A livestock guard dog may be a great way to protect your homestead livestock from predators. Here are a few tips and breeds to consider…
If you are raising livestock on your homestead, you will need to be prepared to lose some of them to predators – especially if you raise smaller animals like poultry, but even sheep and goats can fall prey to dogs, coyotes and other predatory wild animals. Besides a good sturdy fence, a livestock guard dog may be a good investment – particularly if you are raising livestock on a larger scale, or if your livelihood depends on your animals to some degree.
Although many dogs have protective instincts, not all dogs are bred to be livestock guard dogs. As this article from Modern Farmer states, livestock guard dogs “are true work animals, and they cannot double as a traditional family pets if they’re expected to do their job. They have evolved a specific combination of traits that few other breeds possess: the ability to live outdoors year-round; a willingness to not harass, or kill, livestock, even when hungry; a highly developed sensitivity to livestock behaviors; and a skilled approach to detecting and deterring predators.”
There are specific breeds that possess these traits, but you don’t necessarily need a purebred. The offspring of two different livestock guard dog breeds is often the best kind of guard dog. Below are some of the most common breeds of livestock guard dogs in the U.S.. All are well-suited for guarding just about any type of livestock.
These noble, independent, highly intelligent dogs are perhaps the most widely used LGD in America. Originally bred by the Basque in the mountains between Spain and France, they excel in wide open spaces; in small pastures, they may be tempted to dig out of fencing to satisfy their urge to roam. They do not accept vocal commands as readily as other breeds, but they’re considered more friendly with humans. Note: Great Pyrenees’ thick coat makes them a poor choice for hot, humid regions.
This breed is muscular, imposing, and reserved in temperament. Originally from the mountains of Turkey, these dogs are unmatched in their devotion to the herd, but may not be particularly friendly toward humans. Some individuals may even dislike petting. Historically, Anatolians were often left alone with livestock for extended periods. They are capable of withstanding hot weather.
Another Turkish breed, Akbash are all white, but vary considerably in hair length (one to eight inches) and build (both slender and stout individuals may be found). They are a bit smaller on average than most other LGDs, however.
Also referred to as Marremmano, this breed originated in the hills of central Italy and is quite small for an LGD (typically under 100 pounds). They are fiercely loyal to the herd, but fairly aloof with people.
Finding Your Guard Dog
Finding a good LGD is completely unlike finding a good pet, where it’s easy to find a lovable mutt from the local shelter who will readily befriend you for life. The best places to start are breed associations websites. These typically provide a list of reputable breeders across the country; don’t be shy about asking for references if there’s any doubt about their credibility. Another option is to contact farmers who own LGDs to see if they are selling puppies, or perhaps even a mature, trained animal that you can see in action prior to purchase.
The key is to find breeders that focus specifically on working animals, not show animals or pets—many LGDs are sold for the latter purposes, but you want a dog from a bloodline with proven guardian dog instincts. If possible, purchase a dog that has been raised by a working LGD among livestock, preferably the same species that you intend for it to work with. At the very least, the seller should be able to provide some evidence that the animal is descended from working dogs
Avoid “bargains,” as there is usually a reason, whether poor health, undesirable temperament, or lack of training. You can expect to pay a minimum of $500 for a puppy and $1000 for an adult, and twice that for some of the less common breeds. One LGD may be all you need–the livestock serve as their companions—but two or more are necessary for large herds on open ranges. If you have multiple herds kept in different locations, you’ll need at least one dog per herd.