Finding a good livestock guard dog is very different from getting a pet for the home. They are generally more of a responsibility and require more care than pets. Livestock Guard Dogs (LGDs) are working dogs and careful consideration is required in making a choice. Different breeds of dogs are suitable for different types of farm animals such as sheep, goats, calves, poultry and other small livestock.
LGDs are generally large in size and, while they may be affectionate and protective of their owners, families and other animals, they are generally suspicious of strangers be they people or other animals.
The best places to start are breeders’ websites. Once you have decided what kind of dog you want, a personal visit to the breeder is your best option. This gives the chance to meet face to face, get to know the dog and take part in socialization and training.
Living conditions are important, so ask for a tour. The seller should also be able to provide evidence of the dog’s progeny to show that it is descended from working dogs rather than show dogs.
Early training and socialization is vital with all breeds of Livestock Guard Dogs (LGDs) . Their natural protective and hunting instinct, while desirable, requires careful training and control to prevent incidents caused by uncontrollable behavior. Some breeds also tend to wander but, again, this trait can be controlled with training.
Breeds of LGDs
There are many breeds of livestock guard dogs, but Hungarian dog breeds seem to be the best working dogs. There are nine separate breeds originating from the country.
They were brought into the Caspian Basin by the Magyar tribesmen, who were escaping west from Asia before the armies of Genghis Khan. Over the centuries, these dogs were carefully bred to maximize their positive traits. They can now be found worldwide and are very popular livestock and property guard dogs. Some of the most popular Hungarian dog breeds include the Komondor, Puli, Pumi and Vizsla.
There are also several other breeds available, such as the Great Pyrenees, and the Turkish Akbash and Anatolian Shepherd.
Some breeders have programmes where they cross-breed different breeds to benefit from the different desirable traits.
Purebred dogs from breeders will typically cost from about $500 to $1,000 or more. Rare breeds can cost much more. Purchasing puppies from neighbouring farmers who also breed the dogs is also a good option as the dogs will most probably already be exposed to training and herding work.
Bargains should be avoided because this may indicate poor health, undesirable behavior or lack of training.
LGDs at Work
LGDs bond very well with their family, charges and serve as their constant companions. They will actively and fearlessly protect them from predators like foxes, wolves, bears, mountain lions and birds of prey like eagles, vultures, owls and hawks.
They often bark loudly to attract attention and then attack. Owners with large flocks in areas where predation is a problem will usually employ two or more dogs.
These dogs will also fiercely protect buildings and other enclosures that house other animals like poultry or rabbits. Generally, equine animals tend to be sensitive and skittish and may not get on well with LGDs. Early socialization will usually minimize conflicts.
Livestock Guard Dog LGDs are typically outdoor dogs and do not generally do well in confined spaces such as apartments.
They are active and independent; this trait requires careful monitoring as the dog can become harmful. Sturdy fencing is important to not only contain the flocks, but also reduce some LGDs’ tendency to wander.
Sometimes a shock collar can be used at low settings to train puppies on their allowed range. This usually works in a couple of days and does not hurt the animal.
Health & Diet
Some Livestock Guard Dog (LGD) breeds experience health problems relating to bone health and vision, so regular visits to the vet are important. Diet is important for these working dogs. Contrary to expectations, most LGDs tend to eat less than one would expect. As with all dogs, cooked bones should not be fed to them as the cooking process makes then brittle and more likely to shatter, causing injury.
Most LGDs tend to have thick, double-layered coats and may not be suitable for hot and humid climates. However, since most sheep farms are located in relatively colder areas, the dogs’ coats protect them from the elements. These thick coats also protect the dogs from injury in case of predator attacks. With a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years, Livestock Guard Dogs are good value. What’s more retired dogs can be put to stud although they generally work throughout their lifetime.