Goats owned by Larry Davis and Nicole Bellows graze for noxious weed control in Wallowa County. This summer the goats are battling leafy spurge along Parsnip Creek and Leap Road north of Lostine. Their guard dogs protect them at night when they are bedded down from predators — primarily cougars and coyotes. Guard dogs are effective against bears as well. Time will tell if they are a good deterrent against wolves.
The relationship between humans and dogs dates back centuries. One of the first uses of dogs in civilization was for the protection of livestock. Guard dogs remain an integral part of raising goats and sheep in Wallowa County.
Skye Krebs and his son, Cale, graze their sheep in Ione in the Columbia River Valley in the late winter and early spring and move them to Wallowa County in June for approximately six months. The Krebs have raised sheep for several generations and rely on guard dogs to protect their bands from predators.
Skye Krebs said he uses a variety of different breeds, including Pyrenees, originally from Spain and France, and Kangals, a breed of dog from Turkey.
Of a wide variety of guard or “sheep” dogs used to protect livestock throughout Europe and into Turkey, there are a lot of similarities. Most are white, which can be easily detected from wolves. In the last century in Eastern Oregon, guard dogs have been used to protect against bears, cougars and coyotes, but, historically, in Europe, they were also used to keep wolves away from livestock.
Krebs said he uses between two and four dogs per band of sheep, as they are available.
“Dogs come and go. When I need a new dog, I call a neighbor for another pup,” Krebs said. “It’s like a free-trade agreement. They patrol all the time. When they see a predator they bark. They are more of a deterrent than lethal control. When a cougar hears a bark, the dog/cat thing runs deep.”
Krebs’ shepherds haven’t encountered wolves in the sheep yet but graze in areas where they are known to travel. He said when wolves have a den near a band the wolves tend to defend their territory and attack the dogs.
“The dogs generally lose,” Krebs said.
With wolves establishing territory throughout Wallowa, Union, Baker and Umatilla counties, guard dogs’ effectiveness against the wolves remains to be seen.
As far as bears go, guard dogs are effective, Krebs said.
Krebs said the dogs’ natural instinct is long bred into them to protect and they need little training. Websites describing the various breeds say they can be
“They bond with sheep, but aren’t super friendly to people,” Krebs said. “They don’t like other guard dogs or working dogs, but when they are with sheep, a light goes on. They are like fanged sheep and act more like sheep than dog.”
For the full story, see Friday's issue of The Observer