Guardian dogs are an all-important part of the herd. In fact, they are invaluable. I’m going to be very blunt with you here, but this is such an important topic that there is no room for sugarcoating.
Goats, and most other livestock, are prey animals. This is not to be taken lightly. They cannot defend themselves against predators and there are many predators to which they can fall victim. This includes domesticated dogs, coyotes, wolves, bears, large cats, and more — there have even been reports of buzzards killing living livestock as they are born. It does not matter if your livestock have horns. Horns are for impressing mates and settling disputes with members of the herd, not self-defense. We’re talking about predators that can take down fully grown and horned/antlered wild prey animals. It’s a joke to think that the horns on our goats or sheep are any defense at all. I promise you they are not.
Even if you live in a fairly predator-free area, I guarantee you that there are stray dogs that would love to take a bite out of your livestock. Don’t underestimate the predatory instinct and power of domestic dogs. Dogs kill hundreds, if not thousands, of livestock each year. This is documented fact. Dogs also kill for sport, not food. They will not simply take a carcass and run, they will kill and injure as many as they can. Dog attacks are especially devastating for this reason.
The best line of defense against predators are Livestock Guardian Dogs.
Not just any dogs, livestock guardian dogs have been bred for thousands of years for the sole purpose of living with and protecting livestock. Breeds like Great Pyrenees, Anatolian Shepherds, Mareema, Akbash, Kuvaaz, and others have the bred-in instinct to do the job. Truly, they require little training to guard. A well bred guardian dog has centuries of instinct to live with and protect its flock.
In order to have true success, guardian dogs require a few things:
- They must be the proper breed. Do not purchase a mix or a non-guardian breed with the expectation that it will function properly as a livestock guardian. Yes, there are exceptions to every rule, but more often than not if it is a cross or a different breed altogether, that dog will not be a true guardian for your flock even if it can be trained to safely mingle with them. Think of it this way: Would you try to train a Chihuahua to do the job of a scent hound and track a smell? Would you try to train an English Bulldog to point birds? Of course not! These dogs have a job to do, and they must be bred for that job. Pointers point. Hounds trail. Guardians guard.
- They must be bred and raised with livestock. Even better if they are raised with the type of livestock you expect them to guard. Seek out reputable breeders who are raising working dogs in a working environment. Guardian puppies need to be introduced to livestock practically from birth, and they need to observe their working parents in action to learn from their example. Rescuing unwanted dogs is noble, but this is not the time to do it. When you expect the dog to do a job as important as protecting your livestock, it is not the time to take chances with a rescue.
- There must be enough dog-power to match the predator-power. A single guardian will be no match for a large pack of coyotes or a bear. Guardians typically work best in pairs or groups when possible, but this is especially important if predation is high or predators are large. It’s only fair to the dogs, and the livestock, that they have sufficient help to match the predator population.
www.LGD.org is an excellent resource for more information about Livestock Guardian Dog breeds!
The Guardians of Tiramar
I have three guardian dogs protecting my livestock; Lakota, Mellow, and Sage. I love these dogs and would never be without them. They play such a vital role on our homestead. A good guardian dog is well worth its weight in gold!
I can’t be with my goats 24/7, but my dogs can. I sleep much easier at night, especially when I hear coyotes yipping, see stray dogs roaming the neighborhood, or see a confirmed trail cam picture of a mountain lion two counties over.
My guardian dogs are not registered. Registration was not, and is not, important to me. What mattered is that they came from working farms where their parents actively guarded goats and that they can do their job and do it well.
I do plan to have puppies in the future. These will be available to working homes only, where they will have a job to do.
Mellow is the first guardian I brought home. She was still young when she moved here and had no adults to guide her, which is always ideal, but she grew and learned and taught herself how to guard. She does a wonderful job! I truly believe that she was responsible for saving kids that were accidentally born on pasture one time as well. We had a first freshening doe surprise us with triplets, and the doe had no clue what to do and wanted nothing to do with the kids at first. I believe that Mellow must have cleaned them and therefore saved their lives.
We drove five hours one way to get Mellow, and it was totally worth it! She has since trained Lakota and is now training our newest LGD, Sage, as well. She does tend to want to roam, as is common with Pyrenees, but she respects electric fencing.
Mellow is a Great Pyrenees. DOB 4/2009.
Lakota was the second guardian we brought home, when it became evident we needed two. He is faithfully devoted to his goats and hates to be separated from them even momentarily. He is an excellent example of the intelligence of LGD breeds as well. One night the gate to the doe fence was not closed well and everyone escaped. Lakota came to our front door — where he had never been before — to “tell” us his girls were out. He is endlessly patient and lets the goat kids climb and jump on him as well. He exudes a calm and laid back nature…until something is amiss.
My only qualm with Lakota is that he is not poultry-friendly. Unfortunately he as not introduced to them at a young age, and it is not uncommon for guardians to be unsafe with poultry if not trained very early. They were bred primarily to protect flocks of sheep or goats, and poultry are quite different.
Lakota is a Great Pyrenees. DOB 2/2010.
Sage is our newest addition to our guardians. Lately we have heard increasing coyotes and our little homestead has grown, so it became obvious to us that we needed another guardian to increase the security. Sage learned the ropes from our other guardians and has matured into a wonderful dog. It has been interesting seeing the differences between Pyrs and Sage, who is a high percentage (88%) Anatolian Shepherd, and yet there are many similarities as well.
Sage is highly protective and very smart, but also a very sweet dog with us as well. She has also proven to be an equally capable mother to her first litter of puppies, which were sired by Lakota.
Sage 3/4 Anatolian Shepherd and 1/4 Great Pyrenees. DOB 6/2015 Sage unfortunately escaped the fence in 2017 and was hit by a car. Her absence has left a huge hole in our barnyard.
Sophie is an honorary mention. Sophie does not live with the livestock, but she is an all-around farm dog whose job is to guard me and the property. She is safe with the livestock (though I would not trust her as guardian for them), and although she is not aggressive, she has a
fierce sounding bark and is quick to alert to threats. Sophie is also a big goofball and loves to play. She helps Sage burn off some of her playful energy.
Sophie is a short haired Collie and German Shepherd mix (and who knows what else) and she was a rescue. (Sophie is spayed.)
A Few More Tips
There are several “best practices,” in addition to having guardians, which can help keep your livestock safe. Here are a few of them:
- Lock livestock in barns at night when possible.
- Plan bitrhing to occur in times of low predator activity when possible, and try to be present at all births. Plan for livestock to birth in barns or the most secure pasture available. Livestock are especially vulnerable while giving birth.
- Make frequent and unscheduled checks, especially during periods of high predator activity.
- Secure fencing and secure housing are your first line of defense. It is vital to keep livestock in and predators out. Consider electric around the outside of your fencing as well.
- Do not leave food accessible to predators.
- Know the local laws governing protecting your livestock against predators. Know which predatory species in your area may be protected by local or federal laws.
Bonus! Don’t worry about your livestock not liking dogs. They will likely bully new guardians at first, to teach them respect, but generally they will not hurt them. Your livestock will acclimate to the dogs being a part of their herd.