Meet Livestock Guarding Dogs – Best Protection Against Predators

Maremma guarding sheep in Italy

In the Gran Sasso mountains of central Italy, the Maremma is still an important member of the flock. Photo by Ray Coppinger @ 2004.


Dogs Under-utilized for Livestock Protection

Wiley E. Coyote continues to be an inscrutable creature in both the rural and the city landscapes of North America, as well as other parts of the world. Natural predators like the coyote are considered part of the ecosystem and complete extermination is no longer a policy any government supports. However, coyotes are still the number one predator of sheep and cattle, having killed about 97,000 in 2005, with an estimated loss of $44 million in the US. Each year government agents trap, shoot and poison about 90,000 of the rascals suspected of killing livestock, and being nuisances in urban centers. Researchers are trying to understand how that wily brain works, and have tested a variety of lethal and non-lethal deterrents, such as flashing lights and noises that blast out the sounds of bowling alleys, car crashes and yelling people, electrified strips of flagging, and taste aversion.

However, coyotes are both highly adaptable and unpredictable. They learn to avoid or ignore most devices used to scare them off. What may work for one coyote, may not work for another. In that way, they are very much like dogs. Which is why livestock protection dogs are still a relevant and viable non-lethal method of controlling problem coyotes. Guard dogs are not the answer to all situations, but they are not utilized nearly as much as they could be. Like the coyote, guard dogs can learn to respond to new situations, such as different predators, or the changing behavior of established predators.


Sarplaninac with sheep in Oregon, Hampshire College Dog Project. Photo by Jay Lorenz @ 2004.

The latest threat in rural and suburban areas alike is the mountain lion or cougar. The habitat of these large and generally reclusive cats has been disturbed over and over again with the growth of human communities and spread of agricultural activities. The big cats have invaded territories where they have not been seen in over a hundred years. There have even been sightings on the small island where I live, which also had no coyotes before 1986 when they crossed over from the mainland on the frozen strait. Livestock protection dogs are now being used to protect homes and families where dangerous cats roam. It’s unlikely that technology will ever replace the use of these specialized dogs in any significant way, as long as large predators exist on this earth.

Orysia Dawdiak, co-author

Livestock Protection Dogs: Selection, Care and Training by Dawdiak and Sims, published by Alpine Publications (

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