Effective livestock protection with guarding dogs in Western Carpathians
Location: Zvolen – Slovakia,
Story by: Slavomír Finďo
The revival of the traditional livestock protection method shows that free-ranging guard dogs accompanying flocks are an effective tool to prevent wolf and bear attacks.
The tradition of using livestock-guarding dogs was abandoned in Slovakia in the mid-20th century, when large carnivores had become rare. From that time onwards, there was no need to keep dogs free. Guard dogs are kept at farms, permanently chained close to the flock of sheep or farm buildings. This has the advantage of alerting shepherds or dissuading less determined predators but cannot repel wolf or bear attacks. One of the reasons why they are chained is for human safety, but this is at the expense of livestock safety. An experiment based on historical practice, realized in Central Slovakia, confirmed that free-ranging guard dogs accompanying flocks are very effective in livestock protection, but appropriate care for pups and suitable training of pups is necessary.
Mr. Slavomír Finďo is a researcher, who all of his professional and private life consecrated to the study of the Carpathian wildlife with everything which it is connected. Big part of it was also the traditional shepherd lifestyle and carnivore conflicts directly linked on it. As he spent many time next to this specific community, he identify the biggest conflict connected with an inappropriate way of guarding dog keeping and breeding, what was reflected on high depredation on livestock. Therefore he and his team started to initiate the projects focused on bringing back the traditional style of keeping guardian dogs – free released. This experiment proves that livestock-guarding dogs can significantly influence (reduction more than 70%) losses of livestock.
Number of large carnivores increased during the last year in Slovakia. Occurrence of these species is overlapping with sheep farming and predation on livestock is commonplace. Sheep are usually grazed in unfenced pastures attended by a shepherd and herding dog; one to five shepherdsspend the night nearby in a caravan, cabin or farm building. The tradition of using livestock-guarding dogs was abandoned in Slovakia in the mid 20-th century, when large carnivores had become rare. Large sheepdogs are still kept at 90% of farms but most of them are permanently chained near the sheepfold or farm buildings. They may confer a benefit in alerting shepherds or dissuading less determined predators but cannot repel wolf or bear attack. Dogs on chains are not so self confident when the danger is near as they are free and can form in to a guarding pack.
The Project supplied farmers, free of charge, with pups of three different breeds: Slovenský čuvač, Caucasian shepherd dog and Central asian sheper dog.
Pups were bought from dog breeders or stockmen, dewormed, vaccinated against distemper, parvovirus and rabies, and placed at working farms opting into the project. In most cases high quality commercial dog food was provided.
Age at first contact with sheep was 5–13 weeks depending on availability of suitable pups and farms. Participating stockmen were asked to keep them in specially constructed enclosures, or barns, with >=5 young sheep that were to be regularly exchanged for different individuals throughout the socialization period, minimizing pup´s interactions with other dogs and humans. Subsequently, shepherds were encouraged to take young dogs out to pasture until eventually they could accompany flocks day and night.
The presence of livestock-guarding dogs was associated with lower levels of predation and an absence of surplus killing.
When the dogs spent much time outside, they were less aggressive than the chain dogs, and it was easier to adapt them to human present (random public visit).
Research Institutions for Presovský:
Carpathian Wildlife Society?
Slovakian Wildlife Society?
The Protection of Livestock and Conservation of Large Carnivores, Projects supplied farmers/shepherds, free of charge, with a total of 68 pups of three different breeds: Slovenský čuvač,
Caucasian shepherd dog and Central asian sheper dog
- Protection of Livestock and Conservation of Large Carnivores Project funded principally by the Born Free Foundation, The BEARS Project supported by WWF Denmark c/o the Danube-Carpathian Programme Office, and the Slovakia Wolf Census Project funded by the Wolves and Humans Foundation.
- How to protect livestoct against carnivores (2010 – 2011)
Supported by Environmentálny fond (Slovakia)
- Bär – Mensch – Interaktionen in der Slowakei (2007 – 2011) Supported by Andrea von Braun Stiftung (Germany) and implemented in-cooperation with the Carpathian Wildlife Society
- Revival of livestock guarding dogs tradition in Slovakia (1995 – 1997) Supported by the Soros Foundation (USA)
Robin Rigg, Slavomír Finďo, Maria Wechselberger, Martyn L . Gorman, Claudio Sillero-Zubiri and David W. Macdonald: Mitigating carnivore–livestock conflict in Europe: lessons from Slovakia
Conflicts with human interests have reappeared following recovery of large carnivores in Europe. Public acceptance is higher than historically but there is a need to identify effective, acceptable techniques to facilitate coexistence. We present a case study of predation on livestock in Slovakia. Damage, mitigation measures and public opinion were assessed using compensation records, analysis of farm conditions, questionnaire surveys, semi-structured interviews, diet analysis and on-farm trials of livestock-guarding dogs. Economic damage was inconsequential on a national scale but high locally: c. 80% of reported losses occurred at 12% of sheep flocks. Grey wolves Canis lupus were held responsible for four to six times more damage than brown bears Ursus arctos, although livestock occurred in only 2 of 78 wolf faeces during spring–autumn, when sheep and cattle were most vulnerable. Losses to Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx were negligible. Compared to other sectors of society shepherds had the most negative attitudes, particularly towards wolves, despite compensation payments. Appropriate use of livestock-guarding dogs was associated with fewer losses: median loss at trial flocks with predation was 70% lower than at control flocks. We conclude that identifying vulnerable farms and targeting them for mitigation could reduce damage, although lack of motivation and awareness are obstacles. This study shows that damage levels need not be excessive despite high predator densities in human-dominated landscapes. Conflicts were unevenly distributed, with much of the variation explained by local conditions and husbandry practices, especially preventive measures. Livestock-guarding dogs are particularly appropriate where wolves are present in proximity to unfenced pastures.
Rigg, R., Finďo, S., Wechselberger, M., Gorman, M., Sillero-Zubiri, C., & Macdonald, D. (2011). Mitigating carnivore–livestock conflict in Europe: Lessons from Slovakia. Oryx, 45(2), 272-280. doi:10.1017/S0030605310000074