing ingredient here is, shepherds used to put a spiked collar on dogs on duty! It might be more of a matter of that kind of thing than a matter of breed.