LGD Grooming and Health Care
One of the things we hear fairly often is, “I don’t want a dog with a long coat because I don’t have the time to take care of it.” Think about this: “Did the shepherds of long ago spend any time brushing their dogs?” The real answer is, “No one really knows.” It is hard to imagine that they did though. A long coat on a pet or show dog is not the same as a long coat on a working dog. At least with a Pyr, the coat is pretty well self-cleaning and self-maintaining. Sure you can cut out matted hair every few months but the dogs will lose their coat at least on an annual basis and the mats will fall away. Since these dogs live outdoors and often have no manufactured shelter at all, their coats have natural oils that help protect them against the weather. One of the implications of this is that you certainly don’t want to wash an LGD as it will reduce their ability to withstand the sometimes driving rain or other wet or cold conditions in which they may live. Although you do need to notice the condition of your animals and insure they stay healthy on the outside as well as on the inside, all-in-all a long coated LGD doesn’t need the excessive care that other long coated breeds demand.
Goats are often raised in parts of the country where the temperatures can get pretty high. We often hear that a long coated dog will get too hot. Although there is some accuracy in that statement, the coat doesn’t play as major a role in heating and cooling as you might expect. Dogs don’t sweat like people. They sweat through the pads of their feet. They also expel heat through their mouth, primarily using their tongue as a radiator and, consequently, they have some trouble throwing off heat during the hottest parts of the year because the tongue isn’t a particularly large part of the body. A dog is pretty inefficient as a cooling machine so most dogs can use some help during hot weather if we expect them to stay active. Some folks actually shear their dogs for summer to help keep them cooler but we don’t recommend it. The coat is a marvelous protection against the sun (a shorn dog can sunburn easily and white is actually a highly reflective color). It’s also protection against teeth, claws (remember other dogs are predators too, not just the relatively shy wild predators), briars and sharp branches which are possible in much goat country. There are not too many parts of the country where sudden summer storms are unknown so, even during the hot season, they may need their coats intact to keep them dry and warm in a storm. A shorn coat can also open a dog up to attack by various insects that normally can’t penetrate the thick hair. Timing can play a major role here too; if cold weather comes before the coat grows back in, then your dog will surely have trouble coping with the elements. A partial measure is to shear only the stomach so the dog can get closer to the coolness of the ground when they dig a new bed.
First and foremost to protect your LGD in hot weather, we recommend water. There’s nothing like a dip in a pond, tank, or even a large watering trough to cool off a dog that needs to get rid of some extra heat. The constant availability of water for both internal and external use is the single strongest tool you have to keep your dogs healthy throughout the summer.
On occasion, you’ll find an inflamed area on a small patch of your dog’s skin. Usually the dog will bite or scratch at it and remove enough hair in a roughly circular spot that you can see the red and possibly oozing skin. These are called “hot spots” and usually are caused by external parasites or allergies. Fast treatment is urgently needed as these are minor problems that will probably grow rapidly and/or develop infections. There are several remedies for hot spots. Commercially, Sufodene, available in the pet section of department stores, and Cut Heal, available in the horse section of farm stores, are quite effective. We’ve also used corn starch (simply pack the hot spot with it) and found it as effective as the commercial products. The hot spot will usually dry up in two or three days with a daily application and there is no lasting effect. As always, if you have questions about this condition or if it doesn’t go away quickly once you treat it, check with your vet. In fact, we recommend you check with your vet before you have this condition, or any of the others we’ll talk about, so you’ll be prepared with expert advice from your own vet.
Let us add here that everything we say about dog conditions, problems, and medication is either from our limited experience with our own dogs, anecdotal from other breeders, or from our vet for our specific situations. We are not veterinarians and the things we’ll mention here are more for your awareness so you can have preventive consultations with your vet rather than to lead you through any veterinary procedures.
You’ll need to be aware that there are other skin problems your dog may experience including any of several different types of mange. If you have questions regarding any abnormalities in your dog’s appearance, the safest bet is to consult your veterinarian.
External parasites can also cause your dog severe problems, including death, if there are too many of them. Fleas and ticks are the most common and we use Frontline brand flea and tick treatment that we get from our vet. It can get expensive but nothing we’ve found seems to be as effective. Dipping your dog in various brands of poison made for dipping can kill the fleas and ticks if you can get it soaked through the coat (a difficult job at best with some breeds) but it wears off quickly, especially in wetter areas, and it is a real hassle to dip most LGDs. There are other types of treatments for dogs and off-label drugs that we’ve heard recommended but before you use them, once again, please consult your vet.
The most dangerous of the internal parasites of which we are aware are heartworms. These things can degrade the quality of your dog’s life as well as shorten it. Our vet tells us to start heartworm treatment on pups at about four months; check with yours about it if your LGD is a puppy. If your LGD is an adult, insure that you know whether it has been given heartworm treatment before you acquired it. If it didn’t, and has heartworm, if you treat it, you’ll kill the worms and they can create a blockage in the heart that can be fatal to your dog. Your vet can test for heartworm if you’re not sure of your dog’s history and it’s the only sensible thing to do if you don’t know and want to start treatment. As far as we are aware, there are two different types of treatments for heartworm. There are heartworm-specific medications called Heart Guard and Revolution and there is Ivermectin (we need to stress it’s not Ivomec Plus). Ivermectin is significantly less expensive than the heartworm-specific medications but it is off-label usage and may be lethal to collie type dogs. (We have often been made aware that some folks give their collies this medication with no ill effects but that doesn’t change the fact that it may be lethal to them). We give one cc per hundred pounds orally on a monthly basis but we checked with our vet before we started and suggest that you check with yours. Ivermectin also will generally keep your dogs free of intestinal parasites other than tapeworms. Once again, however, you must look at your dogs on a regular basis and, if their coat looks poor, they seem to start losing weight for no reason, or their gums lose color, have your vet do a fecal exam if you don’t have the equipment to do it yourself.
There are several vaccines which are generally recommended to keep your dogs healthy. We use a seven-way shot (there are some differences in brands but ours covers Distemper, Adenovirus Type 2, Coronavirus, Parainfluenza, Parvovirus (MLV & KV), and Leptospira Bacterin). We order from a supply house. It’s much less expensive to give the shots yourself but your vet should be willing to guide you through it and tell you exactly what vaccines to purchase. At this time, multiple puppy shots with annual boosters for adults are generally recommended although there is some talk about not needing to vaccinate adults that often. We still do the annual boosters and will continue to do so until our vet tells us that the new evidence is clear that we need to change.
Rabies vaccine is a virtual requirement for your dogs. Their job is to stand between your stock and predators, all of which may possibly be rabid. You can get the vaccine and give the shot yourself, but in Oklahoma as well as several other states, the law considers the dog as unvaccinated unless the shot is given by a veterinarian. As usual, dog owners and breeders will argue about which way is best but the answer is, of course, “Whichever way you feel fits your situation” and that is a question no one but you can answer.
Finally there’s the question of spaying and neutering. It is a question as much of effectiveness for your LGDs as it is a social or health question. A “fixed” dog tends to keep its attention on the job much more consistently than does an intact dog as well as the fact that a bitch attending to her pups is not out guarding.
A second and quite major consideration is: “What effect will excessive testosterone have on your intact males?” We found to our dismay that one of our dogs who had been an excellent guardian as well as stud dog couldn’t take the pressure when he reached the age of four years. He was in with a bitch in heat as well as a very rutty buck and several does that were in heat. The particular combination led him into aggressive dominance driven behavior towards the buck. As a result, we have one buck that was mauled and we felt after trying several different interventions that we needed to castrate our stud. We kept him away from all the other animals for a month while the heaviest testosterone levels subsided and have since placed him back as a guardian to insure his appropriate behavior before offering him for sale as an adult guardian.
There quite often is a big controversy about spay/neuter any time you gather dog owners and we won’t get into the social aspect of it right now. The health part of spay/neuter you can discuss with your vet. Spaying is a surgical procedure and we have our vet do all the spays for our dogs. Castration can be done on the farm with the same elastrator and bands you use for goats. Again, check with your vet for the details and make sure you vaccinate the dog for tetanus if you do it yourself. Early spay and neuter is a concept that is readily accepted among most vets at this time. One of the big advantages to the dog owner is that the vet often charges a fee for the procedure that is based upon the size of the dog. With LGDs, eight to twelve week old puppies are a lot smaller and, consequently, the procedure is a lot cheaper than with adult dogs.
We recommend that you take a close look at the question of spay/neuter for LGDs and for pets. It isn’t going to go away and PETA is getting more heavily involved in trying to force legislation to mandate it. It’s a complicated issue and when you add the “Animal Rights” agenda, the facts of the issue can get obscured pretty easily. We think that it’s far more than a question of budget or attitude; it’s a question of “What’s the best action that we, as individuals, can take for ourselves, our dogs, our stock, our pocketbooks, and our personal freedom?” Often the answers to these questions seem to contradict each other and we believe that LGD owners have a responsibility to look deeply at the whole issue. If you do, you may very well end up with the same position that your first reaction led you to but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you reached a studied conclusion.