by Justin Michels
Here are two questions that I heard; "Why is it such a problem to pet the a shepherd's guardian dog?" and "Why is the strict ideology being used?"
To the first, I would say this; there is a strict standard held to some dogs who are earnestly wanting human affection and interaction. Many times these dogs are scolded and restrained from pursuing this affection, because they are on the edge of being lost from service and becoming a PET. Some dogs want to be close to people so much, that they forget about everything else and put their focus on that human relationship. It is a real fear of a shepherd who may have (what for them) is a small fortune into a dog, not to mention the time invested. I have a friend who has a Caucasian guardian that has lived with sheep 24/7 for the last 7 years, but when certain people are around she (the CO guardian) wants desperately to be pet and loved on. She will put her head right under you hand - but the owner is very strict to tell people not to pet her - because there is a real danger in her receiving that and then never stopping in the pursuit of it. Her attentions must simply go back to the other dogs and the sheep.
As to the second question; It is really a serious matter. I don't think that you realize how serious this is to the traditional shepherd. In many places throughout the Caucus region, the Balkans, and Central Asia - if you can reach out and touch their guardians they will either beat the dog severely or kill it. No stranger SHOULD be able to touch them! It is considered a total failure for the dog. I have had people get very offended when I have told them not to pet my dogs, and yet some of them will say "Oh don't worry dogs love me!" and then walk straight at the dog to pet them and the dog barks and growls and the people say "Oh, crap! Why do you have mean dogs?" I don't have mean dogs, I have guardians who are wired to be very leery of strangers and they do a great job! You aren't supposed to be able to "run up to " my dog and give it a big hug! One person was became very angry with me when they tried to pet a dog, and the dog growled at them and showed her teeth, (at which point he took a few steps back). That person was utterly shocked that I didn't immediately reprimand the dog. Why should I reprimand the dog for doing what it is supposed to do for it's own security!
***Consider this scenari0 - you as a shepherd search and find the best dogs that you can afford to protect your valuable flock - the flock that provides for your family and that you rely upon for your living. Your dogs are the only "security force" that you have, and the only defense that you have for your flock (many shepherds have no firearms). You raise them and invest a great deal of time into them. Along comes a stranger who sees that you have some nice dogs - he watches for an opportune time to come up to them and lure them with a bit of food; then he quickly puts a leash on them and coaxes them to leave the flock. That senario is supposed to be impossible! This is why they are trained to never let a stranger approach and touch them - so that they can't just be taken by anyone who wants a nice dog! Here in the USA it's all the more a problem, because we don't train this way and MANY dogs have been taken right out of the pastures and fields of their owners - no wonder when we are so much more lax in our training and breeding. I have a CO female that will not allow a stranger to touch her, and most people that come to the farm consider her to be a "mean" dog - which she is not - she is a very well bred CO with the instinct of generations to be completely on guard against a stranger. She is actually a big goof and is very loving - but she is not going to be touched or approached by a stranger. I have no worries of her being taken from the farm because she has great instincts - we have other dogs that are much more social and they are far more at risk.
On the flip side, we also socialize specific dogs that are being used near the house and close pastures. These dogs are socialized much more and IF we give the OK friends and family can love on them all they want - but the dogs look to us for the OK first. Once we give them the "peace" sign, they are big lovers.
If you raise and use these dogs to guard your life's work and livelihood these are serious matters - you have the dogs to protect your sheep, so if you lose your dogs you are also going to be losing sheep. Picking up the pieces and parts of your best lambs off of the ground after a pack of coyotes ate them alive is not a fun experience, nor is losing a guardian. For the shepherd the stakes are very high. Having nice friendly PETS is not their consideration - they need vigilant guardians that will protect and serve for years of hard work. As the shepherd (and our family), we have a privileged role in the life of our dogs - we are the one's to give all the attention and love that they need, and we are the one strong human connection that they are allowed. It's a very special relationship.
Having been born and raised in the Rocky Mountain West, I have been blessed to grow up in the most beautiful place on earth. I am biased, but it is a fantastic place to raise our sheep and our guardian dogs that we love so much. - Justin Michels