Multi-Use LGDs

LGDs will sometimes amaze you with the way they respond to the goats. During kidding season, they will often help clean and dry new kids if the mother goat will let them. Some individual dogs will be so protective of new kids that they will not allow the mother to approach it. This is not a breed trait that we know of but individual dogs of different breeds have been known to act this way. Obviously this is not to be allowed and the dogs seem to understand when you correct them.

It seems that many LGDs have an affinity for babies and often you’ll find kids leaving the mother at night and curling up with the dogs. When a goat leaves her kids in the woods and then forgets where she put them, we’ll often find a dog curled up with them, waiting for us or the mother to come back and claim them.

There are, perhaps, more differences between the guarding behaviors of the different LGDs than in any other single thing. Some dogs guard property as their personal territory while others don’t care where they are as long as they’re with their stock. Some have combinations of these two behaviors. Here is a typical guarding behavior for a Great Pyrenees.

First, they’ll warn all predators of their presence through barking and “marking” their territory. In most cases, a wild animal will not attack stock when it’s protected by dogs and the warnings are sufficient. Wild predators that have no other options will fight to get access to the stock, as will domestic and feral dogs on a killing binge. If the predator persists, the Pyr will threaten and see if the predator will leave. If not, the Pyr will stay between its stock and the predator to protect the stock and deny access to them by the predator. Great Pyrenees will fight when necessary to protect the stock but they are not as aggressive about this as some of the other LGDs who will choose to fight if the predator doesn’t heed their early warnings. This is a case where a Pyr will definitely herd its animals while it holds them in a group and keeps them away from the threat. Pyrs and other LGDs will usually work as a team when there are multiple dogs available, some doing guard duty with the stock while others advance to meet the threat. The way that they divide the duties appears as if they had held long meetings, deciding just who would do what and go where. While this is obviously not what happens, their coordination can be amazing when working as a pack.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive collection of LGD behavior, it can give you some idea of what to expect from your new LGD.

We often hear that people want their LGD to do double duty; on one hand they need a livestock guardian and, on the other, they’d like a yard/house dog to keep them company. Right up front, let’s acknowledge that this can work, but we don’t think it can work well. There are two distinct aspects to this idea that need to be examined before you make a decision that may be irrevocable and find that you have a situation you didn’t quite expect.

First and foremost are the laws of physics. No dog can be in two places at the same time. Almost as important is the fact that no dog curled up in a nice warm closed-up house will be as alert or as able to detect and react to predators as a dog out in the pasture with the goats.

The simple fact is, when you have the dog with you, it’s not with the livestock. This may seem obvious but we get the impression that not everyone actually considers this when thinking about dual-purpose dogs. Even if the dog does alert to predators while in the house, the reaction time to let the dog out of the house and move to the area where the stock are threatened may take longer than the predator needs to “grab a quick bite” and be on its way. This lengthened reaction time will hold true in varying degrees whether the dog is in the yard, in a house with a “doggie door”, or shut in.

Most people want the company of a dog in the evening when they’re home. This companionable interlude happens at the same time that the hunters begin their daily quest for dinner so at the exact time when your guardian is most important, it’s in the house. By the very nature of the job description, a dual-purpose dog cannot perform both jobs constantly and effectively. The argument may be made that wild predators will sense the lingering presence of the dog and avoid the place. This overlooks the fact that dogs keep most wild predators away by their immediate presence and the threat of forcing a fight for the opportunity to chase prey. It also overlooks the fact that feral or domestic dogs don’t give a fig if they smell your dog; unless it’s there to confront intruders, other dogs will ignore it. For those who say they have a dual-purpose dog and they are happy with the arrangement, we can only wish them luck and hope that nothing with big teeth or sharp claws falls through the holes in their defensive plan.

Part two of the consideration has to do with the individual dog and its ability to live two separate lives simultaneously. Some dogs can, some can’t. Some LGDs are not suited to live in a household and some can do it. The fact is that your LGD was probably raised in a barn with stock. This is what it has been conditioned to and what it is used to. Your dog, if it is an adult, should be bonded to your stock, not to you. When you teach the dog to value your presence more than the stock’s presence, it can be very difficult to keep the dog’s focus on the stock during those times you want it with the goats. If your dog is a puppy, it should adapt to both you and the goats easily, but it will have a preference. Persuading the pup to accept living in the non-preferred style, while allowing it access to its preferred style on an intermittent basis, can be a Herculean task.

We have also found that LGDs are often quite uncomfortable when brought into a house. They aren’t used to it and usually whatever purpose you had in mind is thwarted before you can even begin. If you adapt an LGD to the house, it will still gladly go into the pasture but getting them to stay there while you go to the house can be a problem. As we said earlier, some dogs can handle this schizophrenic lifestyle while other dogs can’t. The problem is that your dog may be unable to make the sudden and repetitive adaptations between both kinds of existence. If this is the case, there is a good chance that by the time you discover this inability you’ll have lost a good LGD.

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