Is This Breed a Livestock Guardian Dog?


Livestock Guardian Dog BreedI hear these questions nearly every day on LGD forums and Facebook pages, and they go something like this: Can I use a Great Dane or a St. Bernard as a livestock guardian dog? How about a heeler and Golden cross-breed? My neighbor has some great pups that are a cross between a Great Pyrenees and an Aussie, so would they make a good LGD? We also see lots of dogs advertised as LGDs, but they aren’t.

Livestock guardian dogs, or LGDs, are a group of similar dog breeds, just like herding dogs or hunting dogs belong in their own groups. Being an LGD isn't a job you can train any other breed to perform. Developed over centuries by working shepherds, livestock guardian dog breeds possess a specific set of qualities and behaviors that make them excel at this very special work.

North American Livestock Guardian Dog Breeds

These are the only breeds of livestock guardians readily available in North America. Other breeds are used in different countries and may occasionally be found in North America as well.

  • Akbash
  • Anatolian Shepherd
  • Armenian Gampr
  • Caucasian Mountain
  • Central Asian Shepherd
  • Estrela Mountain
  • Great Pyrenees
  • Kangal Dog
  • Karakachan, or Bulgarian Shepherd
  • Komondor
  • Kuvasz
  • Maremma Sheepdog
  • Polish Tatra Sheepdog
  • Pyrenean Mastiff
  • Sarplaninac
  • Slovak Cuvac
  • Spanish Mastiff
  • Tibetan Mastiff
  • Tornjak 

What Makes a Breed a Livestock Guardian?

This is what's crucially important to remember: Livestock guardian dog breeds have been selected for a very low or nonexistent prey drive, a longer period of social bonding than many other breeds, and a physical appearance that suggests “friend.” They have also been selected for the essential traits of attentiveness, trustworthiness, and protection of their stock. LGDs are exceptionally nurturing and tolerant of their charges. LGDs also possess instinctual responses to first warn off threats rather than immediately attack. Successful owners take these natural LGD behaviors and carefully monitor and encourage them as their pup grows. These inborn traits can be so strong that some adult LGDs, who were never socialized with stock as puppies, will still make outstanding guardians because of the strong instinctual behaviors they possess. 

Because of their size and appearance, members of the public sometimes confuse LGDs with protection breed dogs. However, many LGD breeds have been tested by police, military, and schutzhund trainers, who have repeatedly found them unsuitable because of their important lack of strong predatory behaviors. Conversely, this is why protection breeds don't make good LGDs: They have a strong predatory instinct. 

The inherited LGD traits are the reason why you can’t take a Lab or a Border Collie or another non-LGD breed and easily train it and trust it to behave properly as a livestock guardian. The prey or chase drive in many breeds is just too high to make them reliable guardians. Some breeds are excellent watchdogs but lack the nurturing instincts an LGD exhibits toward its charges. Other breeds lack the protective coat to work outside in difficult weather. Still others don't possess the size, agility, or sense of responsibility to take on serious predators. These are also the reasons why crosses with an LGD and a non-LGD breed are just not reliable as working livestock guardians. The pups can certainly possess the traits of the non-LGD parent. Yes, many breeds make great all-around farm dogs, but they shouldn't be trusted or expected to live reliably with stock 24 hours a day.

CMD fan
5/25/2021 10:17:26 AM

Colorado Mountain Dog is a LGD and you don't mention it!

8/13/2020 11:33:04 AM

Great article; someone finally explained the real difference between dogs and LGDs. Our Great Pyrenees is like an Angel hovering over his flock of sheep, always vigilant and never bored with his job. He's equally protective of his human family, shepherding us through gates, always waiting for us to go through before he does, walking velcroed to our leg as we traverse woods and pasture. (The Pyr doesn't have to be aggressive to guard -- their mere massive presence is off-putting to most predators of the human or animal variety). Sits quietly awaiting his daily beef bone, lets you put it in his mouth and never "takes" it from you. Best dog ever. We never taught him ANY of these behaviors! Angel dog, ready made! Keeps us all safe, haven't lost a lamb or even a chicken to predators since we got Big Sam 6 years ago. Be careful that you buy a pup from a farm and not a show or pet breeder who is breeding for small size, easier-to-keep thin coat or appearance. We bought one from a show kennel who had high prey drive (she'd fetch balls and frisbees, chickens, ducks and newborn lambs-- not good in an LGD. These guys are made to lie amongst the sheep, masquerading as one until the predators arrive, at which time they bark and show themselves to deter the predators. A 150 pound LGD possessed of a very deep bark and a commanding presence sends coyotes and even big cats packing. The drawback is the breed is semi-nocturnal, annoying humans nearby with what can seem like incessant nighttime barking, and giving the impression that all they do is lie around and sleep all day. All that watching, barking, chasing at night takes it out of them!

8/2/2017 9:59:50 AM

Please add Turkish Boz Shepherd which is a super Kangal

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