What type of dogs to have if you live in the land of big carnivores
Austin Forman, 11 years old, was hauling firewood in his backyard on the weekend, when his golden retriever, Angel, began acting weirdly. Father of the boy was watching both of them.
This behaviour explained itself when a hungry cougar came out of forest and charged Austin. However, Angel was ready and challenged the cat. The boy escaped inside his home while the two animals battled for several minutes. The cougar had the dog by her head. They could hear both the dog and the cougar screaming. Then it went silent.
RCMP Constable Chad Gravelle rushed to the scene. He stepped into the backyard and saw that the cougar, a young, skinny female, had dragged Angel under the porch. He shot the cougar. The dog was laying there lifeless. As the family gathered, consoling Austin, the dog suddenly sprang up. She coughed a bit of blood, started wagging her tail, snuggled up to Austin and licked him.
Keeping a dog for protection against large carnivores
In this horrible incident, Angel and her humans got lucky.
Cat Urbigkit, in her book 'When Man becomes prey' has taken up the subject of increased attacks on humans by 5 top predators of North America – black bears, grizzlies, cougars, wolves and coyotes. Her premise is simple:
1. The increased interaction of humans and these predators, specially in and near the protected areas, is resulting in an increased attacks of these predators on humans.
2. Because of these increased attacks, humans likely to confront these predators need to take precautionary measures.
I believe those of us who have chosen to live in areas, where an encounter with any one of these top predators is more likely, need to take extra precautionary measures to protect ourselves in case of an attack. Since the large carnivores are going to be protected species, and very rightly so, I believe large-sized agile guard dogs can be a deterrent against such an attack on your premises. And if you decide on having a dog, two or more dogs are always better guards than one.
Keeping small dogs in some areas don't make sense
During my hiking trips in areas where coyotes and black bear flourish, I have observed big trail side homes where K2 and I are greeted or scorned by small and medium size dogs roaming free on the property while the children are playing nearby. This insouciance of home owners toward safety of their furry friends makes me wonder. Agreed that these dogs never crossed the boundary to pose any threat, a coyote or a bear doesn't necessarily know and obey the "Do not enter the premises" and "no trespassing" rules. Living in risk prone areas with smaller dogs can become life threatening for both humans and their dogs.
Let me remind the readers that not all dogs are capable of thwarting an attack by a large predator. Without any rigmarole, I will state that to take on a large carnivore, you need to have dogs who are bigger, are agile, and have greater fight drive (see reference # 1).
What type of dog(s) then?
When we moved into our new home near a conservation park and a network of large interconnected ravines and green belts that were populated by packs of coyotes, we started looking for a dog for protection. We wanted to have a large size dog that had high guarding instincts and defense capabilities, especially against threats to life from attacks by humans or coyotes near our home.
After our research, our search was narrowed down to category of dog breeds known as livestock guardian dogs or LGDs. This group includes pure breeds like Turkish Kangal, Akbash, and Anatolian Shepherd dog, Central Asian Ovcharka, Caucasian Ovcharka, Serbian Sarplaninac, Bosnian/Croatian Tornjak, Great Pyrenees, Italian Maremma, Polish Tatra, Hungarian Komondor and Kuvasz, etc. and their cross breeds. I am listing these breeds only because these are active on guard duties in the USA, Canada, and Europe. And because in Europe, LGDs had to protect livestock against bears and wolves, they were bred for large sizes, intimidating deep and booming barks and valour. These 3 characteristics are what all LGDs should display to thwart the advances of an intruder.
Other guard dogs
But LGDs are only one group that I am mentioning because they have low prey drive, meaning that they won't go out challenging everyone within their reach perceiving them to be a threat.
There are other great breeds also, mostly for tropical climates, that can serve the purpose equally well - Fila Brasiliero, Dogo Argentino, Pressa Canario, South African Boerbol, Italian Cane Corso, Japanes Tosa Inu, Pakistani Bulli Kutta, Pit Bulls, etc. This video shows 5 of such dog breeds. The only drawback with these breeds is that they generally have a high 'prey' drive and that then may take on the challenge aggressively and actively, rather than passively like the LGDs, and may get hurt or even killed in the process. By comparison, LGDs have a 'fight' drive and its sub-category of territorial and/or pack drive. Please read more about 'drive' types at Reference # 1.
However, a characteristic that I mentioned earlier that you need to have in the dog(s) is agility. The agile dogs are better able to harass an intruder and defend themselves and their charges - humans in this case.
As a family, we decided on Kuvasz breed after lot of research work. One factor that we were looking for was the ability of the breed to cope with summer and winter extremes of southern Ontario and friendly temperament toward children and guests. We could have easily chosen one of the several other breeds of LGDs and even cross-breeds if they were available.
Our encounter with a bear
Our decision to have a large size dog like Kuvasz by our side during hiking adventures was proven wise.
Once I was hiking with K2 on the Bruce Trail section in the the Bruce Peninsula National Park. Turning a bend, K2 stopped in his tracks looking straight ahead with a nervously curious look, ears cocked backwards, body motionless. When I reached him, I was overwhelmed by the site too. There, just 20 meters ahead on the trail, stood a black bear staring at us.
All three of us had just frozen. I begged K2 in my heart not to make any move.
For the first time in my hiking adventure I realized how unprepared I was for such an occasion. I had no hiking sticks to act as a defense tool, no bear pepper spray, no advance warning to bear on our approaching it , e.g. having a bear bell on my backpack or on K2 to let bear know that an intruder is coming, etc.
If bear attacked, I could have let K2 go off leash to at least act as a deterrence, or so I hoped. Having a big puppy on the leash had an advantage, as it turned out. The bear decided to break the stalemate. It moved off the trail and disappeared in the thick undergrowth.
Our encounter with coyotes
If I had a yapping small or medium sized dog, the turn of the event could have been different.
On other occasions, coyotes took off their heels at the sight of a giant dog looking at them with warning look.
K2 and I were once hiking on a lonely road running by the conservation park late at night when we heard a pack of coyotes yapping and howling. I think 3 or 4 of them were picking on a young intruder, who was fearfully protesting. K2 growled in low pitch and all of a sudden it was all quiet in the dead of the night. I believe just one warning growl was enough to make them run for their lives.
In case of wolves
First of all, I believe one or two LGDs should not be expected to keep wolves at bay. In this situation, if a wolf pack moves near your home, the best bet is to keep hobby livestock, persons, and dogs within the confines of a fenced area. It should be ensured that dogs and little children do not roam alone over large areas, where they can be tackled by pack of wolves and injured or even killed. In addition, spiked collars should be put on the dogs as this video shows.
Although wolves are a beautiful animal and need to be protected for our future generation, they are after all wild animals and will kill a dog to feast on it or as a defense if they are denning in the area. They cannot and should not be demonized for this.
Also, not all LGDs are capable of providing a deterrent against wolves. Cat and Jim Urbigkit recommend (see reference # 2) employing the services of canine aggressive LGDs like Central Asian Ovcharkas, Turkish / Kurdish Kangals, Portuguese Transmontano Mastiff, Bulgarian Karakachans or mixes thereof for protection against wolf predation and I think these dog types can also provide protection for residents of areas where conflict with wolves is possible.
Do remember to use dog's senses to your advantage.
Dogs’ vision is roughly as good as ours, but they have better night vision, peripheral vision and motion detection that can be helpful while hiking in the dark. Their smelling and hearing senses are much better than ours and can be used to a distinct advantage. Their olfactory sense, especially, provides a window to recent past, present and therefore, near future. They can smell presence of a danger much before humans can.
Your dog(s) behaving nervously when outside may well indicate presence of danger lurking nearby.
This happened with Kelly Murray of Barriere, British Columbia. Her kuvaszok incessantly barked and acted extra protective when Kelly was out in her fields and continued barking from inside the home throughout the night. Kelly discovered the next morning that a cougar had spent a major time of the previous day and the whole night hidden in the bushes nearby.
As I am writing this hub, I am aware that Ontario has a confirmed population of 500 cougars, 85,000 to 105,000 black bears, and several thousands gray wolves, eastern wolves, great lakes boreal wolves, and eastern coyotes. Since my family and I are routinely hiking in the forest trails, we have a high probability of an encounter with these wild animals. And an encounter may not turn out to be friendly or harmless. For this reason, our best bet is to keep well trained large size dogs by our side for protection. These dogs may also turn to be a better protection against those urban mischievous urchins who we are routinely meeting on the trails. So let us see what type of dogs K2 ends up as having his pets.
- 1. Fight Drive
Definition of fight drive: The detaining, harassing, baiting, or driving off of a dangerous foe.
- 2. A Review: The Use of Livestock Protection Dogs in Association with Large Carnivores
Livestock protection dogs (LPDs) in the United States have helped to protect livestock herds from certain predators, but expanding large-carnivore populations pose new challenges...
Other useful links
- Kuvasz Fanciers of America, Inc.
A Charity dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the authentic Hungarian Kuvasz. KFA believes it is vital that the Kuvasz remains true to its heritage.
- Kuvasz Club of Canada
This is a good Canadian site for information on Kuvasz dog breed.
- Cat Urbigkit and Akbash dog breed
Cat is an award winning writer and photographer. Her Facebook page educates audience about livestock herding, livestock guardian animals; including Akbash and Central Asian Ovcharkas; wildlife, predator-prey relationship, etc.