A Working LGD – In Spite of Mistakes

Catherine de la Cruz

The first time we placed a pup on someone else’s ranch as a livestock guardian dog, we had no idea how little we knew. I’d like to think we’ve learned from the mistakes made, by ourselves and by those who got the pups.

We placed two unneutered male pups with a sheep rancher who had several thousand acres and several hundred Suffolk sheep. He had seen Great Pyrenees at work when he was a boy in France but had never owned any himself.

Lots of mistakes there. Two pups together – bad idea! They spend so much time playing with each other that they don’t pay attention to the sheep. Unneutered males – we’ll get to that one later. Several thousand acres – except for shearing time, the sheep were never all together at the home ranch. Suffolk sheep – a blackface breed not known for their tendency to stay together as a flock. As we found out, here a sheep, there a sheep, but never a flock of sheep together to guard. As for having seen the dogs when he was young, the shepherd had a romantic idea that you “just put them with the sheep and they work.”

The pups, Patou and Pastor, spent more time wandering the ranch together than they did paying attention to either the sheep or their owner, though they faithfully returned to the barn every evening for their dinner. One day, during the first six months, Pastor failed to return and Pete later found the body, where he’d been hit by the car of a trespasser. After that, Patou spent more time around the ranch house and corrals. Pete called and said he wanted to return the pup, but as it was an eight hour drive, neither one of us had the time to connect.

A year passed, and Pete called me. “I’m going to send Patou back to you. He’s the messiest dog I’ve ever had.”

“What happened?” I asked. “Did the kids make a house dog out of him?”

“No,” he replied. “He just keeps bringing dead coyotes up to the barn.”

“Where is he getting these coyotes? Are you poisoning or trapping them?” I asked.

“No, I don’t know where he’s finding them. I do know he’s too dumb to be catching them,” was the laconic reply.

I convinced Pete not to return the dog, although I don’t think he ever believed that Patou was actually killing the coyotes. He admitted that, though he still lost lambs on the distant ranges, there had been no losses within a mile of the house and barns.

About a year later, one of Pete’s kids graduated from veterinary school and returned home for a visit. She was awakened by a terrible commotion in the corral and found Patou trying to drive off two large canines who had attempted to take down a three-hundred pound calf. She shot the intruders and went back to bed. The following morning, as she examined the carcasses, she realized that she was looking at what were most likely coy-dogs – the cross between a domestic dog and a coyote. They were considerably larger than the local coyotes, who usually ran 35-45 lbs, and had white markings, a condition not normally seen in coyotes.

It didn’t take much thought to realize that the most likely candidate for the dog part was Patou himself. He was scheduled for immediate neutering. She then went hunting, and over the next few months shot several other coy dogs. All were less wary of humans than the pure coyotes and all carried white markings. When weighed, some of the carcasses were 60-70 lbs. When I visited later that year, there were a half dozen white-marked hides nailed to the barn wall.

By the time Patou was eight years old, he had done such a good job of eradicating the coyote population that Pete was convinced he no longer needed the dog, so he gave Patou to a friend. All Pete could tell me was that he lived in Ravendale – a wide spot in the road with a combination post office/general store/saloon about ten miles down the road. I asked directions there to the ranch, saying I was looking for the person who had Pete’s big white dog. The bartender told me he was disappointed when Patou had been neutered because his Samoyed bitch had had several litters by Patou which he sold as sled dogs. Somehow, Patou had always known when the bitch was in season, and traveled the ten miles to court her.

The directions to the ranch were pure “country”. I was told “Go down that road about two far-sees and you’ll come to a wrecked railroad car. Look for the burrowing owls after that and take the next gate on your right.” I found out that “two far-sees” meant “go as far as you can see, then go as far as you can see again.” Somehow, the directions worked, and I located the ranch. As I stood on the porch of the ranch house, a big white dog came roaring across the yard. I squatted down and called “puppy puppy puppy!” Patou skidded to a halt, sniffed me, then rolled over to have his tummy scratched. As his new owner care around the barn he said, “Who are you and what are you doing with my dog”? I introduced myself – “Hi, I’m his mother.”

Six months later, I got another call from Pete. “The coyotes are back; I need another dog.”