Misunderstanding a Livestock Guardian Dog

misunderstanding a livestock guardian dog


Livestock guardian dogs are often misunderstood.

Livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) are often misunderstood and sometimes mistreated. If you want the most amazing farm protector you need to understand how he/she is wired and then work with them. There is a specific hazard of livestock guardian dogs and poultry. Let me explain with a story.

I took this picture because it illustrates a common scenario.

A couple of days ago I got home from work and went out to take care of the animals. I took this picture when I found Mando, one of our livestock guardian dogs, guarding this dead chicken. It was partially eaten. He was looking at me like that, because he was wondering why I wanted to point a camera at him. 

Livestock guardian dog with a dead chicken
LGD with a dead chicken

I’ll tell you why I wanted that photo. I knew he hadn’t killed that chicken, yet all appearances would lead one to believe he had.  I’ve heard of dogs getting shot because they were found in a position like this. More often, they’ve been re-homed on account of being “untrustworthy” with poultry or other livestock.

Misunderstanding a Livestock Guardian Dog is easy when it’s Guarding a Dead Bird.

They’ll guard a bird which was killed by marauding predator. Approximately 11 hours earlier (around 4:30 AM) I went to get some feed from another shed and found a chicken huddled in the rain, on the step. Any time you find a chicken outside, away from its normal roost, in the pitch black night, you can know that you’ve had a predator harassing your birds. At 4:40 AM I went for hay. Mando met me at the hay barn, wandering off, as I rolled the door open.

As I stepped through the door, I saw a possum…

As I stepped through the door I saw a possum leap from its position on top of a dead chicken, and run to hide behind the bales, in the back of the barn. I couldn’t catch him as he climbed too quickly. Before retrieving the hay I needed, I examined the dead bird, noting that the possum had eaten its head and most of the neck. Then, as I needed to hurry so as to get to work on time, I simply tossed the dead chicken outside the barn, where the dogs could get it. After all, I wasn’t going to eat it. They might as well!

Misunderstanding a Livestock Guardian Dog is All Too Easy.

Yet, when I got home, 11 hours later, Mando was still  guarding the dead bird. He hadn’t eaten it. This is pretty normal livestock guardian dog behavior. He needed assurance that it was alright to eat. When I found him with the bird, I told him that he was a “good dog,” and left it with him. Only then did he eat it.

How many people get up before 4 AM to care for their livestock? Not many. If you want to surprise a marauding possum, you really need to be out there at least an hour before sunrise. If the possum had killed the chicken where the dogs could get to it, it’s possible that they could have run him off and that I might have found one of them with a dead chicken. In ignorance I might have blamed the dog, when, in fact, he was just doing his job!

How to develop a great working relationship with a great livestock guardian dog

If not properly supervised most LGD puppies will kill chickens. It’s very important, however, to note that most of the time, when they do so, they are playing and do not intend to kill. They “bounce on the bird” and then wonder why it doesn’t get back up. Then, the instinct of a good LGD is to “clean up” dead carcasses. So, a lot of times they will “eat the evidence.” Though we don’t want dead birds, we need to understand that this is not the end of the useful life of the dog. Most pups can be trained away from killing poultry. Supervision and relationship are the two most important factors for accomplishing this task.

Once trained, the single most important factor in working with these dogs is relationship. One of the strongest ingredients, necessary, for building and maintaining relationship with these dogs is trust. They need to trust us and we need to trust them!

Pyrenes and his boy
Successful partnership depends on mutual trust.

Four Ingredients for Relationship with Your Dog

  1. Spend time together.
  2. Affirm them. It really helps if you let it be known that you think they’re great.
  3. Be consistent: Affirm them for doing good. Correct them when they do wrong. Forgive quickly when they goof up, then forget about it!
  4. Always give them the benefit of the doubt. If you find them in what appears to be a compromising situation, don’t assume wrong doing.
LGD taking care of a baby goat
LGD taking care of a baby goat

When one relates to their livestock guardian dogs in this way, they become the most amazing guardians on the farm!

Related Post: Why Would a Person Get a Livestock Guardian Dog?

Another tip from the homestead,


Did you know that Homesteading Edu has an entire course on Livestock Guardian Dogs?


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2 thoughts on “Misunderstanding a Livestock Guardian Dog”

  1. Thank you! We’re training our LGD puppies and I’m so grateful to read this! We’ll be getting chicks in the spring.

  2. George McLaughlin

    Something I didn’t bring into that post is the importance of ownership. The dogs truly seem to understand when something is “their master’s.” When they “get it,” then they will take care of it. So, when I’m teaching a pup about poultry, I make sure to hold a chicken and show it to him, telling him that “It’s mine.” Once he gets that in his head, most of the battle is won.

    Another thing which seems to be part of the well trained LGD psyche is the concept of eating what is GIVEN to them. Sure, they will scavenge for dead things, rodents, etc. But they learn that a lot of things are not okay to eat, unless “Master gives it to me.” That’s probably why Mando guarded that dead chicken all day, only eating it when I noticed him and told him that it was alright.

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