The bankhar returns to an age-old job with a new twist
By Kim Campbell Thornton
There's a new khan in town. Scientists are working to re-establish a Mongolian flock-guarding dog called the bankhar, whose powerful demeanor could be said to be reminiscent of the Great Khan, Genghis, the famed and feared 13th-century conqueror.
Their goal? To not only protect the goats, sheep, horses, camels and yaks belonging to Mongolia's nomadic herders, but also to protect endangered snow leopards and other predators such as wolves and bears from being shot, trapped or poisoned for killing livestock. By warding off predators and forcing them to seek wild prey, the bankhar performs double duty as a protection dog, saving lives on both sides.
"More often than not, the physical presence of the dog would be enough of a deterrent to the predator," says Greg Goodfellow, project scientist for the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project. "Predators might just view the cost/benefit ratio as not significant enough and just move on."
The MBDP is a nongovernmental environmental conservation organization founded in 2011 by Bruce Elfstrom, a biologist by training and CEO of a company that does frequent business in Mongolia. It seeks to bring back the historic use of the dogs as livestock guardians. The practice faded away in the mid-20th century when the government sought to introduce more modern methods of livestock care.
Elfstrom was familiar with the use of livestock guardian dogs in other countries and wondered why they weren't being used in Mongolia, where predator-livestock interactions were a problem. When he discovered that some people in remote areas still kept dogs for that purpose, he became interested in learning more about them.
Bankhars go way back in Mongolia. When I asked wildlife ecologist and MBDP national project coordinator Batbataar Tumurbataar how long the bankhar has existed, he said, "It's the first dog, which means 15,000 years."
"Is that what the stories say?" I asked.
"It's what DNA says," he replied.
Although there's no way of knowing what early dogs looked like or when bankhars took the form they have today, DNA indeed shows that bankhars, along with other Central Asian dogs such as Tibetan mastiffs, have much more genetic diversity than dogs elsewhere, says Adam Boyko, Ph.D., a geneticist at Cornell University who is studying the evolution and genetics of village dogs around the world.
"It is consistent with these being ancient groups of dogs," he says.
Bankhar are big and athletic, giving the impression that they can move quickly if the need arises. They don't typically bark unless provoked, but when they do, it sends a menacing message. Bankhar have a playful, curious side as well, Goodfellow says, and can be clever escape artists from their kennels at the training facility near Mongolia's Hustai National Park.
Their job is to stay with livestock 24/7, whether they are in pastures or barns. They are fed and watered with the animals they guard to ensure that they don't have any need to leave their charges. That's a key part of training them to stay with the flock, Goodfellow says.
Since the winter of 2014, approximately 19 puppies have been placed with herders in the Hustai area as well as in the South Gobi desert and near Gorkhi Terelj National Park. The dogs don't typically show mature livestock guarding behavior until they are 2 to 3 years old, Goodfellow says. It's not yet known how their presence has affected predation on livestock.
"Ultimately, we want to compare predation rates pre- and post-bankhar placement and then translate that into economics," Goodfellow says. "Our hope is that by giving herders dogs that protect their livestock from predators, they won't feel the need to kill or trap predators."
Should Rottie puppy
put on pounds?
Q: My vet says my 9-month-old Rottweiler is in good shape and not too skinny, but the breeder wants me to put more weight on him. What should I do? -- via email
A: I'm with your veterinarian. Large-breed dogs such as Rottweilers need to grow slowly to help prevent development of orthopedic problems such as hip dysplasia. Forcing the still-developing musculoskeletal system to carry too much weight can cause serious problems.
There are a couple of different feeding options for puppies who will be super-size at maturity. You can feed a puppy or adult food formulated specifically for large dogs. These diets tend to be lower in energy and calcium, allowing for slower growth. You can also feed a regular puppy food, but give a little bit less of it.
My colleague, Dr. Tony Buffington, a veterinary nutrition expert, recommends feeding growing dogs to a body condition score of 2, which is lean. When you put your hands on your dog, he should have good muscle mass, but you should be able to feel the skeleton easily without having to press through a heavy layer of fat. When you look at your dog from the side, his abdomen should be tucked up. When you look down at him, he should have a pin-up girl hourglass figure, with his body having an indentation behind the ribs and then flaring out again where the hips are.
Keeping a growing dog in this condition minimizes the risk of developmental orthopedic disease. The caveat here is that genetics and trauma can also contribute to development of orthopedic disease, so you're not always in the clear, even if you feed your dog right.
It's also important not to add vitamin or mineral supplements to your Rottweiler's diet. That can throw off the balance of his food and cause orthopedic problems as well. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Dogs hit the water
for titles, fun
-- Splash! Have you and your water-loving dog tried dock diving? If your dog loves running and jumping into a body of water, this is the sport for him. There are three events: Big Air, Extreme Vertical and Speed Retrieve. Dogs who are good at all three can earn points toward an "Iron Dog" title. To find out more, go to dockdogs.com or northamericadivingdogs.com.
-- It's a classic image: a kitten lapping at a bowl of milk. But like people, some cats can't tolerate dairy products, and milk products can give them explosive diarrhea. If your cat has been slurping up leftover milk from your cereal bowl for years without a problem, you're probably in the clear, but don't assume that every cat will have the same ability to digest it without problems. A cat's inability to digest milk usually begins at 3 months.
-- Is a goat in the running for your new best friend? A paper published recently in the journal Biology Letters found that -- like dogs -- goats look to people for help when faced with a problem. Researchers at Queen Mary University of London School of Biological and Chemical Sciences trained goats to remove a lid from a box in exchange for a reward. Then they made the reward inaccessible and recorded the goats' reaction. If researchers were facing the goats, the animals would frequently look from the reward to the person and back again, making eye contact more often and for longer periods than if the person was facing away from them. "From our earlier research, we already know that goats are smarter than their reputation suggests, but these results show how they can communicate and interact with their human handlers even though they were not domesticated as pets or working animals," says lead author Alan McElligott. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.