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Playing in the Backcountry? Caution: Dogs at Work

PHOTO: Livestock protection dog with sheep in background. Photo credit: Deborah Smith
PHOTO: Livestock protection dog with sheep in background. Photo credit: Deborah Smith
July 19, 2012

HAILEY, Idaho - If you see sheep while in the backcountry, officials say, slow down and go around - whether you're on foot, horseback, bike or all-terrain vehicle.

That message is aimed at people enjoying public lands, in order to reduce conflicts with "dogs at work." Livestock-protection dogs are used to keep predators at bay and sound alarms, but they might see you as a danger if they don't have time to check you out first.

Michael Marlow, a wildlife biologist with U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, says it's also important to note that the dogs are not pets.

"Once people realize the dogs are there to protect the sheep from predation - a form of non-lethal predation management - people embrace that idea. They realize that allows wildlife and livestock to coexist."

Livestock protection dogs are usually white, and common breeds are Pyrenees, Akbash, Komondor and Anatolian shepherds. Predator threats to sheep in Idaho include coyotes, mountain lions, bears, wolves and domestic dogs.

Marlow says livestock-protection dogs often appear shaggy, but that's normal and not a situation indicating the dog needs to be rescued.

"A person may attempt to feed those dogs and may not understand the concept of what that dog's job is. We've even had situations where people have assumed that the dog's lost, and several times have been gathered up and taken to local humane shelters and rescue operations."

If you have a pet dog with you, Marlow says, keep it on a leash.

Livestock-protection dogs have been used around the world for centuries because they're so effective.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID