You may have heard of livestock guardian dogs to protect traditional serving as livestock guardians to farm animals like goats, sheep and other farm animals but did you know that livestock guardian dogs are being called for duty in a newly expanded role including protecting vulnerable wildlife as conservation dogs?
Livestock guardian dogs are typically large dogs of large breeds that are more than a companion dog but are dogs that fend off potential threats.
While these threats used to be limited to supporting farmers and ranchers like sheep rancher, goat farmers and other livestock ranchers from wildlife threats their role has evolved to be considered an important player in environmental conservation.
We recently welcomed a new dog into The Popular Pets family by adopting a Great Pyrenees, the breed characteristics and the role of livestock guardian breeds in the family contrasted against traditional companion dogs has been an adjustment but at the same time caused us to learn about this important dog.
Having traditionally always had companion dogs the traits and personality of these intelligent dogs has been a big change.
Brief History of Livestock Guardian Dogs
Livestock Guardian dogs worked alongside shepherds to protect livestock for millennia, however, most livestock guardian dogs lost their jobs in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In some parts of Europe, humans systemically persecuted predator’s for sport and any that came near flocks were hunted poisoned and trapped quickly desolating their populations. With wolves and bears gone from the landscape their habitat also diminished due to agriculture forestry and human habitat.
In Canada and the United States people were of offered bounties to hunt for bears and wolves that were later place on endangered species lists and reintroduced and at the same time also discovered that they are keystone species, supporting all of the other animals for a healthy ecosystem.
However, once the wild animals left the shepherds and farmers no longer needed these dogs but with predators supported by wildlife agencies making a comeback in various parts of the world , Livestock Guardians are making a comeback with a newly expanded role.
They are still serving as working livestock guard dog and currently comprise one of the largest of all working dogs with millions of them working throughout the world. With the return of the wolf to the French alps there are purportedly 3,000 livestock guardian dogs working there.
Training Livestock Guardian Dogs
Although Livestock Guardian Dogs have natural instincts to protect livestock a good livestock guardian dog starts by forming a special friendship or bond at a young age as a young pup with the species it is to protect.
The dogs are raised from an early age as a farm dog with the animals they will will protecting and eventually the animals become their family. Due to the strong bond the dogs become very protective of the livestock.
Most livestock guardian dogs are large breed dogs and very independent thinkers they are expected to work full time with the livestock as a working dog. The rancher or farmer has to spend sometime with the dog but if too much the dog will bond with the family and not the livestock and will not be in the field protecting the animals.
This was a new and different concept and dynamic for me since other working dogs I am familiar with like cattle dogs or sheepdogs do their work and they still view the famer or rancher their pack leader.
Livestock Guardian Dog Breeds and Their Jobs
Livestock guardian dogs are diverse as their jobs.
Kangal Shepherd Livestock Guardian Dogs
Kangal Shepherds or Kangal Dog also according to the AKC referred to as Anatolian Shepherds is a breed of large livestock guardian dog native to Turkey. They are a strong willed independent dog with a 6,000 year history protecting sheep and goats from wolves and bears.
Their short coats protect them from thorns and bushes and allows them adapt to changing temperatures. Their independent personalities mean they can work independently to guard animals.
The Kangal Shepherd is the official dog of the Cheetah Conservation Fund. In Namibia, farmers farm close to Cheetahs, the fastest land animal on earth but also one that was quickly facing extinction.
Once found throughout Africa and Asia they are now only present in about 9 percent of their historic range.
Namibian farmers used to think their only option was to kill the cats and according to Conservation Canines a book by Isabelle Groc, the CCF believe that between 1980 and 1990 over 7,000 cheetahs were lost this way.
According to Laurie Marker, CCF Founder and Executive Director, since 1994, the CCF has placed over 700 Kangal Shepherds and the Kangal breed placed on farms has saved many predators and important species in Africa while reducing livestock deaths by 80 to 100%.
Estrela Mountain Dogs Livestock Guardian Dogs
There are other livestock guardian dogs that are less common breeds such as the Estrela Mountain Dogs. Spain and Portugal are home to about 15% of the worlds wolves, in Portugal there are about 3,000 Iberian wolves that are protected by Portuguese law. These wolves were proving devastating to livestock in the area.
Despite their protected status biologists scientific reports still indicated that about 90% of wolf deaths were from poison and shooting. Which statistics led to a passionate biologist named Syliva Riberio to create an organization Grupo Lobo, to promote the peaceful coexistence between wolves and farmers.
Since 1997, Grupo Lobo has worked with 350 farmers to place over 700 dogs to protect their farms from herds, they are the Estrela Mountain Dogs, Castro Lobiero Dog, and the Alentejo Mastiff, Transmontono Mastiff referred by some as Spanish Mastiff or Pyrenean Mastiff
Great Pyrenees Dog as Livestock Guardian Dog
The Great Pyrenees or Pyrenean Mountain Dog recognized as a large white dogs was one of the first livestock protection dogs used in France to guard against bears, wolves, foxes, lynx, wild dogs, feral dogs, and mountain lions until the French Nobility adopted them as guard dogs due to their strong guarding instinct.
They lost their traditional livestock guard dog role when the wolf population decreased but are now again being deployed throughout the world to guard livestock and have become one of the most popular livestock dogs and featured in a dog Disney movie which contributed to their popularity as a family dog as well.
As we have found as new owners of a Great Pyrenees and according to Hill’s Pet, The Great Pyrenees dog is calm, devoted and well-mannered, but an owner must have patience during training because these dogs tend to be independent dogs and stubborn and one of the most protective breeds.
The Great Pyrenees has a white long double coat which makes them also very adaptable to weather changes found in all terrain and able to function in harsh climates.
Wolves have returned to France in 1992 estimated to about 530 and French farmers are once again turning to the Great Pyrenees to protect their domestic livestock.
Great Pyrenees have proven that livestock guardian dogs can be an effective method to protect small livestock also protecting goats and sheep in North America from bears, mountain lions, and other predators with the added bonus of being excellent guard dogs.
Maremma Sheepdogs as Livestock Guardians
The Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdog, Italian: Cane da pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese, also called Maremmano, Maremma Sheepdog or Abruzzese Sheepdog, is an Italian breed of livestock guardian dog. Maremma Sheepdogs are indigenous to central Italy, particularly to Abruzzo and to the Maremma region of Tuscany and Lazio, like the Great Pyrenees it is large and white with a double coat.
In Australia, the Maremma Sheepdog has been used as a Livestock Guardian Dog to protect livestock from the Dingo. Australian farmers were fed up with the Dingo hurting their herds which included sheep goats and free range chickens and would kill them.
However, biologists discovered the importance of the Dingo to maintain biodiversity. The Dingo killed red foxes and cats which were an introduced species. In turn the smaller mammals lived improving biologic diversity.
Maremma Sheepdogs as Penguin Protectors
Of course penguins are not livestock but the same best qualities in the breed that helped farmers in Australia protect their herds are also used to protect penguins in Southwestern Australia.
Middle Island in Southwestern Australia is a protected area connected by a sand bridge to mainland and home for decades to a the smallest penguin in the world. That is until foxes, a non-native and introduced species to Australia discovered that they could cross the sand bridge at low tide where they decimated the penguins.
An astonishing decline in Penguins resulted in 2005, the 504 Penguins which arrived nightly was now 10. That year 268 carcasses were found in a day.
A Farmer that had great success with Maremma Sheepdogs protecting his own flock of free range chickens suggested that the Maremma Sheepdog be used to protect the penguins.
Biologists subsequently trained and deployed the dogs and they stayed on the Island for several days at a time during breeding season. While there no penguins lives were lost and their habitat and population was restored.
In 2017, the Penguins returned early when the dogs were not there and it was devastating. The dogs role has now been adjusted and the population is being restored.
Our amazing dog series focuses on all of the ways that dogs support and help us and our planet from perceived threats. These dogs and the ones we have featured and so many more are pure evidence of our amazing dogs, small dog, large dog, purebred with selective breeding and rescues are all contributing to our and our planet’s greater health and wellbeing.
If you love dogs as much us read more about Amazing Dogs that Inspire us:
Livestock Guardian Dog FAQs
The answer to what is the best livestock guardian dog depends on the terrain and the livestock you want to protect, the most popular livestock guardian dogs are the Anatolian Shepherd, Great Pyrenees and the Kangal. There are many other different livestock guardian dogs like Mastiffs.
Great Pyrenees have been known to guard chickens and even free range chickens. Our Great Pyrenees, Ruby, certainly does since she guards the entire perimeter any wildlife predator to our domestic animals is warded off by her.
LGDs guard livestock such as sheep, chickens, goats along with many species that need protection as part of environmental conservation efforts like Penguins. The dogs are introduced to the species they are to protect as puppies so they “imprint” on the animals as opposed to humans and learn to be protective of them.
Many dogs with the correct amount of training will make great pets, however, Livestock Guardian dogs are primarily genetically inclined to be working dogs and many of their traits make them not the most desirable pet for instance, headstrong (they have to be very protective and tough), tendency to bond with other animals, need for large area, prone to barking and we have found they get hot in the house. While our family appreciates these traits as our dogs are also working dogs and our pets, if you live in a confined area a LGD may not be the happiest.
Whether or not you need a livestock guardian dog depends on your living situation. If you raise animals for pets or domestic meat or fur production then you may find a livestock guardian dog helpful to keep predators away and protect your animals.