Proposed Guidelines are Wrong

Recreational users of federal lands in the west are beginning to object to the millennia old practice of leaving sheep on the open range under the protection of dogs. Ignorant flatlanders do things that even a human shepherd would get justifiably angry about, and then think it’s unreasonable when the guard dog tries to eat them.

In response, the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) has come with a set of proposed guidelines for using guardian dogs.You can read them here.

Unfortunately the ASI proposes applying the same guidelines to herding dogs as to guard dogs. These breeds have completely different jobs. Attempting to apply these guidelines would produce a dog that would do neither job well.

Getting past that, the entire document postulates that the sheep owner grazing on open range with a federal grazing permit, but suggests that the guidelines are appropriate for private land as well. I cannot speak to situation of 10,000 plus acre private unfenced ranches in the west, but here in the east, on fenced, several hundred acre spreads, they cannot reasonably be followed, nor would they protect neither the sheep nor the trespassing city slickers.

Dear Ms Jensen,

I am a farm sheep producer in New Hampshire. I have several concerns with the guidelines as proposed.

First, before any specifics, it’s completely inappropriate to attempt to apply the same guidelines to herding dogs and guardian dogs. They have different jobs, which require different personalities and different physical capabilities. What’s appropriate treatment and behavior for a 40 lb Icelandic Sheepdog or Australian Shepherd whose job is to put animals where I want them is not at all appropriate for a 120 lb Great Pyrenees that I want to intimidate (or eat) “coyotes” that are actually picture perfect Red Wolves. I’m happy to expand, but I’m sure that any shepherd who uses both types of dogs will agree.

Specific issues:

Adequate food and water for LGDs will be available at all times. Should be “will be provided.” As long as the dog is adequately fed, free choice feeding not only should not be required, but may well be incorrect management practice in the instant situation.

“Shearing/clipping/grooming of LGDs should be done to prevent matted coats and to prevent overheating in the summer.” Beyond clipping out the occasional knot, the dog is much better off with its natural coat. The appropriate guidance is “Don’t use a Maine dog in Georgia.”

“LGDs must be trained to respond to basic voice commands. Dogs that cannot be controlled by voice commands will not be allowed to work on federal lands.” Guardian dogs have been bred to be autonomous. You want your herding dog to do what you tell it. You pay the guard dog to stop and decide if it agrees with you. If you train it otherwise, you are hampering its ability to handle a situation on its own.

“LGDs must be socialized to people. They need to be trained so that vehicles, ATVs, hikers (with or without a dog) and bikers do not appear in the dog’s mind to pose a threat to the sheep.” My dog understands that people outside my fence are not a threat to the sheep. People are allowed inside my fence if and only if my wife or I bring them in.

“In areas where potential exists for conflict between LGDs and the public, sheep producers should consider operating with both a day and a night herder, supported by herding dogs, in order to have someone with the sheep and with the LGDs at all times.” Earth to ASI. This is a family farm. I sleep at night. If I could be out with a gun every night I wouldn’t need the guardian dog. When she needs me, the gun and I do show up.

“Permittees and agencies should cooperate in developing routing schedules designed to ensure that flocks and associated LGDs are no closer than ¼ mile to any trailhead, significant use trail, developed or significant use dispersed recreational site, etc., during weekends, holidays or other high potential recreational use periods as specified by the agencies.” As a good neighbor, I allow a public snowmobile trail across my land. I have fence along the south side of it. My livestock, including dogs, are right across that fence. I only have half a square mile of land. I could either close the trail or give up my LGD. This is another “Earth to ASI” case.

I realize that these guidelines are nominally only for permittees on Federal lands. However there are many “suggestions” in them that they should apply to private lands as well. Aside from the herding dog/guarding dog issue I can’t address issues in the western US. I am however sure that these guidelines are seriously wrong for any place east of the Mississippi, whether north or south.

Sincerely,

Frank Richards

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