Livestock guardian dogs are beautiful animals that can provide a valuable service to your homestead. They can guard your valuable livestock around the clock from both ground and airborne predators. Not only that, the will consider you and your family to be part of their pack, so they will protect you as well. They will protect all of your property because it’s their territory.
Just the size of these dogs alone will be enough to deter most strangers from coming near your land. They are very independent critters, too. They will stay close to your livestock night and day. In fact, they will usually patrol your farm all night long, protecting your livestock when the threat of predators is at its highest. They will fight to the death to protect their charges.
All of that sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? But, just like any other animal on your farm, you need to educate yourself before you bring a livestock guardian dog home to your farm. There’s a lot to learn about these dogs, and you can’t just bring one home and turn it loose with your livestock and expect it to do its job.
Things to Consider Before You Get a Livestock Guardian Dog
One of the first things to think about is the size of your acreage. They need a lot of space. Most of these dogs were originally bred by nomadic shepherds to guard their roaming herds. That means they need a lot of space to roam. If you’re acreage isn’t large enough, the will probably want to roam beyond your property. They might decide your neighbor’s property, and possibly your neighbor’s neighbor, too, is also part of their territory.
That brings us right into the second consideration, fencing. Most livestock guardian dog experts will tell you that these dogs cannot be contained with a fence. You need to have some excellent fencing if you want to have any hope of keeping these dogs contained with a fence. They are smart animals, and they have a natural desire to roam, so they will always test your fencing. And, when the do get out, they will wander far and wide before they come back home. If your acreage is big enough, you might not have any worries, but on a small acreage with close neighbors, you’re going to have a problem unless you’ve got a good relationship with your neighbors.
These dogs will guard your farm at night, which is great! However, that also means they will bark a lot at night, too. If that’s going to bother you or the neighbors, you might want to think carefully before you bring one home.
Lastly, these dogs are expensive. Of course, they require the same annual veterinary care that any dog does. They also eat a lot, thanks to their large size and their high energy. But, in addition to that, they are expensive to purchase, too. Breeders of quality livestock guardian dogs know their value, and they’re not afraid to charge a lot for one of these dogs.
What to Expect When You Bring Home a Livestock Guardian Dog
While a lot of their guardian behavior is part of their nature and they will know some of what they need to do on instinct, there are some things you need to know and be prepared for. First of all, these dogs are good companions, and they will bond with your family, but they are not pets. They have a job to do, and they will need to do it. They will want to be on guard duty all the time, especially at night, and probably won’t want to come inside the house at all. In fact, you shouldn’t even try to bring them inside. From the time they are puppies, they should be kept with the livestock so they form a bond with them.
You will need to be your guardian dog’s alpha. That means he will need to learn to respect you and the boundaries you set. If you are not an experienced dog handler, you should work with someone who knows these dogs before you bring one home, if at all possible.
Choosing Your Guardian Dog
These dogs work great in pairs, so consider starting with a mature dog that already knows how to do his/her job and a young dog or puppy who can learn from you and from the older dog. If you decide to get only one and you’re not experienced with these dogs, choose carefully. Purchase a mature dog that has been trained and spend some time working with his current owner so you know how to handle him and what to expect.
You could also start with a puppy, but you will have to learn together, and a mentor would be very helpful in this case. Don’t ever purchase a problem dog, especially if you’re not experienced in handling and training them.
There are many different breeds that are considered to be livestock guardian dogs, and each one has different traits. Here are a few that are most commonly found here in the US.
The Great Pyrenees are my personal favorite. They are incredibly intelligent and noble. I love them for their calm, friendly demeanor and fierce loyalty. They do require a strong hand and they are very independent. They will be great around kids and young livestock. Don’t get one if you live in a hot climate though, because they have a very thick coat.
The Anatolian Shepherd is a fierce protector and an excellent livestock guardian. These dogs are very large, muscular, and intimidating. They have a reserved temperament and are not overly friendly with humans. You will need to have a firm, experienced hand if you want to have any hope of training this breed. They do fine in hot weather because their coat is shorter.
Maremma’s originated in ancient Rome. They are a little smaller than many guardian breeds, but they are an excellent guardian dog. They do like to interact with their owner, but they are still independent and protective. They do have long coats, so a lot of grooming is required and they may not do well in a hot, humid climate.
While a livestock guardian dog is a big commitment, they are a wonderful working animal and a valuable asset to the homestead. Don’t bring one home without educating yourself, and if you can find a mentor who is experienced with these dogs and is willing to work with you, that’s even better!