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Animal Companion: Livestock guardian dogs

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BETTER PET THAN WORKER: Female livestock guardian breed which is half Great Pyrenees, quarter Akbash, and quarter Anatolian Shepherd. She was retired from livestock work to a pet home when it became apparent that she would much rather guard human young than livestock.

Animal Companion: Livestock guardian dogs – Part 2

For those whom a livestock guardian dog (LGD) is appropriate, there are several breeds available, as well as mixes of breeds, which are also popular. The main determining factors for the rancher looking to procure a “real deal” livestock guard dog will be availability, specific behaviors desired, and the amount of money willing to be spent.

It is always preferable to do research before buying a dog; you can very easily be scammed, disappointed, or both. While the beauty of a purebred dog is the likelihood of its having predictable appearance and character when grown, this only applies if the dog is “purpose bred.” Bred for the show ring it may look like a livestock guardian but lack the instincts required. Bred by a “backyard breeder” with little knowledge of the breed’s true type and purpose any dog may turn out to be a very generic disappointment. Do your research; visit breeders of different types of LGD before deciding, and avoid questionable sources like Craig’s List.

The most important considerations, no matter what the breed, should be health and genetics. All livestock guardian breeds are large dogs, and large dogs, unless bred carefully, can fall into unsoundness quite easily with the main concerns being hip, elbow, and heart health. Reputable breeders will go through the added expense of having their dogs certified as healthy in hips, elbows, and heart through the OFA (for information go to www.OFA.org).

By genetics I mean how bona fide is the “working” breeding of a specific pup? Some LGD breeds have been in the United States since the turn of the century and have been bred primarily for show ring wins, while some of the rarer breeds have only been in the United States in recent decades and are still used primarily for work. Dogs from bloodlines used primarily for show ring wins may—or may not—have retained strong working drives (instincts). Yet obtaining a dog from its European homeland may end up getting you a show-bred dog at a much higher price! There are certainly show ring versus working line breeders in Europe. It is always best to acquire a pup from working parents—dogs which provide a service to their owners similar to what you will expect your pup to do.

Unlike other types of dogs, a unique attribute to the LGD breed is its ability to boned not to humans but to the flock animals which are to be in its charge. This is a very important consideration as a “normal” domesticated dog seeks out human companionship. To be a true herd guardian, the LGD must actually prefer to stay with the flock and to come to look upon them as its pack. In this respect some breeds are better than others. Even within all breeds that encompass the label Livestock Guardian Breed there have been regional uses and breeding pressures which have made some breeds more capable as independent stock tending dogs versus home barnyard watchdogs.

Livestock Guardian Breeds

Great Pyrenees

By far the most common LGB in the United States is the Great Pyrenees. Pyrs have been a popular show dog in the United States for decades. These are very large dogs that somewhat resemble a white Saint Bernard. An ancient breed much respected for its work as a flock guardian, it is ideally suited for such work. And while it has a gentle nature, it still has a desire to keep strange animals and humans away from its territory and can be a danger to wandering children and pets. I have heard many great reports of these dogs as ranch dogs and barnyard guardians, but care must be taken to obtain a puppy from working parents. More than any of the other breeds mentioned in this article, Great Pyrs of show or pet breeding often find themselves expected to succeed in work they lack the breeding for it. This is most commonly manifested as a refusal to stay with a flock and to wander away.

Kuvasz

These Hungarian dogs somewhat resemble a Great Pyrenees but are smaller and more athletic. While Kuvs can bond to flocks, they are a real standout as a homestead guardian, watching and barking alarm. They are used as guard dogs extensively in their native land, and these tendencies have been developed to a very useful level. Like all LGD breeds they are independent and strong-willed; and while there are capable dogs available in America care must be taken to search out working lines, as show bred lines are common as well.

Komondor

The Komondor is an extremely ancient breed from Hungary, and its use in America as a livestock guardian dog is not as common as it perhaps should be. These are large white dogs, males standing about 30 inches at the shoulder, and their unusual “corded” coat (think thick dreadlocks) makes it appear even larger. These are no-nonsense dogs, with a tough and protective attitude; they have a reputation for aggression. They can be bonded to livestock and they are entirely weatherproof. There has been quite a bit of interest in using Komondor to mix with other LGBs to produce tough dogs with a bit less complex coat and a tougher temperament.

Tibetan Mastiff

The Tibetan mastiff is considered the “grandaddy” of many, many breeds, and in their home country they are known for a fierce temperament and guarding ability; but these dogs are used primarily as barnyard guardians, not flock-living protectors. While in the past they were described as very large dogs (Marco Polo described them as “large as asses”), modern dogs are large without being huge. They can have a glorious coat of fur which not only offers protection from weather but allows them to stay outside, on the job, in any weather. It can be difficult to find this breed bred specifically for herd-bonding dogs.

Maremma Sheepdog

The Maremma is a very typical “European mountain livestock guardian” breed in appearance, white or cream colored, large and fluffy. They resemble the Great Pyrenees, though slightly smaller and not so heavily built. These dogs hail from the mountains of Italy where they have accompanied herds for centuries. While not common, they can be located in the United States and are bred primarily for work. These are an excellent choice for the serious rancher.

Akbash

The Akbash is quite rare in America but is a “for real” livestock guardian breed far more suited for work than being kept as a pet. Their suspicious nature makes them noisy with their alarm barking and constant vigilance. They are generally white, large, and can be either long- or short-coated. I recommend much research before the purchase of this breed.

Anatolian Shepherd

A few decades ago, when the Anatolian was first imported from its Turkish homeland to America, there was some confusion regarding if there was an actual distinction between the Akbash, the Anatolian, and the Kangal, but the division in breeds has been clarified. They are all closely related with more in common than not, the primary difference being slight variations in appearance. The Anatolian is a large, smooth coated breed, showing a bit more of a mastiff appearance than some of the other LGD breeds. They are handsome and are finding favor as pets and show dogs but many still function as livestock guardian dogs.

Kangal

The Kangal is the national dog of Turkey, and while the Turkish kennel club considers the Anatolian and the Kangal to be from the same dog population, in recent years popular fads in breeding have moved the kangal toward a more mastiff like appearance and temperament than sheepdog. These are large dogs and not for the novice dog owner. In their homelands shepherds still test their stud dogs by letting them fight. These are not “to the death” type fights, but rather just a testing of soundness and dominance typical of male animals contesting over mates. Yet this emphasis on aggression toward other dogs can make the powerful Kangal a dog that needs good fencing to keep it from harming neighboring pets. Males can weight up to 140 pounds.