Sheep producers go to good lengths to bond these dogs to livestock, which is necessary as the bonding to livestock process ensures the dogs include the livestock in their parcel of things to be defended. What is also happening though is an establishment of territory and this is largely overlooked in discussions about lgd’s and their hiccups. So what if we take a longer look at this notion of territory and how deep it runs.
Wolf and coyote research shows these wild canines have large territory ranges and within this range, a more centralized hub that they will defend. Based on observations with our own dogs I would say this is the case for them as well. That nucleus (or hub) also moves around throughout the year.
For guardian dogs on small farming parcels this nucleus might be the entire place and every creature in it, and hence, might not move at all. On larger land parcels it will look quite different. Right now, three of our guardian dogs have a nucleus around the main flock and where the ewes venture to graze. Zeus has a nucleus that is basically the entire barn yard paddock and the rams. Diesel has another that surrounds his lot of off-sorted sheep. Together all the dogs have a greater area covered and because these dogs know each other, they can come and go from each others hub and maybe even join them.
But here is where it gets interesting. If I could convince our livestock guardians to come for a walk with me and the stock dogs, I am quite positive it would be a successful walk with a large pack of dogs being accepting of the situation they find themselves in. However, when the guardian dogs happen to travel through our yard, the Kelpies make it well known they are trespassing. The first thing the Kelpies tend to the next time out in the open yard, is investigating every urine stain the guardian dogs left behind. The yard is the nucleus of the stock dogs. The guardian dogs are never raised at the yard proper, therefore they never establish it as a nucleus themselves. (Or maybe they do and they just placate the wild Kelpies)!
When it comes to predators, coyotes can trespass through the greater territory range (especially large ranges), but not within the nucleus of the territory. If seen, the guardians are going to be hot on their heels.
The environment the dog is raised in will have a great impact on this territory establishment. The territory range in large land spaces, is more loosely defined than in suburban farming communities. The fence lines are typically less defined and less tight as well. There will be seasonal changes to the boundaries (i.e. snow cover that erases physical fences). On places where the livestock are well removed from the yard there is less direct dog and human interaction and potentially less of a social connection to the humans living in the house. Whether the dog is raised in a pack or alone will also influence this territory establishment and social connection to another species.
While I have no collection of data to prove so I also think that producers on large tracts of land also seek out a different type of dog. They often seek an intent dog that will run predators off the place, and it is often found favourable if the dog doesn’t stop until the job is done, so long as the dog returns (aye there’s the rub). These dogs are serious about their job, but job now means keeping their turf clear of unwanted canines, not just bonding to and mingling well with sheep.
It’s a bit of a matter of splitting hairs and yet it sheds a different light on how these dogs work and why guardian dogs can be so successful and so aggravating at the same time. I would venture to guess the number one issue with guardian dogs is finding one that will stay with the flock 24-7, but to me it is no surprise that the majority of them don’t.