Breeds of Livestock Guard Dogs: Which Is Right for You?
For centuries, livestock guard dogs have assisted farmers and ranchers in the protection of their animals, especially goats and sheep.
Bred to be ever-watchful of the flock in their care, these dogs are a magnificent combination of power and gentleness, protection and tolerance. The livestock guard dog will vary in size and look, as well as in temperament and character. It is important that you research the various breeds carefully and choose a dog that will fit your needs and lifestyle as much as possible.
Working Dogs Need to Work
Guard dogs need to be busy. These are not the dogs to choose if you live in a suburban neighborhood and want a pet. Since these dogs are almost always a large breed, they need plenty of space to run and exercise and need specific work to do. If these intelligent animals get bored, they can develop behavioral problems like chewing and digging and become depressed. Keeping a guard dog chained is pure cruelty and more than one has become mean because of such treatment.
The dog will adopt the herd it is guarding as its companions and does not necessarily need another dog for company. There are those people who feel that it is almost impossible to have just one of these majestic animals, however. (They seem to be addictive—you can't have just one.)
There are numerous breeds of livestock guard dogs. Some of them are discussed below.
Slideshow of Breeds in This ArticleClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Anatolian Shepherd is usually 28 to 32 inches at the withers and weighs between 100 and 150 pounds. He usually has a medium coat although some have medium length coats. It is often buff or fawn in color.
The breed is native to Asia. It has been developed to protect the flocks of sheep and also act as a companion to the lonely shepherds that watch over them. In its native environment, the summers are dry and hot and the winters are very cold so these dogs are able to thrive in a wide variety of environments. The dogs were used to fight off the wolves that often attacked the herds, and are fearless and loyal.
They have a life expectancy of up to fifteen years and have few health problems. These may include:
- Hip dysplasia, although this is not as common as with other large breeds
- Eyelid entropion
Many breeders agree that these dogs do best on a low protein lamb and rice diet. Interesting to note that the Anatolian does not eat much compared to its size.
This animal is very protective and suspicious of strangers. It should be introduced to anyone new by the owner. It will not allow anyone on the property without the owner being present. The Anatolian Shepherd will quickly become headstrong if it's trainer/owner is not firm and confident.
These dogs are good with children and naturally protective. They will not hurt a child intentionally but have been known to knock them down. A child that is strange to the dog should be introduced to the animal.
The Akbash is native to Turkey. It is a large dog, in the 90 to 100 lbs range, and has legs that almost seem too long for its body. The coat is white and of medium length, and no one will miss the beautifully plumed tail.
The Akbash is a solitary dog and does not seek the companionship of humans very often, It can be trained to be a companion animal but will be happiest watching over a flock of sheep or goats. Like other guardian animals, the Akbash needs plenty of space and a job to do to keep it busy. Boredom is not good for these hard-working animals!
The Akbash does not carry the herding instinct. Instead, it will lie among the flocks watching for danger. It can become very attached to a human handler but its independent streak will make it a challenge for an inexperienced handler. There will be a constant struggle during training and afterwards it can be difficult for him to maintain control over the dog.
Because of its size, the Akbash can have problems with hip dysplasia like other large breeds. All in all, it is a healthy breed able to withstand many types of climates. It has about a ten-year lifespan.
This breed may be best for those who have large areas of pastured livestock and need a guard animal that can work independently as part of the herd.
The Great Pyrenees is probably one of the most well known of the livestock guard dogs. The huge animals average between 100 and 120 pounds and stand 32 inches at the shoulder. This beautiful dog has a white, medium length coat that enables it to withstand many climates
They can be expected to live between ten and twelve years.
The Great Pyrenees is a gentle animal, wonderful with children as well as the animals in its care.
Although very protective, the Great Pyrenees is tolerant and attentive. It is a powerful dog, protective and fiercely loyal. It is one of the better guard dogs for families with children because of its gentle and tolerant nature.
These are remarkably healthy dogs and carry only the normal problems that big dogs sometimes have like hip dysplasia and arthritis. They will need to be groomed regularly as well as need human companionship for their mental health.
The Komondor is Hungarian in origin and looks like an Old English Sheepdog with dreadlocks. This unusual breed stands well over 30 inches at the shoulder, making it one of the biggest of the guard dogs. It was successfully used to protect sheep against wolves and bears, and is a formidable opponent to larger animals. The unusual coat makes it difficult for a predator to get to the Komondor's throat to kill it.
This dog is very protective of its surroundings. It will lay and rest with a watchful eye during the daylight hours but will patrol ceaselessly during the night. It, like the Great Pyrenees, is excellent with children and will tolerate strangers as long as they do not seem to be threatening the family, possessions, or livestock.
If it feels threatened the Komondor will leap at the threat and keep it held down until the owner arrives on the scene. While this is very helpful in the case of a bear or a wolf, it can be a bit disconcerting for the meter reader.
Like many livestock guard dogs, the Komondor needs a strong, confident handler. It will quickly take on the role of alpha dog if the owner is too passive and does not establish the lead.
The Komondor is prone to having canine bloat, a digestive issue which can be life-threatening. Be sure to feed your Komondor a high-quality food that is low in grain and feed two or three times a day rather than once. Do get advice on feeding from your vet.
Hip dysplasia and skin problems are other possibilities, especially as the dog ages. Good grooming and care will help keep these issues at bay.
Use a Reputable Breeder
While there will be exceptions to every rule, you should get a puppy from a reputable breeder and allow it to grow up with your livestock. A guard dog that has not seen livestock early on will not be effective and may harm them. Also, while the dog should be around the livestock, it should not be turned loose with baby goats or sheep (and other livestock) until after it is two years old. The natural puppy playfulness will kick in, and while it won't mean to hurt the young livestock, it could love them to death.
Adopting animals is always a wonderful option, but if you are going to adopt a guard animal to actually guard livestock, it should come directly from someone you know and trust. While adopting one of these animals for a household pet is possible, adopting one from a shelter that you know nothing about (and then expecting it to guard your sheep) is just not feasible.
Livestock guard dogs have different personalities, needs, weaknesses, and strengths. Before you decide on one spend time talking to owners and breeders, research the animal and observe them if possible. Any animal is a long-term commitment and to get one that is obviously not a good fit for your family or living situation is not fair to the animal.
With some careful research, you should easily be able to find a livestock guard dog that fits your needs and lifestyle.