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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

About Livestock Guardian Dogs

Livestock Guardian Dogs, or LGDs, have been used by shepherds and farmers for centuries. Bred and trained to instinctively protect their herd from predators, LGDs are an alternative to attempting to hunt or scare off threats to your farmyard.


Dogs have been used for protection since their first domestication. In fact, along with their hunting abilities, protection is probably one of the primary reasons canines became part of human households. Over thousands of years, breeds have developed that specialize in protecting flocks and herds.

The most well known LGD is probably the Great Pyrenees, a large white dog from the mountainous regions of France and Spain. Other popular breeds include the Maremma Sheepdog, the Kuvasz, Akbash, and the corded Komondor. Farmers seek out LGDs as an alternative to fencing, which is not always affective, and arming themselves, which would require constant vigilance.

Unlike alternative methods of protection, LGDs become part of your herd or flock. They are always with the livestock, integrating themselves into the workings of the farm. Some breeds will do routine checks at the perimeters of your property, others keep a watchful eye from high vantage points. These dogs won’t run off after rabbits or other distractions: they will stick to their charges, and even when they chase off predators they will quickly return to the herd.

lgd with people

A LGD knows its job and treasures its flock. They can be as gentle as mother with chicks, goat kids, and even lambs. These dogs will quite literally protect a farmer’s investments, and because of that you need to have a dog you can trust.  The bond LGDs will form with their farmers is unique, differing from the normal pet-owner relationship. While LGDs are aggressive to potential threats, they are nothing but sweet with their owners and barely bark or growl unless threatened. 

Getting the right kind of LGD is integral to your experience with them. You want dogs with strong guarding heritage, not ones that have been bred to be pets. You should select a breed that fits your livestock, and you need to make sure your farm is right for these guardian animals. If you have a small flock, a LGD won’t be well suited as they like to roam the fields. If you’re in a colder climate, look to dogs whose heritage is in the mountains and have a thick coat to protect them throughout the winter.

A Livestock Guardian Dog will be vigilant 24/7, something not possible if you are trying to watch over your heard personally. Though you may assume that LGDs are only effective with larger animals, like goats and cattle, they are careful and vigilant guarding poultry as well. Finding a good breeder and focusing on training them while they are still young will help to ensure your relationship with your LGD is a good one.

Every farmer wants to be able to trust that their herd is safe. A good Livestock Guardian Dogs can take the worry away, and provide you with companionship in the process.

Read more of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' coverage of livestock guardians here.

Kirsten Lie-Nielsen currently farms 2 acres of a suburban homestead using geese for weeding and guarding purposes, raising chickens for eggs, bees for honey, and maintaining vegetable gardens for personal use. Recently, she has begun work restoring an old barn and 100 acres of overgrown fields in hopes of farming full time in the future. Find her online at Days Ferry Organics Blog, and read all of Kirsten's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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6/19/2016 4:58:27 AM

Hi- I'm a Peace Corp Volunteer currently serving in the Southern Caucus Mountains, and I'm about to adopt a tiny puppy that I think is an Anatolian Shepherd. This puppy was found alone in the road when she was about a week old, and has been bottle-fed since- we're guessing Anatolian Shepherd, since that's by far the most common dog type in our village- although folks here don't really keep pedigrees, just sheep and dogs. While I don't have any livestock here, it's my intention to raise goats when I return to the US (bringing my new dog with me). Do you have any tips for raising LGD pups before you have livestock? Or if you only have access to livestock of a different species than the one you eventually want your dog to live with (ie sheep now, goats later)? Thanks so much!

3/22/2016 8:51:51 AM

Sam and Joey's Grama, I can only give you my experience. First, buy a very good livestock guardian dog book and read up. I bought an Anatolian Shepherd at 9 weeks. The book says that was too early to leave Momma, should have learned more from Momma and left at 12 weeks minimum. My boy isn't neutered yet. He is very playful and big. i have small woolly sheep. He likes to play chase and pull wool so he needs constant supervision and correction when with the animals. I allow him to walk with me all day while doing chores around the property. He is slowly coming around to be a fine farm guardian. He alerts and barks at perceived threats. He is starting to understand the stock is not to be played with. it takes training unless you have a pre-trained dog. That said, I am very happy with his whole farm possessiveness. He does not chase or bother my free range ducks. He does not harm the barn cat, they're friends. And my dog will walk my property with me. Hauling him to a trail head and trying to walk a trail off the property would end in disaster. he would be so worried about his charges that he'd not be good company. My dog gets along fine with other dogs because I brought him home as a puppy and introduced him to my grown girls who are house dogs. If you start young you can train your dog to protect your chickens. it is done quite a bit these days. Also, if you have a high predator load, please consider the workload on your LGD, you may need more than one so they can do a good job. They are active at night when the predators are. And bears, badgers, and mountain lions and large coyote pressure can be far too much for one dog. They work wonderfully in pairs and an older dog can teach a younger one. One dog can stay behind and one dog can go with you. Or your house dog may be the one who follows you around, if trained not to play with your stock. I hope I helped.

3/20/2016 10:38:21 AM

I am moving from Kansas back to Colorado. As a 67 year old grandmother, in pretty good shape, I will be living alone in the mountains. I'm on 100 acres, surrounded by National Forest, so I have everything from raccoons, to badger, to coyotes, to bear and mountain lion. I actually want the guardian dog to take care of me as well as the calves and chickens. I like to hike and I have always had a dog along, usually Labs. Would these dogs leave their charges and come with me on a walk? It is almost impossible to have chickens up there because of all the predators, but I really want to bring along the chickens I have in Kansas. I know that the dogs are widely used in Wyoming with sheep. Would it be smarter to find a puppy there that comes from parents that aren't show dogs, but are true guardians? Also, how do they work with other dogs. I would like to have a second dog in the house at night for company, probably a Lab, since I understand LGDs are not really house dogs. Would they co-exist well if I got them both as puppies, or would it be a problem? Lots of questions. Thanks for any help! Thanks. Sam and Joey's Grama