Working dogs have been used for hundreds of years to help farmers and ranchers manage their livestock. The two main types of working dogs used on farms are herding dogs and livestock guardian dogs. Many farms today can benefit from the use of one or both types of dogs.
Herding dogs are a great asset when you need to gather or move livestock from one place to another. They are not guardian dogs. Livestock guardian dogs (LGD) are used to protect livestock and poultry from anything they feel is a threat to their flock or herd, such as coyotes, dogs, fox, vultures, etc. LGDs may move their stock to a safer place if they feel a threat, but they are not under the command of a handler like herding dogs are. They are bred with the instinct to protect what they are raised with.
Some different breeds of livestock guardian dogs include Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherd, Maremma, Komondor, and a newer breed to the area that is gaining popularity, the Central Asian Shepherd. Livestock types that are often protected by LGDs include: sheep, goats, chickens, and cattle. Different situations may be better suited to certain breeds. Some flocks may benefit from more than one dog, especially if it is a large flock or herd in a large area. Some breeds, such as the Great Pyrenes, will need a good fence to stay in, they like to roam and tend to get out of fences with holes or gaps. If you don’t have good woven fences, or a higher predator volume, the Central Asian Shepherd is a good choice. They normally stay with their flock, even without a fence. They are also strong enough to handle dog intruders, such as Pit Bulls and Mastiffs. The Great Pyrenees, Maremma and Komondor all have long hair. This can be a problem with some owners. The Anatolian Shepherd and Central Asian Shepherd have short hair, which is much easier to maintain.
A predator does not have to get in the fence with your animals in order for an LGD to be effective. The LGD will make its presence known by barking and marking boundaries. This is letting other canine intruders, including coyotes, know that they are there and to not cross into their territory. If an animal does try to attack your livestock, the LGD will attack the intruder. The LGD bonds with the animals they are raised with or have been acclimated to and will do their best to keep it safe. This makes them a better choice than donkeys or llamas, in most situations.
Livestock guardian dogs don’t require training by a person but need to be raised properly with the livestock that is to be protected. Some steps are required by the farmer to make sure raising and acclimating your guardian dog is done properly. If you start with a pup, it will learn your farm and animals, but it may not be old enough to defend against a large predator for a while. Also, young LGDs are playful and sometimes can play too rough with lambs or chickens. If you get an adult dog, be sure to know how it was raised. LGD breeds not raised with the type of animal you want to protect, could end up injuring or killing your animals. Always supervise them when they are first introduced to a new place.
The livestock guardian dog should not be treated as a pet. Although they can be friendly to their owner, they need to stay with their stock more than following you to the house. There are some definite do’s and don’ts to learn before getting your first LGD. Be sure to talk with someone that has an LGD.