Dogs make great livestock guardian animals; they can be incredibly aggressive towards predators, yet extremely gentle with people and small or young livestock. Livestock guardian dogs can be considered an upgrade to just “any old” farm dog, companion dog, or herding dog. Their specific skill and function (if you haven’t guessed)? Protecting livestock. They become full-time members of whatever flock or herd they’re charged with protecting.
Livestock guarding dogs are bred to be self-thinkers. They don’t need to wait for your command in order to react; instead, they’re capable of independently evaluating the threat level of any situation — and then taking appropriate action. An LGD notices subtle changes in its environment, and self-sufficiently responds to keep threats away:
- If a strange person approaches, they notice, assess the threat, and bark.
- If a coyote begins stalking the perimeter, they run and attack when the threat becomes too great.
- If an owl gets too near the chicken run, they’re ready to prevent any carnage.
Not everyone needs a livestock guardian dog (or two); however, if your property is large enough and you raise chickens, goats, sheep, or cattle, or chickens, it’ll be worth having canine assistance to reduce predatory threats to your livestock.
How Do You Know Which Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) to Choose?
Ultimately, the specific chemistry between an individual dog and a particular ranch environment matters more than any assumptions or expectations about a certain guardian dog breed. And while you’re intent on finding a good protector for your livestock, what makes a ”good dog” varies from operation to operation, based on the specific context.
Generally, though, it’s important that livestock guardian dogs be relatively friendly (but not clingy) with humans while deterring local predators. Adding to that, your specific needs might also require a dog who’s especially good with children, who can handle cold climates, who’s been bred in familiar terrain, or who can both herd and protect.
Similarities Between Guarding Dog Breeds
Before differentiating between breeds, there are a number of characteristics most livestock guard dog (LGD) breeds share:
- Most LGD breeds are over 100 pounds.
- Most are both good with familiar people yet unfriendly with other dogs (including strays).
- They’re able to live outdoors all year long.
- Having been bred by nomadic farmers, they may try to expand their territory by breaking through insufficient fencing (get a good fence).
- As (stubborn) independent thinkers, they require conscious attention to both training and socialization.
- They’re highly sensitive to livestock behavior, and LGDs won’t harass livestock when hungry.
- Most bark — a lot — when sensing an unfamiliar or threatening presence (you may want to prepare sensitive neighbors).
- Their value (for keeping your livestock alive) means that acquiring an LGD will be a financial investment.
Deciding Between Guarding Dog Breeds
In case you’re seriously considering investing in a livestock guardian dog, we’ve created this list of six particularly strong livestock guardian dog breeds. (Keep in mind that a purebred LGD isn’t essential; many farmers have found that cross-breeding can combine the best qualities of two or more breeds.)
- Also Known As: Hungarian Sheepdog.
- Biggest Strength: Ability to live in a cold climate.
- Size: 80-100 pounds, 25-27 inches tall.
- Known For: Dreadlocked fur, which offers protection from both the weather and predator bites (choose to maintain it, or clip it).
- Protective? Yes. Komondors are known to be extremely territorial and require significant socialization. While they’re fighters, they’re also known for their accurate threat estimation.
- Biggest Strength: Nocturnal habits, meaning your livestock will be safe if left out to pasture at night.
- Size: Over 100 pounds, up to 26 inches tall at the shoulder.
- Known For: The ability to withstand harsh environmental elements, including bitter cold.
- Protective? Yes. They will take on any size predator (and therefore also require significant socialization).
- Biggest Strengths: Their gentleness with small, young and/or helpless livestock (as well as human children).
- Size: 80-120 pounds, 26 to 32 inches tall.
- Known For: When hearing “Livestock Guardian Dog,” many automatically picture a Great Pyrenees. They’re also nocturnal, so they can protect your herd all night.
- Protective? Not so much. Since they’re often also often used as companion dogs, they may need extra training to reinforce the guardian temperament.
- Biggest Strengths: Being mostly white and “biscuit” color: When mainly protecting sheep, lighter colored dogs more closely match lighter colored flocks which easily distinguish them from dark-colored predators.
- Size: 80-140 pounds, 28 to 34 inches tall.
- Known For: Surprising speed and agility, given their size.
- Protective? Appropriately. Proactive with predators, but only becomes hostile if threatened.
Polish Tatra Sheepdog
- Biggest Strengths: Being affectionate, with more gentle temperaments (less socialization required), which frequent visitors might appreciate.
- Size: 80-130 pounds, 26 to 28 inches tall.
- Known For: Their unique alert technique: Polish Tatras move between the flock and predator, alert barking until (if) the predator gets too close.
- Protective? Appropriately. Polish Tatras will only become aggressive when challenged.
Remember to Socialize Your Livestock Guarding Dogs!
Livestock guardian dogs are known for their intelligence — after all, their owners trust them to protect an entire herd of livestock by themselves! Because they have a level of intelligence that allows them to assess and respond to threats independently, they can also prove quite stubborn, even when receiving a command from their owner. As long as your prioritize consistent training and socialization, though, you can be confident that your livestock guardian dog will obey your commands when necessary.
Do you have questions about how to protect your chickens, sheep, goats, or cattle from predators? Call the Nite Guard team at 1-800-328-6647, or send us a message.