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.
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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