What is the Difference Between a Livestock Guard Dog and a Family Companion?


The first step in selecting a LGD, is determining what role you expect him to perform. This decision can determine which puppy you choose from a litter. It is also essential in correctly providing his earliest experiences and training. Individual dogs from the livestock guard dog breeds perform all these roles, but some breeds are better suited to one job over another.  Please take a few minutes to briefly look at the various breeds – especially their strengths and tendencies – found here in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Remember that males and females perform these jobs equally well.

A full-time livestock guardian means just that – the dog lives with his stock 24/7 – whether in the fields or barns. He does not come in the house. He does not play with the other family dogs in the yard. The attention you give him should all happen where he works and lives. He is content without constant human contact and may actually seem somewhat aloof. He has inherited the good guardian traits of low prey drive, attentiveness, trustworthiness, and protection of his stock. And, most importantly, his early experiences were well shaped and he was carefully supervised throughout his first 18 – 24 months. We will be learning how to do this in several up coming posts.

However, the full-time LGD still needs to be socialized and handled.  In the past, some LGD users advocated raising a puppy away from almost all human contact. Frankly, this is a very dangerous idea. LGDs must be leash trained, accustomed to nail trimming and basic grooming, and receptive to handling from you and your veterinarian.  If your vet doesn’t make farm calls, your LGD also needs to be able to ride in your car. Appropriate attention and handling will not prevent the puppy from bonding to or socializing to his stock. Again, this should all happen in the pasture, not your house or yard.

A full time LGD also deserves human interaction. When interest in using LGDs was renewed in the 1970s, there was a mistaken impression that these dogs worked completely alone. In reality, in their homelands these dogs were usually in the company of shepherds. Either the dogs were out with the shepherds during the day and home at night; or the sheep, shepherds, and dogs camped out in the mountains throughout the summer. Even at night when the dogs patrolled the grazing animals or slept near the penned stock, the shepherds were close by. This was an affectionate, working partnership. Here in North America, we often ask our dogs to do something much more difficult – to live with the stock and only see the shepherd only once or twice a day or sometimes not for days at a time. When we think about the traditional LGD experience, we see how many dogs from the LGD breeds also work well as either general farm guardians or family companions. 

A general farm guardian sleeps outside of the house – perhaps in a doghouse, a garage, or a barn.  HeHealthy Livestock Guardian Dog patrols the areas around your farm buildings and surrounding fields or paddocks. He may accompany you as you tend your stock during the day. If you need to do chores in the dark, you can have no better companion. He may spend the day with the stock, provided he has been appropriately socialized and trained with these animals. As long as he has free access to his patrol area, he will protect your home, your outbuildings, and adjacent fields – alerting you to situations that require your assistance. Many LGDs protect poultry by patrolling outside the poultry enclosures, not inside. Without complete 24-hour access to pastures, he may not be able to provide total protection from predators, but if your farm is fairly compact and he has access to areas adjacent to your pens and pastures, he will do a good job of warning predators away during the night. 

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