Livestock Guardian Dogs

Episode 29
For the Love of Goats

Livestock guardian dogs with goats

Many people who have owned pet dogs assume that they know all about choosing, buying, and training dogs, but livestock guardian dogs are completely different animals. In this episode, we are talking about those differences with Bill Costanzo from Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center in San Angelo. 

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You may also check out this blog post — Tips for Protecting Your Livestock from Predators.

Want to learn about the different types of dogs that people may need on a farm or homestead? Check out Choosing a Farm Dog: Which Breed is Best for Your Country Homestead?


Deborah Niemann 0:00
Hey everyone, and welcome to another episode. This is going to be a great show today. I have with me Bill Costanzo, a livestock guardian dog research specialist from Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center in San Angelo, and we are going to be talking about how you can keep your goats safe using a livestock guardian dog. Welcome to the show, Bill.

Bill Costanzo 0:24
Thank you very much.

Deborah Niemann 0:26
I’m really excited to have you here. Because I’m sure a lot of people are like I was in the beginning and assume that, you know, oh, you’ve had dogs your whole life and this is just another dog. And it really isn’t. They’re completely different animals. So the first thing I think we should talk about is how exactly do you choose a good livestock guardian dog? I know, one time when I went shopping for one, I took the one who came running up to me wagging her tail and saying, “Take me, take me!” And that might have been a really great idea if I was getting a pet. But, I discovered when I brought her home, she really wasn’t too keen on being left out in the field with the goats.

Bill Costanzo 1:09
Yeah, that’s, um, when you’re picking a puppy, that’s probably not the puppy that you want to pick, is the one that just comes running up to you right from the get-go. Because, you know, based on our experience – ”there’s still not a lot of research that’s out there, and somebody may, you know, say that this is wrong, but – ”about 70 to 75% of the dogs, you know, like I said, in our experience, that we work with, or with producers that we contact, actually work out. So, you know, 25 to 30% of them don’t work out at all. And there’s a number of reasons for that. But yeah, the the puppy that just runs up to you is probably going to be more of a, you know, just a pet, because they’re looking for that human interaction on a regular basis. And it’s not that they can’t make a good guardian dog for somebody, maybe, that has just a real small operation, because those dogs tend to be more of a small-property guardian than an actual livestock guardian. And they have—those dogs have a place. But yeah, the puppy that just runs up is probably not the one, you know, that you want to pick for your dog if you’re looking for strictly a livestock guardian dog. You know, some of the first things even that you look in for, like, a pet dog, is you want to make sure the puppy’s healthy first. And so, you know, that their eyes are clear, they don’t have like a potbelly, you know, they walk okay, you know, there’s no obvious issues with the dog, you know, from the get-go. From there, yeah, you know, I would look for a puppy maybe that is kind of maybe a little standoffish or is, you know, just kind of laying with livestock.

Bill Costanzo 2:46
That’s one of the big things, is we try to encourage producers to make sure that you buy a livestock guardian dog from somebody that, you know, that’s what they do, is they breed livestock guardian dogs. And so, you know, you should make sure that both parents are there on the property, you know, that the dogs or the puppies are in contact with livestock from the very beginning. All those type of things like that help ensure that the dog is going to be successful for you. It’s not a guarantee. But those things really help in the success of the puppy. And then when you get them home, oh, it’s important that, you know… I know everybody is always concerned about, you know, the age of the puppies, and the puppies being left outside, and that type of thing. You know, we had some just pretty severe weather here in the last few days, down in the low 30s. And we don’t do anything special with our puppies. Okay? So I have 9- and 12-week-old puppies that are currently out with livestock, in pastures, in bonding pens. Now, they do have shelters that they can go into with the livestock, and they have feeding stations, and all that kind of thing. But we don’t do anything special for them. So, you know, other than putting, you know, a lot of bedding down in their shelter, those puppies stay with the livestock at all times. And so it’s important that they form that bond with livestock at a very early age. And so the sooner that you can purchase them and get them with livestock, the better. By about 16 weeks of age, that bond between the puppy and whatever species of livestock that you want them to guard is pretty much formed. And so after that point, it’s not that you can’t bond them, but the strength of the bond won’t be the same. And so they’ll have a tendency to want to roam, be more socialized with humans at that point, and so… We don’t raise any dogs at the center, or breed any dogs, I should say, at the center. We purchase all of our puppies from breeders. And so we get them at eight weeks of age. And then we’re currently running a bonding project that, you know, the puppies are in a pen, 60 by 60, for one month. And they go into a one-acre pen that’s on the outside of that. And then they’re in those until they’re six months of age, and then they go out into a much larger pasture with the livestock for about two months. And so we’re tracking those dogs over time. We’re tracking single dogs bonded versus pairs of dogs bonded together with livestock, and then also hotwire in the bonding pens versus no hotwire. And those are all things that came from producers. You know, we get differing opinions from producers that are using these dogs on a regular basis on, you know, how they should be bonded. And so we’re trying to run a actual scientific research project to see, you know, what works out best for the dogs and for the producers in the long term. So, I hope that kind of answers your question about the puppies; it got a little long winded there. Sorry about that.

Deborah Niemann 5:42
Oh, no problem. That was great that you gave us a lot of good tips there. So, before we go much farther, I think we should also mention that we’re talking specifically about livestock guardian breeds, not just the – ”like, you can’t just go get any dog and stick them out in the pasture and expect them to be a livestock guardian.

Bill Costanzo 6:00
Yes, there was some, you know, research done many years ago by Raymond Coppinger. But in general, yes, you should stick with livestock guardian dog breeds, and make sure that, oh, you know, there’s nothing else, like, mixed in there. So, you know, if you go to pick up a puppy, and, you know, I mean, some of the dogs have different color markings. But, you know, if you saw a puppy, and they’re claiming that it’s a livestock guardian dog, and it has spots, for instance, all over it, or some type of coloring that you’ve never seen before, and there happens to be, you know, a hunting dog of some sort roaming around, or, you know, some sort of a herding dog, like a border collie or something, you should be suspicious that, you know, you’re not purchasing a pure livestock guardian dog. Livestock guardian dogs have been bred for thousands of years to do the job that they do. And so certain instincts have been bred out of those dogs that other dogs still have. So, I don’t want to get too complicated here, but basically, you know, there’s a series of instincts that all dogs have. And so, over time, humans have increased some of those traits and decreased other ones. And so things like, with a herding dog, where they want to chase and they will stalk the livestock, a livestock guardian dog doesn’t have those instincts anymore. And so they may show some of those traits as they’re a puppy. But, once they get to be an adult, those traits have all subsided, and you shouldn’t see anything like that. If you do see those traits showing up, then you need to find a different livestock guardian dog, because that dog, at some point, you know, may have had a different breed mixed into it. Or, you know, it’s just one of those 25 or 30% of the dogs that just isn’t going to work and just needs to become a pet for somebody.

Deborah Niemann 7:52
How do you know the difference between normal puppy behavior and a dog that just is not going to work out? Because I, like, with a couple of our dogs, when they were like probably between nine months and a year, they went through a chicken-chasing phase, which they outgrew. So at what point would I have known that the dog was not gonna work out?

Deborah Niemann 8:18
Oh, that’s one of the difficult things. I get asked that question a lot, actually. The puppies will go through a phase where, you know, you’ll have them in a bonding pen, and they’ll be really great, and you’ll let them out about six months of age, and you’ll have a little bit larger pasture. And they will do really great. And then, about eight or nine months of age, they enter what I just kind of call “the teenage years.” And so they’ll be doing really great for you, and then all of a sudden, they’ll do something kind of dumb. And so they’ll start chewing on ears or chewing on tails. And so those are all things, when you see those type of things, you need to correct them immediately and continually until it stops. And that’s one thing that’s really difficult for people a lot of times, is following up on correcting that behavior. And so, you know, in my experience, it’ll be different things over time. So, starting about eight or nine months of age, until they’re about 18 months of age, different things will will pop up over that time period. And, like I said, it’s anything from chewing on ears or tails to chasing stock or, you know, if it’s, like, the first lambing season or the first breeding season, you know, they may become very protective of their ewes or their does and not let, you know, a ram or a billy breed. And so you have to introduce the dogs to those new experiences during that time period. And so, if you’re still seeing things like chasing or chewing on ears or anything like that after 18 months of age… I know that’s a long time to have to go with a dog, but they mature very slowly, these dogs and these breeds. And so you have to be willing to put in that time and, you know, do that corrective behavior immediately to try to eliminate that possibility of when the dog gets to be 18 months or two years of age, then having to replace it and find a new one. Like I said, it’s difficult to have to put in that much time with the dog. But until they’re fully mature, you really don’t know if you’re going to continue to see those things pop up or not. Usually, by about 18 months of age, most of those things have subsided, they’re, you know, large enough to be on their own, you know, covering quite a bit of territory at that point. You know, our dogs routinely are in pastures of 5 to 750 acres on very large ranches here.

Deborah Niemann 10:48
One of the things that I hear somewhat often – ”I don’t hear it as much as I used to – ”is that people say that if your dog kills a chicken, that you should tie the dead chicken around its neck, and let them drag it around until it is completely decomposed and falling apart.

Bill Costanzo 11:07
I don’t know that I would recommend that one. And we definitely don’t do anything like that. As far as in our training methods.

Deborah Niemann 11:14
I’ve never done that either. I just hear it a lot.

Bill Costanzo 11:17
I don’t know why you would want to do that. I mean, I know, you know, I have a former student that runs about 2,000 or 3,000 free range hens. And, you know, he was having issues with predators. And I suggested to him, you know, that he gets some livestock guardian dogs. And so the big thing with, you know, the poultry side of it is you have to introduce the dogs to the birds slowly. And, you know, just like I was mentioning earlier, where they’re, they’ll chew on tails, or chase lambs or kids or something, they’re going to do the same thing with with poultry. The problem is with poultry is they’re a lot more delicate, and they can’t handle the dogs, you know, grabbing onto them as well as, like, a lamb or a kid would. And also, you know, on that same side is a nanny or ewe is going to see the dog doing that and generally go over and, you know, chase the dog away. And that’s a good thing. Or if the, you know, the puppy starts to chase or go after a ram or a billy, you know, they’re not going to put up with that kind of behavior from the dog. And they will teach the dog proper manners. And so it’s important that if you’re having an issue with a dog doing something like that – ”I know this is kind of getting away from the poultry side of it, but – ”definitely introduce an old cranky nanny or, you know, a ram into the mix while you’re training that puppy. They will help, you know, supervise that pup and teach it manners that it needs to know so that when it goes out on its own, away from you, you know, it acts the way that a livestock guardian dog should. And again, on the poultry side, you just really have to take time with the dogs, and introduce them slowly to the birds, and make sure, you know, that the dog is always supervised during that kind of bonding period with poultry. Because obviously, the birds are going to fly pretty easily when they get scared. And so then it just creates this… Basically the dog thinks it’s a fun thing. And so then they’re just going to continue to do it more and more until they are able to catch the bird. And, you know, the bird either has a heart attack and dies, or the dog gets too rough with it and kills it. Those are definitely issues on the poultry side. And they have to take extra time with the dogs to help train them, you know, not to do those type of things.

Deborah Niemann 13:31
Another myth that I still hear a little bit—thankfully it’s almost gone, but – ”when I got started in 2002, it was really common to see people say that livestock guardian dogs should not be socialized, you don’t want them to bond with people. And I was in a Yahoo group back then where it was not unusual to see people say, “What dosage of sedative do I need to put in my dog’s food to knock it out so I can take it to the vet?” Which, that horrified me, that anybody would have, like, a 120-pound dog that they could not just walk up to, put a leash on, and, you know, walk to their car. So can you talk a little bit about, like, the importance of socialization with a livestock guardian dog?

Bill Costanzo 14:15
Oh, that’s probably the biggest thing I, you know, encourage producers to do, is you should be able to go out, any point in time, and catch your livestock guardian dog in the pasture. You know, we have dogs in varying degrees of socialization, because we do research on the dogs, and how much socialization, you know, they need to have, and that kind of thing. So, some of our dogs are not necessarily as easy to catch as they should be, because we’re doing research with our dogs at the center. But the average producer, yes, you know, your dog should be well-socialized. The key to the socialization is, you know, don’t reward them for being in someplace you don’t want them to be. So if they show up at your house, and you don’t want them at your house, don’t give them a treat, don’t say, “Oh, what a good dog.” Take them right back to where they’re supposed to be, whether you have to put them in a truck or a trailer and transport them a couple miles down the road – ”you need to do that immediately, and every single time that that happens. Never reward your dog, you know, for something that you don’t want to be encouraged. So, you know, what I try to tell producers to do is, you know, when they go out to check their livestock, take a can of wet food, or some Pupperoni treats, or hot dogs, or whatever it is that your dog likes, and when you see them, then reward them when they’re in the pasture that they’re supposed to be in with livestock. Okay? So those are the important things, that, you know, the dog is in the location it’s supposed to be and there’s livestock present when you reward them, you know, for their behavior. Yeah, you should be able to, you know, catch your dog at any time. We leash train all of our dogs; we also tether train our dogs, so that if they encounter a snare at some point, because I never know… We work with cooperating producers, and on our ranches, we don’t tend to snare, oh, for predators unless we remove the dogs from the area. But a lot of ranchers do, or they have neighbors that do. And so tether training is really important to do with your dog also, you know, during that bonding time, and when you’re socializing with those dogs, from eight weeks to, you know, six or eight months of age. Socialization is critical with these dogs. You should be able to catch your dog easily anytime that you need to.

Deborah Niemann 16:27
Can you explain a little bit more about what is involved in tether training?

Deborah Niemann 16:32
Yes. So, well, I guess let me backtrack just a tad bit and talk about the socialization real quick. So what I do for socialization is—it doesn’t really take very much time. People think that you’ve got to spend, you know, tons of time with your dogs be able to catch them later on in life. You really don’t. I spend an average of about five minutes, three times a week, with our puppies. And I go through a whole process. And so, you know, when I first get there I give the dogs a treat, I pet them, I run my hands all over them, I pick up their paws, I roll them over gently, feel all over their belly, their legs, I stick my fingers in their mouth – ”all those things are important to do each time that you go out. Because at some point, you know, your dog is going to get injured, and probably have some sort of an infection, you’re gonna have to give them antibiotics. And so it’s important that you can, you know, push a pill down their throat, because most the time they’re not going to eat it, you know, it’s just like a pet dog. They’ll find the pill and spit it back out. So, those are things that I do for socialization. Oh, and like I mentioned, I leash train all the dogs, and then we tether train the dogs.

Bill Costanzo 17:35
And so, with the tether training, basically what I have is, I have a long chain – ”it’s about six feet long”and I use a metal choke collar on the end of it to simulate a snare. And so, I start the puppies out at eight weeks of age. And they put that on for one minute. And then I do that for the week, you know, each time I go out, three times a week, for one minute. And then, oh, I slowly increase the time each week by a couple minutes. And then, you know, once they’re up to about five minutes or six minutes, then I increase it by about four minutes. And, you know, five, and then ten minutes, until it gets to be up to a couple hours. You know, a lot of producers have GPS tracking collars on their dogs, so that they can find them and they help them find livestock. And so, you know, if you have a GPS tracking collar on your dog, and you notice it on a fence line, and the dog hasn’t moved in a few hours, you probably should go check it, because it may be caught in a snare that your neighbor set. We haven’t run an actual scientific study on the tether training, but it has saved several dogs that we’ve had through the program that have gone to cooperating producers. And those producers were very happy, you know, that their dog just laid down and waited for them to show up, so that they didn’t have to replace the dog. Uh, because the dogs very valuable. A good livestock guardian dog can be worth several thousands of dollars. And so, you know, I try to encourage producers to do as much training with them as possible so that they don’t have to replace them early because they got caught in a snare, or they roamed off and got hit by a car, or shot by a neighbor, or something like that. Because those things all happen.

Deborah Niemann 17:59
And the snares… So nobody around me uses those. But that is something that would, like, be catching an animal by the leg?

Deborah Niemann 19:20
Yes, could catch them by the leg, or it could catch them by the… through the head, around the neck. And so, like I said, those things happen, and yeah, it saved several dogs that have gone through our program that we’ve sent out to cooperating producers, by doing that tethered training. You know, it’s kind of difficult, because you have to stay there all the time. You know, you can’t just leave the dog, because, you know, they’ll be good for a few minutes, and then, you know, they’ll fight it. And so you have to stick around and be, you know, at least in eyesight of them in case they get hung up for some reason, or they just continue to pull, so that you can go and release them.

Deborah Niemann 19:57
And you do do it on different parts of the body, like, around the head, around the legs?

Bill Costanzo 20:01
No, we just, I just generally do it around the neck.

Deborah Niemann 20:03

Bill Costanzo 20:03
I don’t do it around the legs or any other portion of the body. Because that’s usually what’s gonna end up happening, is they’re going to sniff or they’re going to try to go through the slide where the coyotes has been going through, where the snare is set. And, you know, the majority of the time it catches them around the neck.

Deborah Niemann 20:18
Okay. All right. One of the other things, too, about socialization that I think is interesting that people may not think about is the importance of getting them used to other things, like, getting into a car and things like that. That was something we learned the hard way. We brought home one dog when she was eight weeks old. And then, I think our farm vet gave her her first shots. And then, when she was like a year and a half old, I had to try and get her in the car. And she was terrified. And it took two of us. She’s a Great Pyrenees; it took two of us to lift her up, and put her in there, and she just panted and drooled the whole way. So, are there some other experiences that people need to get their dogs acclimated to?

Bill Costanzo 21:04
Yes, I’m glad you mentioned that one, because that’s another thing that we do. And that’s actually a mistake I made with my very own first livestock guardian dog. I didn’t get him used to traveling in a vehicle at all, or in a trailer, and the first time I had to take him in because he had gotten really sick, yeah. The poor dog was just a mess by the time I got him to the to the vet, so. Yeah, the other thing that I do, as far as in our training, besides the other things I already mentioned, is once a week ”oh, and again, this doesn’t take very long” all of our dogs go on a truck ride. You know, when they’re young pups, they’re in the front with me inside the cab. And then, when they’re older, oh, I tie them up in the back of the truck. And you know, we’re not going down the highway at 55 or anything; we have very large pastures, and so we just drive around the pastures. But it really works well later on. They load much easier into the trailer. They don’t get all panicked. And, you know, the slobbering and hyperventilating and all that kind of thing. Yeah, just a five or six minute drive, once a week, is all you need to do. And so, you know, other than the tethering, when it gets to be quite long, you know, I’m usually with each pup for 15 to 20 minutes, on average, three times a week. And so some of it’s just straight socialization, others, like leash training, tether training, the truck ride… So it doesn’t take a lot of time for somebody to do these things. And, you know, for it to have lasting effects throughout the dog’s life. You just have to do it continually, that’s the main thing, until they’re, you know, eight or nine months of age, and then you can release them out with livestock.

Deborah Niemann 22:37
So, if someone already has a dog, and they feel like they need to get a second one, for some reason, what is the best way to bring in that second dog?

Bill Costanzo 22:46
The best thing to do is, again, go through the the actual bonding process, like we’ve talked about already. What they would want to do is they need to introduce that puppy under supervision to their older livestock guardian dog. So, bring the older dog in, you know, show them the puppy, let the puppy play around with them for a few minutes, and then let the older dog go back out and guard livestock. And so each time that they’re going to do the training with the older dogs”or with the younger pups, I should say – ”they need to bring that older dog in for a few minutes so that the older dog starts to learn, you know, who the younger dog is, and vice versa. And it’s really helpful if you have an older dog, that’s, say, three or four years old, when you release that pup, you know, at about eight or nine months to be out, the older dogs do seem to help train those younger pups. And usually what ends up happening, and not always, but if you have a good older dog, the puppy will kind of follow that dog’s lead. You know, they really do get some training from those older dogs. And it really does help, you know, the producer out, not have to keep an eye on the pup as much if you’ve got an older dog.

Deborah Niemann 23:55
And then, what’s the difference between just a normal pecking order between the dogs and actual aggression?

Bill Costanzo 24:02
Oh, we just had a webinar on that, as a matter of fact, a couple weeks ago ”and it was very good” from a doctor in Oregon that does a bunch of things with, oh, studying livestock guardian dogs, and just canines in general, and aggression, and things like that. So there’s definitely going to be a pecking order, especially if you have multiple dogs. And, you know, I guess the difference between, you know, the just straight-out aggression versus, you know, the pecking order being established, is whether those incidents happen, like, around feed, or around a particular, you know, bedding area, or, you know, during contact with humans. Those type of things are going to be pecking order situations. Whereas if, you know, just all of a sudden there’s an issue with the dogs out in the pasture, that’s going to be probably more of an aggression type of situation. Now, if it’s a younger dog and an older dog, you know, again, that could be the older dog teaching the younger dog something, maybe the younger dog did something that it shouldn’t have. But if they’re basically the same age, the same sex, then those are going to be more aggression issues than pecking order issues coming up.

Deborah Niemann 25:14
Okay. And if, heaven forbid, you have a couple dogs who do start fighting, is there a safer way for you to deal with that? Or, what should you do?

Bill Costanzo 25:26
Oh, that, and I get that question actually a lot, too. It’s difficult, because a lot of times what’ll end up happening is one is going to be more aggressive than the other. And, you know, I get stories from producers all the time that one of their guardian dogs got in a fight and killed their other livestock guardian dog. And that does happen. And so, to try to avoid that, the best thing to do, if you can, if you have a large enough piece of property, is just separate the dogs. You know, I have a breeder that we work with quite a bit. They’re great. They, you know, they help us out with different projects and stuff. But, you know, he happens to have one dog that’s very aggressive. And, you know, he can only have that dog in a pasture at a time. And, he’s tried to introduce other dogs, because, you know, he’s wanting to increase the amount of stock he has with that particular dog. But it just doesn’t work. And so, really about the only thing you can do is just completely separate them if it becomes that much of an issue.

Deborah Niemann 26:23
All right, thanks. Yeah, I actually was asking because we had a dog like that a long time ago. And that was pretty much all we could do was to just put him in a pasture by himself and not ever put anything in there. So, I was curious if there was another answer that we had missed somehow.

Bill Costanzo 26:39
No, not in my experience. You know, I mean, I definitely haven’t been doing this for 40 or 50 years. But, from talking to producers ”I talk to a lot of producers and guardian dog breeders” that’s about, you know, the only thing you can do.

Deborah Niemann 26:54
So, what do you think about the idea of getting a couple of siblings together? Like, to buy two puppies from a litter? Because I’ve heard mixed reports on whether or not that’s a good idea.

Bill Costanzo 27:07
Yeah, so that’s actually something that we’re studying in our research project that we have going on currently. So we have four one-acre pens set up in a couple different 100-acre pastures that are separated. And so, we have a single pup in a pen, and then we have a pair of pups in pens. And so, you know, based on the first set of dogs, after we released them and analyzed their GPS tracking data and things like that, the singles do tend to stay with livestock more. But, on the other hand, once they were all released out into the pasture together, all three dogs, the singles tended to stay with livestock more, but the pair more often than not went after whatever they perceived to be a threat together. And so, a lot of producers in our area are seeing, instead of just single coyotes coming after their livestock, they’re seeing them show up in multiple, in larger groups, I guess, of three, four, five, or six. And so, you know, if you have just a single dog, it’s more likely that that dog is going to lose against, you know… They just can’t deal with that many predators at one time. And so it’s helpful if you have more than one dog. And if they’re siblings, they do tend to stick together more than, you know, buying, like, a pup from one litter that’s, you know, eight weeks and buying another pup from a different litter that’s eight weeks and putting them together. And it wasn’t much of a difference. It was about 20% more that the siblings were together off doing their own thing than the single dog was in our first round of bonding. Now, that’s only a few dogs, we have many years to, you know, continue this research project. And that could change over time. But that’s out of the first set of dogs, out of two different sets of dogs. The single tended to stay with stock more; the pair tended to go off and deal with threats more, and then go back to the livestock.

Deborah Niemann 28:56
Wow, this has been really helpful. Before we sign off, is there anything else that you think people should know before they get a livestock guardian dog?

Deborah Niemann 29:04
Um, no. The biggest thing I would say is find a reputable breeder, check to make sure that they’ve been raised with this type of livestock that you’re, you know, wanting that dog to guard. Because it really does start just a week or so after birth. You know, I even get down to like some dogs like specific breeds of sheep, for instance. So if you’re looking for a guardian dog, and you, you know, it’s just to try to increase your chance of success. So if you have wool sheep, then try to get your dog from somebody that, you know, raises wool sheep with their dogs, or, you know, hair sheep, or poultry, or, you know, even cattle. You know, there’s a lot of cattlemen that are even starting to get into having livestock guardian dogs. And, again, just socialize them well. It doesn’t take a lot of time. And just reward them, you know, with the behavior you want, in the area that you want. Don’t reward them if they show up at the house. Correct that behavior immediately. If you let that behavior go, no matter what it is, whether it’s roaming, or, you know, chasing animals, it’s only going to continue to happen.

Deborah Niemann 30:10
So, what should you do if your dog is chasing your goats?

Bill Costanzo 30:14
You know, a lot of our producers, again, that we work with, are large producers. And so they can’t be out there every few minutes. So, things like a dangle stick or a drag work really well. And basically what a dangle stick is is it’s, oh, it’s usually like a long chain with a swivel at each end, and there’s a short piece of wood. And as the dog runs, it hits them right about in the middle of the legs, and so it hurts them, and so it slows them down and it lets the animals have a chance to get away from them. And so they tend not to want to do that anymore. And a drag, again, is just, you know, longer, a lot longer chain with maybe an old tire on it. And again, make sure you have a swivel at each end. If you have really open pastures, a drag works really well. But if you have a lot of brush, a dangle stick is better, because the drags will get caught up in the brush, and then you’ll have to go and track down the dog and get them out of the skeet tree or whatever they’re tangled up in. If you have a small place and you’re around a lot, you know, just a normal, like, a shock collar that they use for for training bird dogs works really well, too.

Deborah Niemann 31:21
Okay, that is a lot of really great information. I really appreciate you spending time with us today to give everyone this information, because it is just not at all anywhere close to a regular dog. I had taken dogs through obedience before and everything. And it was a huge shock to me to discover that having a livestock guardian dog just did not work the same way at all.

Bill Costanzo 31:47
Yeah. We do name all of our dogs, which is something a lot of people don’t do that have large places. And our dogs know their names. You know, the basic things, like, you know, the dog knowing its name; being able to, you know, walk on a leash; you know, our dogs all know the word “no,” and they know the word “stay.” But, you know, trying to teach them to, you know, lay down or to sit – ”those things don’t really go over well with a livestock guardian dog. They’re, like you said, they’re not like your normal pet. And you really have to go with just the things that they actually need to have to get by on. They are very independent, they are very intelligent, but they don’t like change. That’s, that’s one thing. And so, if you have to make changes with your dog – ”I mean, whatever it is, whether it’s introducing new stock, or moving them to a new location, or a new type of feeder or feeding station – ”you really have to take some time with them and introduce those things slowly so that they understand that, hey, you know, my feed went from being in a bowl, to now it’s in this big metal box that’s a self-feeder. You have to prop the door open for them, because they can’t figure out ”you know, they’ll smell the feed. But if the door is closed, they can’t figure out how to get into it. Most of our producers here use what’s called a “feeding station.” And so it’s a box made out of wood or metal panels or whatever. And again, you know, the dogs will smell the food in there, but if you haven’t shown them how to get in three or four or five times, they won’t be able to figure that out. And they’ll just go hungry until you, you know, take that time to train them a little bit.

Deborah Niemann 33:22
And is that how you keep the sheep or goats from eating the dog food?

Deborah Niemann 33:27
Yeah, so, um, oh, at one of our research ranches we have a very large hog population. And they were just tearing up the feeders, and eating all the feed, and the dogs were getting skinny. And so I actually, oh, at one of my producer visits I basically borrowed a design and just kind of improved upon it a little bit. Yeah, we have a completely enclosed feeding station. It’s made out of steel square tubing. And there’s a metal gate on the front of it. And the bottom portion of the gate has wire mesh across it. And so the dogs have to jump through the gate to get into the feeding station. Yeah, if anybody’s looking for that feeding station, you know, they can check out our Facebook page at the AgriLife Center of San Angelo, and there’s pictures of the feeding station that we use on there.

Deborah Niemann 34:15
Awesome. So you’re on Facebook? Are you on any other social media?

Bill Costanzo 34:19
Yeah, so we have our own livestock guardian dog Facebook page, it’s “TAMU Livestock Guard Dog.” They can look that up. And then, we’re also on Instagram. It’s the exact same “TAMU Livestock Guard Dog.” And then we also have a YouTube channel with videos and webinars. We’re always adding things on there ”not as fast as I would like to, because it takes some time to film the videos and edit them out and things like that. But yeah, they can check out those three things. And then, we also have our actual website that’s part of the AgriLife Center here in San Angelo. I do a monthly blog. There’s a variety of information, updates on our puppy bonding project, I focus on a breed each month, do a producer profile, all kinds of different things on the blog. And they can sign up, and that blog will just show up in their email each month when I post it.

Deborah Niemann 35:14
That’s awesome! I hope people will sign up and visit all your social media and follow you, because you’ve got a lot of great information. I love your YouTube channel. It’s easy to get kind of carried away on there and just keep watching videos. And I did actually, I admit, I did actually come up with a couple of these questions from watching some of your videos. So thank you very much for being with us today. I think this is gonna really help a lot of people.

Deborah Niemann 35:40
I hope so. And, you know, people can feel free to contact me. The easiest way is either through Facebook Messenger or email, because I’m kind of in and out of the office a lot. But I check my messages on the phone about once a week.

Deborah Niemann 35:53
Awesome. Thank you so much.

Bill Costanzo 35:55
You’re very welcome. I appreciate the time.

Livestock Guardian Dogs pin graphic

6 thoughts on “Livestock Guardian Dogs”

  1. Deborah thank you so much for all you do to help so many. I have been thinking about a guard dog when I get my goats. This show was awesome. Arla Williams


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