Ray Coppinger: Livestock Guardian Dogs in the US

Nearly six months ago (August, 2017),  the dog community and agriculture/ranching world lost an important figure in our understanding of Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs). With his wife, Lorna, Raymond Coppinger started the Livestock Dog Project in the 1970s when wolves hadn’t been a concern to ranchers for a long time. Coyotes, however, were another matter, and ranchers needed options.

For the next ten years, the Coppingers compiled data from over 1,400 dogs in research that is still the single largest, long term study of LGDs in the world. They looked at American ranches using LGDs, and then they visited Europe and came home with puppies of assorted breeds (later buying pups from breeds they missed, namely the Sarplaninac, Anatolian Shepherd, and Maremma). They studied purebred guardian breeds, as well as mixes involving an LGD breed. They bred dogs, observed and then reported. The United States Department of Agriculture cited the Coppingers in their acknowledgements in their Agriculture Information Bulletin Number 588, “Livestock Guarding Dogs: Protecting Sheep from Predators.

There are those who now criticize the Coppingers for what they understood to be the couple urging minimal contact with a dog that needed to bond with livestock. Supporters, however, suggest that this interpretation was a version of the “telephone game” in which the original message became misinterpreted, if not distorted. They point out that the Coppingers never wrote that LGDs shouldn’t be handled at all. We’re not sure who is presently writing on Raymond Coppinger blog, Guard Dog Blog on Livestock Guardian Dogs and small farm life, but a post written just this month includes this line: “I’ve written before about the history of working LGDs in their countries of origin and how they have been selected over time to appreciate the presence of their shepherd and their families. Some of the types have worked for periods of time on their own, but for the most part they have been selected to live and work as partners in close community with humans. It’s not out of the norm for these dogs to live in a pastoral setting, where animals and humans co exist in the same living areas.”

Ultimately, this debate is best held among LGD owners and experts who can offer real life experiences, but we wanted to acknowledge the passing of a man important to the utilization and understanding of LGDs in the United States.

Image: Photo by Sharon Hoyt of an LGD in charge of approximately 600 goats and 250 sheep





2 thoughts on “Ray Coppinger: Livestock Guardian Dogs in the US”

  1. I asked Dr Coppinger the question, his reply was well thought out and presented and took nearly fifteen minutes to hear but ultimately, the answer was, “no, we do not advocate a hands off approach to training…”

  2. Good to know, Tam, thank you for sharing this, and what an honor to have met the man. It was, no doubt, really interesting?

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