Documentary about livestock guarding dogs, their training and their job

The overall goal of the LIFEstockProtect project is that farmers receive extensive know-how about how to effectively protect livestock and that livestock protection is implemented more actively in the project region. An imporant part of effective livestock protection are livestock guarding dogs. These particular dogs are socialized with “their herd”, get along well in any terrain and work independently in any weather, day and night – provided they have been well trained.

To ensure good training, LIFEstockProtect actiosn include the development of guidelines for the breeding and certification of livestock guarding dogs. These guidelines are tested together with breeders and authorized examiners and ultimately used to achieve uniform legislation for the use of livestock guarding dogs. Since dogs will ultimately work in different farms, the requirements of such will also be taken into account. Like this, animal welfare and access to potential subsidies for the use of livestock guarding dogs can be ensured. All of this, together with targeted training on the use of livestock guarding dogs, is intended to support farmers in using them correctly.

Livestock gurading dog breeds are, amng others, the Maremma Abruzzese, Kangal Sheherd Dog, Great Pyrenean, Caucasian Ovtcharka or Kuvasz. They have been used by humans for thousands of years to protect their livestock from large carnivores like wolves. Their job and, thus, the existence of these breeds is closely related to the occurrence of wolves in many regions. The job of livestock protection dogs is extensive and already begins when they are born. In order to visualize this, we would like to share two documentaries with you. They impressively show how livestock guaringd dogs work with sheep and how puppies are selected for work, trained and certified after 2 years.

Livestock guarding dogs: Unequal brothers

In the central Italian region of Abruzzo, large herds of cattle, horses and sheep are roaming free during summer. A flock of 800 sheep is on the move 4-5 hours a day, together with the shepherd and around 16 Maremmano Abruzzese sheepdogs. Only in the late afternoon do they come back to an (electric) pen. The sheep spend the night in the fenced area. In the meanwhile, some of the dogs are in the herd and some of them are spread around the pen. They scan the environment continuously with eyes, nose and ears – even when the dogs seem to be dozing. If a wolf thinks it has found easy prey, the dogs will bark, and scare the wolf way by running towards them fast.

In the east of Germany on the Lausitz, a former military training area, a new valuable habitat without human influence currently develops. Wolves were absent in this area for 150 years, but since 2000 a few packs have come back. Here the sheep only graze in a very limited area, not like in Italy were they travel several kilometers each day. They are guarded by Pyrenean mountain dogs, which grow up among the sheep. Like this, they learn that sheep are part of their own pack. They consider sheep to be their kin and try to play with them, which, however, is not so welcomed by the sheep. Also here the dogs demostrate that to the wolf that they are in charge by barking and running.

To watch this documentary, please follow the intstructions to be redicrected to Youtube once you click on play.

Kangals – Bodyguards for sheep

A female Kangal shepherd dog that belongs to a couple from Niedersachsen in Germany, gave birth to 8 puppies. The documentary follows the development of one of the puppies because he is allowed to stay with the family. All others are directly given to other sheep or goat farmers. The puppies are even born among sheep so that they are immidiately familiar with them. The shepherd couple has a total of 800 sheep and goats, which are kept in 6 groups with 2 gurading dogs each. They are kept within a paddock secured with an electric fence.

The documentary shows vividly which disposition the puppies have to have and how they should be treated so that they become a reliable bodyguard. They learn how to handle the electric fence and how to treat the sheep with care. For this purpose, the couple has their own sheep training flock with particularly relaxed sheep that remain calm, even with new dogs, and actively participate in their upbringing. The puppies learn to accept herding dogs and that no aggression should be shown towards humans. After 2 years of training, the dogs are checked and certified by an experienced shepherd, whereby the test consists of different sections.

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October news update

A lot of interesting things happened last month in LIFEstockProtect, thus, we want to share the news with you! In October, besides another exciting trip to Majella National Park, first meetings on the different A actions were initiated, data collection started, and our website is finally also available in Italian.

News overview

The European Wilderness Society and EURAC, together with three Austrian shepherds, returned to Majella National Park. The aim of this trip was to exchange experiences with local shepherds about how they implement livestock protection. As the Apennines in Central Italy represent one of the regions in Europe where wolves never disappeared, the exchange about best practices is crucial for similar implementation in the German-speaking region of the Alps. The team visited a sheep and goat farmer who owns more than 1.400 animals that are protected by 24 livestock guarding dogs; a cow farmer who explained how the cows are instinctively dealing with the presence of wolves in the region; and a young couple who just started their own goat farm three years ago. Read all the details of this trip here.

The working group on preparatory action A.2, a stakeholder analysis, consisting of Naturschutzbund Österreich, EURAC, Umweltdachverband Österreich, ELIANTE and BUND Naturschutz Bayern got together for a first online meeting. Experiences where shared by Anna Crimella (ELIANTE), who has performed stakeholder involvement for many years already. A draft template for stakeholder mapping was subsequently developed in collaboration with the other LIFE project LIFEWolfAlps EU. Over the course of the next weeks and months, the partners will continue to develop relevant baseline information to prepare a lobby network plan which will then be used for effective stakeholder engagement.

Naturschutzhunde had a meeting in the beginning of October after an exciting dog training weekend in Ansfelden and organized the administration for the project. Also, they are making great progress in the preparatory action A.5 and A.6. They are collecting detection dog training protocols from other organisations and countries, and are assessing among relevant stakeholders who is interested to participate in the planned training. Together with VetMedUni Wien, Österreichzentrum Bär, Wolf, Luchs, and ELIANTE, they will look at ways to effectively train scatdog owners to collect scats for genetic analysis further on in the project. Finally, they are organizing an online workshop for Saturday 14th of November, which will give interesting insights into the different uses of detection dogs!

The LIFEstockProtect team of Bavaria, consisting of Bioland Bayern, Bioland Beratung GmbH, BUND Naturschutz Bayern und OPUS, established a weekly online jour fixe meeting to discuss project progress in the region and to tackle the data collection of wolf-livestock depredation, livestock protection impact, the human dimension and legislation for preparatory action A.3.

The European Wilderness Society established effective communication channels through different platforms for all project partners and is in the process of ordering marketing material to be used by all partners throughout the project realization. Together with EURAC, they also updated the project website. It is now available in English, German, and Italian!

Press appearances

October has also been a successful month in terms of press appearances, especially in Italian media! Here is a selection of media platforms that covered the LIFEstockProtect project with a direct link to the article:

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Project update: first successful weeks

A lot has already happened since the start of the project LIFEstockProtect in September. On the one hand, each partner set up project management and administration. On the other hand, some already started to collaborate with stakeholders to work towards the goals of the different project actions. Here is a summary of the activities of the first six weeks:

General update

  • All project partners participated in the successful 2-day Kick-off meeting on 22nd and 23rd of October. We looked into details of the project organization, administration, financial management and communication. Additionally, we planned the next steps and established multiple working groups to tackle the planned preparatory actions.
  • The project management team participated in the welcome meeting of the LIFE programme on the 7th and 8th of October. During this meeting, all LIFE projects which launched in 2020 had the opportunity to deepen their knowledge on project management requirements, financial management and guidelines on communication.

Austria

  • Several employees and volunteers from the European Wilderness Society tested the planned livestock protection volunteer training activities in Tyrol. They supported a local livestock owner with herding 200+ sheep, moving them from the mountains to the valley, and assisted in collecting the fences for the winter season.
  • The European Wilderness Society accompanied the television crew from ZDF to Tyrol and Central Italy (Majella National Park) who are producing a documentary on the return of the wolf and arising challenges for livestock protection. The documentary, which is expected to air in spring 2021, will include the LIFEstockProtect project and will showcase one of the locations of a livestock protection competence centre, established within the project.
  • Naturschutzhunde has contacted several organizations from the field of wildlife detection to put together all the information necessary for the creation of the certification and curriculum of scat dog teams.

Italy

  • The EURAC team visited a farmer on the Seiser Alm. Together, they fixed an electric fence to protect sheep against wolf attacks. The conversation revealed that the farmer already experimented a lot with different kinds of fences and gates. His property is situated in a touristic area, which can cause conflicts, for example when visitors do not close gates properly. The farmer is interested to be involved in the LIFEstockProtect fence lab to share his knowledge and to assist in the development of new and better tools to protect livestock.
  • The European Wilderness Society visited Majella National Park to learn about the extensive research they conduct on wolves. Wolves have always been present in the area, thus, locals are accustomed to living alongside them. The researchers of the park management explained to us how they perform research to study the wildlife interaction with wolves, and many more interesting topics.

Germany

  • OPUS and BUND Naturschutz Bayern finalized the hiring process of project managers.
  • BUND Naturschutz Bayern presented the LIFEstockProtect project to the audience of the anniversary conference “25 years Nationalpark Unteres Odertal” in Brandenburg.
  • The Bavarian LIFEstockprotect team held an online-meeting on the 7th of October to discuss important issues regarding financing, administration, and planning of the livestock protection competence centers.
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