by Cindy Benson April 2016
This is a question that comes up almost every time I sell a dog. Most people don’t want to take on the cost and responsibility of a second dog, and in fact many would not purchase a dog at all were it not for the threat of losses to predators. This was true for me as well. It didn’t take long for my first dogs to gain my respect and admiration and as I came to understand them better my attitude about that second dog changed. The first Maremma that we bought worked alone here for a month or so as I looked for a partner for her. She didn’t seem unhappy and was good at her job. But when her companion arrived she became a completely different dog and it made me glad I hadn’t waited too long.
I have struggled with making the decision whether to require buyers of my pups to purchase them in pairs unless they already have a LGD. I believe it is my responsibility to find the very best homes that I can for the pups I place and based on what my own dogs have shown me I am certain Maremmas are happier and more effective working in pairs. I had an experience here recently that has settled this issue for me. I’d like to share my observations with you.
Dogs in the study:
Wildcat Hollow Cami
10 month old registered Maremma female
Wildcat Hollow Raissa
6 month old registered Maremma female
18 month old Maremma spayed female
13 month old registered Maremma male
2 1/2 year old spayed Maremma female
Milan has worked with several other dogs in the time he has lived here, most recently with Katie. Over the last couple of years I have been building my Maremma breeding program. Some of the pups I purchased towards this goal have gone on to be guardian only dogs for other people rather than staying here in my breeding program. One such dog was Raissa. I sold her, partnered with Katie, which left Milan living alone for about two weeks while his permanent partner became available. Since Milan has been here most of his life I feel I know him well; watching him live alone briefly showed me an entirely different dog. So, I consider him my “case study”.
When I made the decision to part with Raissa I moved her partner Cami to another field and gave her Katie to live with instead. This meant Katie now lived about twelve feet across the lane from Milan, while he lived alone in his field of donkeys. He could see Katie. He knew where she was and did not pine for her. He stayed near the closest fence line to her a little more than he might have otherwise; mostly he continued to work and do his job. But what a difference. I have known Milan to be an exuberant, joyful, playful, sometimes child like dog. He and Katie were more fun to watch than any other pair of dogs I own when they romped together. In a word, Milan, living alone, was boring. When he lived with Katie he went almost everywhere at a trot with his flag tail held high. Without her, he walked. He did his job. He did his perimeter checks and was attentive to his livestock. One of the proponent arguments for keeping a single dog is that they may bond more closely with their livestock. Milan was no more or less attuned to his donkeys. But he was just a working dog, not the energetic happy dog I had known him to be. He didn’t appear sad, he was just different. I was counting the days until I could give him his new life partner!
Tanzi is one of the first Maremmas to come here – I adore her. All her life she has lived with another female we no longer have, in only that one field. I wasn’t sure how she would feel about working with a new dog. To lessen the possibility of her being territorial I moved Tanzi in with Milan, rather than the other way around. When I put the two dogs together poor Milan was so grateful his eyes nearly rolled back in his head – Tanzi regarded him coolly. She immediately went off to check the new perimeter with Milan dutifully following along behind. My the time I fed that evening they were cautiously playing together from time to time. The next day I moved both dogs back to where Tanzi had been living. She went off to rest in her favorite spot while Milan checked his new perimeter. They played off and on throughout the next few days but it took them about a week to be really comfortable together. Now, two weeks later, they look like old friends. My Tanzi is so trustworthy. I am so pleased that she was willing to accept Milan as she did, and glad that the two of them can settle into a permanent situation.
Two dogs working together is more effective than you might imagine. A pair of dogs works a field in a coordinated fashion. They aren’t together every minute of the day like shadows of each other. Rather, one will stay with the livestock while the other does perimeter checks, or they will work opposite ends of the field all the while keeping an eye on each other and their livestock. This is an important point. A smart predator will learn the routine of your dog. He’ll wait for your dog to head south and then come in from the north to attack the livestock while the dog is busy elsewhere. This is especially true in a large or wooded field where visibility is impaired. Once the dogs have satisfied themselves that all is well they’ll find a high spot in the field to take a nap together, or take a break to romp and play, and then they get up and go out to work again. It is fascinating to watch the silent communication between them. On our ranch there are usually 5-7 pair of dogs working. The dogs network together and that is REALLY impressive to see. Throughout the day and night the pairs of dogs will sound off if they see something worth their attention; for the most part the pairs of other dogs take that in stride. But if one pair of dogs see something they really consider a threat the way they bark sets off every other pair on the ranch. They will all head to the closest point to that threat and stand at alert with their tails stiffly held high. At night the dogs are easy to see because they are white. When I hear them all sound off like that I can shine a spotlight from the house and find the convergence of dogs to see where the threat is coming from. If they persist I head out in my Kubota prepared to take out a predator if need be. One of the things I appreciate most about using guardian dogs is that they can be part of a predator preservation effort. I like that I can live in harmony and proximity to the wild things in my area such as mountain lions, but if they are bold enough to take on my livestock and dogs I will intervene as necessary.
Most guardian dogs don’t ever have to actually attack a predator since mostly they serve as a deterrent. Predators look for an easy meal. As our Oregon State Trapper put it: “If the cat wants to eat your dog, he’ll eat your dog. But if you have dogs and your neighbor doesn’t, he’s going to go to your neighbor.” I hope this is true. I have no doubt that my dogs would attack a predator foolish enough to enter their field without thought for their own peril. Two dogs working together are much more likely to survive an altercation with a coyote or mountain lion. A good working Maremma represents a sizable investment both in terms of time and finances. I’d like to think I can look forward to 10+ years of service from my dogs. I certainly don’t want to risk losing them to a predator or have to spend several hundred dollars to save him after he has attacked and lived though it.
So, in summary, as I see it two dogs working together makes sense.