Thursday, January 08, 2009

Livestock Guardian Dogs?

I have always been a medium sized dog kind of guy. The first dog I picked out was an English Springer Spaniel ... a nice medium sized dog. Probably my favorite dog ever was Brandy, a Blue Heeler cross ... a nice medium sized dog. When we got our first dog as a family (just last year) I picked out a Treeing Cur from my dad ... a nice smaller medium sized dog. But, my wife has always liked big dogs! She likes labs and anything bigger than that because of the sense of security that they can give.

So, now that we are out on the farm and there are times that I come home after dark she would like a dog around that is a bit more imposing than a 20 pound cur. I guess I can't say that I blame her. But, if we are going to get another dog for the family it would be nice if we got one that would also help with the farm (right now the best our dog Sophie can do is act as my "chore buddy" when I'm out working). With that in mind I have begun researching some of the breeds that are commonly called Livestock Guardian Dogs. They seem like a good type of dog to check out if we are looking for something to help protect the home and the animals.

So far my research has been limited to the internet (here is a nice site I found) and one phone conversation that we had with someone selling some Great Pyrenees cross pups (3/4 Pyr). What I have found on the internet is pretty good stuff and a lot of satisfied owners, and the person we talked with the dogs for say also had a lot of nice things to say (they raise them with their sheep). But, I would love to hear some more first hand knowledge from people that own LGD's or have been around them.

What do you like about them? Are they good with kids? How do they do with strangers (relatives and such)? How do you go about training them to guard the livestock and the people? Hopefully someone out there has some ideas...

**Also, don't forget that we still have wholes and halves of pork left that will be going to the locker in a couple weeks. Let us know if you are interested.**


Hugh Goble said...

Hi Ethan
I'm also currently looking for an LGD and am leaning towards an Antolian Shepherd Dog. I have friends who have had great experiences with them. Good luck in your search.

Steven said...

As you probably know, we have a Great Pyrennes. Brother Bernardo is still less than a year old but boy, he's getting big, and changing his behavior alot too. For a number of months he didn't bark at all and I was really worried that he wouldn't be much of a guard dog but one day he just started fitting into his role. We don't live at our farm so he's there without us but he lays in the driveway, or the barn at night and when you drive in he stands up, puts his head in the air and barks like a BIG DOG :). He does the same thing when he hears the coyotes barking. When he was younger I'd leave him with the pigs some days and he loved to play with them... he also liked to play with chickens and many of them didn't survive the games. He finally stopped when I tied one around his neck.

"Training" them like a pet dog isn't supposed to be easy but we trained him to sit early on. Now, if he won't come to me I just tell him to sit and he does, at a distance, and I walk to him. He stays inside the high tensile fence but will go under gates. If we want to keep him in we need to put a wire under the gates, or put up some poultry netting (he won't touch it). Even when he does roam around he know's where home is.

The thing that makes them so much different from dogs I've had in the past is that they don't NEED you to show them a great deal of attention. They are content to lay in the field for 15 mins after you walk out there, and then some and see you. We try to encourage this by not petting him when we walks up but doing it when we choose, and when he's out doing his job.

Steven said...

I forgot to say, last night I found a new calf, a heifer! This morning I went out to check on it and Bernardo was sitting just outside the polywire fence keeping the cows off the pasture, just sitting and watching a few cows and the new calf. It kind of warmed my heart actually, like he was taking care of things while I was gone.

sugarcreekfarm said...

We have a Pyrenees, and a German Shepherd. They're both great family dogs and great farm dogs.

I put the Pyr out in the pasture with the broiler chickens in the summer, which takes care of the hawk problem we had. The rest of the year he just guards me :) But I feel the same as your wife - having a large, intimidating dog around is nice because I work from home.

Drawbacks to Pyrs are that they wander. We have to keep him contained or tied all of the time. He'll come back on his own if he does get loose, but in his own time. They don't come when called. Also, they bark. A lot. Especially at night. I bring him in the house at night, otherwise he'd keep me awake all night with his barking. The neighbors don't like it much, either.

The Shepherd also fits the bill of large intimidating looking dog. But in reality she's just a big welcome wagon. I love her because she lays on the front porch all day and would never run off, if the Pyr didn't lead her astray. She keeps the chickens (& their poo) off the porch. She's been a help to Matt when sorting cattle, she gets behind them and moves them in the right direction. Even the bull - she grabbed right onto his tail once! She especially loves to herd the pigs, but at this point is more trouble than help. We need to work with her more and try to develop her herding skills. She likes to herd the laying hens, and we had to work with her to not chase them around all the time. But she's never killed one.

Jena said...

Perfect timing! My husband and I attended the Michigan Sheep Breeders Association conference last weekend and while there we sat in on a talk about LDGs. The speaker was a very knowledgeable woman by the name of Jan Vorwald Dohner. She is the author of Livestock Guardians. I would recommend the book to you just from the little bit I heard while there.

Some of the main points I picked up:
-Look for the opposite of all the things you look for in a pet, i.e. you want the puppy that is a little bit aloof and happy to lay by himself, not stuck to you like glue.
-It takes a lot of work and time to train them
-They may bark a lot
-They may not like strangers

I'm sure those things don't apply to every dog of course. I appreciated Jan's honesty and that she didn't try to make it sound like LGDs are great for everyone. They obviously aren't, but it sounds like they could be a great asset to the right farm! :)

I apologize if I reiterated some points, looks like there are a lot of good comments and I didn't read through them all.

Ethan Book said...

Thank you so much for all of the information everyone! This has given us a lot to think about as we decide what would be best for our farm, but knowing more about the temperament of the dogs helps a ton. Like all things we'll probably read a ton and ask a lot more questions before we decide ... so, be prepared for another dog post :)

Kevin and Beth said...

Check out this blog. He has had great success with his dogs.

Really nice blog about everything farming and really great dogs.

Yeoman said...

I've never seen anyone use a livestock guarding dog for anything other than sheep. I've seen Great Pyrenees used in that role a fair amount. My wife's family had one, but when they sold their sheep, the gave the dog away about a year later. It was bored without the sheep, and it was such a valuable working dog, it was better that it go on to guard somebody else's sheep.

Anyhow, as for an ignorant question, is there a need for a guard dog for cattle? Nobody here does that, and off hand, I can't imagine a need for one. There's lots of predators here, and I suppose one would be nice during calving, but otherwise, I don't think they'd work out well here.

I've seen stock working dogs used on cattle a lot, I will note. The border collie, universally regarded as a sheep working dog, is a great cow working dog.

Yeoman said...

By the way, I've also seen llamas and donkeys used to guard sheep. It seems to be widely held that llamas work out great for a couple of years, but after that, the coyotes figure out how to work them.

As folks here know, I like horses, and can't imagine working cattle without them, but I'm not too keen on donkeys. I do believe they'd make good guards, as a lot of them are mean. I'd hesitate to keep a donkey around kids, as donkeys, like mules, can kick pretty much in any direction, and can really hurt a kid. Mules can be lethal for that reason.

Ethan Book said...

Yeoman - Around here I know people that use them to guard sheep, chickens, and other livestock. I'm not too concerned with my cattle, but I have heard good things about them with chickens and such and of course we wanted something imposing for the farm. The later of those two was probably the main goal, but if the dog can serve more than one person that's even better.

Yeoman said...

"The later of those two was probably the main goal, but if the dog can serve more than one person that's even better."

I am not at all familiar with stock guarding dogs, but I've been told that the users of them are generally careful to have them identify with the livestock. The ones I've run across doing that strongly do, and are not friendly to outsiders. It seems to me I've been told that they tend to identify with the herder, who feeds them, but that's about it. Having said that, my in laws old stock guarding dog was friendly, if highly bored, but then he wasn't guarding anything. And I have no personal familiarity with their use, so I may be way off.

Anyhow, if I had little kids around, I'd be careful to fully evaluate their characteristics. Dogs can be quirky in some ways. I've worked twice on lawsuits where dogs really went after little kids with no warning, and hurt them extremely badly. Guard dogs of any type need to be evaluated for that characteristics. People always assure a potential buyer that their dog is friendly, so checking out the general traits, as well s the specific dog, is a good idea.

Yeoman said...

In retrospect, I realized I've worked three times on matters involving dogs attacking children. One child was killed in one of the attacks, and the other two very badly injured. Suffice it to say, it's made pretty cautious about dogs.

LisaMary said...

Bouvier des Flanders are really great to have around stock and family, but what about LG alpacas?

Steven said...

For safety's sake, I'm glad we started with a 10 week old pup that could grow up with us and all the kids around. I wouldn't be able to trust a dog as much if I bought it as an older dog.

Nicole said...

for more info on LGD's, try Yahoo Groups, the one called workingLGDs since you're interested in having the dog around the livestock.

I actually (even though we're in Indiana) have a contact for a woman who does Great Pyrenees rescue work in Iowa. We got our pyr from a rescue organization in Indianapolis, and it's been a good experience for us. I spoke with this person at length and she really helped with getting the dog at ease in his new environment.

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