Farmers who have livestock such as goats or sheep often see their animals become prey for coyotes, wild dogs, foxes, wolves, bobcats, and other predators. These ranchers and farmers often rely on livestock guardian dogs to protect their herds.
These dogs are known for their protective traits, loyalty, intelligence, loud bark, and being territorial and aggressive towards predators. More often than not, livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) don’t have to attack their foe because their bark and intimidating stance is enough to scare off any predator.
Are livestock guardian dogs friendly towards people and household pets though?
A guard dog’s job is to protect the livestock. Most do not make great companion pets although their specific breeds can. Guard dogs need to imprint on their flocks to be successful and have their protective traits remain strong and reliable over the livestock.
However, livestock guardian dogs can be friendly towards people and household pets with the proper socialization.
The most friendly breeds of livestock guardian dogs are Great Pyrenees, Mastiffs, Sheepdogs, Polish Tatras, and Bulgarian Shepherd dogs. However, even these dogs are less likely to be good companions if they have been trained from a young age to be a livestock guardian dog.
These breeds are also frequently bred for companion dogs or general farm dogs also and do best in homes with large yards, fences, and owners that will give them plenty of outside time and exercise.
Socializing with Humans
Part of obedience training for livestock guardian dogs is leash training and responding to commands. This training should begin with the breeder, and although socialization with livestock always comes first for livestock guardian dogs, they need human interaction by the time they are eight to twelve weeks old.
The LGD should spend nearly all of its time with the livestock they are meant to protect. Because the dog should also alert the farmers to any human intruders that come onto the property, they shouldn’t be friends with all humans; however, the dog should not attack everyone who drives up to the farm either.
The best way to socialize a guardian dog with humans is to introduce them to the humans that come to the farm most often, such as the horseshoer, veterinarian, buyers, and family members. Introductions should always be made while the dog is on a leash and the farmer should make the dog sit and stay politely in the presence of the person.
Remember, a livestock guardian dog’s role is to protect and work. They need a job to do and most do not thrive in the house under human companionship.
Socializing with Household Pets
The same way a farmer introduces a livestock guardian dog to the people on the farm is how they will introduce their guardian dog to any household pets that they may encounter.
If there is a farm dog that is a pet on the property, the two dogs should not become friends because the farmer will risk the guardian dog becoming bonded with the other dog rather than the livestock. This relationship will lessen the dog’s instinctual ability to protect the herd or flock.
Socializing with household pets can also lessen a guard dog’s instincts to alert and defend against other canines such as wolves, coyotes, or feral dogs. However, if the pet roams the farm, the guardian dog needs to understand that the pet is not a threat.
When the dogs are introduced, both of them should be on leashes. Each dog should sit and stay until it is calm, and then the dogs should be allowed to go near each other to get each other’s smell.
The farmer should be the alpha over both of these dogs and should be sure to assert dominance in their commands and demeanor so that each dog knows who it should answer to—the farmer.
Livestock guardian dogs will probably not be interested in doing much socializing with barn cats or other animals if they are spending their time out in the pasture with the livestock. The cat’s nature will keep it away from the dogs anyways.
Introducing LGDs to Livestock
The very first socialization that an LGD should have is with the livestock it is meant to protect. This is extremely important as the dogs need to imprint on the animals and be raised alongside them for optimal success.
Once the puppies open their eyes, they should begin spending time in the livestock pen. Starting at four to five weeks old, puppies need to be spending the majority of their time with the nursing mother dog and the livestock before they have hardly any human interaction.
Farmers who are bringing home an adult dog for their livestock guard should introduce the dog to the livestock they are guarding while the dog is on a leash. The dog should be walked past the fence where the livestock is and allowed to smell the animals through the barrier.
After your dog is introduced and knows the territory of the pasture, they can be let loose with the animals. Until the dog knows the layout of the territory and seems to be fitting in with the herd, the dog should be kept in the barn with the livestock in their own crate at night.
If that’s not possible, they should be kept separate from livestock to prevent the dog from running away or interacting with livestock in an aggressive or inappropriate manner. Play between dogs and livestock results in a predators/prey instinct developing between the livestock and dog due to chasing.
Most livestock guardian dogs, like nearly all large breed dogs, take a little bit longer to reach full maturity than other breeds. Typically, these dogs are mature and full-grown at around two years old with some maturing closer to three years old.
Training a livestock guardian dog for their job in guarding the livestock is always easier when a seasoned, veteran guard dog is on the property to help show the new dog the ropes. However, even two guard dogs need to be monitored to ensure they are not playing together and neglecting their duties on the farm.
Answer Related Questions
Are livestock guardian dogs aggressive?
Different livestock guardian dogs have varying temperaments when it comes to their aggression levels; however, all livestock guardian dogs are bred to show aggression towards predators and threats to the flock or herd.
Some livestock guardian dogs are more aggressive than others, such as the Anatolian Shepherds or Komondors. With proper socialization, many livestock guardian dogs can be trained to be docile around humans and other dogs on the farm.
Can livestock guardian dogs be kept as pets?
Livestock guardian dog breeds can be kept as pets if they are not bred and trained to be livestock guardian dogs. Once a livestock guardian dog imprints on the livestock, they will see the livestock as their pack and not the human owners.
Some livestock guardian breeds also have an extremely high work drive and do not thrive in indoor environments where they do not have a job to do. Great Pyrenees, Mastiffs, and Sheepdogs often make great family dogs when they are raised and bred as such.