The Van Trump Report

Livestock Guardian Dogs are Making a Comeback

Livestock guardian dogs are one of agriculture’s unsung heroes. These highly specialized dogs have been used by humans for centuries to protect sheep, cattle, and other domestic livestock against predators. Despite their long history, guardian dogs have only been commonly used in the US since around the late 1970s. As a result, many livestock producers are still unfamiliar with how best to use this furry and ferociously loyal security option.

The ancestors of livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) can be traced back to around six thousand years ago. As humans began to domesticate animals, dogs that were previously used to help humans hunt became farm assistants. Their main task was to guard smaller domestic livestock such as sheep and goats. Suitable dogs needed to be strong, large, courageous, decisive, able to stand alone, and, most importantly, confront potential predators.

Those specific requirements mean most livestock guardian breeds are large animals, typically over 100 pounds. Unlike herding dogs which control the movement of livestock, LGDs blend in with them, watching for intruders within the flock or herd. Because they live with their companion animals outdoors all year long, most LGDs also have a lot of fur.

The resurgence of wolves and coyotes in the US is the biggest reason behind rising interest in LPDs. Also, disease transmission from wildlife to livestock is of growing concern. LPD’s can be trained to keep other animals such as deer, that are potentially infected with bovine tuberculosis, away from the livestock. The mere presence of LPD’s with livestock serves to deter deer and likely other species of wildlife from entering pastures and mingling with livestock.

Texas A&M AgriLife Research actually has an entire program dedicated to LGDs after successfully using them to protect their lamb crop. When Texas A&M acquired the Carl and Bina Sue Martin Research Ranch in 2009, the ranch only weaned a 20% lamb crop. The program then acquired LGDs to reduce predation and, since 2012, the lamb crop has exceeded 100%.

AgriLife researchers say that properly reared guardian dogs are exposed to livestock from birth. As such, they do not regard livestock animals as competition for territory but rather an extension of their pack. Guardian dogs include livestock within their territory, and they prevent losses by discouraging predators, such as coyotes, from that territory. Ultimately, predators avoid protected pastures and keep safely away from flocks to avoid being detected or confronted by the guard dog.

Canines respond more strongly to other canines than to other species, such as bobcats. For that reason, guardian dogs are considered especially effective at reducing predation by coyotes—the number 1 predator of sheep and goats in the US.

Some breeders market fully trained or bonded livestock guardian dogs, according to AgriLife. If you do not have guardian dogs and are suffering heavy predation, this is a good option because trained dogs can begin working immediately. Conversely, it takes 12 to 24 months for puppies to become effective guardians. Trained dogs are more expensive but AgriLife says they are often worth the investment.  

Some of the more common breeds are Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherds, Maremma, and Akbash. These or similar breeds are highly suggested by AgriLife. Breeds that do not have strong protective instincts are less likely to be effective. Great Pyrenees is the most common guardian dog because it is the least aggressive towards people and livestock. The Akbash is regarded as the most aggressive and protective breed. Learn more at Texas A&M. AgriLife also created a cool video that provides more details about these special dogs HERE.


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