Gray Wolf – Management Plan

Management Plan

This plan provides details about the implementation and maintenance of a strategy that will use livestock protecting dogs (LPDs) to mitigate the impact of wolf predation on cattle. Although LPDs have been used for over 2,000 years, there is much still to be learned about how to effectively implement their use in current livestock rearing operations (Gehring et al., 2010). As such, this management plan will rely heavily on monitoring the success of the solution and effective communication between the livestock owner, experienced LPD handlers, and the community of farmers already using LPDs (Gehring et al., 2010; VerCauteren et al., 2012). Consistent data collection will also contribute to expanding the knowledge of how effective LPD solutions are and how they may be improved. The following paragraphs will address the method of implementation including information about which breeds to use, when dogs will be introduced, how long it will take for the dog pack to establish and key responsibilities of ranchers who chose to implement this strategy. Clear expectations about the effectiveness of this management strategy will also be communicated for a variety of situations ranging from fenced in livestock to free range situations. Different breeds are available and care should be taken to select the appropriate breed or combination of breeds. Each breed of LPD has different traits that make them most suited to different situations. Table 3 below provides a summary of LPD breeds and their characteristics and recommended uses.

Table 3: Comparison of dog breeds and their characteristics. Mixed packs often form the best defense against multiple predators including Gray Wolves.

Breed Characteristics Strengths Issues
Great Pyrenese Large but less aggressive than other breeds, moderately long hair Placid and easy to manage relative to other breeds Generally not effective with large aggressive predators
Kangal Large and aggressive breed, heavy bodied with large head Very territorial and protective of livestock, Can be difficult to manage and may be an issue in areas where other dogs and people may intrude on pasture
Spanish Mastiff Large and alert breed, heavy bodied with large head Territorial and protective of livestock, not particularly active May not patrol as regularly as Kangal

Legal Factors

The use of LPDs eliminates the need for any additional legal permits as this is a non-lethal means of reducing predation by wolves. Any method that involves trapping, relocating or killing wolves requires permits as the wolf is an endangered species in the and permits under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. Furthermore, legal implications exist at both the state and federal level in the form of the Endangered Species Act and Fish and Wildlife legislation. Although Federal legislation applies to all states the variation in state level legislation makes implementing solutions in multiple states an issue if permits or changes to legislation are required.

Establishing Livestock Protecting Dogs

Livestock protecting dogs and livestock take time to become acclimatized to each other. In most cases, acclimatization begins with effectively bonding the dogs with the herd. Minimal contact with humans is essential as the dogs should be focused on life with the herd and not seeking to be with humans (VerCauteren et al., 2012). Pups are most likely to bond effectively with livestock between the ages of 3-12 weeks; however, they should remain with their mother until the age of approximately 6 weeks which reduces this window of opportunity to the ages of 6-12 weeks. In some instances, bonding can occur up to 16 weeks of age. Ensuring that bonding occurs at the location where the dogs will be working is ideal. Care must be taken when bonding pups with cattle as cattle are much larger than sheep and goats presents a risk of injury to the pups. VerCauteren et al. (2012) recommend bonding pups with one or two 1 month old calves before exposing them to larger members of the herd. This provides a close bond with animals they will be protecting while protecting the dogs from injury by larger cattle. Even when bonding with calves, pups should be provided with a sturdy and safe refuge containing straw bedding that calves cannot access (VerCauteren et al., 2012).

Introduction to pastures should begin between the ages of 6-7 months. Handlers should introduce the dogs to the pasture with their bonded calves and ensure the dogs are walked around the perimeter of the pasture daily to help the dogs understand the boundary of the pasture and begin to establish their territory (VerCauteren et al., 2012). For most dogs, this routine will need to be carried out daily for one and a half to two weeks at which time the dogs can be left with the cattle unsupervised. After 7 months, the dogs and their bonded calves can be introduced to larger pastures with other cattle. Cattle that have been exposed to LPDs are treated very differently than cattle that have not been exposed to LPDs. Naïve cattle pose a serious risk to small puppies so great care must be taken to ensure the puppies are agile enough to evade any nervous cattle that perceive the puppies as a threat. Research indicates that dogs will approach LPD-naïve cattle differently than experienced cattle. Naïve cattle are approached in a more submissive manner by the dogs while experienced cattle are approached and greeted by the dogs without any signs of dominance or submission (VerCauteren et al., 2012). Watching for the development of these behavours and interactions will be critical in assessing how LPDs and cattle are acclimatizing to the situation.

Potential Challenges and Solutions

As with all solutions, there are unwanted challenges and consequences of implementation. For example, dogs may wander too far from the herd or they may not behave aggressively enough toward the target predator. Cases of dogs abandoning their herd and actually resorting to attacking livestock in adjacent areas are uncommon but documented (VerCauteren et al., 2012). If livestock are free ranging on public lands, as is the case in much of the U.S. northwest, hikers and their dogs may inadvertently come into contact with herds of cattle and the associated dog pack that is providing protection. In these circumstances, conflict between the LPDs, hikers, and pet dogs may be an issue. Education and effective communication are essential in these circumstances (VerCauteren et al., 2012). Finally, dogs are animals individual temperaments and behaviours regardless of their breed. Anyone employing this method of livestock protection must be willing to either commit to the time needed to train dogs or spend the money to hire dog handlers. Table 4 summarizes common problem behaviours and suggested methods for correction.

Table 4: Common issues encountered when working with livestock protecting dogs (LPDs). Note the causes and the methods that will help avoid the issue. In most cases, selecting the correct breed and sufficient effort during the training stages will resolve the issue (adapted from VerCauteren et. al., 2012)

Problem Behaviour Caused by Remedied by Avoided by
Roaming Too much human contact; female in heat; too much motivation to hunt wildlife; week bond with herd; companion dog moved Electric or invivislbe fencing; spay/neuter; shock collar; replace with herd-oriented breed/individual Provide only necessary attention; raise with effective LPD; spay/neuter; retain dog with the herd from the beginning
Aggression toward livestock Lack of early discipline; immaturity; play behaviour; adolescent phase of development Increase attention and reprimand; shock collar; replace with less aggressive breed or individual; remove from livestock and temporarily place in herd with more aggressive livestock; provide toys Consistent reprimand for chasing; rais with effective LPD; employ appropriate breed; minimize potential for boredom
Aggression toward humans Underlying breed characteristics or lack of socialization; territorial behaviour; protecting object, food or female; novel behaviour of humans toward LPDs; learned aggressive behaviour; pack behaviour; fearful temperament Replace with less aggressive dog or breed; increased attention and reprimand; shock collar; enrichment of environment occupied by puppy during socialization Employ appropriate breed; provide adequate levels of socialization with humans and environment
Lack of concern over offending species Lack of training or too much pressure by offending species; dog too young; weak temperament; female in heat; wounds Provide supplemental training with encouragement to address target species; place dog in a pack of experienced dogs or provide an experienced dog; ensure high quality food and health Provide early encouragement to exclude target species; employ appropriate breed; give appropriate food; regular health care
Insufficient protection against offending species Underlying breed characteristics; illness; female in heat; not enough dogs; environmental factors Replace dog or breed with a more aggressive breed; regular health care; incorporate alternative prevention tools such as electric fence and calving protection zones Employ appropriate breed; rear in area with offending species; monitor health; supply with alternative prevention tools; employ more dogs
Lack of obedience and ability to handle Insufficient training during the 7-12 month period; fearful temperament Increase frequency of training; maintain regular contacts until the dog is adult; avoid fearful pups Provide early and consistent training until adult and adequate level of socialization with handlers
Lack of attentiveness toward livestock Insufficient or bonding too late; illness; female in heat; old dogs Replace with effective dog; medical checkup Follow recommended bonding procedures; monitor health
Ineffective protection Insufficient bonding; illness; too large of an area; too much pressure Replace with effective dog; medical checkup; disperse resources: food, water, and shelter; employ additional dogs; employ other prevention tools Employ appropriate breed; raise in area with offending species; monitor health; be aware of limits of the dog
Insufficient patrolling of area Too large of area; lack of encouragement to establish territory Disperse resources: food, water, shelter; provide encouragement to explore territory; replace with more territorial breed Conduct routine walks with dog on lead within area to be protected

Additional methods of control may be needed including the installation of electric or invisible fencing fencing to keep the dogs in the pasture. In situations where the cattle are ranging over a large area or an area that is not fenced in, great care should be taken to monitor the herd and the dogs to ensure dogs remain with the herd. Multiple dogs may be needed for large areas and large herds. Finally, LPDs are a tool that will reduce but not completely eliminate all possibility of predation on livestock. Management of the heard and the dog pack are required to ensure success.

Conclusion

Livestock protecting dogs offer a non-lethal means of displacing wolves from areas where livestock are being raised. This method of management hinges on the nature of wolves and their ecological niche. The dog pack essentially occupies the territory effectively and provides a form of competitive exclusion that reduces wolf predation. No permits are required to implement this strategy and it satisfies the needs of livestock owners and environmentalists alike. Livestock protecting dogs are an ecologically sound solution to resolving conflict between humans and wildlife while satisfying the priorities of all stakeholders involved in this controversial issue.

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