One of the challenges you often see in homesteading groups is challenges with livestock guardian dogs. We have integrated them successfully into our farm, but not without some challenges. The biggest challenge being our own dog, Boo-Boo’s fear of loud noises.
The second type of animal to join our farm after our goats was our Maremma Sheepdog, Ada Floofington. Our pack of Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) has grown to five since that time. Livestock Guardian Dog is an umbrella term of breeds of dog specific selected for over thousands of years to protect livestock. All of the dogs we have gotten have had their different quirks and training challenges, in this post I’m not going to go over them all. This is about our one dog in particular Boo-Boo who is extremely fearful of loud noises and will do anything to get away.
Boo-Boo’s fear has been an expensive issue that we have not been able to resolve. We have tried training, medication and mitigation. Before we got better at managing it he escaped twice and got in with our dog Lucy who does not get along with him and was attacked causing four figure vet bills. Three other times he have gotten completely off our property, the first time a neighbor called us at the number on his collar and the other two times we found him with a tracker.
Our first priority is always to keep Boo-Boo from running away and managing his fear, but we also have him wear a tracker just in case. There are three different trackers we’ve tried and I’ll go over the advantages and disadvantages here. The three trackers are the Dogtra Pathfinder 2 Mini, Whistle and Tractive XL.
All three collars have a few things in common, mainly that you can set a geofence and be alerted when the dog leaves that area. You can also then use the tracker to track the dog to see where they are, one of the Whistle and the Tractive this is done by switching the mode to “live tracking mode” the Pathfinder is designed around this use case so it is always live tracking. Each individual collar might then have a few different features you may or may not need. For example the Whistle and Tractive both have health metrics you can set, which isn’t important to me but shows they are mostly designed for the pet market. The Pathfinder2 is more aimed to folks who are hunting or going far out into the wilderness and has features related to that as well.
Dogtra Pathfinder2 Mini
The Dogtra Pathfinder2 Mini I actually have for my Australian Cattle Dog for when we go hiking. I’m listing it here though because it might be an appropriate collar for individuals with different LGD set-ups than we have. The biggest different between the Pathfinder2 and the others is it does not have a monthly subscription because the collar uses radio signals and comes with a radio receiver you connect to your phone with bluetooth. You do not need cellular signal for it to work, you do need to pair the radio receiver to your phone though. You can download maps to your phone so the entire set-up works offline. All this probably sounds very promising? The one downside is that the battery doesn’t last more than 24 hours. For my household daily charging is a bit much to consistently keep up with and it doesn’t matter if the dog has a tracker on if the battery is dead when you need it. I do have friends who use one of these to track their goats and they have two units that they swap back and forth, which might be an option for others. Boo-Boo has successfully escaped three times in 4 years from our property, so while we need the tracker the daily charging is something that can be easy to let lapse.
This is the first device we tried and while ultimately the device helped us find Boo-Boo it did not operate as well as we would have hoped. Prior to purchasing the device I looked up the cellular coverage requirements and thought it would be okay in our area, I suggest running multiple tests with any tracker you get under simulated scenarios to make sure this is the case. At first the Whistle battery was draining quickly as Boo-Boo spends much of his time inside the metal barn. We ended up putting in a wifi repeater on our milk shed so increase the battery life as it goes into a battery save mode when connected to wifi.
Boo-Boo has escaped twice when wearing this device. This past August we had a lot more thunderstorms than is normal. Thunderstorms are the most difficult noise to manage as they last a long-time and can be sudden, the 4th of July is also difficult but we know it is happening and drug Boo-Boo ahead of time. The first time I used the device I thought Boo-Boo had escaped, but it turned out he was so well hidden I couldn’t find him. The issue was the device was unable to connect and tell me he was still on the property. I ended up searching frantically for him and never getting a hint of where he might be. I chocked this up to the signal blocking nature of the barn and continued to use the Whistle. Then there were the two times he actually escaped.
The first time Boo-Boo escaped the device did not tell me that he escaped, I discovered it by going to look for him in the barn. I then put the device in live tracking mode and the device reported a single point he had passed south of us. I turned south and started driving up and down the back roads to see if I could find him. The Whistle was finally able to get signal and I was able to find Boo-Boo immediately after that. He was gone about a hour and a half total this time. On the way home Whistle congratulated us on his first trip, frustrating to say the least.
The second time Boo-Boo escaped we had a totally unexpected thunderstorm in the middle of the night which I slept through. The way I was alerted to his escape was the app congratulated me in Boo-Boo breaking all of his previous activity goals. This had been about 3 hours earlier at 2am, I jumped out of bed and got dressed and began to search for Boo-Boo. There was one location ping from the device south again but much further south. I attempted to turn on live tracking mode but it could not connect. I spent four hours driving around looking for Boo-Boo hoping he would hear me and the car, either then coming up to us or at least moving out of the cellular dead zone. Ultimately this worked, a few minutes after I drove by where he was hiding he began moving again and the device told me his location. I went back there and began looking, but he had already moved on. I kept searching and eventually pin pointed him as moving along the creek bed. We eventually found him in a briar patch and were able to call him to come up to us. Since then I contacted Whistle support and was informed their device wouldn’t work in my area due to the poor coverage. I just wish the map I had looked at of coverage had been more accurate.
The Tractive I have just had a couple days now. The main reason I decided to try this device is because it utilizes three different cellular networks. It is a much bigger device and is supposed to have excellent battery life. As my advice here is for livestock guardian dogs the size of the device is fine for them, but if you are reading this for another type of dog it might be too big for them. I’ve only run simulated tests so far, but I have been able to connect to the device on backroads, I’ve turned of bluetooth on my phone for these tests so it doesn’t use it for its location. It also has informed me when the device leaves the geofence area, this did not work well when it was in battery saving mode with our wifi network though. I think this is because our extender gives the wifi a much wider range than is typical. I might try adjusting this, but for now I have it running without wifi. I have occasionally gotten false alarms that Boo-Boo has left the safe zone with GPS drift on this device, but it has been very easy to put it in live mode and see that he is where he is supposed to be. I would rather have false alarms than not be informed when he escaped.
I may try other devices as well eventually, but I was trying to find something that would work at least in the short-term. As stated multiple times, really key is not allowing the dog to escape. We have five foot fences and other physical barriers, but frantic Boo-Boo gets super-dog strength to escape when frightened. The Whistle may work fine for people in a less rural area with better cellular coverage, the Pathfinder2 might be the only option for people in more remote locations. There are other types of radio receiver collars as well, but they are more custom and expensive so I am unlikely to try them at least in the short-term. There are also other consumer grade trackers that might work as well, but often they only have 24 hour battery life. This would work fine for a pet that comes in the house at night, you could charge their collar like you charge your phone. This just doesn’t work for us as Boo-Boo lives out with our livestock 24/7. Prevention is better than this mitigation we have, but in our case with Boo-Boo we are now in management mode.
The best prevention for this is exposing your dog to as many experiences and sounds when they are a puppy. I’m not sure when Boo-Boo got his extreme fear of loud noises, but it has progressively gotten worse and worse. Having talked to gun dog trainers and others it is likely something I will always have to manage and will not be able to completely desensitize him.