image Ok, I’m writing about something other than copper! 🙂 I read about some proposed changes to the Snohomish County leash and noise ordinances that relate to livestock guardian dogs (LGDs). As the law currently stands, dogs can’t run loose in our county, and they can’t make continuous noise (aka kennel barking, where they go on and on for more than a half hour).

But, there is an exemption for LGDs in the barking category, since they are doing their job protecting an agricultural crop. When people purchase land zoned R-5 or Ag-10 in our county, they must sign an affidavit that they understand there will be “agricultural activity, smells and sounds”. (Mmm!) And LGD barking falls under this umbrella. So if people call the county to complain about this, they’ll just be told, “sorry, it’s within the law for your area.”

Trouble Afoot, Law is Being Modified

However, apparently the county has been having an ongoing problem with one or more individuals who are leaving LGDs out with stock in unmonitored fields-places where the farmer does not actually live (so he doesn’t have to listen to them bark!). And, not only do these dogs bark a lot, they are also frequently getting loose, create a nuisance, and violating the leash law. So, the proposed change to the law is that LGDs are only protected under the “ok to bark” clause if they are maintained on the farmer’s residence, not on vacant land. (And the leash law stays the same- still, no dogs or livestock are allowed to run at-large.)

Snohomish County is Not The Open Range

Though I always feel some anxiety about laws which take away people’s rights, I think maybe this is an OK change. I believe people successfully run unmonitored LGDs with stock on the open range, in places like Idaho and Montana. But open ranges usually don’t have residential neighbors. In our county, almost anytime you run livestock in a pasture, there are going to be people dwelling within a mile or two of the property. So, extraordinarily noisy dogs, or loose dogs, are going to impact them, and that’s unfair.

LGDs: “Just set it, and forget it!” – NOT!

LGDs are not a trivial livestock protection solution. They are clever, creative, adventurous and sometimes naughty. And they have a lot of time on their hands, er, paws! I know many people who have trouble with them being escape artists. They are known for doing undesirable things like hoarding, or killing, newborn lambs or harassing the livestock they’re supposed to be guarding. They can be a liability if they bite someone. When they do get loose, they can be real trouble. And, they are not invincible- they are vulnerable to injury or death if a large pack of predators challenges them, or a big enough animal takes them on, like a wolf or cougar.

So, for those reasons, I don’t think they are a “just set it and forget it” solution (unlike a Ronco rotisserie oven). They need daily monitoring, supervision and ongoing training, socialization and management. And they need a human with a rifle as a backup when something big comes along! 😉 Though I suppose it’s possible that a few people are lucky enough to have a dog they can leave alone with stock in a field that’s only checked one-daily or less, I am guessing that’s not common. Our dog certainly does not have the job qualifications for that! 😀

How Much Do They Bark?

Our LGD does bark during the night, as do the Border Collies, who live in the house but can run out the dog door into their fenced yard. It seems to come in waves, sometimes they bark multiple times in a night, then maybe I’ll have several nights in a row of peace and quiet. I am a pretty light sleeper, and I’m keenly interested in whatever the dogs are barking at, since it may be costing me money if it’s out there eating livestock or our fruit trees! So, I wake up every single time any of our dogs barks. I check the clock, and listen for a few minutes. Often, the collies come back in and settle down, and Bronte will quiet as well. Then I figure whatever was out there heeded the warning and departed. Or maybe it was just a cat. 😛

But, if the barking by any of the dogs goes on for more than five or ten minutes, I get concerned. So, I get up, put on a robe, and go shine a flashlight out there to assess what’s going on. I glance at the poultry houses. Then, I look for all of the sheep’s eyes reflected in the light. I can tell if they are spread out, that they are lying down and relaxed, so are perceiving no threat. If they were bunched tightly together, then I’d know something was in their field scaring them, and I’d be grabbing a gun. And the llama makes weird  noises when there is a threat. But so far, probably thanks to Bronte, that’s never been the case.

At that point, I usually say a few words to Bronte, both to let her know I’m there backing her up, and to encourage any lurking wildlife to move along. 90% of the time, that does the trick, and we all go back to sleep for the rest of the night.

When It’s Not Wildlife…

But, every now and then, Bronte will keep barking. She starts to get hoarse from insistent barking. Then, I get back up, put on my clothes, and walk allll the way down there with a flashlight. Sometimes it’s creepy if it’s really foggy! On those times, there are occasions when I still can’t tell what she was barking at, but when I leave, the situation is over and she’s quiet. But, many times, especially during the summer, it’s people out there who are making her bark!

This was a real surprise to me. We live on a between-towns road with little shoulder where people drive 60mph, so you don’t often see pedestrians. At least during the day. But, in the middle of the night, oddly enough, there are road-wandering types out there, probably hitchhiking or something. Sometimes it’s a gaggle of young men, being loud. It takes a long time for someone to walk by, in and out of Bronte’s hearing range, and she’ll bark at them the whole way, telling them to stay out of her pad! Sometimes it’s people pulled over in their cars, doing whatever people do when they pull off the road. And, a few times, there have been people in the nursery tree crop next door, who have peeled out in their cars once they presumably spotted me! Anyway, it’s been interesting, coming aware of all the night life that is active in the country while most of us sleep! Bronte naps a lot during the day, but my hunch is that she doesn’t miss a thing at night!

Glad We Can Keep Her

I’m grateful that the proposed law change won’t affect us, since barking LGDs will still be allowable on the farmer’s residence. They probably figure that the LGD is going to annoy the farmer as much, or more, than the neighbors, so that should keep the noise problem in check. We’ve had our LGD for nearly a year, and she has proven to be a valuable asset. Not only does she “train” the predators to stay out of our livestock and protects our investment, she’s also good for the wildlife population as well. In the olden days, people just shot every coyote they could find, in an effort to combat predation. With an effective LGD, we only shoot at coyotes who don’t respect her boundaries and come into the yard anyway, and most don’t. So, she’s a very effective wildlife manager. And she seems to like her job.

Speaking of which, Bronte is barking. I’m headed out to see what’s there. 😉