Spiked collar use on livestock guardian dogs

by Paul White

It is well understood that in a one on one confrontation a dog in most circumstances is no match for a wolf. The dog is most vulnerable around the neck and throat and this vulnerability is taken advantage of by the wolf which has a superior bite force, enabled by powerful muscles around it's jaw and neck. 

I have heard several shepherds describe a specific technique used by wolves working in pairs to kill LGD's. One wolf grabs a dog by it's ear, pulling it back whilst simultaneously turning the head to expose the throat for a second wolf to attack. This also explains why so many shepherds crop their dog's ears, to prevent them being used as levers in this way. They also crop ears because they get torn, infected and painful in hierarchy fights between LGD's in the same pack or with rival dogs from other packs.

When a pack of LGD's are faced with a lone wolf scouting new territory, looking for a quick and easy meal, deterring a single individual is more easily managed because the dog's strength is in their numbers. However, deterring a wolf pack is something entirely different, more dangerous and more complicated to repel. Wolves can sow confusion amongst the dogs with multifaceted attacks.  

Initially a single wolf may approach the sheepfold drawing the dogs away from the livestock. This gives the rest of the wolf pack the opportunity to enter the flock or herd. A cohesive and experienced pack of LGD's will be aware of such tactics and leave some dogs behind to counter this threat, while others chase away the single wolf. It's a life and death power struggle that involves intelligence and bravery.

The wolves know they can can handle LGD's better if they split them up, so added danger arises when  dogs find themselves isolated in the melee. Shepherds may apply a spiked collar if facing these kinds of attacks on a regular basis. But will wearing such a collar negate the advantage the wolf has over the dog? The simple answer is no. Attacking the neck and throat is the quickest and easiest way for a wolf to dispatch a dog, but just because there's a spiked collar present does not deter the wolf. The wolf will simply change it's approach, for example attacking the chest or abdomen. The spiked collar only slows the wolf down, giving more time for the other dogs or shepherd to support it. 

The use of spiked collars often depends on the local predator burden, for example in areas where meadow grazing falls within the territory of an established wolf pack. These collars will also give LGD's more confidence when a confrontation with wolves becomes unavoidable. The more dominant dogs within the pack that most frequently head out to confront approaching predators are good candidates for a spiked collar because they are most at risk of injury and death. Some shepherds also apply them to dogs that have passed their peak age and fitness, giving them extra protection and time to deal with a predator confrontation.

There are occasions when spiked collars are not always advisable, especially when new or younger dogs are introduced to the pack. It's better to let them settle in, reducing the risk of avoidable injury during play or chastisement. 

The following notes are to offer some context to my article above.

1. My comments and observations are based on personal field work situated in Transylvania, Romania.

2. Sheep farming here is usually conducted without the use of meadow perimeter fencing, but does include sheepfolds and penning for overnight protection. 

3. Human shepherds remain with their livestock and guardian dogs 24/7. I mention this because in some countries, especially in the new world, LGD's are often left to guard livestock without a shepherd present. From my observations human shepherds are an integral part of the deterrence against predators. 

4. Every evening shepherds round up their sheep and pen them overnight making them easier to protect. 

5. Shepherds sleep next to the pens at night. When predators attack, they are there to support their dogs. 

6. Some advantages for having a shepherd present include:- 

a) Immediate correction of negative LGD behaviour.

b) Dogs fed at regular intervals giving them some routine.

c) On hand to deal with sickness and injuries.  

d) Separate bitches that are in heat, so the males are not distracted from protecting livestock. 

7. I am often told by western farmers that having a shepherd present 24/7 would be too expensive. However, I think this would be a false economy. Many shepherds in my area report zero livestock losses in a full season, which is remarkable when considering the high predator burden represented by large numbers wolves and bears.

8. The aim of using LGD's is not to run down and kill predators, but to deter them from attacking and eating livestock. When a bear or wolf tests the defences of an LGD pack and can see that they are alert and willing to aggressively confront them, they will usually move on. 

9. Some readers have asked why would anyone choose to graze livestock in the known territory of a wolf pack? In Romania, many mountain meadows have been established for hundreds of years and grazing rights are passed down through generations of shepherds. They rotate graze these meadows every year for a living producing high quality organic meat, milk and cheese. They don't shy away from predators, they coexist with them, sharing the landscape.