THE CANOVIS PROJECT: studying internal et external factors that may influence livestock guarding dogs’ efficiency against wolf predation. Preliminary results and discussion.

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The wolf’s return to the Alps has led to dramatic changes in shepherding. Despite the extensive use of livestock guardian dogs (LGDs), depredation is increasing in some areas. In 2013, we began a research project on internal and external factors that can influence effectiveness of LGDs on pastoral units (PUs). We observed night-time interactions between LGDs and wolves using an infrared camera and tested GPS collars on LGDs. We recorded 9 events with wolves and at least 23 with other wildlife species. Preliminary results show that wolves can often be present on PUs in proximity to LGDs and shepherd huts, without necessarily interacting with dogs or shepherds. We observed LGDs chasing wolves and having close encounters (n=3) with them (e.g. wolf sniffing an LGD, presenting aggression, attacks or displays of fear). Our observations show that LGDs interrupt wolves’ on-going behaviour without making them flee. Further, barking and marking do not prevent wolf attacks or necessarily stop on-going behaviour. LGDs might therefore not permanently change wolf behaviour, suggesting that no long-term avoidance learning occurs. Our data also suggest that both LGDs and wolves evaluate the risk of a fight and that the latter must weigh up costs against benefits. We discuss the need to find new selective criteria based on innate protective abilities, resource holding potential, motivation and aggressiveness (temperament). We emphasize the importance of teaching young wolves that encounters with LGDs may be unsafe. We speculate that this information can be taught to subsequent generations through social learning.<<<Read More>>>