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cindy
Jun 29, 2022
In Introduce Yourself!
Cindy Benson – KPA CTP Link to my KPA “Find a Trainer” page: https://karenpryoracademy.com/find-a-trainer?source=kpctnavbar#!biz/id/5f0ca49d392dd13abe2d620f Personal Story I am a California native now living with my husband of 30 years on our secluded 360-acre ranch. I have lived a ranch life since I was a child, and most of my life has been spent managing large populations of a variety of livestock and less common creatures; ostriches, emus, and parrots, to name a few. I raised Miniature Donkeys for almost 30 years and still have a few. I have shipped donkeys all across the United States and sent 20 overseas. At one time my herd consisted of 120 donkeys but now is down to just 19; our last foals are due in August 2022. Maremmas came into my life initially to protect my donkey herd but have since captivated all my attention. I have been training animals since I was a young child. I’ve been told the story of me putting a horse halter on the body of my companion dog and hitching him to a wagon, poor boy! I remember the dog but not this adventure. I have shown horses and donkeys and have taught many to pull carts. My current riding equine is Mathilda, my Belgium draft mule. Mitch and I enjoy wilderness pack trips when time allows; he goes more often than I do but now that I am no longer breeding dogs, I hope that will change. LGD Training Experience I have owned, or done training with, more than 250 Maremmas. I will never consider myself an expert at understanding livestock guardian dogs and the complex nature of how they do their job but learning from this many dogs has been very helpful! I learn from my Maremmas every day. As I write this there are twenty-seven Maremmas employed at Benson Ranch/Benson Maremmas. What a privilege that is. I began my formal training education through participation in the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Foundations Course in 2018. This is a science-based course designed for the typical companion dog owner. In 2021, I published an LGD training manual that I wrote to accompany this wonderful course as it can be applied to livestock guardian dogs. You’ll find a link to both the training manual and the KPA course below. Amazon Link to Purchase the Training Manual https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09M527FD5/ Link to sign up for the course: https://karenpryoracademy.com/courses/dog-trainer-foundations In 2021, I became a certified professional dog trainer through the completion of the rigorous Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professionals course. I have stepped down as a breeder of Maremmas and now devote myself full-time to training livestock guardian dogs of all breeds, teaching through the use of Zoom sessions or in person, and writing blog posts and books. Stay tuned for the second LGD training book! I have been working on it for five years. Now that I have retired from breeding Maremmas I expect to find the time to finish this worthy project. I am an avid student of animal behavioral science. Honing my own education has made me hungry for more so I am usually participating in formal coursework of some sort! Below, I have listed some of the courses I have completed thus far. These resources are available to everyone so please join me! The dogs in your life will thank you – mine sure have. Karen Pryor Academy Online Courses https://karenpryoracademy.com/?source=kpctnavbar Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Foundations Course 2018 Puppy Start Right Course for Instructors 2018 Better Veterinary Visits 2019 Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional 2019-2020 (Online & in-person course) Canine Freestyle with Michele Pouliot 2021 Karen Pryor Academy In-Person Courses at The National Clicker Training Institute https://theranch.clickertraining.com Training for Professionals: Across Species 2018 Guest at The Ranch Workshop: Hannah Branigan & Ken Ramirez Present Shaping with Precision 2021 Next Level Training April 2022 Guest at The Ranch Workshop: Michele Pouliot & Ken Ramirez present Trick Training: Take the Fun Road to Better Training July 2022 Training for Professionals: Across Species August 2022 Guest at The Ranch Workshop: Susan G. Friedman, PH.D. & Ken Ramirez present The Magic Is In the Data! August 2022 Handling Problem Behavior & Mistakes: Human and Animal September 2022 Deep Dive: An Advanced Training Course October 2022 Relationship Centered Training – Suzanne Clothier https://suzanneclothier.com See The Dog: Asking the Elemental Question 2019 Mindful Puppy Socialization 2019 Enriched Puppy Protocol 2019 CARAT (Clothier Animal Response Assessment Tool) 2020 International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants https://m.iaabc.org/courses Writing Mentorship with Eileen Anderson 1-2021 Writing Mentorship with Eileen Anderson 7-2021 Canine Social Behavior 9-2021 Forensics of Aggression 5-2022 Writing Mentorship with Eileen Anderson 1-2022 What Is a Dog? – The Ethology of Our Best Friend 6-2022 How Genetics Relate to Behavior: Uncovering the History of Dogs 6-2022 Writing Mentorship with Eileen Anderson 7/2022 Other Resources There are many professional trainers that I have learned from. I thank them all for their investment of time in me! Most noteworthy are: Ken Ramirez - https://www.kenramireztraining.com Terry Ryan - https://karenpryoracademy.com/faculty/terry-ryan Bobbie Lyons - https://www.pawsitive-performance.com Kaye Geyler - http://www.goroguedogtraining.com Michele Pouliot - https://www.michelepouliot.com Hannah Branigan - https://hannahbranigan.dog ClickerExpo 2019 – Portland, OR ClickerExpo 2020 – Seattle, WA Puppy Culture was a game-changer for me! Jane Killion - https://shoppuppyculture.com
Hi! Cindy Benson – KPA CTP - Benson Maremmas Training
 
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cindy
Jun 27, 2022
In Tell Me About LGDs
Well, maybe not what you think. There is a graphic out there that depicts a Maremma guarding sheep. In the graphic, there is a small flock of sheep with a Maremma close by. The next graphic shows a Great Pyrenees guarding sheep. The graphic shows only the flock of sheep – no dog. Does that mean that Great Pyrenees do not bond with livestock? I don’t think so. I think it reflects a difference in guarding styles only. As a rancher, I want to know two things: Are my animals safe, and are my dogs happy. If the answer to both those questions is “Yes” then I am content with the balance I have within the animal community of the livestock and dogs. If my animals are safe, I consider that to be effective guarding behavior by my dogs. As a human, I really enjoy watching moments of obvious affection that LGDs often shower upon their livestock because it warms my heart. Those are some of the golden moments in my life every day and I cherish them. However, I do not think less of my dogs who never make these displays. I have learned that kisses do not equate better guarding skills. As a breeder, I selectively bred dogs who showed this behavior, not because they are better guardians but because buyers liked it. People new to LGDs who may not understand the subtleties of LGD behavior are comforted by seeing these obvious displays of behavior. This can give them an early window into understanding this new, and very different, type of dog. That may help my pups stay safer out there with their new owners. That matters a great deal to me, so even though I know these kissy-face dogs are not better at their job than an LGD who does not do this I find the behavior desirable for my stated purpose. As a science geek, I’ve worked hard to understand the language of my dogs. I have learned to just watch them rather than to jump to a conclusion about what a behavior means. Sometimes I experiment with my dogs to test my own theories. For instance, is that dog on the back fence truly unaware of what is going on with his faraway flock? I make a squeak – the dog come flying! Nope. He had it handled all along. I think it is important to consider the senses LGDs have available to themselves. LGDs have powerful olfactory capabilities. With their eyes closed and from a great distance an LGD can be actively guarding and not appear to be doing anything, from a human’s perspective. Animals that are afraid, including humans, produce a chemical substance called “cortisol.” Dogs can smell cortisol. If their livestock population became afraid it is quite possible that the dog would know this just because the animals now smell differently. I’m surmising here, this is my hypothesis, but I think this is true. The state trapper told me mountain lions could smell prey from two miles away, so what is true for dogs? I don’t know but I do know that dogs are capable of actively protecting their livestock from farther away than a human might think is appropriate. I think it is up to the dog to decide. Natural selection targets weak and injured animals. LGDs often pay special attention to animals such as these. There have been many times that my LGDs have alerted me to a health situation with an animal that I was not aware of. Is this bonding? I’m not sure, but it is a trait I admire and seek in my working dogs. The many LGD breeds were specialized for use in their countries of origin. This is one of the reasons Maremmas guard differently than the Great Pyrenees do. There are more common features than differences but the differences can matter to an LGD owner. The expansive guarding style of the Great Pyrenees can provide a lot of frustration to a hobby farmer with only five acres for the dog to guard, but five acres can be perfect for the intimate guarding style of the Maremma. My Maremmas seem to prefer to stay near their livestock regardless of how demonstrative they are about how they feel about their flock or herd. Maremmas tend to be kind and nurturing with their charges and ferociously adversarial to anything perceived as trying to cause harm. From The Dog's Perspective..... Maremmas own the ground they stand on, typically defined for them by the perimeter fencing. A Maremma entering a field for the first time will raise his head and take a quick look; then his nose will go down, his tail will come up, and off he’ll go for a perimeter check. This behavior is typical of Maremmas and begins early in life. I have seen six-week-old pups do perimeter checks. Animals found within this perimeter belong to the dog. This includes livestock, household pets, fowl, and humans! All become the responsibility of the LGD. I don’t know if other LGD breeds seek the perimeter fencing as my Maremmas do. I know that in Italy it is common for Maremmas to work in large areas with no fencing, so maybe this trait has been selected for in the United States? I am not sure. But for Maremmas, the anchor of their world is their livestock. Within a flock or herd, there are often specific animals that are favorites of the dogs, and sometimes there are antagonist animals. I chose to sell animals like that rather than allow them to create friction in the animal community. Any new animal gets a good sniff by the dogs. This is particularly true if a new species is introduced. From a science standpoint, I am not sure what drives guardian tendencies. LGDs have been selectively bred to greet novel situations with suspicion. They patrol their property watching for anomalies. They watch for this among their flock or herd too, which may be interpreted as bonding. They have an innate ability to discern what is a threat and what is acceptable; this becomes more pronounced as pups mature. Sometimes it can seem as if pups just bark at air (says my husband) but I don’t think so. I think they are responding to their great olfactory and auditory abilities. Guardian behaviors cannot be taught by humans. The behavior comes from the genetic blueprint of the dog. LGDs have been selectively bred to almost eliminate the normal prey drive of a canine. If this strong genetic blueprint is there, with proper support, a pup is likely to be successful at his job. However, some breeds (including Maremmas) have been selectively bred to be pets and show dogs. When these genetics creep into the good working bloodlines desirable in a working LGD problems can arise. I once owned a Great Pyrenees who had no guardian aptitude at all! He was produced by working parents. Some of his siblings went on to be working dogs and some are pets. Inbreeding can also wreak havoc on a dog’s guardian potential. An LGD crossed with any prey drive breed can create a very conflicted and unpredictable animal. It is not possible to teach a dog to have prey drive or not to have it. The genetic blueprint must be there for an LGD to be a trustworthy working partner. In summary, I certainly have my preferences for guardian styles based on what I need from my dogs on my ranch, but with regard to “bonding” just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The task of an LGD is complex. They are wired to read and respond to subtleties of behavior humans cannot even be aware of. Remember my two rancher questions: Are my animals safe and are my dogs happy? Yes? Good to go, Kissy-face or not.
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cindy
Jun 27, 2022
In Tell Me About LGDs
At first glance, starting out with only one LGD can seem like the conservative and responsible choice, particularly if you are new to LGDs. In my experience, though, training a single LGD pup is much more work than raising a pair of similarly aged pups together and much less likely to be successful. Here’s why: All LGD training should build the confidence of the dog A single pup is a frightened pup. Pups don’t learn well when they are frightened, and they may learn lessons that work against them in the long run. A common response from a fearful pup is to bark. The pup sends out a pre-emptive warning to anything that might hurt it. This behavior is self-reinforcing, so a young pup that barks because of fear may bark because of the learned habit of barking when he is an adult. The physical behavior of a frightened pup may be unpredictable. In response to this, the behavior of the livestock he lives with can change; calm animals can become flighty, for instance. Dogs and livestock are part of an interconnected community. The presence of a fearful pup can cause stress and discord in that community. Canines are social animals Puppies learn a lot from each other. That opportunity for learning comes in a narrow window of time early in their lives. They learn bite inhibition, conflict resolution skills, tolerance for frustration, and overall physical confidence. These are just a few of the many important lessons denied a single pup. The play behavior of pups is not all fun and games. A tremendous amount of learning happens in the form of play. It is a necessary function of any young animal. Because it is so necessary to the healthy development of a pup a single pup will seek play interaction with whatever animal is nearby if he doesn’t have a suitable canine partner to play with. This choice can get a pup into trouble within his livestock community. The livestock won’t respond favorably to this interaction and the lessons the pup learns in these situations work against his future as a trustworthy adult guardian dog. Puppies learn how to be dogs from each other. Dogs with strong social skills feel less concern about guarding resources. This can be a huge issue for LGDs, their livestock, and their owners. Allowing pups to learn from each other offers tremendous preventative training in how they view resources. The level of responsibility asked of an LGD should take his age into consideration A young pup should not be asked to guard a large area, lots of livestock, or grumpy livestock, as examples. For an adult LGD, taking this level of responsibility away from him can be experienced as punitive. The best-case scenario is that a pair of dogs suited to the same level of responsibility be allowed to work together. A natural fit is much easier to maintain than a trained one Putting dogs of any age into a living situation they are well suited to is much less work than trying to support them in an unnatural one. Dogs placed in situations they are not well suited to develop stress-related coping behaviors such as barking, chasing livestock, digging under fences or climbing over them. The behavior of these dogs can be unpredictable. Dogs that are stressed are difficult to train. Dogs living in an environment that they are well suited to have a better chance at living a well-balanced, harmonious life. Training goals are realistic. Most adult dogs don’t want to train puppies Adult dogs have been through these puppy developmental stages and have moved on. Pups are busy and irreverent. They put social and physical pressure on adult dogs, often not understanding when to back off. When adult dogs discipline pups the pups can become fearful. They may also learn that is the way to respond to dogs, and as adults may have poor canine social skills. They may choose to fight because that is what they were shown as pups. The ease at which an owner lives with LGDs has little to do with how many dogs there are. Rather, it has to do with how well suited those dogs are to the environment they live in and the level of responsibility asked of them. Said simply, it is much easier to live with two happy dogs, of any age, than it is to live with one anxious or industrious one. The time to get that second LGD is when you purchase the first one!
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cindy
Jun 27, 2022
In Tell Me About LGDs
I am often asked this question by potential LGD owners trying to do their due diligence in researching LGD breed traits and assessing their needs as owners. This research is complicated by the fact that conflicting information abounds. Many potential owners like the idea of being responsible for only one dog. Over the years, and based on my experience with many, many Maremmas, I have developed strong opinions about this issue so I will share them with you here. Here are the facts: Canines are social creatures Puppies play These facts are undeniable. If you bring an LGD into your life without accepting that these facts exist, and adjust your expectations and management of the dog accordingly, you are likely to be frustrated and disappointed in your relationship with your new LGD. I can tell you that if you are feeling frustrated the dog likely is too, and he is probably confused and quite possibly frightened because of the “corrections” that often come from the owner while the dog is trying to do his job and understand his world in the only way he knows how. There is a regrettably high rate of failure for LGDs due to behavior problems that often stem from a lack of understanding and acceptance of the two facts stated above. Dogs often pay a very high price for having learned behaviors that are incompatible with their owner’s expectations and are relinquished to rescues, shelters, or euthanized. With an owner’s realistic expectations and appropriate training support of an LGD it is possible for the dog to thrive in the working environment for which he is genetically designed and for the owner to be delighted with this new addition to the farm! I believe Maremmas should be allowed to work in pairs. I know that the quality of life for a pair of dogs is high, that they are safer from predators because a predator with other options is unlikely to take on a pair of large noisy guardians, and I know a pair of dogs is more likely to meet the needs and expectations of the owner, provided proper management and training is offered the dogs. I am committed to that premise to the extent that I will not place my puppies in single working dog situations. LGDs kept as single working dogs often exhibit these behaviors: They bark excessively They “play” with livestock or become aggressive with livestock They guard resources (people, food bowls, sleeping space, etc.) excessively and inappropriately They become aggressive towards household pets They climb fences or dig under and leave their appropriate territory Dogs that do these behaviors are letting their owners know that something in their life situation isn’t working for them. If you have the wisdom to purchase two dogs, put them in the field with the livestock you want them to be responsible for, and then just walk away, problems are still likely to occur. For the first two years (at least) of a Maremmas’ life participation of the owner and management of the environment is critical to the dogs’ success, and the safety of the livestock they live with. A pair of happy working dogs is far less likely to develop these behavioral issues. I absolutely believe that raising a pair of dogs appropriately is easier than trying to convince one dog to do a good job working alone.
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