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Livestock guard dogs grow in popularity among ranchers

Ranchers find good help managing livestock

Livestock guard dogs (LGD) are becoming an increasingly popular tool in livestock management. A well-trained LGD will alert handlers to threats, ward off predators, and give ranchers peace of mind.

Breeds developed over centuries by sheep- and goat-herding cultures. Anatolian shepherds, Akbash, Great Pyrenees, Kuvasz, and Central Asian shepherds are some of the best choices, according to the American Kennel Club.

Choosing a dog for the task requires thought and research. An LGD is not a pet.

LGDs are bred for purpose. They must live with your livestock, not with you, and they can get bored and cause trouble without a job to do. 

They can be extremely vocal, especially at night when predators loom.

LGDs generally weigh 100 pounds or more and have thick coats that can hamper their ability to live in warm climates. They typically have a peaceful demeanor unless provoked by predators. Pups need to be acclimated to family members as part of their training, and they may perceive other dogs as threats.

A good LGD will take a low-energy approach with a low chase or prey instinct. The dog will use a series of escalating measures — barking, charging, and ultimately confrontation — in their skilled tactics to protect stock. Pairing a pup with an older, experienced dog is a great training strategy.

Finding and Selecting a Dog

Unless you are acquainted with a reputable breeder, the breed websites are a good place to start your search. Most have breeder registries, as well as descriptions of the breed. 

A registered purebred pup with proven pedigree and health screenings will cost $750 to $1,600 depending on breed. Be sure to check with your insurance company before making a purchase. Some will not insure certain breeds.

Older dogs and rescue dogs are an option, but a purebred pup may be best for the first-time LGD owner. Crossbred dogs’ behavior can be unpredictable, especially if one of the breeds is a herding breed such as German shepherd, Doberman, or Rottweiler, or a hunting breed like boxer or bullmastiff. These breeds like to herd stock and will chase them if improperly trained.

Both males and females make good LGDs if they are neutered. Intact females can be distracted when in heat or with pups. Intact males are slower to mature and more likely to be aggressive with other dogs.

Spend time with your pup in the selection process, says LGD expert Jan Dohner, author of Livestock Guardians.

Avoid pups that show aggression when you handle them or are spooked by loud noises, or those that demand attention, recommends Dohner. Full-time guardians should be independent-minded problem solvers who are not dependent on human companionship. 

A pup should investigate a ball or object thrown in its direction, but not continually chase it or fight with other pups over it. 

Caring for the Dog

LGDs are bred for outside living and require little care. Brushing can avoid coat matting, but shearing is not recommended as the coat helps protect against sun as well as cold. Likewise, washing can strip the coat of its protective oils.

Most LDG breeds have historically existed on marginal diets. High-quality commercial food or a carefully balanced raw food diet is good. Beware overfeeding, as it can lead to health problems such as joint and bone pain, even a shortened life span, warns Bri Wyzard of the For the Love of Livestock blog.

As with all stock, make sure your dog has access to plenty of clean water.

Then just let the dog do its job.

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