Choosing a Livestock Guard Dog Breed: Part One


livestock dogsIt is definitely true that most people do not know what livestock guard dogs are or what they do. Owners of LGDs have answered these questions many times. No, they are not herding dogs. No, they are not guard dogs. Then there are the questions about breeds. Most LGD breeds are uncommon and many are downright rare. Yes, it’s fawn with a black mask, but it’s not a mastiff. Yes, it’s white and fluffy, but it’s not a Great Pyrenees. Finally, there are folks who believe that LGDs are all essentially the same and therefore don’t regard breed distinctions as important or relevant.  Breeds?  Aren’t they all the same?

Yes, there are indeed many different breeds of LGDs in the world. Some are now here at work in North America, but others are primarily only found overseas. To those of us who work with these dogs, it’s all fascinating stuff. If you are thinking of adding an LGD to your farm, you will find advertisements for various breeds and crossbreeds. Learning about the various LGD breeds, their origins, and their traits is important to help you make your decisions.

LGDs were developed throughout a wide sweep of southern Europe and Central Asia. The LGD breeds obviously have the same basic set of behaviors and they often look quite like each other. Although these breeds are closely related in function and appearance, we are learning more about how each group of people in a different area selected their LGDs for traits specifically adaptable to that group’s particular geography and husbandry needs. There can be real differences and specializations between these breeds – such as style of work, temperament, and other behaviors - even though they may share distant common ancestry. These differences should be valued because they increase your ability to choose the right breed for your situation.

Some differences you can expect to see include: size (from to 60 to 150 pounds or more); coat length; relative aggressiveness and other behaviors towards predators; dog aggression; suspicion or wariness of strange people; tolerance of trustworthy strangers on the farm; acceptance of children; territoriality; nurturing of baby animals; sharper or aloof temperaments vs more family friendly or social dogs; more passive vs more active natures; and others.

Recently, Conservation Media created a short video, Livestock Guard Dogs; Working on Common Ground, for the organization People and Carnivores.  Ranch owners, Cody and Liesl Lockhart, ranch owners, present a good introduction to the differences between breeds and the importance of those differences in a real working setting. People and Carnivores is also an excellent of information on co-existing with predators.

Important disclaimer – as you begin talking to people about LGD breeds, you will soon discover that different people have different observations about LGD breeds. And they can be quite passionate about it! It is also very important to know that individual differences between dogs in the same breed also can vary, just like in all other dog breeds. This is all understandable because working with dogs is an art not a science. Please take all comments about breeds as a generalization not a hard-and-fast rule.livestock dogs

11/21/2013 10:54:46 AM

Dear Jan Dohner, After reading your blogs about LGDs for Mother Earth News, including the last blog I would like to respectfully say something. The LGD topic has never been more spoken off as it is today. That’s because it’s an extremely important subject. LGDs are a key to predator/human coexistence, cultural heritage and most important they are living animals thus deserve the best attention and care as possible. The information you provide also aids to that. There are many people who present themselves as LGD specialists, yet only a hand full have got what it takes. For some time now there is a collaboration on this subject including several people from various specialist fields; LGD breeders and owners, conservationists, transhumance specialists, etc. from the US and Europe. We all have the common goal to provide good information about successfully running LGDs with all facets that come with it. In your last blog you mention the ‘on common ground’ video and two of the people who are in that video. Strangely you ignore Brenda M. Negri, who is in the video too. In addition she is also actively involved in the international collaboration I just mentioned. We all spend much time, energy and devotion trying to reach the best situation regarding LGDs. Information about this subject has to be repeated continuously to reach new people and to remind others of what it’s all about. The only way to achieve this is when several capable people work together on this and of course mentioning these colleagues and their efforts. I would like to know your opinion about this. I also would like to mention that the information you write down is a combination of own experience and content of other sources. It would be respectful to mention sources and people who are positively working on the same subject. After all the goal has to be: achieving the best situation for LGDs, which involves many devoted people. The only way to increase success is to work together on this, there is no room for one man shows. Kind regards, Ray Dorgelo

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