Livestock guarding dogs today often serve a dual purpose as family dog or all purpose farm dog as well as the guardian of sheep, goats, ducks, emus, llamas, or other small livestock. Most guarding dog breeds originated in Europe where they were used to protect sheep from predators like wolves or wild cats.
According to Orysia Dawydiak and David Sims, co-authors of LIVESTOCK PROTECTION DOGS: SELECTION, CARE AND TRAINING, “It was previously believed that pups should not be touched at all lest they bond to the humans and not to the stock. In fact, such dogs can be dangerous if they cannot be handled.” Instead, they advocate developing a relationship with your pup as soon as you bring him home. “Equally as important as the physical comforts of your pup are his emotional needs.” They begin handling puppies with a series of “sensitivity training” exercises which include things like touching the puppy all over, rolling her on her side and praising when she relaxes, putting a finger in her mouth, or lifting her carefully off the ground. They also teach basic manners and take the puppy for car rides.
Rather than placing the puppy in with the stock where he could be injured, they advocate placing him in a pen adjacent to the livestock they will eventually be expected to protect. Provide shelter, toys, food and water and plenty of space for exercise. The advantage to this is that neither the puppy nor the livestock can be injured. Whenever you are doing chores or working near the livestock, let the puppy out so you can supervise him and also protect him from aggressive stock. Puppies that bite or run at the stock must be disciplined immediately, “Be reasonable with the amount of force used to stop bad behavior, but do stop it.”
Dawdiak and Sims explain in detail their cautious, gradual method of transitioning the puppy to be left with the livestock, and how to handle his interactions with the human family at the same time. The puppy must learn to like you and look forward to your visits, but he must eventually bond to the livestock. Once that happens, you can move on to boundary training, introducing the puppy to other working dogs on the farm, and continued socialization.
Indeed the entire spectrum of choosing, owning, caring for and training a livestock protection dog is covered in the book. The authors discuss the pros, cons and characteristics of many different guarding breeds, helping the reader to better understand the breed they have or make a the right choice with their first dog. Once you have the dog they cover diet, health concerns, behavioral problems and training.
For example, I didn’t know that some guardians will try to protect a new baby lamb from it’s mother, or that bored guarding dogs sometimes “escape” and go wandering where they don’t belong. Perhaps one of the most interesting chapters in the book is “Special Considerations for Unusual Livestock,” which deals with using dogs to protect poultry, ratites, llamas and alpacas. Llamas are very unique in that they are actually used by some sheep and goat farmers to guard their stock. Certain neutered male llamas can be quite aggressive towards strange canines. Due to their size, llamas are not considered as vulnerable as sheep or goats, however there are predators that even the toughest llama cannot deter. These include cougars, grizzlies, wolves and even a determined pack of coyotes. “Coyotes have been known to draw the guard animal away from the flock so the rest of the pack can attack from behind. In areas where tough predators abound, llamas still need canine protection.”
If you are worried about the safety of your livestock or considering whether you should get a guard dog, this book will help you make the decision. If you already have a guarding breed and want to learn more, this book will steer you over the bumps. It really is a “must have” for anyone interest in a working guard dog or anyone who breeds and sells these breeds for working. Livestock Protection Dogs: Selection, Care and Training is available from Alpine Publications, 800-777-7257.