Is a Livestock Guardian Dog the Right Choice?
When You Need a Good Farm Dog for Livestock Protection
Using a livestock guardian dog dates back more than 2,000 years. Dogs bred for the purpose of protecting livestock from predators and thieves were necessary when nomadic people roamed thousands of acres while raising sheep and cattle. The livestock guardian dog would be placed among a herd or flock and left to stay with the animals. Particular breeds were developed that showed this strong instinct to guard and protect. Not all dogs exhibit these character traits. Some individuals in other breeds may show some intensive protective instinct over your farm animals but they won’t react the same way as a true livestock guardian dog will, when left to do his job.
What Are Some Livestock Guardian Dog Breeds?
The ancient breed Molossus is thought to be the original livestock guardian dog breed. This breed is now extinct but many breeds have developed over time. Some breeds, like the Great Pyrenees, are easily recognized. Others are not as well known in the United States, but are widely used in other parts of the world, such as Karakachan livestock guardian dogs.
Below are some of the more widely recognized livestock guardian dog breeds.
A Great Pyrenees may be the most well-known livestock guardian dog in the United States. The Great Pyrenees is a nocturnal breed that is very aggressive toward predators yet very gentle even with helpless and tiny animals.
The Komondor is considered one of the loudest barkers. In addition, they have been known to be overprotective. This could be a problem if you have nearby neighbors that the dog might consider a threat. Careful training can take care of any issues with this breed in most cases.
Kuvasz dogs are sought because of their highly intelligent nature and loyalty.
Anatolian Shepherds are large, agile dogs that can be very quick, too. The Anatolian Shepherd is a bit headstrong. The different appearance of the Anatolian Shepherd may not make you think it is a livestock guardian breed.
A few other breeds to consider would be the Maremma Sheepdog, Tibetan Mastiff, Pyrenean Mastiff and the Akbash.
What You Should Know About the Livestock Guardian Dog
Many people prefer to raise a pair of livestock guardian dogs. Males and females in this category are equally good at guarding. Keep these important points in mind when making the decision to purchase a livestock guardian dog.
Livestock guardian dogs have been bred and used in nomadic herding life for centuries. The urge to roam is strong. Good fences and plenty of open space are best, or you may find your livestock guardian dog is a constant visitor on your neighbor’s property.
The livestock guardian dog will bond with the herd or flock naturally, but specialized training is still necessary. Even though these guarding dogs will spend vast amounts of time alone with the flock, socialization is necessary from an early age. Daily handling, managing, training, and correcting are required almost from birth.
Many livestock guardian dog owners say that the dogs are not reliable until two years of age or older. The young livestock guardian dog will learn from working with a seasoned livestock guardian dog. Often the older dog will helpfully train the new pup. Adding a puppy to your flock as your mature dog is still working, helps ensure your flock remains protected if the older dog is injured or unable to guard any longer.
A livestock guardian dog has needs as any dog. Good food, protection from the hot sun, and the normal veterinary care are needed even for a dog that lives out with the herd. A working guard dog needs good nutrition in order to do his job well. Health checks should be performed at regular intervals and any signs of injury or illness must be tended to immediately. Dog paw pad injury can occur since the dogs are roaming rough terrain and chasing off predators. Communicable canine diseases parvo should be watched for and immediate veterinarian care provided.
How Does the Livestock Guardian Dog Work?
The livestock guardian dog is trained and trusted to stay with the herd or flock. Livestock guardian dogs should not exhibit aggressive traits toward the animals in the flock and should not be overly protective of the lambs, calves, or goat kids, they are protecting. Attempting to keep the ewe away from her lamb is not a good quality in a livestock guardian dog’s behavior.
The livestock guardian dog should be on alert and aware. When a predator threat is present, barking is the first warning. Most livestock guardian dogs do not attack without using other means of warding off the attack first.
As a predator attempts to get closer to the herd, the livestock guardian dog will take on an aggressive stance and increase the barking. As a last resort and when necessary the livestock guardian dog will chase or attack. Using livestock guardian dogs allows you to manage a predator problem without the use of poisons, traps, or shooting the predator. A livestock guardian dog will fight to the death although in many cases, their presence alone is enough to deter the predatory animal from attacking the herd.
Which Animals Do Livestock Guardian Dogs Guard?
Traditionally the livestock guardian dog was used for flocks of goats and sheep and herds of cattle. Sheep, goats, and cattle are fairly tolerant of having a dog in their area. Horses and chickens are also guarded by livestock guardian dogs. Some special training might be needed to acclimate the chickens to the dog.
Large livestock guardian dogs are extremely intelligent and when well trained will serve the flock or herd well for many years. As opposed to working farm dogs, who may be used to herd, guide and control the animals, the livestock guardian dog’s job is to protect. They take the job very seriously. Even the best farm dogs won’t have the same degree of protective instinct as a livestock guardian dog breed.
Often people will comment on farmers leaving their guard dogs out in all types of weather with the herd. This is where these dogs want to be. Unlike our house pet dogs and our farming work dogs, livestock guardian dogs are inherently bred to be with the flock or herd. Removing them from their job causes them much distress and anxiety. The livestock guardian dog is happiest when he is protecting his animals.