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Before You Buy a Livestock Guardian Dog or Puppy

By Jan Dohner

Tags: livestock guardians, pets, dogs, Jan Dohner, Michigan,


Border Collie puppies

With the increasing use of livestock guardian dogs, we are seeing more inappropriate breeds or crossbred dogs being offered for sale as livestock guardian dogs. If you are not familiar with the recognized breeds of LGDs, you can find the names of the breeds here.

Choosing a pup or a dog from one of these breeds or a cross of these breeds, gives you the very best chance of success. LGD breeds were developed through centuries to be perfectly suited to this work and they inherit a set of genetic behaviors and traits. You cannot train another breed to be a LGD. It is important to remember that LGDs are a specific group of breeds, like herding or hunting breed groups — not a job.

Other breeds do not possess the specific combination of inherited behaviors and traits that make a dog a LGD, including: a longer period of bonding; low prey drive; nurturing and protective instincts toward their charges; sufficient size to deal with large predators; a coat adapted to living outside; and the independence, self-thinking, and defensive aggression to respond to predators or threats.

Guidelines for Selecting a LGD Pup or Adult

Do not adopt a pup under the age of 8 weeks and preferably one closer to 12 weeks old. Research has proven that pups learn important lessons from their littermates on how to interact with other dogs and bite inhibition. Most experienced owners and breeders would advise you to only raise one LGD pup at a time. Working pups do not need a playmate. In fact, two pups can be overly focused on each other instead of you or your stock and will often encourage each other to get in trouble as they pass through their troublesome teens. Littermates are especially problematical. Most experts recommend staggering the ages of your LGDs if possible.

Do not select a pup that is small, fine-boned, or has a pointed muzzle. Most LGDs average 20 lbs at 8 weeks of age. At 16 weeks, they should weigh 35-40 pounds. A pup that is significantly smaller probably has some non-LGD in its parentage and will not grow large enough to deal with a predator. Although heartbreaking, do not buy a sickly or undersized puppy because you feel sorry for it. A LGD pup is an investment in protecting your valuable stock and farm. This is not the time for compromise.

If you are obtaining an adult LGD, he should weigh 80 to 120 lb or more, depending on the breed. However, also avoid oversized and massive dogs, which may result from crosses with other breeds. LGDs need to be large enough to deal with predator threats, but also fast and agile with great stamina. Some very large, imported dogs were bred for dog fighting or guard dog work, not as livestock guardians. Overly large dogs are also more prone to hip or joint injuries and a reduced lifespan.

Great Pyrenees  

Do not select an albino dog or a dog lacking dark coloring around the eyes or on the nose. Pink skin on the nose or around the eyes poses a serious risk of sunburn and skin cancers, especially for a full time working LGD. No LGD breeds have pink coloring in those areas.

Several characteristics are likely a result of outside breeding.

Crossbred dogs with herding or hunting breeds generally possess high prey drive – exactly the opposite of a good LGD. Crosses with herding dogs are especially common, since both types of dogs often live together on farms or ranches, but the resultant pups will be too small and too likely to possess strong chasing behaviors. Crosses with other dogs like a Saint Bernard, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, and others will lack appropriate behaviors as well. Do not take a chance with your valuable stock.

Four month old Kangal Dog pup

Avoid a Pup or Adult LGD with These Characteristics

Blue eyes or red or blue merle coloring. No LGD breeds have blue eyes or merle coloring. Speckling and freckling of color in white areas is also suspect. These traits indicate another breed in the dog’s parentage – mostly likely a herding breed.

Ears that are semi erect, pricked, or set high on the skull like they want to stand up. All LGD breeds have low set, drop ears unless they have been cropped.

Straight, thick tails. LGD tails are typically long and often curved, sabre-like, curled, or have a crook at the end. Some breeds may have cropped tails.

Very short, single or smooth coats. All LGD breeds (except for the extremely rare Laboreiro) are double-coated.

Whether you are considering a purebred LGD or a LGD x LGD cross, take some time to research the expected appearance, coat, and coloring of the breed or breeds.

Breeds and Coloring

Read the standard and look at pictures. Breeds have typical coats, colors, and color patterns. An unusual color, like black or black and tan, can be an good indication of outcrossing in some breeds. The Big White Dogs or BWDs — Great Pyrenees, Akbash, Maremma, Polish Tatra, Kuvasz, Komondor, and crosses of these breeds — are all white colored dogs that may have some lightly colored patches of cream, tan, red, or gray which typically fade as the dog ages. Badger markings or black edging on ears on a Pyrenees are acceptable. A BWD dog should not be colored black and white or resemble a Border Collie.

Concern about LGD color is not just relevant to dog showing or purebred breeding – it is a very helpful tool in determining a dog’s appropriate ancestry. Unusual colors or patterns should always raise a red flag because they suggest that the pup has another breed in its background. Even in breeds that appear in many colors, some colors are not very likely at all. If you have any doubt, seek a second opinion from a breed authority or LGD expert.

When shopping online, remember the good advice – buyer beware. Be especially cautious if the breeder cannot produce any registration, pedigree, or breeder information for a dog that is labeled as a purebred. You should not be asked to pay a purebred price for a dog without documentation.

Keeping these guidelines in mind will help you avoid the pitfalls or potential problems of LGD shopping, and will greatly increase your chances of success.

Thanks to the LGD experts at the Facebook group Learning About LGDs, who are dedicated to provided correct information for both new and experienced owners of livestock guardian dogs.

Photo credits: Great Pyrenees – David R Tribble (labeled for reuse Wiki commons); Border Collie puppies (labeled for reuse Wiki commons); Kangal Dog pup – Jan Dohner

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9/6/2015 9:29:20 PM

I'm inclined to believe those who have run siblings successfully, they have the proof right there before your eyes, not some sponsored study put out in books:

9/6/2015 8:06:57 PM

With the success I have had, I would have to disagree with your advice and suggest that siblings actually make it easier. I do agree it is important to buy good lgd bloodlines from a reputable breeder. Would love to provide more recent data that can be added to your writings.

9/6/2015 8:01:44 PM

I am new to LGDs but have had great success with the siblings that I have raised. Not sure where your research came from but would love to share with you my experience raising siblings. I know that it is often difficult to get real statistical data, but I can offer input. I have two 1.5 year working siblings on a small farm. I am also currently raising two more.

9/6/2015 5:25:59 PM

Absolutely, everyone should research various sides of any important issue and evaluate the credibility of the sources.

9/6/2015 4:26:23 PM

I strongly disagree with much of the information in this article. In the LGD world, there is far too much inaccurate information and it is being viewed as gospel to those who do not know any better. If any readers are new to LGDs. Please research additional articles and opinions before following this advice! I want to specifically address the idea of Littermate Syndrome. I've raised dogs both ways. Sibling LGDs are the ONLY way to go! *My dogs matured more quickly to handle the job at a younger age. *They never played with the stock. They had each other. *They never destroyed anything. They occupied each other when they got bored. *They matured into a formidable team. *There was ZERO downside. ZERO!!! Experienced ranchers who run siblings have the same success that I have had. These are not armchair experts. These are TRUE experts! They are real people working stock with fewer losses of stock and guardians.

9/6/2015 3:44:08 PM

"….The problems associated with raising sibling puppies are so well known that it is called Littermate Syndrome." Not in my world, Jan: I must strongly disagree with you over your comments about litter mates and the purported "litter mate syndrome" hyped by Dunbar and McConnell, which has been disputed by many other dog behaviorists, trainers and EXPERIENCED LGD breeders, owners, and trainers (such as myself) who run huge packs of LGDs. If what the "anti-sibling" people promote was really true, then they'd be hard pressed to "explain away" the multiple success stories I and my clients have had owning, training and working sibling LGD pairs and trios, all over the country, for years. It really is not hard to do at all, if a person knows what they are doing, and takes the time to respect and understand dogs, not just treat them like disposable tools, and respects and understands pack dynamics. With my siblings and my support, my customers also achieve success with siblings. They swear by them, and go on to buy more sibling pairs from me because they work so well.

9/6/2015 3:34:52 PM

great advice!!! novices would benefit by following this advise!! obvious by comment, some need to do some real serious research. or real life with yrs of experience as well. with internet at our fingertips, one only has to look at videos, research, etc. to see that shepherds in these countries of origin of these dogs, while they do use packs. multiple ages. but rarely even siblings. however, if they do, the fact that the shepherds LIVE with their stock & dogs part of the yr, and there are multiple ages of dogs helping train pups. siblings are much more of a problem. they bond to each other, yet can also have inner pack conflicts vying for top position. any dog trainer knows this.

9/6/2015 2:29:42 PM

This post is absolutely NOT about guessing breeds in a potential LGD puppy - it is about the pitfalls of buying or adopting a dog without knowing what breed or breeds the parents are. The suggestions about appearance are additional warning signs for potential buyers, to alert them to possible outcrosses with non LGD breeds such as herding dogs. The problems associated with raising sibling puppies are so well known that it is called Littermate Syndrome. Most dog behaviorists and trainers, as well as national breed clubs and dog organizations, advise against this practice. If readers are looking for more information on Littermate Syndrome, Dr Ian Dunbar and Dr Patricia McConnell, two of the leading dog behaviorists, have written extensively about the issues owners face with sibling pups. Livestock raisers who are facing serious and large predator pressure do use packs of LGDs as protection. In the homelands of these breeds, young dogs are introduced and mentored by older working dogs. A new owner with two sibling pups and no mentor adults is facing a very challenging situation. This post is aimed at the new or inexperienced LGD owner.

9/4/2015 1:56:34 PM

Worst advice ever! This should be named "What Not to do When Buying an LGD"! First, it has been proven over and over that you CANNOT identify specific breeds within a mix by simply looking at it, the success rates are abysmal! Second LGD’s are meant to be run in pairs and packs, NOT alone and siblings have been proven to be most effective at this, especially when they have been born and raised responsibly within a pack environment. Running two or more siblings provides more coverage sooner and more effectively, and is way more beneficial to the dog’s health and wellbeing. Put it like this……if you were going to play football and the other team had 5 guys (think coyotes, wolves, feral dogs) would you want to have a team of five or play against them alone? As for the interaction with livestock; LGD puppies are more likely to play together and less likely to want to play with the stock, and obviously supervision is needed regardless of how many puppies you are training. This is common sense not rocket science. Finally, seeing a pedigree is great, seeing mom, dad, and if possible grandparents out working is priceless, and registration isn’t worth the paper it’s written on in terms of working ability! She doesn’t even bother addressing the many breeds that are not registerable in the US, I believe they may outnumber those who are at this point. Seriously, please stop posting her blogs, she consistently gives out misinformation on which the rest of us have to do damage control!