Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
So we hear these questions nearly every day on LGD forums and Facebook pages and they go something like this - Can I use a Great Dane as a LGD? Or a St. Bernard? How about a heeler and Golden crossbred? 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 guard dogs or LGDs are a group of similar dog breeds just like herding dogs or hunting dogs belong in their own groups. Being a LGD is not a job you can train any other breed to perform. Developed over centuries by working shepherds, livestock guard 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 here as well. Nothing else is truly a livestock guard dog.
What Makes a Breed a Livestock Guardian?
This is what is crucially important to remember – the livestock guard dog breeds have been selected for a very low or non-existent 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 and correct instinctual behaviors they possess.
Due to 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 do not 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 and trust it to behave properly as a livestock guard. The prey or chase drives in many breeds are just too high to make them reliable guardians. Some breeds are excellent watchdogs but lack the nurturing instincts a LGD exhibits towards its charges. Other breeds lack the protective coat to work outside in difficult weather. Still others do not possess the size, agility, or sense of responsibility to take on serious predators. These are also the reasons why crosses with a 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 round farm dogs, but they should not be trusted or expected to live reliably with stock 24 hours a day.
If you are looking for a real livestock guard dog, which possesses ALL of these valuable traits, choose one of the recognized breeds or a cross between two LGD breeds. There is no better guardian of your flock or herd. To learn more about each of the different LGD breeds, check out the posts here and here.
A big thank you to the Facebook communities Learning About LGDs, Livestock Guard Dog Project, and Big White Dog Working LGD Forum for their patient support of newbies and others to the wonderful world of livestock guard dogs!
Jan Dohner is the author of Livestock Guardians: Using Dogs, Donkeys and Llamas to Protect Your Herd by Storey Publishing. Find out more about LGDs on her blog, Rare on the Farm, and follow @JDohner on twitter. She is also the author of The Encyclopedia of Historic and Endangered Livestock and Poultry Breeds by Yale University Press.