Protecting Your Farm Animals With a LGD, by Kit Perez

If you’re serious about prepping and/or homesteading, chances are you have some animals on your property. Maybe it’s just a few chickens for eggs; maybe you have some other birds as well. You might have a beef steer or heifer, pigs, or even some goats or sheep. There’s a huge variety of animals to get, and just as many reasons to get them: meat, milk, wool, whatever. The point is that if you’ve taken on the responsibility (and privilege) of raising animals, then you’ve also taken on the responsibility of protecting them from predators. Anyone who’s raised chickens for a long time has probably lost at least one to hawks, foxes, raccoons, or some other hungry outdoor resident. Those who raise larger stock have bigger things — literally — to worry about, depending on the area they live in.

Sure, you could make sure you’re armed when you’re outside (and you’re armed all the time, right?) but you’re not out with your animals 24-7, and fences, pens, and coops only do so much to keep your animals safe. How can you protect them when you aren’t around?

The single best way to do that is with a livestock guardian dog, or LGD.

LGD vs. Farm Dog

A lot of farms have dogs, but an LGD is an entirely different kind of animal — and only select breeds of dog can do this work. Bred from thousands of years of work in austere conditions guarding livestock, the LGD is not “your” dog. They don’t bond to you the same way as other dogs, they don’t seek to please you, and they don’t much care what you think; in fact, they can be quite apathetic toward you, preferring the company of their stock. If properly trained, they are completely bonded to your animals, which becomes their pack of sorts. They spend every minute of every day with their animals, and they are bred to think independently. They can follow basic commands (and should be taught a recall command and a few things like “sit” to make the rare farm visit from the vet a bit easier), but for the most part their job is to evaluate threats on the property, deter them through barking and aggressive posturing, and if that doesn’t work, confront and even kill them — no matter what it is or where you are at the time. Their entire purpose in life is the safety of their animals, and they will do whatever it takes to fulfill that role even if it means fighting something much bigger than they are.

Livestock Guardian Dog With Goats

LGDs are bred to have much different traits than your standard “farm dog,” which is often a herding type or mix. LGDs do not chase, play with, or herd stock; they have low prey drives, unlike a border collie or other herder that has the need to…well, herd things. A typical LGD can seem like the laziest dog ever, laying around the yard, napping in the sun, or serving as a park bench for tiny goat kids. They walk among the stock slowly and gently, in a manner that keeps their animals calm. Threats, however, turn this big pile of seeming laziness into another animal entirely. They can smell a predator from literally miles away, and even those sunny naps have a purpose — they’re conserving energy, because it could be needed at any time. If you watch where your LGD takes those naps, you’ll see that they choose the most elevated places, or the places where they can see/smell threats coming while keeping an eye on the stock. If you’re running a team or 2-3 dogs, they’ll position themselves in strategic places, working together as a pack.

They live outside, no matter the weather. They are double-coated, which keeps them dry in a downpour and makes it possible for them to stay cool in the summer while still being able to sleep in a snowbank a few months later. In some breeds, their entire physical design screams protector; they have thicker fur around their necks that almost looks like a mane, which helps to protect them from predators that would go for their throats. Their canine teeth are longer than the average dog as well, and curve backwards slightly like those of a wolf.  They make an incredibly fearsome opponent for just about anything — and yet when properly trained from puppyhood, they will also act as a trampoline for baby goats and a gentle guardian for your animals.

Training takes two years; until that time, they should not be allowed unsupervised around the stock or around children. Those first two years are when you as the owner are building their “database” of information; what is normal, what is acceptable, what the stock needs, what types of threats they can encounter. Because these dogs are expected to make independent decisions, they need to be heavily socialized on the farm and worked with daily for that time so that they have a wide understanding of what a threat looks like — such as knowing the difference between a bobcat and your overly fat-on-mice barn cat, or understanding that while it might be okay for the deer and elk to come into the field or yard unmolested, it’s most definitely not okay if anything else does. Unless trained differently, anything that comes near your animals is fair game for these dogs…including your house dog, cat, or your overly nosy neighbor.

One thing that a LGD does not need to be trained to do is guard. That part is instinctual — so much so that when we had a goat die in a freak accident last year, our LGD gently sat down next to her and guarded her corpse from everything, including birds, until we got home. Living out in the wilds of Montana, dead things bring curious and hungry onlookers. Once he saw us, he relinquished his post and went to go dig up a buried snack.

LGD Breeds

There are several different breeds of livestock guardian dog; while all of them have certain overlapping traits, some breeds are more easily alerted than others; a few select breeders, in fact, guarantee their dogs’ courage, offering a “cowardice clause” in their contract. If the dog ever backs down from a threat, they’ll refund every penny. These dogs just don’t run away — it’s not in their nature.

Our LGD is a huge dog who’s currently tasked with protecting our small Nigerian Dwarf goat herd. In the last year, he’s gone up against a variety of predators, including other dogs. One night as my husband was out feeding stock, the dog alerted him to the fact that there were two mountain lions just past the woodline. The dog positioned himself, snarling and barking the whole time, in the gap between them so my husband could get out of the danger zone. On another occasion one of my baby goats managed to slip through the fence and was placidly munching grass just on the other side when she was spotted by a fox. I came out to investigate a loud ruckus only to find the fox paused about 30 feet from the goat kid rethinking his life choices, as the dog was in the process of tearing down the fence to get to the fox before he got to the baby. What makes that notable is that the fence is linked to his collar as a boundary — he was getting shocked the entire time and didn’t care because he was protecting his stock. Meanwhile, the baby kid kept eating, seemingly oblivious to the danger because her guardian dog was there. The fox ended up deciding that tasty goat kid would not be on the menu today, and I ended up fixing some fence and giving the canine warrior a frozen whole chicken as a reward.

All LGD breeds have their place and strengths, but two breeds that are extremely helpful here in the Northern Rockies are the Sarplaninac and the Caucasian Shepherd Dog. According to DogBreed.info:

“The Sar is a flock-guard dog that needs to be working. This sheep-herding guard dog is unaffectionate toward its humans. It prefers the flock it so enthusiastically protects. It has natural guarding qualities and independent thinking typical of the flock guard group. Usually calm, but when the situation warrants, it is ferocious in its efforts to protect the flock. It takes its work seriously. When on sheep-guarding duty it will investigate anything that catches its eye, and has no hesitation about confronting adversaries larger than itself. This is not a brainless tail-wagger; the Sarplaninac is a very wise dog that chooses friends carefully and trusts no one completely. He is more obedient to his ingrained code of proper behavior than to accept commands from one master, to whom he is most loyal. These dogs are very devoted to their flocks…Sheep and goat raisers are discovering advantages to owning a Sar when the majority of their predator problems disappear. These dogs will tolerate family members including children if they are raised with them, but will be aloof with outsiders. The Sar will protect all of its territory and the living creatures within it. This is a breed that is not to be taken lightly.”

The Caucasian Shepherd, known as the Ovcharka in the West, is another LGD breed that is of great use here with the larger predators we have, including bears and mountain lions. Here’s an excellent video on them, their history, and how they work.

You might see LGD breeds mixed with non-LGD breeds, and some folks will tell you that it’s fine. It’s most definitely NOT fine. A Great Pyrenees, for instance, is an LGD breed with low prey drive and guarding instincts. When mixed with a border collie — a herder with a very strong prey drive and energy level — you’ll have a very confused dog with two competing natures. If you want an LGD, don’t settle for anything less than a full one. Certain LGD breeds can be mixed, but never a non-LGD with a livestock guardian breed.

Should You Get an LGD?

The short answer is “maybe.” Like anything worth having, you need to earn these dogs. You can’t simply buy a pup and throw it in with your stock. Signing up for an LGD in most cases means signing up for 18 months to 2 years of training and working with them. if you don’t, you’ll have a dog that you cannot control — and livestock that are in danger instead of being protected.

According to Caucasian.org:

“[A Caucasian] …can prove to be a serious problem for an inexperienced owner, because it respects and obeys only those dominant and fair members of the family that it deems superiour to itself. Gentle companions and playful clowns when relaxing with their human “pack”, these dogs are generally good with children, although they will not see them as their masters. The great Kavkazec develops a strong bond with its owner and is quite trainable, but will rarely be completely submissive and blindly follow orders, for this is truly a thinking dog, which relies primarily on its own instincts, sometimes even disregarding its master’s directions in certain situations. Being a true protection dog, famous for having well-developed guardian instincts, strong defense drive and lightning-fast reflexes, the Caucasian may become too aggressive and even dangerous when owned by weak-willed, ignorant and unsuitable owners who fail to properly control their dogs or recognize the breed’s true nature.”

If you are running ruminant livestock and have predators in your area, then you probably need an LGD. Don’t take one on, however, unless you can dedicate the time and effort into training them. They are investments, and can be quite expensive to purchase, especially for one that has parents imported from Georgia or Russia. They typically stay a bit longer with their parents as well, to get some foundation training with stock and their family pack. The good news, however, is that you can also consider them farm equipment for the purposes of taxes, leash laws, and other regulations.

There are several breeders I can recommend, but even before that I highly suggest you do some research on your own expected predators, climate, and the type of LGD breed that may be best for you. While we run long-haired, bigger, and more aggressive up here in the mountains due to our situation, this farm down in Texas runs the slightly smaller short-haired Kangal and has excellent success.

LGDs are amazing animals who will pay for themselves a hundred times over. You’ll see a lower predator load, have livestock that’s less stressed out, and not have to worry about coming outside to find your animals dead or injured. Anyone who’s lost a farm animal to a predator knows how infuriating and heartbreaking it is to pour time, money, and effort into an animal only to have it killed and eaten by something else. For us up here in Nowhere, Montana, our dog keeps our farm safe from all threats, both four- and two-legged.




19 Comments

  1. Fascinating topic – totally new information for me.
    Will the dog allow you to harvest your meat animals? How do they react when you are milking the goats? Where do you find out how to properly train the dog so that it accepts you as the boss, but does not look at you as a threat to its’ herd?

  2. I had a pair of Anatolian Shepherds, awesome dogs if socialized. Very good with other animals and even chickens, the female was very protective of our grand child.

    1. I also have a pair of Anatolian Shepherds which patrol patrol about 4 fenced acres around the house and barn; I don’t let them run the back woods without human supervision because they might get shot by one of the cattle ranchers. I got them from the county animal control pound when they were about 12 months old. The next year we were playing catch up teaching them to protect small livestock. They automatically know which animals are predators and how to take care of them. They have kept raccoons, opossums, owls, hawks, buzzards, snakes, foxes and a pack of coyotes from having free dinners. They are 3 years old now and the male weighs about 150 and the female 125. They are outside LGDs but are human friendly for family and one neighbor who comes by.

  3. Great article, as I am a dog lover. The Lord has created several marvelous creatures that were designed to work with man. As I do not have any herd to protect we employ a BBD, Biological Burglar Deterrent. Ours is a well trained German Shepherd with a great disposition that knows her job and does it well. Dogs have a great loyalty factor designed into them that is priceless, thank you Lord.

    1. Missouri Mule, I love your BBD phrase. My BBD was an overweight, buff colored cocker spaniel. When some suspicious-looking strangers pulled into my driveway near nightfall, she raced to their truck and made it plain that she would tear them to pieces if they got out. I have no idea about their real intentions, but they shouted an inane question from INSIDE the truck and then drove away. There’s a reason God is “dog” spelled backwards. This was a great article about a rarely discussed topic.

  4. We have had LGDs for the last 22 years. In that time we have lost one sheep to predators – and that cougar did not get away with the kill.

    Our dogs have run off wolves. black bear, cougar, grizzlies, feral dogs, coyotes, foxes and numerous large raptors.

    I must disagree with the assertion that humans can’t or should not bond with the LGDs. I have an expert opinion to back me up. Brenda Negri has used, bred and raised LGDs for a very long time and has numerous vidoes on her dogs and LGDs in general. She walks her talk.

    https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=brenda+negri+livestock+guardian+dogs+

    As she says, her dogs have gotten off the couch to go to work. Bonding with the human family allows you to control and handle the dogs more efficiently. There are numerous other reasons to allow the dog to bond with humans and I suggest her videos.

    Thanks to the author for this article. Aside from my one point of disagreement, I find the article to be informative and well written. I have been impressed and touched by the loyalty, courage and devotion of our LGDs for over two decades. I wish I could count on people to this extent.

    1. When I say “bond,” I don’t mean that your dog doesn’t love you or pay attention to you. My dog loves us to death; his primary focus, however, is the stock. He never comes inside the house; in fact, when we NEED to bring him in, whether it be to a vet office or inside the kitchen for some first aid of some kind, we have to carry him because he lays down and goes all dead weight like a toddler in absolute protest against coming in the house. It’s pretty hilarious. I have plenty of photos of him laying NEXT to his shelter, in the snow, asleep.

      That being said, I am aware that there are other owners who have successfully run LGDs as dogs that guard their families primarily, or come in the house sometimes. My experience, however, is that the more he is inside the house, the more focused he will be on his human family, and the less he will care about the stock. Besides, on our property, he can’t really do his job from the couch. Mileage for others, of course, may vary.

      I’m not a breeder, nor am I some self-styled expert. I merely know how my dog’s training has gone, and what we’ve done to both get him spooled up and ensure his success. I have been blessed to work with some of the best breeders in the country and learn from them as we go on our journey. My intent was merely to impart what I’ve learned — when we started, we knew literally nothing and so we read books and blogs from those who have been here doing it much longer. We are simply looking to pass on what we’ve learned from those folks.

      Anna Abney, Natalie Thurman of Northwest Guardians, Justin Michels of Frontier Guardians, and several others have been invaluable to us in our journey. I highly suggest their work as well.

  5. I have owned Kangals / Anatolian Shepherds for many years now. The author is spot on about the nature of LGD breeds. They require much more training and leadership than other dogs and are not for the inexperienced dog owner. But if you are able to understand them and give them what they need, especially a job to do, I believe there is not better dog.

  6. Thanks for the information. We are going to Phoenix today to pick up an Anatolian Shepard that has a return policy so that if the dog does not work out for our small 2 acre property, we can return it and try another one that might fit better. I especially appreciated the statements about not breeding with a non-LGD. Been there, done that and got the T-shirt. I just hope I am up to being able to properly train this dog, as I know they are pretty independent, which of course, is what I want.

  7. Good article. Our neighbors a mile away keep two, Pyrenees and Marema, outdoors at all times with their intensive agriculture operation growing organic ducks, chickens, pigs, geese, rabbits, and goats. The operator is a medical doctor educated in Stuttgart, Ge., and blogs extensively at a scientific level including their LGD process and activity.

    They’ve had eagles, coyotes, and mountain lion attacks in broad daylight within 150 feet of them in the past year, and the Dr wrote at length about their visually lazy, languid, big puppy-like dogs transforming into raging defenders of the farm in their assault on the coyotes and mountain lions, but never directed towards human strangers.

    Thanks again Kit, and please make sure I-90 isn’t blocked this week. I’m coming through.

    God Bless

  8. Like always you have the tendency to hit a specific topic that I am researching. I have a 40acre parcel in NE AZ . Looking for a perimeter guard and stock dog. These animals sound like just what I am looking for. Love the fact that they are independent and self sufficient to some extent. I am sure I will need much more training than they will. On the large parcel of Juniper and scrub that I would like protected I would assume it be best to employ 2 or 3 dogs. Males/females? Any input would be appreciated.

  9. We have Ovcharkas, and have had them for two generations now. They are excellent livestock guardian dogs, and they do bond with the owner but like the article says, are not mindless bimbos and you must establish dominance over them or they will not submit to you (and ours are well over 150 lbs.) They can be upside down snoring outside when it is -20 F, and can process all sorts of sounds in their sleep, but the sound of a stranger walking with a different cadence, the wrong smell, or a predator and they are up and on the attack within a split second.

    You also have to be careful not to have them working around Border Collies, as they can start to mix traits and learn from them, and that can be dangerous. We feed ours meat, milk, egg yellows, not store bought dog food, and they eat like three large and active teenage boys, so expect that.

  10. One thing to keep in mind is local ordinances. We live on almost 3 acres with NM Dahl Sheep and chickens, after my first loss of a couple of ewes we purchased a Pyrenees.
    He was a great dog and learning his job very quickly. But when he got to about 10-12 months old he started doing his routine patrols every night, walking the fence line and sounding off, one or two deep loud barks every 20 min or so. Letting everything within a mile know he was there and alert.
    The problem was my neighbors started to complain about the noise at 2am, they were not interested in my operation or protecting my livestock. After a few weeks we had to sell our dog. Where I am at there are county laws that require you to keep your dogs quiet after 10pm, too many complaints and animal control will fine you, after so many fines they can take your dog away from you.
    So be mindful of the local laws and your neighbors when getting a guardian dog, we learned the hard way.

  11. I have a Great Pyrenees and I wouldn’t trade her for anything. I have not lost an animal to a predator in the 6 years that I’ve had her. I have to say we bonded with her as a pet and it did nothing to her guarding abilities.

  12. I have had Kangals for twenty years. They work best alone or at least in separate paddocks. We have black bears, timber wolves, coyotes, mountain lions and smaller predators. They all stay away. On two occasions, I witnessed our male chasing a timber wolf. He came back, the timber didn’t. They will chase crows out of the yard but not bother the black banty chickens. You need very good fences. You need to be able to put up with the barking. You need to put up with the fox holes they dig. You need to understand they aren’t golden retrievers. They don’t care if you’re happy. But they will guard the property 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I sleep well knowing they are out there. Oh, they also wake me up with a special bark when they need me to handle something they can’t. That might be a downed cow or something that just isn’t right.

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