Onde Vive

Protecting the flock
Relation to the environment
Programa de Distribuição

Contrarily to what is usually thought, the Transmontano Mastiff is not a dog that stays near the flock waiting for a wolf attack to take place and then proceed to its defence. On the contrary, it has an essentially preventive activity, avoiding attacks to take place, as described below.


A typical day of a Transmontano Mastiff starts at sunrise. When the owner shows up with their food, the dogs, who spent the night near the sheep barn join him, usually coming from different places, with effusive signs of joy. They slept under a bush, near a straw bale, or even on open field, depending on weather conditions. The meal is a poor broth made up of bread, boiled potatoes and food remains to which, sometimes, some bones or raw meet are added. The mixture is poured into a single container – e.g. a tire cut in half – from which all the dogs share the food, not without some dispute.

While the dogs rapidly devour what has been given to them, the owner checks on the sheep, assists and separates ewes that have lambed, sets the lambs aside and only then, does he set off to the field with the flock. This is when the dog starts his task. He sets off ahead of the flock, sniffing every crossing and recent tracks left by the animals that crossed the flock's trail the night before. In spring, autumn and winter, the flock is usually led to a scrubland area before going to the pastures. This allows them to eat drier plants such as heaths, brooms or gum rockrose before getting to the herbs, which are frequently moist and could cause them digestive disturbs if consumed first. This is one of the most busy parts of the dog's day. Going ahead of the flock, they actively sniff the wind and the ground in search of tracks, trying to detect any wild animal. If they happen to spot one, they promptly chase it and expel it from the scrubland. In doing so, the dogs assume a preventive action, behaving in a very similar way to that of a hound. With their light walk, they cover the field in a to and fro movement, the younger dogs being usually more active than the older ones. If they spot a fresh track from a fox, a wild boar or a wolf, they immediately start off after it, the leading dog barking as a hound does, as soon as he spots the animal, the remaining ones after him. The older and more experienced dogs don't get very far from the herd, while the younger ones can pursue a wild animal for more then one kilometre. When the persecution is over, one by one, the dogs return to the herd. The way the dog barks, as well as the rest of its behaviour, allow the experienced shepherd – and even the sheep - to make a more or less accurate assessment of the degree of danger detected. In fact, the dog seems to react differently to a fox, a wolf, a wild boar or a roe deer. It is not rare for the dogs to kill roe deer or foxes and, more seldom, wild boars while at these persecutions. Occasionally, they get wounded themselves by wild boars or killed by wolves. The predominantly white coat of the dogs and their raised tail when in action make it easier for the shepherd to watch how they move through the bush and evaluate an eventual danger. According to some shepherds, the white colour also prevents the sheep from getting scared easily when the dogs suddenly get back to the herd.
This kind of activity starts to slow down as noon approaches, when the herd is conducted to more open areas – pastures, stubble fields or fallow land. It is then possible to watch the dogs laying down resting, whether among the herd or somewhere nearby where he can watch out for a possible danger.
Once the day comes to the end, the task of opening the starts again, this time to make way for the herd to go back home. This time, the dogs may have more or less work, according to the type of pasture land they need to cross. Their job will be easier if they are going through open land, harder and with an activity rhythm similar to that of the morning, if they have to cross scrubland, oakland or other kinds of closed vegetation. In any case, when coming back to the sheep barn, there is an important detail which is very appreciated by shepherds: while the younger males go ahead of the herd making way, an older male, or, very frequently, an older female, stays behind. This task is very important, because the shepherd, who has to go ahead to guide the herd back home, can't protect its rear, which is, at the end of the day, the most vulnerable point for a wolf attack, its protection becoming the dogs' responsibility.
This daily routine is interrupted as summer approaches, as the high temperatures prevent the herds from grazing during most of the daytime. Therefore, shepherding takes place during two separate periods: dawn/early morning and sunset/night. The first period starts between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. and ends around 9:00 or 10:00 a.m.. The second period starts around 8:00 p.m. and ends between 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m.. During this time of the year the herd is never enclosed inside barns, spending the night in the field, enclosed in temporary pens. The dogs, and with some frequency the shepherd as well, spend the night near the herd. Sometimes, this overnight in the field also means a great deal of activity for the dogs, in case they happen to detect the approach of wolves or other wild animals. When this happens, they don't stop barking, and occasionally they undertake short ranged persecutions, quickly returning to the herd pens.
During the day, after the first grazing period, the herd is led to a drinking point and then left to rest in a shady area (a chestnut grove, a small oak wood, or a riverine meadow with ashes. The shepherd uses this break to go home for a rest, leaving the dogs behind with the herd. They, too, seek refuge in cooler areas: a brook, a sedge or even a vegetable garden. They often dig holes to lay on the cooler ground or even lay for a few seconds in a small pond to cool down. In summer, these few hours are the only resting period the dogs get in the whole day, from their herd guarding task.
This herd protection task is always undertaken by more than one dog and seems to be more effective when shared by three or more dogs of different ages, since the older ones, when stalking a wolf, never leave the herd for long, while the younger ones are usually more active and better at the task of preventing attacks to take place. While the herd's defensive behaviour is innate, a young dog can profit from growing up with older and more experienced dogs, by learning from them. When taken away from these environments when still young, the dogs tend to adapt this kind of behaviour to the new environment where they were integrated – see “Living with a Transmontano Mastiff”.
The dogs start joining the herd quite early, when they are around 2 months old and begin to accompany their mothers on their daily work. Resting days are rare, little more than the annual flock shearing day. The dog's work only ends as its own life approaches the end. With eleven years of age, the dog no longer has strength to walk and ends up dying, in part of old age, in part of sadness for no longer being able to accompany his herd.
design@wallpaper English | Português