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Family Dogs vs. Farm Dogs: What Breeds Make the Best Livestock Helpers

If you have livestock, they are at constant risk when you are not around. That’s just a fact. The animals we raise for our own meat are also high on the list of predator’s meal selections. They are prey animals by nature and not very good at fighting off the attacks of predatory animals.

In the wild, the best defense a prey animal has against its attackers is flight, but we take the ability to run away from them when we put them behind fences. On top of that, hundreds of years of domestication have taken a lot of the “flight” out of typical livestock species. Wolves look like dogs, and dogs are common on homesteads and farms. The animals are used to seeing them, so many times they do not even try to run.

It’s virtually impossible for anyone to be physically with their animals outside twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. That’s why it’s a good idea to have someone who can; that someone is usually a livestock guardian dog.

There are many breeds that do exceptionally well as livestock guardians. They were bred specifically for that function, and through the years, even in these modern times, serious breeders work hard to keep those instincts intact.

It is important, however, that when you decide on the breed of guardian you want and go looking for it, you make sure the breeder has working dogs. There are people who keep pets who haven’t worked the fields in many generations as well as those that breed solely for show purposes. In those cases, while the instincts may still be there, they are harder to bring to the surface, especially for anyone who hasn’t worked with a livestock dog before.

Why a Guardian Breed?

You might think, why not just use the family pet as a livestock guardian. There are a couple of reasons. The first reason is a livestock guardian dog must be big and strong enough to defend the flock or herd against any intruder. That includes strange people and any wild animals that comes inside their territory. Fifi the petite toy poodle isn’t going to cut it, even if she tries. Bonzo the beautiful Borzoi may be a terrific lookout as a sight hound, but he won’t have the defending instincts of one of the guardian breeds.

A second reason is house pets are exactly that—HOUSE pets. They want to be with YOU, and inside or by your side whenever they can. Livestock guardians live their lives with the animals they protect, and they are happy to do so. They like you, but they LOVE their flocks/herds.

It is also important to note that there is a second type of livestock dog, the herder. These breeds are not qualified to act as guardians, and in fact may do more harm than good if left unattended with the livestock. They excel at helping their people work the animals but can be quite aggressive with the animals on their own.

What Dog Breeds Make the Best Guardians?

While mixed breed dogs are wonderful, in reality, you get a grab bag of genes that may or may not do what they are supposed to do. Even if one of the parents were one of the guardian breeds, that doesn’t mean the puppy with the genes from a Great Dane would still inherit the livestock guardian side, even though Great Danes are terrific guard dogs for people.

Your best bet is to look for a purebred dog of a breed specifically suited to guarding livestock. These breeds include, but are not limited to:

  • Great Pyrenees
  • Kuvasz
  • Komondor
  • Anatolian Shepherd
  • Akbash
  • Maremma
  • Tibetan Mastiff

Of all the above breeds, the one most commonly found in the U.S. is the Great Pyrenees. Next are the Kuvasz and Tibetan Mastiffs, but all are recognized by the major kennel clubs and are available if you look hard enough.

Raising a Livestock Guardian Dog

There’s a lot that goes into raising a good livestock guardian, and if you have never owned one before, you should do a lot of research and find a mentor if possible. Keep in mind when you bring your new puppy home, that he or she needs to be immediately placed with the animals they are to protect. Do not make them house pets first or think you have to bond with them. You want their bond to be with the animals they live with.

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