BUYING A LIVESTOCK GUARDIAN DOG

by
Catherine de la Cruz

Finding a Breeder
Questions to ask of a breeder
Hip Dysplasia: Are the parents clear?
Problems your breeder should help with
Resources for further information

L'Orage Sweet Sister Sue [Dotti]

Most people, once they have decided to buy a car, a tractor, or a new piece of equipment for the ranch, carefully evaluate the brands available, the kind of work they expect it to do, and the cost-benefit ratio. Then they look for a dealer who knows his product, who has a good reputation, and who is available for after-sale service.

Yet those same people, upon deciding to buy a Livestock Guardian Dog to protect their investment in their sheep or goats, often simply pick up the want-ads and buy the first pup available. When they then run into the inevitable problems, they often find that "after-sale service" is not forthcoming. About the time they decide to "get rid" of the dog because it does not work, someone tells them, "Too bad you got that breed" or "Too bad you didn't buy from an established, reputable breeder." How does a first-time buyer decide which breed to buy and, more importantly, who to buy it from?

There are a number of Livestock Guardian Dog breeds available in this country; a good place to start your research is with the USDA publication Livestock Guarding Dogs: Protecting Sheep from Predators, USDA publication 588, available from your local Ag agent. It lists the primary sources of information for each of the breeds as well as excellent advice for selecting and training the pup.

FINDING A BREEDER

Once you have researched the available breeds and breeders, talk to others who use Livestock Guardian Dogs before you make a commitment to buy and train a pup. At most County and State Fairs and sheep or goat exhibitions you can find people who use Livestock Guardian Dogs; most are glad to talk about their dog. Ask about their breed; what do they like and dislike most about their dog? Ask if they were satisfied with the assistance and information they got from their breeder. If so, make particular note of that breeder and make contact.

Your best source of assistance in the first few years should be your pup's breeder. So choose that breeder carefully. Don't select a pup from someone simply because they live nearby. And don't rely on the bland claim "Farm- raised pups". Not all pups raised on a farm are working dogs. If a cat had kittens in the oven, that wouldn't make them muffins---just because a dog is born in a rural setting that might include some kind of livestock, it isn't necessarily a "working" dog.

Ask the seller questions about his operation. Does he have the kind of livestock you plan to raise the pup with? Is the pup exposed to those livestock on a daily basis? Is either the sire or the dam of the pups guarding livestock? Are there older siblings of this pup that work? In what setting---fenced field or range? How would the seller describe the attitude of the sire and dam toward livestock? Toward people?

Some excellent breeders of Livestock Guardian Dogs don't have livestock themselves, but can refer you to satisfied buyers whose dogs successfully work. One commercial sheep rancher in the Rocky Mountain States reports high satisfaction with seven dogs she has bought over the years from one breeder who, although not raising sheep herself, has given excellent advice and assistance. This rancher says she wouldn't dream of buying a Livestock Guardian Dog from "just anyone" and recommends "her" breeder to anyone who asks.

Some questions a prospective buyer should ask of a breeder are:

HIP DYSPLASIA

Ask the breeder if the pup's sire and dam were x-rayed for hip dysplasia? Ask for their OFA or GDC numbers as proof. Careful breeders, those who care about the eventual health and soundness of their pups, do everything possible to insure that health and soundness. One of the primary requirements is sound parents. Hip dysplasia affects nearly 40% of all dogs of the Livestock Guardian breeds, but many Clubs and breeder groups have made considerable progress in lowering the odds by careful selection of breeding stock for clear hips. As a minimum, the sire and dam should be determined to be free of hip dysplasia, and only an x-ray read by a Veterinary Radiologist or Orthopedist can determine that. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) uses three Board-certified Veterinary Radiologists to read every x-ray. If only sire and dam are x-rayed, your chance of getting a pup that will be dysplastic as an adult equals the breed's average for dysplasia. If, however, the grandparents are x-rayed and found to be clear, your odds of a clear pup greatly increase. The odds get even better if siblings of the parents and grandparents, and ancestors further back in the pedigree, have also been x-rayed and found to be free of this crippling disease.

If the seller cannot provide you with OFA or GDC certificates for the parents, or a copy of a reading signed by a Veterinary Radiologist (not an ordinary veterinarian), look elsewhere. It is a heart-break to raise and train a pup, only to have it go lame at four or five years of age because of a disease that could have been prevented.

Of course, to be certain your dog is also free of hip dysplasia, he should be x-rayed at the age of two and his plates submitted to OFA for a reading. Many good breeders require this in their sales contracts in an effort to continue their progeny-testing program. If your contract includes this, it is to the benefit of your chosen breed that it be done. It also will let you know whether or not stiffness that develops in an old dog is due to the inevitable degeneration of dysplastic hips, or something treatable like an injury.

COMMON PROBLEMS

Some of the problems that crop up during the pup's first two years can be minimized or even prevented with some advance knowledge. A California wool grower commented about her dog, "This is the first time I have ever purchased anything that performed exactly as I was told it would. All the good things my breeder told me came true; all the problems she told me to expect did too, but because I was warned to expect them, none escalated into something serious."

Some of these problems can be as simple as a pup that won't stay with the sheep, or as serious as the dog (usually a 12-20 month-old) who bites a ewe to drive it away from her lamb. Questions from first-time owners range from what to feed the pup to whether or not to breed the adult. The questions responsible breeders expect to answer include those on health, behavior, grooming and training as well. If a question arises that the breeder doesn't have an answer to, she should know where to find an answer.

RESOURCES

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