Every farmer or rancher who is raising livestock has felt the tremendous loss of having their animals stolen, killed, or eaten by wild coyotes and other predators. When livestock is lost, not only is the life of the animal gone, but the revenue the animal could have brought in for the rancher is now lost and could put the owner in the whole financially.
You might have a security system and cameras set up on your property but the best way to ensure that your livestock and farm is safe from intruders of the human or wild animal variety is to get a livestock guardian dog.
When it comes to finding the best livestock guardian dog for farm protection, there are dozens of breeds to choose from and each has its own unique traits and features. One thing that they will all have in common, however, is the instinct to protect the livestock.
They also have traits of being attentive, trustworthy, protective. Read on to learn the main differences between the best breeds for farm protection.
Main Roles of a Guardian Dog
Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) are a type of dog that is bred specifically for the duties of protecting farm animals from predators. These dogs become a member of the herd and stay with the group and standing guard, waiting for predators that might try to attack.
Although they can also be herding dogs, their main goal is not to control the movement of the group, rather they blend in, and catch any sneaky predators that would do harm.
A livestock guardian dog will try to drive a predator away first with barking, growling and get between the herd and predator. The dog may also run or charge towards an intruder several times to try to make the predator run away.
When the predator does not flee, many of the farm protection dogs are trained to attack and defend the livestock. The barking will be loud and incessant as well to alert the farmer or rancher that there is a problem.
LGDs will also try to keep away predators by establishing a clear territory and marking it with their urine and scent.
LGDs can make great companion dogs when they retire from guarding the herd and are also known for being protective of kids and families. Although they are often large and independent, they are gentle giants who get along well with people, but are best in large, open environments rather than urban settings.
Popular Breeds for the Job (and what they’re best at)
Some things to keep in mind when choosing the best livestock guardian dog are the type of livestock owned, the terrain the farm is on, the weather and climate of the farmland, and the size of the property and number of animals that need guarding.
Having multiple livestock guard dogs is common for large farming or ranch operations. Here are some farm favorites.
The Great Pyrenees is a popular breed for both livestock guardian dog and a pet in the United States. They are less aggressive than other LGDs and are nurturing to young animals and children.
Great Pyrenees are best in cooler climates because they have long, thick, fur and need a lot of grooming. In France, these dogs are very popular for livestock guarding but in the US most are bred for competition, so working with a professional trainer and breeder for LGDs may be necessary for ranchers that want a Great Pyrenees.
Image Credit: Steve Slater
Anatolian Shepherds originated in Turkey and can weigh between 90 and 150 pounds and stand 29 inches high, on average. They are fast, agile, and have a very muscular build with broad heads and thick necks.
Their fur is short and rough which helps the shepherds do well in warmer or tropical environments. Anatolian Shepherds have excellent sight and hearing, more so than other LGDs, but are also known for roaming and needing a lot of socialization and training.
Estrela Mountain Dogs
Image Credit: gailhampshire
Estrela Mountain Dogs usually weigh around 100 pounds and get along very well with kids, but are wary of strangers and very protective of their herd. They have a particularly loud, threatening bark and need a lot of socialization to get along well with their human companions. They are great problem solvers and self-thinkers.
As one of the largest dog breeds, the Mastiffs is perfect for livestock guarding because of their intimidating size. The Pyrenean Mastiff tends to be suspicious but not overly aggressive.
Spanish Mastiffs are the largest, reaching over 200 pounds; however, they tend to be more aloof and passive unless a threat is present and active. Tibetan mastiffs are one of the most well known of the Mastiff breeds and have been used in the mountains for Eastern Asia for thousands of years.
Tibetan Mastiffs are also the breeds that originated the Mastiff breed. Mastiffs have medium to long coats that require grooming and makes them more suitable for cooler climates.
Komondors are best known for their dreadlocked fur that protects the dogs from cold weather and wolf bites. This coat requires a lot of maintenance and upkeep unless owners want to clip it.
Komondors average around 90 pounds full grown and are very territorial. They require a lot of socialization and are better outdoor working dogs than indoor companions.
Komondors are perfect for guarding livestock against larger predators, coyotes, and wolves in forested environments with cooler climates.
Image Credit: Simone
They do not make good pets but are perfect for large farming or ranch operations. The Maremmas are smaller livestock guardians, reaching around 70 to 80 pounds at maturity and have long coats.
They are aloof and don’t interact with humans much, but will race around the farm making sure all the livestock are safe and sound.
Polish Tatras are great companion dogs who can also work on the farm guarding livestock out to pasture. Their gentle temperaments make them a great addition to properties that have a lot of human visitors.
Tatras have heavy coats that require frequent grooming and can reach over 100 pounds well full grown. These dogs are not attack dogs, however, and will only become aggressive if predators get close. Otherwise, they alert bark and move between the herd and any predators to create a shield.
Bulgarian Shepherd Dogs
Image Credit: Nicholay Atanassov
Bulgarian Shepherd Dogs were bred to protect livestock from bears and wolves in Bulgaria. They are smaller in stature and can have long or short fur so ranches or farms in any climate can be the perfect home for a Bulgarian Shepherd Dog.
These dogs are known for having an even temperament and being docile to their human companions but do need a job to do and prefer to spend their time outside with the livestock they are meant to protect.
Things to Consider Before Getting a Guardian Dog
Every farmer or rancher will benefit from having a livestock guardian dog tend to their animals, especially at night or while they are out to pasture. While the breed is definitely one of the most important factors to decide when choosing the best LGD, there are a few more aspects of having a livestock guard dog that ranchers need to be aware of.
Livestock guard dogs need intensive training from the time they are just a few weeks old. That training must remain consistent throughout their lifetime in order for an LGD to have success.
They also need to be taught boundaries and that the livestock manager or farmer is the Alpha. LGDs are very independent and will need proper socialization if they are expected to also be a companion dog. These dogs will also do well with training if they have a doggy mentor that can show them the ropes.
Pets vs. Working Dogs
Pets are companion animals that love to be in your home and feel like they are part of the family. They might cuddle, sleep on the bed, and get to play with toys and sleep all day if they want.
Working dogs have a job to do and will spend all day doing their job, sleeping in short spurts. Farm dogs are perfectly capable of helping to guard livestock and coming indoors to be a companion; however, trained LGDs have one true purpose and that is to protect the livestock.
Farm Dog vs. Herding Dog vs. LGD
There are three main types of dogs seen on farms and some farmers might have all three.
- A farm dog is a companion or pet dog that can be trusted to roam the farm, hang out with the other animals and humans.
- A herding dog is a working dog that is meant to move herds of livestock such as sheep, cattle, horses, or chickens from pasture to barn.
- LGDs are for protection and defending the livestock against predators.
These three types of dogs serve different purposes that you must keep in mind when selecting a dog for your farm.
Time to Grow Up
LGDs are large dogs known for taking a little bit longer than other breeds to fully mature. Most livestock guard dogs are not fully mature until they are between 18 months and three years old.
Food and Care
Livestock guard dogs are large dogs that weigh usually between 70 and 200 pounds and they need to maintain a high-quality food diet to remain healthy. Most LGDs also have long or thick fur that requires grooming and their double coat means lots of shedding.
Most of the LGD breeds that weigh around 100 pounds will need around four cups of food per day. Dogs that weigh over 100 pounds should have ¼ cup of food added for every ten pounds over 100.
LGDs also need veterinary care, even if they stay outdoors with the livestock. Guard dogs need to be checked for ticks, fleas, injuries, and wounds and be on a heartworm preventive medication.
Space to Roam
Most LGDs were bred by nomadic farmers in Asia and Eastern Europe and have retained their ability to watch large acreage of land. But they have also kept the instinct to roam, expand their territory, and some need a lot of exercise like most working dogs.
Space is also important because LGDs are loud barkers and they bark a lot. If neighbors are nearby, this could end up becoming a disruption to them.
LGDs are valuable dogs and come with a high price tag, especially from reputable breeders who keep bloodlines pure and train the dogs as well. Don’t expect to pay shelter prices for an LGD.
These dogs can cost upwards of $1,000 for some breeds. Add on the expense of food, grooming, and veterinary care and these dogs can be a pretty expense every month.
That’s A Wrap!
Livestock guardian dogs are one of the best types of dogs that anyone with valuable livestock should invest in. These dogs will not only keep your livestock safe but can protect your property from unwanted intruders.
Investing in the right LGD for a farm is one of the best investments a farmer can make.