Livestock Guardian Dog
Article: Working Dogs » Livestock Guardian Dog
A livestock guardian dog (LGD) is a domesticated canine used to defend livestock against predators. LGDs are commonly referred to as “sheep dogs” since they most often have guarded flocks of sheep, but most are capable of guarding other species of livestock. They are classified as pastoral dogs. Unlike herding dogs (also often called “sheepdogs”) such as the Border Collie, an LGD does not control the movement of the flock with predatory actions causing bunching. Instead, LGDs tend to blend into the flock and generally ignore the individual animals in favor of keeping an eye out for potential threats. While bunching behavior is observed, it is the livestock that tend to bunch around the guarding dogs, especially on open range when predators are near.
The dogs are introduced to livestock as puppies so they “imprint” on the animals. This imprinting is thought to be largely olfactory and occurs between 3 and 16 weeks of age. An LGD raised with sheep will generally not be an effective guardian of cattle or goats and one raised with cattle will not be an effective guardian of goats or sheep. The imprinting is critical because LGDs tend to behave in a non-predatory and protective way only with animal species they have been raised with. Proper socialization and instinct, not training, are key to rearing an effective LGD. Bonding LGDs to cattle is more difficult than bonding them to the smaller livestock species. However, the practice of bonding guarding dogs to cows is becoming more common, especially in places such as the American West where the reintroduction of predators has conflicted with cattle herds in areas where predation had been rare. There are even trials underway to protect penguins.
In Namibia in Southwest Africa, Anatolians are used to guard goat herds from cheetahs, and are typically imprinted between seven and eight weeks of age. Impoverished Namibian farmers often came into conflict with predatory cheetahs; now, Anatolians usually are able to drive off cheetahs with their barking and displays of aggressions.
LGDs are generally large and protective, which can make them less than ideal for urban or even suburban living. Nonetheless, despite their size, they can be gentle, make good companion dogs, and are often protective towards children. If introduced to a family as a pup, most LGDs are as protective of their family as a working guard dog is of its flock. In fact, in some communities where LGDs are a tradition, the runt of a litter would often be kept or given as a household pet or simply kept as a village dog without a single owner.
Anywhere from one to five dogs may be placed with a flock or herd depending on its size, the type of predators, their number, and the intensity of predation. If predators are scarce, one dog may be adequate though range operations usually require two dogs. Both male and female LGDs have proved to be equally effective in protecting of livestock. However, in regions where dogs were used in annual transhumance migrations, males were often used exclusively as LGDs since pregnant females and newborn pups would likely perish on the long journeys.
The three qualities most sought after in LGDs are trustworthiness, attentiveness and protectiveness—trustworthy in that they do not roam off and are not aggressive with the livestock, attentive in that they are situationally aware of threats by predators, and protective in that they will attempt to drive off predators. Dogs, being social creatures with differing personalities, will take on different roles with the herd and among themselves: most sticking close to the livestock, others tending to follow the shepherd or rancher when one is present, and some drifting farther from the livestock. These differing roles are often complementary in terms of protecting livestock, and experienced ranchers and shepherds sometimes encourage these differences by adjustments in socialization technique so as to increase the effectiveness of their group of dogs in meeting specific predator threats. LGDs that follow the livestock closest assure that a guard dog is on hand if a predator attacks, while LGDs that patrol at the edges of a flock or herd are in a position to keep would-be attackers at a safe distance from livestock. Those dogs that are more attentive tend to alert those that are more passive but perhaps also more trustworthy or less aggressive with the livestock.
While LGDs have been known to fight to the death with predators, in most cases predator attacks are prevented by a display of aggressiveness. LGDs are known to drive off predators that physically they would be no match for, such as bears and even lions. With the reintroduction of predators into natural habitats in Europe and North America, environmentalists have come to appreciate LGDs because they allow sheep and cattle farming to coexist with predators in the same or nearby habitats. Unlike trapping and poisoning, LGDs seldom kill predators; instead, their aggressive behaviors tend to condition predators to seek unguarded (thus, non-farm animal) prey. For instance, in Italy’s Gran Sasso National Park, where LGDs and wolves have coexisted for centuries, older, more experienced wolves seem to “know” the LGDs and leave their flocks alone.
List of Breeds
There are many breeds of LGDs, many of which are little known outside of the regions in which they are still worked. These include:
- Abruzzese Mastiff
- Akbash Dog
- Anatolian Shepherd Dog
- Armenian Gampr dog
- Bucovina Shepherd Dog
- Carpathian Shepherd Dog
- Cão de Castro Laboreiro
- Caucasian Shepherd Dog (Caucasian Ovcharka)
- Central Asia Shepherd Dog
- Cão de Gado Transmontano
- Cão da Serra da Estrela
- Dogo Sardesco
- Great Pyrenees
- Greek Shepherd Dog
- Himalayan Sheepdog or Bhote kukur
- Kangal Dog
- Karakachan Dog
- Karst Shepherd (Kraški Ovčar)
- Maremma Sheepdog
- Perro Majorero
- Polish Tatra Mountain Sheepdog (Polski Owczarek Podhalański)
- Pyrenean Mastiff
- Rafeiro do Alentejo
- Sage Koochee
- Slovak cuvac (Slovenský čuvač)
- South Russian Ovcharka
- Spanish Mastiff
- Tibetan Mastiff
- Tornjak (Bosnian and Herzegovinian – Croatian Shepherd Dog)
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