The 5 Best Livestock Guard Dogs for Sheep, Goats, and Other Herds
Anyone not in the business of raising sheep and goats cannot understand how hard it is to lose a new lamb or kid. Even small farms with only a few livestock will benefit from keeping a livestock guard dog who can prevent the occasional loss.
These five breeds are the most popular livestock guard dogs, and each of them has several great characteristics. See if one (or more—if you have more than one dog, they are more effective in guarding your livestock) is right for you.
1. Great Pyrenees
This is one of the best-known livestock guard dogs. According to the AKC, their popularity has been decreasing the past few years, but they still are purchased as companion dogs, are a great dog for backyard farms, and are one of the most popular guard dog breeds.
They look fantastic, which is why so many families buy one as a companion dog. They are mostly white, with a thick double coat, a thick mane to keep the wolves off, and black eyes and a button of a nose. They also have double dew claws on their hind legs, an unusual feature.
The Great Pyrenees are originally from the Pyrenees mountain region of northern Spain, like their names suggests, and have been guarding sheep in that region for hundreds of years. They bark a lot at night when doing their job, can be difficult to train, and even their fanciers admit that they are not good with strangers.
Like most livestock dogs, this breed is said to be good with kids, however. The dogs' aggression is mainly to those he feels a threat to his flock: foxes, feral dogs, and coyotes. Despite their size (males get to be over 50 kilos and stand about 70 centimeters), they are not tough enough to handle bears or wolves.
Breeders and fanciers usually say that the Great Pyrenees is healthy, but they can develop hip dysplasia or bloat like any large breed, and some are prone to patellar luxation (a trick knee). If they don't have any problems, Great Pyrenees usually live about 10 or 11 years, a good life span for such a large dog.
These white Turkish dogs are still mostly livestock guard dogs and are not kept much as pets. They are even larger than the Great Pyrenees (males may be over 60 kilograms and stand 85 centimeters) and usually have the same dark eyes and nose. Their legs are usually longer, and their tail is a little larger.
Since they are usually working dogs and not companion animals, obedience training is not an issue, which is probably a good thing since they are not into chasing balls like some of the “intelligent” breeds. (If you do purchase one of these dogs just as a companion, he may develop behavioral problems like excessive digging or escaping.) They will get along with most other species if introduced early, and they are usually satisfied when lying in a field watching their charges, whether sheep or goats.
Akbash fanciers appreciate that the dog has low energy and does well spending the day quietly. They report that the dog is athletic when it needs to be, but it is not hostile and is able to think independently.
Akbash are hardy, like all livestock guard dogs, and do not have a lot of health problems. They can have big dog health issues but normally live problem-free to about 10 or 11 years old.
3. Anatolian Shepherd
Like the names suggests, this dog was originally developed in Anatolia. They are a strong mountain dog bred in an area of Asia where dogs were expected to protect sheep from wolves, jackals, and bears. They will be able to handle foxes, coyotes, and feral dogs easily.
The Anatolian shepherd looks different than most of the other livestock guard dogs. This dog is not pure white, sometimes has a black mask, and has a thicker neck and broader head than some dogs. They are big, up to about 70 kilograms, and look even bigger because of their thick mane.
Like the Akbash, this dog is not recommended as only a companion dog. They are bred to work, will probably escape and roam if kept without a flock or herd, and unless socialized will be unlikely to accept strangers.
Even if they are kept as a pet, they will probably not want to fetch. They can be obedience trained, but it may be difficult to work with them at times.
Health problems are few, but they have been reported to have hip dysplasia, like most big dogs, eyelid problems (entropion, where the eyelid rolls in and the lashes rub against the eyeball), and a few other unusual problems. They live about 10 or 11 years.
The Komondor has a thick corded coat that looks different than most dogs, so even people that are not familiar with livestock guard dogs have seen these dogs in shows or photos. Few are aware of their personality, however.
The thick coat is supposed to protect the dog from wolves when he is guarding his sheep. The Komondor is white, like most livestock guard dogs, taller than most (about 80 centimeters at the withers) and heavy (50–60 kilograms), but not as heavy as some giant breeds.
Komondors are said to have the same temperament as most of the livestock guard dogs, but the individuals I have known have been more volatile. This may have been due to lack of socialization and training. They are said to be good with family and children, but like all the livestock guard dogs, they will be happier with a job to do.
Confining these dogs to a life in the city or a suburb is not acceptable.
Komondors are susceptible to the health problems of big breeds, hip dysplasia and bloat. External parasites (like fleas and ticks) are also more of a concern when the dog has that thick corded coat.
This white or light-colored livestock guard dog is also originally from Hungary, like the Komondor. The dog breed may even have been around before coming to that country, though, and some fanciers think it is one of the oldest dog breeds in existence.
The Kuvasz looks similar to the other livestock guard dogs. The eyes are black, they weigh about 50–75 kilograms, but they are not as heavily built as some of the livestock guard dog breeds. The main difference is personality.
If this dog is to be kept as a companion animal, they should have early socialization and good obedience training. They might be more playful than other livestock guard dogs but are also serious about their work and quite independent. The Kuvasz is known to be good with kids, good around other animals, and protective of their family and owner. They are not known for performing tricks or obeying commands off leash.
Kuvasz are usually healthy, but hip dysplasia can be a problem in any big dog. If fed correctly (to avoid excessive calories and rapid growth), the dogs can live about 12 years.
If you are interested in this breed of dog, there is another author, Suhail, that keeps one and is knowledgeable on the Kuvasz and other livestock guard dogs. You can search for his great article about his experience with the breed.
I am a big fan of the Fila Brasileiro since they are good guard dogs and also a great livestock guard dog for cattle. They are not popular, however, and since some of the popular websites on the internet claim they are “Brazilian Fighting Dogs”, they probably never will be. The UK has already foolishly put them on their Dangerous Dogs List, and they are also banned in some other countries.
What About Small Dogs, Like Corgis?
The other part of this list that is a little different than other lists is its lack of any small dogs. If you look at the list for Low Maintenance Dog Breeds, you will see the Welsh Corgi. Corgis have been suggested as a livestock guard dog but are not one of the most popular because they are small and unable to handle the larger predators.
Corgis are, however, one of the few livestock guard dogs great with geese. When my geese were small, my Pit Bull cross guarded them effectively. Now that they are larger, a fox or average-sized dog would not mess with them. A large dog could still attack them, however, and a Corgi would do little to stop that.
They might be classed more as livestock herding dogs, since they have more of a tendency to move their charges around the yard.
Which One Is Best?
But which one of the five most popular livestock guard dogs is best? It really depends on what you need the dog for. If your predator problem is mainly with small animals like foxes, a Great Pyrenees is most likely to be available and will do a great job. If you live in northern Minnesota or other areas in which wolves are a problem, an Anatolian Shepherd would be a better choice.
If you have livestock, they should be protected. Most of these dogs need to get out and work and will not be happy as companion animals, but they will do the job and keep your herd safe.