You’re a dog lover who knows how to handle him or herself around dogs, but do you know how to behave around a Livestock Guardian breed that is with its herd or flock? It’s not the same behavior.
As recreational areas continue to expand closer to ranches, encounters between hikers, backpackers, mountain bikers, and cross country skiers are increasing. In Colorado, for example, Akbash Dogs have been acquired to guard sheep herds around Silverton and other high-mountain towns, particularly along popular Continental Divide trails. Contracts with ranchers who have grazing permits specify that their herds need to be at least a quarter-mile from the Colorado and Continental Divide trails, and if their animals are closer, the U.S. Forest Service can take away the permits, but this doesn’t help if a hiker goes off trail. Nor does it help when hikers who’ve met snarling dogs throw rocks or raise their walking sticks and wave them at the dogs thinking it will deter them. The dogs merely see the behavior as aggression and do what it take to protect their flock. They attack.
Hikers have described such dogs as aggressive. We don’t agree. We think that backcountry recreationists need to be better informed on how to conduct themselves when encountering LGD, even when both dog and recreationist is surprised to see each other:
- First, for heaven’s sake, keep calm, don’t disturb or frighten the livestock. In short, don’t be an idiot;
- Bikers, get off your bike and push it, or if it’s light enough, carry it between you and the dog. Hikers, slow down and walk away calmly; Just do it;
- Avoid eye contact with the dog, but don’t turn your back on it. Retreat slowly;
- Things get trickier if you have your dog with you since pets can unwittingly provoke increased defensive behavior by LDGs. Put your dog on a leash and keep it under control. Don’t try to walk through a protected herd with your dog. Go around. When in doubt, go back to the path;
- If you love the Great Outdoors, the chances are good that you are environmentally conscious. Instead of being “put out,” that an encounter with one of these dogs has altered your day, revel in the fact that the rancher thought to use an LGD. It’s the “green” approach to predator control, and if you’re serious about your commitment to the environment, be glad to see the dog.
The following video was shot in the Alps, but its suggestions apply anywhere: