Livestock is an investment that farmers need to ensure is protected. Most farms are found in rural places where predators roam, and most will lose a few or more goats, sheep, cattle, and other livestock.
When a farmer or rancher loses their livestock, they aren’t just losing the animal; they are losing an investment, they will not be able to recover. One way to curb this from happening is to have a livestock guardian dog on the farm.
So what is a livestock guardian dog? Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) are a type of dog that is bred specifically for the duties of protecting farm animals from predators. These dogs are medium to large-sized, often weighing more than 100 pounds, and have a loud, incessant bark to alert the flock and farmer of dangers.
History and Origin of LGDs
Livestock guardian dogs have been used for thousands of years in Asia and Central Europe to protect livestock from wolves, bears, and wild cats. The earliest records of shepherd dogs date back to nomadic Sumerians around 3585 BC.
Traditionally, livestock guardian dogs were most often used for sheep and goats, but they also are known to be great protectors of cattle, horses, poultry, deer, ostriches, alpacas, and llamas. These dogs were also used to guard royal fruit tree groves and property.
Livestock guardian dogs were not introduced to America until the 1970s when the government outlawed using lethal chemicals on predators. The success of using livestock guardian dogs was quickly proven with farmers seeing as much as a 100% reduction in the loss of their livestock to predators.
The practice of using these dogs to guard livestock quickly spread through all of North America, South America, Africa, and Australia.
Today there are plenty of breeders throughout the United States that offer plenty of puppies to choose from. These puppies are bred from the best bloodlines of highly trained dogs that have a reputation for being amazing livestock guardian dogs.
Although the best breeds for livestock guardian dogs can be found from many different breeders, not all breeders have training or knowledge to raise up proper livestock guardian dogs. A reputable, good breeder will have paperwork, and the breeding dogs will be registered.
How Do The Dogs Know What To Do?
Registered livestock guardian dogs have centuries of breeding throughout their bloodlines so that their instincts are attuned to protecting livestock and being territorial against predators. Even when a farmer chooses a livestock guardian dog that is not from a breeder, the best breeds for livestock guardian dogs are highly intelligent and self-thinkers so they can be trained to guard livestock.
Farmers need to be able to dedicate several weeks to months of training their livestock guardian dog on commands, territory, and their job. This training, which should start when the dog is a puppy, will help ingrain the instinct to join and protect the flock.
These dogs have a high work drive, are loyal, and their centuries of breeding have made them naturally aggressive towards predators such as coyotes, foxes, wolves, and wild cats. They are most effective against single, lone predators and can also alert to human intruders on a property as well.
When larger predators are a risk such as mountain lions, bears or packs of wolves, the farm or ranch should consider having at least two livestock guardian dogs.
Popular Guardian Dog Breeds
Currently, there are more than 40 breeds that are considered eligible to be livestock guardian dogs. Most countries in Europe and Asia have their own developed breed of guardian dogs with varying degrees of aggressiveness and size.
A popular breed for both livestock guardian dogs and pets in the United States because they are less aggressive than other LGDs and are nurturing to young animals and children. Great Pyrenees are best in cooler climates because they have long, thick, fur, and need a lot of grooming.
In France, these dogs are very popular for livestock guarding but, in the US, most are bred for companionship so working with a professional trainer and breeder for LGDs may be necessary for ranchers that want a Great Pyrenees.
Image Credit: Steve Slater
Anatolian Shepherds originated in Turkey and can weigh between 90 and 150 pounds and stand 29 inches high on average. They are fast, agile, and have a very muscular build with broadheads and thick necks.
Their fur is short and rough and helps the shepherds do well in warmer or tropical environments. Anatolian Shepherds have excellent sight and hearing, more so than other LGDs, but are also known for roaming and needing a lot of socialization and training.
Estrela Mountain Dog
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Estrela Mountain Dogs usually weighs around 100 pounds and gets along very well with kids but is wary of strangers and very protective of their herd. They have a particularly loud, threatening bark and need a lot of socialization to get along well with their human companions. They are great problem solvers and self-thinkers.
Mastiffs are one of the largest breeds of dogs and perfect for livestock guarding because of their intimidating size.
The Pyrenean Mastiff tends to be suspicious but not overly aggressive.
Spanish Mastiffs are the largest, reaching over 200 pounds; however, they tend to be more aloof and passive unless a threat is present and active.
Tibetan mastiffs are one of the most well-known of the mastiff breeds and have been used in the mountains for eastern Asia for thousands of years. Tibetan mastiffs are also the breeds that originated the mastiff breed. Mastiffs have medium to long coats that require grooming and make them more suitable for cooler climates.
Komondors are best known for their dreadlocked fur that protects the dogs from cold weather and wolf bites. This coat requires a lot of maintenance and upkeep unless owners want to clip it. Komondors average around 90 pounds full grown and are very territorial.
They require a lot of socialization and are better outdoor working dogs than indoor companions. Komondors are perfect for guarding livestock from larger predators, coyotes, and wolves in forested environments with cooler climates.
Image Credit: Simone
Maremma Sheepdogs are working dogs that need to have a constant dog to do. They do not make good pets but are perfect for large farming or ranch operations. The Maremmas are smaller livestock guardians, reaching around 70 to 80 pounds at maturity and have long coats.
They are aloof and don’t interact with humans much but will race around the farm, making sure all the livestock are safe and sound.
Polish Tatras are great companion dogs who can also work on the farm guarding livestock out to pasture. Their gentle temperaments make them a great addition to properties that have a lot of human visitors. Tatras have heavy coats that require frequent grooming and can reach over 100 pounds well full grown.
These dogs are not attack dogs, however, and will only become aggressive if predators get close; otherwise, they alert bark and move between the herd and any predators to create a shield.
Bulgarian Shepherd Dogs
Image Credit: Nicholay Atanassov
Bulgarian Shepherds were bred to protect livestock from bears and wolves in Bulgaria. They are smaller in stature and can have long or short fur, so ranches or farms in any climate can be the perfect home for a Bulgarian Shepherd Dog.
These dogs are known for having an even temperament and being docile to their human companions but do need a job to do and prefer to spend their time outside with the livestock they are meant to protect.
Well, That’s A Wrap!
Livestock guardian dogs have great effectiveness at keeping predators of livestock at bay and even alerting to human intruders. These dogs are also known to protect family members and other people on the farm, such as workers or buyers. There is no question of whether not a livestock farmer needs one of these dogs.