Analysis of the movement and degree of association with livestock of guarding dogs in the Maritime Alps, Italy
Monitoring of prevention systems
A century of absence of the wolf from the Alps allowed the development of a zootechny based on livestock breeding systems that no longer contemplated defence strategies against predation. More recently, with the return of the predator, there has instead been an increase in the spread of various protection measures, including livestock guarding dogs (LGDs). LGDs are considered a suitable and effective tool if they are able to defend livestock from predator attacks, and if they do not represent a concern for the farmer and society. In the case of a poorly socialised LGD that lacks attention towards livestock, it is possible that it will move too far, sometimes creating problems: accidents or aggression towards people, disturbance, killing or transmission of pathogens to wildlife, and even hybridisation with wolves. Therefore, studying the movement and degree of association of LGDs with livestock is fundamental from both a management and an ecological point of view.
The pbjective of the thesis presented by Luca Fardone, DBIOS – Università degli Studi di Torino, conducted between July and November 2022, concerned the evaluation of the effectiveness of guarding dogs in the protection of domestic livestock in alpine pastures in an area of the Maritime Alps, analysing the degree of association of the dog with livestock.
For this purpose, 10 LGDs were fitted with GPS collars together with the associated cattle and the dog-cattle distance was quantified in relation to environmental and management variables.
The results showed, in particular, a difference in the degree of dog association in relation to the type of livestock to be protected. In fact, dogs associated with cattle maintain a significantly greater distance from livestock than those associated with sheep and goats. This is probably due to a greater distrust of cattle towards dogs and a more difficult LGD-cattle socialisation process that leads to less social bonding between the two species in adulthood.
The results of this study, therefore, provide important indications as to the factors that determine the degree of dog association with cattle and, in the current state of affairs, raise questions about the necessity of adopting LGDs with cattle. Farmers wishing to adopt guarding dogs with cattle are advised to take extra care during the socialisation phase in order to maximise the dogs’ effectiveness and minimise the risks associated with their wandering in the field.
The guard dogs employed in the study recieved from Fondazione Capellino , co-financer of the project, a supply of pet food Almo Nature Holistic to support their hard work, and the farmers who were willing to collaborate in the study.