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Keeping Critters Out of Your Garden

Article by Ann Dennis

I have discovered a way to keep unwanted critters out of my garden and orchard. It's biggest drawback is, you have to have a large piece of land. I'm talking 5 acres and up. Your garden doesn't have to be that big, just your boundaries. Why?

Because my solution to unwanted creatures from mice to woodchucks to deer is a livestock guard dog - the Great Pyrenees breed specifically.

We purchased a primitive breed of sheep to pasture on our ninty-five acres and with a large population of coyote, or coy-dogs, we needed more protection for the sheep than a fence, even electric, would provide.

After much thought and research, we chose the Great Pyrenees from among the several breeds trained to guard livestock.

We adopted a rescued, fixed, female named Snowbear. She was rehabilitated and screened by an expert to do what we wanted.

We were amazed at how well behaved and extremely friendly this dog was. She paid for her adoption the first night on our property by chasing off not only a pack of coyotes, but later a "visiting" hound.

She has, in the last five months, impressed us so much we bought a puppy from the person who adopted out Snowbear.

As to the garden, this was a pleasant surprise to us. First, we discovered that these dogs eat mice, squirrel, rabbits and any dead thing they come across. Now, the last wasn't exactly pleasant but it does help keep the feed bill down.

Another consideration, if you decide you want a garden guardian, is these dogs dig! and with the size of these dogs - we're talking craters!

However, they're intelligent and won't challenge a decently made fence. Not that they can't, but they, like all dogs need clearly defined boundaries. My dogs aren't allowed in my hoop greenhouse and to make sure they understand, I not only tell them but put a piece of scrap plywood across the door. They still try to follow me in but leave when I growl at them.

My husband has a driving need to have one-hundred-plus trees. Trees of varied types, pears, cherries, peaches, apple, and berry bushes. Every year, B.S. [before Snowbear], we wrapped every tree in the fall and unwrapped every one each spring. This is a job I can do without. We adopted Snowbear in January [after we finally got snow] and, being intensely interested in what she did all night, we checked the area around our house, pens, garden and orchard. Snowbear patrols all of these areas. And in the orchard, we found her tracks, smashed snow, blood and rabbit fur. We also saw where she nosed aside the snow and, we assume, ate whatever existed in the nest. My husband decided not to wrap trees anymore.

Before you run right out and try to by a Great Pyrenees at your local pet show, don't!

Talk to a vet and a Great Pyrenees expert, and make sure you get an expert.

Your responsibilities:

  • Your dog needs medical support - heartworm, rabies, fleas, ticks and other vaccinations.
  • Grooming is necessary even though they do a lot on their own.
  • If you don't have livestock or kids get a human-trained dog that stays outside.
  • Make sure have definite boundaries and teach your dog what they are and be consistent.
  • Get information.
  • These dogs are big. Our small adult weighs ninety-seven pounds. They are reported to weigh up to one-hundred-thirty pounds.
  • They dig and love to discover soft ground.
  • They need a high-fat; high protein diet. You regular dog chow or field & farm mix won't do.
The advantages:
  • Your mailman, once introduced, will not be harrassed. Strangers are notified by a loud deep voiced bark that your place is being guarded. The dog will watch and stick around until the person leaves or makes them feel at ease. Note: If you have one of these big white dogs and he/she rudely gets between you and a visitor and pushes you away; listen to your guard dog and cut your visit short. Get that person away from you or run whichever works.
  • Children will be carefully examined and then nudged and rubbed until they take the hint and pet your guard.
  • Animal strangers are asked to leave, in dog of course, and will be escorted at top voice to your boundaries and beyond.
  • Deer, alive are allowed on our outer property but not near our pens and house. Dead deer, even long dead, are hauled to our home yard and consumed in chunks. The hide is hauled, apparently so we can see what good hunters they are.
  • These dogs are loving, friendly and intelligent. They are fearless and many of the dogs guarding large herds of sheep meet accidents and singly, can be overwhelmed by predators. So their average life span is ten years. That said, I know of two dogs, one thirteen, the other twenty.
  • You must assume you're in it for the long run. These dogs deserve your respect, loyalty, care and commitment.
We adopted our dogs from a woman in Oklahoma. She provided phone consultations, several pamphlets on food and care and information on the individual animals. When I told her what I wanted, she matched us up with Snowbear. We're extremely happy with her. Please remember this is not a cheap solution - just a multi-functional one.

A word about puppies. They're wonderful, quiet, well-behaved and stay close to home or people or animals. But don't get a puppy first. Because of our needs we knew we'd need more than one dog. We got Snowbear then our puppy. Please remember to present your puppy to your adult as if it is a gift.

Our adult acted as if we were trying to replace her. We spend a lot of time reassuring her. She now shows the puppy around and at five months the pup does a little patroling and adds her voice to Snowbear's when coyote packs come around.

Our garden / orchard has benefited from these patroling dogs. Now the most destructive animals are running for their lives.

For information on these dogs, you can contact: C & C Farms, Rt #3 Box 6815, Stigler, OK 74462. Phone: 918-967-4871 or FAX 918-967-3493 or Website

Beverly Coute wrote a book, rescues, and evaluates livestock guard dogs [primarily Great Pyrenees]. She also breeds and consults. We've been happy with her help.

Ann Dennis is a former Master Gardener for cooperative Extension. She has a two year degree in Greenhouse Management and a life-time of experience in the garden and with her children. She also assists her husband in growing and selling water lillies. Together they have raised some things that the "experts said could not be grown in this area" by creating micro-environments for some borderline plants.

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