Livestock Protection Dogs

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
Anatolian Shepherds are courageous and were once used as war dogs.

Predatory animals are a source of continual frustration to
most homesteaders who raise livestock. A quietly foraging
flock of sheep or hens will too often provide an easy meal
to such animals as coyotes and foxes. Worse yet, wild dog
packs — which often include tame canines that are allowed to
run, and which have been known to attack people — have become
almost commonplace in many areas. However, farmers frequently have little choice but to write
off herd or flock losses rather than try to cope with the
various marauders, because they’ve found that attempting to
control the varmints by shooting or trapping them is time
consuming, poisons often endanger innocent species
and physical barriers are just too costly.

How to Fend Off Wild Animals

Fortunately, there is an old-time natural
remedy that can be effective in solving the dilemma.
Livestock raisers in Europe and Asia have, for thousands of
years, employed various breeds of dogs to deter both
two-and four-legged predators. Several of these canine
varieties have come down through the centuries unspoiled by
irresponsible breeders or dog show fanciers (who have bred
defects into many types). The guard dogs are often referred
to as “shepherds,” but they don’t actually herd
livestock in the manner of Border collies or Belgian
sheepdogs. Instead, these animals have more “maternal” and
protective instincts and will allow their charges to
wander freely — as long as they remain in sight and out
of trouble.

In fact, protection dogs are actually followers: they meander behind their flocks quietly, almost
lethargically. If you were to spend a long period of time
observing an assembly of livestock with a good guard dog in
its midst, you’d probably be amazed at the total
lack of action in the field. No stock disappear,
no predators set foot inside the pasture and no strangers
are allowed entrance in the dog’s territory.

Evidently the mere presence of such a canine is enough to
discourage most predators. If a coyote, another dog or an
unknown human should intrude upon the scene, though, the
attitude of the dog will change drastically. It will first
sound a barking challenge. If that doesn’t repel the
intruder, the canine will “rush” the stranger with tail
upraised. The dog will always carefully position itself
between its charges and the trespasser, and — if
necessary — can become quite aggressive. However,
once a predator has been driven off the premises, the dog
generally returns to the flock, knowing that
its place is alongside the grass-grazers, not out
chasing after a fight.

Obviously, you won’t be finding many of these very
specialized animals at your neighborhood pet shop. In fact,
only a few are readily available in the United States. They are offeredmostly through special breeders and associations. Here are
brief descriptions of some of the working dogs being bred
in the U.S. today.

Great Pyrenees Dogs

This dog is named for its original work
place, the Pyrenees Mountains bordering France and Spain. A
large white animal with a face resembling that of a bear,
the “Pyr” will mature fairly early and can often assume its
duties at six months of age. These are versatile dogs. Besides being formidable livestock guards, they’ll
typically enjoy pulling carts or sleds and can even
perform remarkably well as babysitters! The male stands 27
to 32 inches tall and weighs 100 to 125 pounds (females are
somewhat smaller). Their coats are heavy and the animals
are well suited to regions that experience cold weather.

Shar Planinetz Dogs

This Yugoslavian native looks much like
the Great Pyrenees but is slightly smaller, measuring 22 to
24 inches at the shoulder. Most “Shars” have buff or light
gray coats, but the color can range from black to white
(the animals’ faces and muzzles are usually darkest). These
dogs are friendly and demonstrative as pups but will become
aloof and distant as they mature.

Maremma Dogs

This is a dog that has worked for centuries in the
plains of Tuscany and in the Abruzzi mountains of central
Italy. The Maremma resembles the two previously described
breeds (in fact, all three probably share a common Asian
ancestry). A typical male stands 26 to 29 inches at the
shoulder and weighs in at about 80 pounds. Its coat is
thick and white, and will occasionally sport dark spots.
The Maremma seems to be friendlier than most other
protection breeds, and thus might be better suited for
small farms where considerable human contact is likely.

Kuvasz Dogs

In Turkish the word “kuvasz” means “protector,”
so it’s believed that this breed came to Hungary —
where it’s found today — from eastern Turkey
probably back in the twelfth century. The dog resembles
both the Great Pyrenees and the Maremma in coat and color.
Its standard height is 28 to 30 inches at the shoulder and
its weight 100 to 115 pounds. With a temperament best
described as “lively,” this breed is both highly possessive
of its flock and gentle with its family.

Komondor Dogs

This breed from Hungary bears no resemblance
to the others. Its coat is unique: a long, thick, mop-like
mass that hangs in cords or “tassels” from its body, thus
protecting it from inclement weather or predators’ teeth. 

Anatolian Shepherd Dogs

These animals were originally bred
on the Anatotlan plateau of Turkey, where they’re still
extensively used to protect sheep from wolves. Their coats
range from smooth to shaggy and from light to dark, and
their muzzles are generally dark. Males range from 70 to
100 pounds, and the standard height is 29 inches at the
shoulder. These dogs are gentle to their families but
become very aggressive against predators (either animal or
human) and will fight to kill.

Tibetan Mastiff Dogs

Mastiff owners claim that the dogs are
the ancestors of many of the canines we’ve already
discussed, as well as of other working dogs. The breed
dates back to 1200 B.C. and has never been hybridized.
Mastiffs are primarily used today as guardians in the
villages of Tibet and Nepal and sometimes accompany the
nomadic caravans that roam those countries. (The dogs
travel well, and have adapted to the rigors of mountain and
high desert life.) This is one of the world’s rarest breeds
. . . there are fewer than 100 are registered in the United States.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you decide to purchase a pup for livestock
protection purposes, insist on a registered dog, with
papers to prove that it comes from quality stock.