Tuesday, 5 December 2017

On Raymond Coppinger

 This article appeared in The Shepherd's Magazine
By: Louise Liebenberg

Raymond Coppinger

Anyone who raised sheep in the late 1970’s and early 80’s will have probably have heard of Raymond Coppinger and his large-scale research, spanning a decade  on livestock guardian dogs. I think it is appropriate to give a nod to this man, who passed away in August 2017.  Raymond Coppinger was first a dog-man, and then got a Ph.D in Biology.  He started off with his feet firmly placed on the skis of a sled dog team. In 1976, he and his wife Lorna started the Livestock Guardian Dog Project at the Hampshire College.
In the late 1970’s LGDs was virtually unknown in the USA, this was a totally new concept of having dogs live with livestock to protect them from predators. At that time, the USA had been virtually wolf free for many decades, and ranchers were not accustomed to having to really protect their stock from large predators, coyotes did however wreck havoc on sheep flocks and much of the research was based on finding solutions to combat coyote predation. 

The first study conducted in the USA on LGDs was from S Linhart, R Sterner, T Carrigan and D Henne in 1977. Following this, in 1979 two other independent projects began to follow up the Linhart et al results. Ray Coppinger and his wife Lorna established the Livestock Dog Project (LDP) in Amherst, Massachusetts, and at about the same time, Dr. Norm Gates acquired several Hungarian Komondors for a long-term study of livestock guardian dogs at the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station(USSES) at Dubois, Idaho. (McGrew, 1983)

 No one had done any large-scale research into LGD at that time, and certainly to date, no one, other than Coppinger, has collected data from over 1000 dogs over a 10-year span. This research is still the single largest, long term study conducted on LGD anywhere in the world.  Initially, the Coppingers did a tour of ranches utilising LGD in the USA, and then they traveled to Europe and Turkey over a period of 3 months to observe and where possible, purchase pups of various breeds. He later purchased 10 puppies of three breeds, they were Maremma from Italy, Shar Planinatz (Sarplaninac) from Former Yugoslavia, and Anatolian dogs from Turkey.  At this time, it was extremely difficult to get pups out of Yugoslavia, stories of pups being transported down from the high mountains on donkeys, (personal communication) to be sent over to the USA, illustrates some of the challenges these dogs and the researchers faced. Some other breeds were donated to this project and were tested on a smaller scale.

The goals outlined in his study included the placement of dogs with producers and track their development, behaviour, and effectiveness in predator control, to  clarify “mechanisms of both successful and unsuccessful behavior by means of controlled studies” (Coppinger, Coppinger, Langeloh, Gettler, & and Lorenz, 1988) and finally to communicate these results back to various interested parties. The dogs were leased to producers so that the Hampshire College could still have access to these dogs for breeding or other research. Producers volunteered for this project and annually had to fill out a comprehensive report regarding the dogs, their behaviour and effectiveness.  News of the success of these dogs spread to other producers and the program grew to a point where over 1000 dogs were placed with livestock producers in 37 States. A secondary study led my Jay Lorenz, together with the Coppingers was initiated in Oregon.

 It was significant to note that this and some of the other studies, reported a reduction in predation when LGD were utilised on sheep flocks. These positive reports spurred the demand for more dogs and more sheep producers stepped into using LGD.

Coppinger studied both purebred and crossbred dogs. They also did heavy linebreeding to see what the effects would be on the dogs, to “determine if deleterious genes were present, and crossbred to test genetic or behavioral concordances, and enhancement or depression of structural and behavioral characteristics”. Now, 40 years later, one can criticize this work as being unethical regarding breeding practices, but at that time the breeding and crossbreeding of LGDs did provided pups to a growing group of producers needing and wanting these LGD,  and it provided additional  data on the effects of this breeding and breeds for their research. Having these offspring “out working” and getting feedback on them is what drove this study forward.

Some of the behaviours that Coppinger studied was the relationship between trustworthiness, attentiveness, and protectiveness of the dogs to their livestock. Today, some organizations still utilise these parameters to gauge how LGD are doing.  The relationships between these behaviours certainly play a significant role in the effectiveness of the LGD. I believe these three parameters are still relevant in assessing LGD behaviour today.

Coppinger is often blamed for promoting the “hands off” style of raising LGD. Many people now vilify him for this, as they feel this is one of the biggest myths he perpetuated. Reading the publications, I did not find anywhere, that it advocated that the pup should be reared with no human contact at all. Somehow, somewhere the message become distorted to the point that no handling became the norm. What was written by the Coppinger was that “minimal human contact” was recommended to allow the pup to form the sheep-dog bond. In the old 1990’s USDA ( with Jeff Green and partners) nowhere does it say that LGD should not be handled at all. (https://pubs.nal.usda.gov/sites/pubs.nal.usda.gov/files/LivestockGuardingDogs.pdf). In fact, they encourage some basic obedience training during the raising phase.
Coppinger did state that some dog/human interaction was required and that some petting was appropriate. (http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1957/18914/ec1238.pdf). In all the early studies, it stressed the importance of early exposure to sheep in developing successful guardian dogs (Green and Woodruff 1983x; Coppinger and Coppinger 1980; 1982).

 It is interesting to note that Coppinger did find, after 10 years of studies on LGD, that success of the dogs could be attributed to (in part) to the amount of time a producer spent with his dogs. The dogs who were ineffective in the USA were “those where sheep scattered widely over a great area and never flocked, or where producers did not spend more than a minimal amount of time with the flock. The essential difference between management of dogs in this country (mainly farm operations) and in Europe (mainly range operations) tends to be the amount of time owner operators spend with their stock. “
(Coppinger, Coppinger, Langeloh, Gettler, & and Lorenz, 1988)

I personally question the blame laid at the feet of Coppinger for advocating for hands-off, feral dogs. His research has never advocated for this form of raising. I believe this myth was a general belief that existed at that time, were all working dogs (hunting, retrieving, herding, terriers etc), were presumed to be better working dogs if they were not petted and treated like house pets. This belief, combined with the need for LGD to bond to their sheep, morphed into this idea that LGD should not be handled and preferably left feral with the stock.

I think it is important to view the research done by the Coppingers in the time frame, (40 years ago) it was conducted. At that time, his work was ground breaking and it provided real science, a lot of data and a solution to predation issues for ranchers. For many ranchers, this was research/science that directly benefited them, and indirectly, the promotion of LGD allowed for more non-lethal predator control.  His work and research is still cited in most new research articles today and formed a basis from which other research has been conducted. It was pioneering to say the least.

With 40 years more of LGD use since the Hampshire College LGD Project started, there are new insights on how we raise and train our LGD. Times change, the sheep industry has changed and how we view dogs has changed. We do not have to agree with all his research, but I do think it is only right to tip our hats to a man that made LGD use in the USA and Canada accessible. Even Ray, over the years amended and corrected certain statements he originally made.  Having some misconceptions back then or a change in perceptions today, does not invalidate all the work he did.

 If it was not for that initial study of Coppinger, I would never have gotten to know the Shar Planinatz breed, and for that, I am grateful. To this day, I still read his research and I see new things or another aspect catches my attention. I have spoken with Coppinger numerous times, primarily about LGD and cattle, it was always interesting to share conversations and insights with him. People change, people learn and over the years Coppinger had some different reflections on his initial work. I do not believe we can blame Coppinger for all that is wrong with LGD now, and I am sure he has had a very big impact on keeping sheep safe in the USA. I believe his work and introduction of LGD to a broader sheep producing audience paved the way for better livestock, and indirectly, wildlife management today.
I would like to conclude this article on Coppinger and his Livestock Guardian Dog Project with his own words:
“Guarding dogs can reduce predation on farms and ranches by 60 to 70% or more. On an individual basis, reduction of losses to predators can be spectacular. For producers in areas where lethal controls are inappropriate, guarding dogs made staying in business possible. Problems within the system are solvable, given long-term recordkeeping and expert attention. We focus on the problems, but there have been far more successes than problems over the past 10 years. This management system has attracted increasing attention and use not only because of its effectiveness but because producers feel they can take charge of what happens on their farms or ranches. Dogs provide a good alternative to environmental liabilities of lethal control methods. Costs should decrease and effectiveness increase as more growers, extension agents, wildlife damage control personnel, and breeders become familiar with the system.” (Coppinger, Coppinger, Langeloh, Gettler, & and Lorenz, 1988)

Coppinger has written and number of books regarding dogs in general.

"Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution" from May 27, 2001, by Raymond Coppinger and Lorna Coppinger.

“What Is a Dog?”
from April 19,2016, by Lorna Coppinger and Raymond Coppinger.

How Dogs Work” from October 22, 2015 by Raymond Coppinger and , Mark Feinstein.
Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals” from  April 22, 2013, by Raymond Coppinger, Kathryn Lord, Lorna Coppinger
And Ray Coppingers most favorite book; “Fishing Dogs: A Guide to the History, Talents, and Training of the Baildale, the Flounderhounder, the Angler Dog, and Sundry Other Breeds of Aquatic Dogs (Canis piscatorius) in 1996 by, Raymond Coppinger.


Coppinger, R., Coppinger, L., Langeloh, G., Gettler, L., & and Lorenz, J. (1988). A DECADE OF USE OF LIVESTOCK GUARDING DOGS. Proceedings of the Thirteenth Vertebrate Pest Conference. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/vpcthirteen
McGrew, J. C. (1983). Guardian Dog Research in the U.S. Great Plains Wildlife Damage Control Workshop Proceedings. 282. Retrieved 08 25, 2017, from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/gpwdcwp/282/

Photo 1: Photo found on Google Images at:
Raymond Coppinger

Photo 2 and 3: Photo of Noreen Lehfeldt, one of the producers who received a dog from the livestock Guardian Dog Project. This is Mara a Maremma sheepdog in 1985, one of the Coppinger project dogs given to Noreen Lehfeldt.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017


Katcha Ště-Kot North

Today we said farewell to a great dog.The sadness we feel is not in her passing, but the realization that she has left us too soon.

At the end of the summer we noticed that she had a tumor, and that this tumor was rapidly growing, the prognosis was poor. We decided to let have have an early retirement and enjoy the beautiful Alberta fall weather. She wanted nothing of retirement and would head back to her sheep daily, often curled up close to the fence of the pasture wanting to to be let back in.We were doing her no favors by removing her from the dogs and sheep she loved.We relented, and she returned back to her job as matriarch of the pack and protector of the sheep.

We allowed her to carry on doing what she had always done and she was happiest curled up on a hay bale watching over everything. 
The tumors expanded and spread across her body and we noticed a slowing down of her body but not of her mind. She still hazed a coyote a month ago and had a fence discussion with another, a few weeks back.When the weather turned colder we brought her into the warm shop at night and every morning she would trot back out to the pasture.About 10 days ago we realized that her body had started the shutting down process, she was full of tumors, she stopped eating, her energy was low, she did not venture back out to the sheep but hung around the barn.It was then that the sadness was the greatest, as we knew that everyday could be her last.

The appointment was made for the vet to come and euthanize her at home today.We were thankful that we could give her a quiet and easy death. Her passing was not sad, as we knew that she did not need to suffer to the very end.

She was surrounded by the people she loved, in her place and even with her favorite cat rubbing himself against her

We do not want condolences or even sadness, as she lived a grand life.

She had her pack, she had family, she had us and, she had her sheep.
She patrolled the vast pastures, she protected the sheep, she was brave and confident, and she lived a very natural life. She had her mate in Vuk, her daughter and other members of the pack around her. She had the freedom to move around on hundreds of acres, hunt squirrels in the bush and did not have to be obedient to any commands.

She was not molly coddled, controlled by leads and dog parks, and she certainly was not a "fur baby".

She ran with the dogs, she swam in the creek, she slept under the starts, howled with the wolves, she rolled in the snow, she chased ravens, threatened coyotes, she played under the northern lights, and she protected her sheep.

She traveled across the world and into our hearts,
and, we are happy and thankful for having her, be a part of our lives.

Our memories will be of fondness, 
and not filled with the sadness of her passing.
She was loved and respected.
We will miss her but are content that she had a great, dog worthy, life.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Feeding LGD

This article appeared in the July edition of the  Shepherds Magazine 
©Louise Liebenberg 2017

Feeding a pack of livestock guardian dogs can be expensive, however, there are several ways to help reduce the overall feeding costs. In this article, I will discuss some of the things we do to help maintain quality food to the dogs at a cost-effective rate. I understand that laws and situations are different, and this may not be a viable option for everyone.

Feeding dogs is always regarded as a “hot topic” among dog breeders and dog owners. Some swear by certain brands, others by raw feeding, yet others by “traditional” foods that dogs would eat in their land of origin. I have the simple belief to feed what we have, what is available, the best we can economically afford, and as naturally possible. Fads, great marketing, or clever packaging of big brand dog food does not influence me. In fact, I am averse to these gimmicks in the dog food industry. I like to keep it simple and affordable.
We are feeding 8 Sarplaninac LGDs and a few border collies at any one time, that is well over 1200 lbs of dog every day. Our dogs go through a 40-lb bag of dog food every couple of days. A reasonable quality dog kibble is quite expensive, and keeping the dogs well fed is quite a big cost.  Our dogs are fed primarily a raw diet including meat, bones, offal, and eggs, if raw is not available or inconvenient to feed, then the dogs get kibble. We are not “dog foodies”, our dogs eat what we have. We have never had any issues with the dogs switching between dog food brands, or between going from raw to kibble.

We have a few avenues for acquiring meat for the dogs, we have a good relationship with a local butcher who will provide us with meat scraps, bones, and other waste from butchering (things like liver, kidneys etc.). A lot of this waste is fat, which we either freeze and save for the colder winter months, or feed alongside some kibble. Excess fat, is disposed of through composting.

Our main source of meat for the dogs is through the feeding of cull animals from our own ranch.  We have made the business decision not to sell all our cull ewes and rams, instead we will process some of them ourselves into our own dog food. In this way, we can butcher a cull animal when we need it, and do not need to be concerned with storage or freezing.

We live about four hours away from the closest auction market, shipping cull ewes has been an expense to us due to the distance to our markets, time to drive them there, commission fees and the low value that these animals make on the market. It makes more sense to process them into our own dog food than ship them. Not only does it make economical sense for us to utilise these animals ourselves, it is also perhaps a better welfare decision for the culls, who do not have to endure long travel times and the stress of auction markets before butchering.
We will also process our own cull cows who cannot be shipped due to transportation and welfare reasons. We are often called by neighbouring cattle ranchers who have such a cow to come and process the animal., these cows are often given to us for free. A cow can feed a pack of LGD for quite some time.

We are lucky to live in an area (Northern Alberta, Canada) where we have very cold winters that last for 6-7 months of the year. This helps to ensures that all the meat we process, remains in a frozen state, allowing us to preserve it for the dogs without having to have a whole lot of freezers.
Our method for butchering is simple, after freezing the carcass, (this happens naturally outside in the winter), the entire animal is cut into large chucks, we do not skin or gut the animal, and simply make big chunks which we feed in frozen form to the dogs.
Some ranchers are concerned that once LGDs “taste blood” or eat the animals they are supposed to be protecting, they will go rogue and will not be reliable as LGDs any more.  We have never experienced this type of behaviour in any of our dogs. The dogs can clearly distinguish between the live animals they protect and chucks of frozen meat as food. In Macedonia, we saw shepherds feeding fresh dead lambs, cut into pieces to their dogs and none of these dogs attacked the sheep they were protecting. Many of the shepherd’s dogs lived on a basic diet of bread and water, sometimes supplemented with whey from cheesemaking or some milk. Any protein the dogs received was primarily from dead livestock or afterbirths. The dead stock was utilised to feed the dogs.

We do not allow our dogs to simply “help themselves” to any dead livestock, we do remove the carcasses and if the animal is freshly dead, we may process this meat too. We have found that our dogs will protect a dead sheep in the field from predators, ravens, and other scavengers, and then when cut up and offered as a meal a few weeks later, will willingly eat it then. There are a few things we do to ensure that a young dog understands the boundaries of what can be eaten and what not; we will not allow a young dog to eat still born lambs, we do remove deadstock as soon as we can, we reprimand a young dog if it starts to chew on a carcass in the field ( we like to investigate a carcass to understand what the animal died from), we like to portion and feed the animals frozen chunks rather than whole carcasses.

There are times when we do feed kibble, primarily in the summer when it is difficult to preserve the meat.  Our dogs are flexible, and they eat what they are offered, and they do not experience any stomach upsets going from kibble to raw meat. Feeding kibble to the dogs in among hundreds of sheep can be challenging, simply because some of the ewes really seem to like dog food. Feeding kibble often requires us to feed the dogs separately to avoid the sheep trying to bully the dogs for the kibble, we do not have this issue when feeding raw.
We raise laying hens and will also supplement the kibble with an egg or two.
Our dogs are healthy, fit, and energetic, have no allergies, have great coats and strong clean teeth, and are never ill.  I feed to need. If the dogs are working hard, or the weather is wicked, then the dogs get more. I like to keep the dogs well fed, and in good working condition.
Seeing the dogs enjoying a healthy meal of mutton or beef, knowing we have made the best economic decision for feeding our dogs, made a humane choice for the cull animal, and are feeding a high quality meal to the dogs, makes feeding this way a good choice for our ranch.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...