Many folk who embark on the journey of greater self sufficiency quickly face the question of whether or not to get a livestock guardian dog. This is especially true if they get goats or sheep. Let me be honest, I am a huge fan of these dogs. I often recommend them. Yet, the decision to get one ought to be based on knowledge. Let’s consider the nature of the livestock guardian dog (I will sometimes refer to them by the abbreviation “LGD.”)
General Character of Livestock Guardian Dogs
Speaking in broad terms, LGDs are pretty large. The smallest usually top out at 80 pounds. I’ve heard of some reaching over 200 pounds. LGDs have to be large, as they are bred to protect their charges from predators. Therefore, they have to be at least as large, preferably larger than the predominant predator of their area.
LGDs are strong willed and independent. They have been bred to make “executive decisions” when the shepherd is not around. Therefore, they are not good candidates for obedience competitions. Still, you can count on them to care for their charges. Many have died defending their flock.
Livestock guardian dogs are very independent.
Livestock guardian dogs have a very low prey drive. Puppies may play with their charges, and need to be corrected, yet they are not inclined to look at a prey animal as a potential meal. I’m around my dogs all the time and sometimes wonder if these big “fur balls” would harm anything at all. I tend to take them for granted. Yet, while they are low on aggression, they are extremely high on protection. It is an innate part of their nature to protect whatever is under their care. Sometimes it can difficult to distinguish between aggression and protection. The great majority of LGDs will nuzzle and care for a baby goat (or almost any baby) yet, if given no other alternative, they turn into bone crushing furies in defense of their charges.
Most livestock guardian dogs are exceedingly cold tolerant. They’ve been selected for thousands of years to stay with the flock, out in the field. Our dogs get positively frisky when temperatures drop, yet we’ve also found them happily dozing in snow drifts.
Livestock guardian dogs are truly unique in the dog world. So let’s think about whether or not you might want one. First…
Reasons to NOT Get a Livestock Guardian Dog
- Does nocturnal barking bother you? If so, don’t get a LGD. Barking is an integral part of how they protect the flock. They’re wired to use the minimal amount of force necessary to get the job done. Barking is the minimum. They bark to warn predators to stay away, and most of the time it works!
- Do you live in an urban or suburban area where nocturnal barking might agitate neighbors? If so, a LGD is not for you. Be a good neighbor. Don’t get one.
- Do you live right next to a busy roadway? LGDs tend to get in the road, and, with few exceptions, they can get out of almost any fence.
- Do you dislike dogs? Really, if you don’t like dogs, you probably won’t like these. Additionally, these dogs work in a team. The bare minimum for a team is you and the dog.
Reasons You Might Want to Get a LGD
- Do you have livestock which suffers predation? This may include almost any livestock, from chickens and ducks, goats and sheep to cattle. A LGD can make a huge difference. This is the #1 reason most folk get a livestock guardian dog, but there are other applications to consider.
- Do you have problems with deer in your garden? Most LGDs will treat deer as trespassers and chase them off.
- Do you have problems with bear, raccoon or other critters, getting into your stuff? These dogs will usually keep them away.
- Do you regularly lose cats to predators? Believe it or not, a LGD can be taught to protect cats! We taught our dogs to tolerate a cat after they had grown up without one around. At first they wanted to kill it, but in the end they came to treat the cat like a “little brother.” The cat is protected by the dogs.
- Do you need a watch dog? There are other breeds which do great as watch dogs, yet LGDs can also serve in this manner. When I was growing up, my best friend had a Great Pyrenees. His folks got the dog to ride shotgun over him and his siblings. NO ONE would mess with those kids. They were protected by what appeared to be a polar bear.