Narrow Your Choices

Let's assume you've decided you actually need and want a dog to guard your livestock. How do you choose one? Where do you start? How much will it cost? How do you know it will work for you?

These are some of the initial questions most people have when faced with the myriad of potential decisions they'll soon have to make about getting a Livestock Guardian Dog. Notice I say "guardian", not "guard" dog. Not everyone agrees that this word choice is important but we bring it up here because it is quite significant in the conceptualization of what this dog will do for your herd. A guard dog guards. To us, it brings to mind junk yard dogs, attack trained dogs, sentry dogs and others of the same ilk. Guard dogs generally guard, first and foremost, against human beings. Guardian dogs, on the other hand, guard primarily against other animal predators. Guard dogs are bred and trained to please their human masters. Livestock Guardian Dogs are bred to be self reliant about the question of whether to attack or not. In fact, LGDs make lousy attack dogs because they, not you make the decision to attack; and they, not you make the decision to stop attacking. In other words, they're often hard to call off. LGDs, in general, are affectionate toward their owners but make a point of not being dependent upon them.

This difference between a normal guard dog and a livestock guardian is not the only difference between them. A guardian also nurtures its animals, especially lambs or kids. A guardian will help a first time mother clean and dry her kids, even if the mother is so panicked by her new experience that she doesn't let her instincts guide her to care for the babies. She may even abandon them and, if she does, the LGD will be there to keep the newborns safe until help comes. In the rare instance when we have a new mother without her kid, we go for a walk in the woods and look for a big white blob among the trees. The blob soon turns into a Pyr, curled around the kid(s) keeping it safe and warm.

Do people use guard dogs with their stock? You bet. We've heard from folks who use Dobermans, Rotweilers, even wolf crosses and swear by them. Do we recommend the practice? Not on your life, or more properly, not on the lives of your animals. Anyone who uses dogs with high prey drive to guard their livestock is risking a bloodbath in the stockyard and for those who do it knowingly, that's their own business. Even people who use working dogs without a high prey drive such as Aussies are taking a chance. How many times a day would you like your herd run into the barn and back to the pasture? Most dogs will do what they were bred to do and, although there are always exceptions, we can only recommend a dog that has been bred to work as a Livestock Guardian Dog. No matter which of the many histories of the LGD that you may read, they all agree on one thing - these dogs have been bred for thousands, yes thousands, of years to do the job of protecting the animals that are important to you.

Now that you have decided that a Livestock Guardian Dog is what you want, what next? You may not want to hear this but your work has just begun. There are probably hundreds of breeds of dogs that are bred for livestock protection. We keep hearing about breeds new to us on a regular basis so we certainly don't have a definitive answer. If you want to browse breeds we can recommend Molosser World (http://www.moloss.com/) and Livestock Guardian Dogs (http://www.lgd.org/home.htm). Even these two extensive sites are not exhaustive but they give it a good try.

At this point we believe that Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherd Dog, Akbash, and Maremma are the most common working livestock guardians in the U.S. We are NOT saying they are the best; we are NOT saying ignore all the others; we are simply saying that we think you can find a source for good working dogs of these breeds fairly easily. "OK," you say, "which one do I choose?" Without question, the only sane answer is "Do your homework". All of these breeds have an intensely loyal group of supporters and there is no way we would call their wrath down upon us by saying one of these is "better" than another. In fact, we don't believe that any breed is "better" than another. We do believe that one breed will fit your specific circumstances more precisely than the others and it will pay you for your efforts in researching a hundred times over what you spend if you will examine your choices until "your" breed jumps out at you and says, "Here I am!"

Here are some factors that may influence your choice of an LGD breed:

  • What are their characteristics when guarding?
    • Do they aggressively go after predators or do they warn predators off? No matter how aggressive or non-aggressive they are, all LGDs will fight, kill, or die if necessary to protect their animals.
    • Do they aggressively go after predators or do they warn predators off? No matter how aggressive or non-aggressive they are, all LGDs will fight, kill, or die if necessary to protect their animals.
  • Do they tend to be human aggressive?
  • Do you want long or short-haired animals? What kind of maintenance grooming is required of a specific breed?
  • What is the health history or tendency of a particular breed?
  • How does the breed take to the climate where you live?
  • Does the breed you like tend to guard territory or its herd, or both?
  • What is your physical set up and location? How will that breed fit your situation?
  • How big do dogs of this breed get?

Finally, cost. An LGD is worth what you think it is; rare breeds will usually cost more than the more common ones. Registered dogs will usually cost more than unregistered dogs. Adult LGDs of any breed will cost considerably more than pups. The price range is extensive although it is usually somewhere between $50 and $1000, with pups from $50 to $600. That's still leaves quite a bit of room for personal budgets and ideas of quality.

There are some people who are convinced that mixing two or more LGD breeds provides them with the perfect dog for their situation. This possibility has both pros and cons for the stock owner and we recommend you learn all you can about the breeds of LGDs before you consider mixing.

You may be able to think of more factors that will influence your choice of a breed. Go ahead and try. The more you think about, at this point, the more certain you will be when you make your decision.

Once you have found your breed, or maybe just narrowed it down to two or three choices, we strongly recommend that you find some working dogs of this breed and go visit the farms or ranches where you can actually see them working. These don't have to be breeders, just people who are using these dogs to protect their stock. If you can't find a farm to visit in person, at least do a virtual visit on the net and then talk with the farmers about their operation and how their dogs fit into it.

After you have done that, you're ready to make your final decision and to start shopping for your new LGD.

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