Livestock Guardian Dogs
Livestock Guardian Dogs, or LGDs, are valuable helpers here on the farm! From midwifery to personal protection, they help out in so many ways. However, LGDs are not for everyone. If you are considering LGDs, please read the article below and check out the resources at the bottom. I am also happy to answer questions you may have about LGDs.
LIVESTOCK GUARDIAN DOGS
(Reprinted from MDGS Goat News May, June, July 2016 Vol. 56 Issue 2)
By Meaghan Gilreath
Livestock Guardian Dogs are becoming increasingly popular among goat farmers. What do they do? Are they something you should really have? How difficult are they to train? While we love our LGDs, they may not be for everyone. Hopefully this information can help you decide if LGDs are right for you!
Should I have a Livestock Guardian Dog?
First, it really depends on your situation. The majority of predator problems are at night. So if you keep your goats indoors/close to the barn at night, you probably don’t need a livestock guardian dog (LGD). Some of the larger predators prefer non-fenced animals so if you have plenty of wild prey for them, they may never try breaking through your fences to get at your livestock.
However, preventing predator problems is much easier than trying to stop them if they discover your animals. If you live in an area that has problems with predators or if you are seeing predators (particularly coyotes) during the day, it is definitely time to seriously consider LGDs!
Another “predator” many people overlook is the deer. Deer give meningeal worm to goats, which can be fatal if not caught and treated quickly. LGDs will keep deer out of your goat pastures.
Even while living with the goats, LGDs protect house and property (they consider everything within sight “theirs,” whether you want them to or not!) We’ve also had a lot of human problems in our area (particularly barn and vehicle robberies), and since we’ve had the dogs, our house/outbuildings have not been touched. We feel much safer having visitors out to our farm, knowing that the dogs are a very good judge of character and will step in if something goes awry.
But LGDs are not solely for protection against predators. Because they live and work with our family and goats, they are very attached and attentive. I am particularly grateful for my dogs during kidding season. If we’re not around when someone decides to kid, they will bark until we come out, even in the middle of the night! If for some reason we aren't able to be there for a birth, they’ll help clean off the babies and
keep the dam and kids safe.
Why wouldn’t everyone want a Livestock Guardian Dog?
There are a few downsides to LGDs. Many dogs will not allow non-family members in the barns or near their livestock unless you are around and give them “permission.” This can make have a farm-sitter very difficult, unless you have someone who is around a lot and the dogs are very comfortable with him/her. We have to hold on to one of our LGDs while visitors are here to remind him to mind his manners, otherwise he can be very intimidating or even aggressive if someone does something he considers to be threatening to his livestock.
An LGD’s first line of defense is to bark. Some dogs bark a lot to remind predators to stay away, other LGDs only bark when there is actually something to bark at. But if barking is going to cause problems for you or your neighbors, you may want to think pretty hard about whether or not it’s worth having LGDs.
LGDs like to dig. For me, it’s not a problem (except when they decide to dig up my milk room floor!), but keep in mind you will be filling in holes in your barn (if you have dirt floors) and pastures.
A few final words of advice…
So you’ve decided you want an LGD! Here are a couple things I’ve learned as an LGD-owner:
1) Two really are better than one. A pair of LGDs will alternate being “on duty,” allowing each other to relax and really sleep on a regular basis. If you start with puppies (or even one adult and one puppy), they will play with and chase each other, rather than the goats.
2) LGDs are not mature until they are about 2 years old. So in those first two years, they will mess up, they will make mistakes. They seem to go in stages, some days it feels like they forgot everything they ever learned! Don’t give up, work through it, it really is worth it all in the end.
3) Do not purchase an “LGD” that is actually a livestock guardian breed crossed with any other type of dog (hunting, herd, etc.). Those dogs are, in most cases, a heartache for their owners. LGDs are selectively bred for their temperaments towards the livestock, so it is vitally important to stick with true LGD breeds.
4) LGDs are not like normal dogs. They have been bred to be independent guardians, capable of thinking and making decisions for themselves and extremely loyal to their herd. After all, you may not be right there to give a command when a predator attacks or when a doe kids. Much of their behavior is instinctive, but requires age and maturity to fully “kick in.” Do your research before you bring your LGDs home (there are a few resources listed at the end of this article to get you started), and set them and yourself up for success!
-Livestock Guardians by Janet Vorwald Dohner (Storey Publishing)
-Livestock Protection Dogs by Orysia Dawydiak & David Sims (Alpine Publications)
-Some LGD Facebook groups can be helpful sources, but should be viewed with discretion