Livestock Guardian Dogs

For centuries sheep herders, goat herders and others have relied on the help of dogs to keep their herds and flocks safe from wolves, bears and wild dogs.

In today's sanctuary they can provide much needed protection in distant fields and while you sleep. But as much myth as fact surrounds the breeds of LGDs . I have obtained permission to link to and reprint articles by a LGD expert to help people in search of protection for their pigs (or other animals). These articles and other information are to be found on the website of Catherine de la Cruz which is linked at the bottom of this page.

From my own 20 or so years with LGDs I can tell you a few things I have learned from my own experience as well as from the lifelong breeder and trainer who taught me years ago.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Buddy, 1994-2003.

 Bonding with livestock is a natural genetically probable occurrence IF the humans follow the rules. The dogs will do their part. Details of bonding and all the other questions you may have about LGDs can be found in the articles written by Catherine de la Cruz and others on the www.LGD.org website..

A few important things to begin:

 

 For the most effective bond, the pup has to be put with the livestock between the age of 3 months and 6 months.

 

While the dog is learning his job, intervention by humans must be at a minimum and limited to supervising his learning of the job .

 

Dogs bonded with one species of animal for a long time will not usually establish a good bond with another species. Taking in a rescue dog can be dangerous at worst and unsuccessful in most cases. With a determination to do everything to help it succeed, spending several hours a day of careful supervised socializing, some working dogs will fit into an new environment just fine. But if they don't they are a liability.

 

Dogs who have been family pets will seldom ever make a working dog. They can make great general farm and home dogs and will protect the family and house.. but putting them with livestock is rarely successful.

 

Good LGDs take their job very seriously and will kill anything that steps foot on their property that they determine is a risk. That may very well include the neighbor's cat and certainly does include the neighbors dog. Good fences will keep many problems at bay. Warning neighbors that your dogs are working dogs, and what that means may keep peace in the neighborhood. Your own cat (and the neighbor's) can be given added protection by a process of socialization described in the linked articles.

 

For liability and safety reasons it is a good rule to post your gates with a warning that LGDs are at work. Our signs are very specific." Livestock guardian dogs will attack if they hear a pig squeal "  The hardest part of protecting visitors (and your liability) is to convince them that working dogs are not stranger friendly and that this big friendly seeming dog who is standing beside them, (so obviously to them wanting to be petted) is instead working to keep them at a safe distance from their stock.  Our old dog Jewel, a crossbred Pyr/Komondor is very aggressive and will always be "underfoot and in the way" whenever anyone is in the fields. She seems to be wanting the attention of the visitor and that's exactly right.. diverting their attention keeps them away from her flock. Should one of these people approach a pig and grab it and the pig scream she would have them on the ground in a heartbeat.  She has learned as she matured that sometimes I will have to doctor a pig in her field and it will scream and she watches me closely now but no longer takes my arm and drags me away but she did when she was a young dog. She didn't hurt me.. she just made sure I didn't hurt her pig.  These dogs are very intelligent and make some very narrow decisions on what is a predator and what is danger and as they mature they get more discerning about these decisions. It would be exceedingly unwise to allow strange children to ever enter a field with a working dog unless they were tightly supervised every second.

 

 

Working dogs cannot associate with your other dogs. LGDs have a very low prey/chase factor but as the chart below will show, they can be aroused to pursue and injure/kill livestock under provocation and other dogs are the single most significant provocation there is. Once territory has been established the LGD will keep other dogs out of the livestock area unless you make the mistake of mixing them.  You have to decide if you want the livestock guarded or if you want Fido to have the freedom to run in the livestock, ignoring the LGDs working contract. If allowed into the fields Fido may be killed by the LGD one day for a behavior the LGD sees as endangering the stock or the LGD may join the chase and many animals be killed. It is important to keep the territory inviolate for everybody's safety. Working dogs take their job VERY seriously, they aren't playmates.. they are hard working guards.

 

Many LGDs make absolutely wonderful children's dogs in a home.. Pyrs especially are gentle and protective and have a real instinct about people who may be dangerous to your child (or to you). And given a family home environment from puppy-hood they are delighted to spend their days helping your toddler color or watching TV. But a working dog cannot usually be brought inside to spend his days after having been an independent and free dog for a long time. Their lives are proscribed by their early bonding and they will suffer the loss even in a house full of kindness and love.

 

Pyrs wander. Its a given. And there is always a risk they will get killed or picked up by Animal Control. They wander less after they reach adulthood ( at 2 or so) but until then there is no fence known to man that will hold one. Some deter them.. but if a Pyr needs to check out the next door neighbor's yard or the farm down the road badly enough he will, I sometimes think, just sprout wings and fly over it.   Damage control can be put in place early.. warn the neighbors that the dog may be seen wandering through his fields. Pyrs will not go off your property and hurt anything, not livestock or pets.... they are just wandering to see if they need to guard the adjacent area.

Making a choice on what breed of LGD means studying their ways. There is a world of difference between a Pyr and a Komondor I can tell you from my experience.. Do some research before you decide. I took in a rescued Kuvasz once and he attacked the pigs, not killing as he could have if he chose, but hurting them. He was not a suitable choice, and how much was because he wasn't bonded with pigs and how much was because aggression was closer to the surface in his behavior is anyone's guess. But if you look at the chart below put out by the USDA about the behaviors of breeds, you can see that the incidence of the guardian attacking his flock is present in EVERY breed.. and some are much more likely than others. Pigs are not as likely as some other animas, like goats, to annoy a dog but a pig can be downright aggressive to a dog and provoke him. So a Pyr , with the lowest aggression is probably the safest.

And be absolutely unequivocally certain that the dog you choose is a Purebred. This is not about dog rescue.. this is about the safety of a herd of prey animals. One tenth of a percent of Chow or Husky or some other aggressive predator dog can tip the scales in your dogs behavior and you may  turn a killer into your herd. If you are going to turn a dog loose in your herd, it better be the safest one you can find.   I know some non LGDs dogs who have been safe with pigs. The odds are against it. Even within the LGDs there are some breeds approaching a 50/50 chance that the dog will attack the herd.   Don't take the chance. Dogs are Predators, pigs are prey. Its a natural law you cannot change by behavior modification or a loving home or anything else. Risking a prey animal's life based on a belief that the dog is a "good dog" or some calculated  "Aggression test" is irresponsible and will way too often result in great suffering by the prey animal, the dog who then has to be destroyed and by the family's grief and the guilt of knowing you could have prevented the death.  I get a call every almost every week from somebody sobbing over the dead body of their beloved pig which their lab or golden or chow just killed.

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USDA Pub #588 - Benefits and Problems (Percents) with various breeds of Livestock Guardian Dogs

Data collected from 399 livestock producers. With the exception of "number of dogs", all numbers are percentages.

Notes from reprint editor: This chart has been reduced in size. The fields Economics and Other problems have been removed for space reasons . Some additional errors exist in the original USDA publication.  Livestock being guarded in this report is sheep. Similar results with other livestock species are typical..

Breed # of  dogs evaluated  

Effectiveness (%)

  Stays with Herd (%)      Aggressive to       Dog Injures
    Very Some Not Mostly Usually Rarely Predators Dogs Herd People
Great Pyr. 437 71 22 7 53 24 23 95 67 7 4
Komondor 138 69 1 12 50 23 27 94 77 24 17
Akbash 62 69 22 12 71 12 17 100 92 20 6
ASD 56 77 13 10 69 16 15 69 86 14 9
Marema 20 70 20 10 79 16 5 94 94 20 5
Shar 11 40 30 30 30 20 50 88 89 33 25
Kuvasz 7 57 29 14 33 33 34 100 67 40 0
Hybrid * 23 87 4 9 70 13 17 95 85 18 0
Other * 9 43 29 28 33 17 50 83 100 43 29

Editors Note: Hybrids and Other relate to Livestock Guardian dogs, not other (non guardian)  breeds of dogs. Putting any non guardian breed or mixed breed dog in with livestock is putting their lives at major risk.

 

 More info at www.LGD.org