We have a hard-working Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD). Her name is Athena, named after the Greek Goddess of wisdom and war. It seemed like an appropriate name. After all, she would be the one diving headfirst into a battle if an animal dared stir up a commotion near the barn. And there are animals that dare to sneak up to the barn, likely tempted by chickens or baby goats. But since having her, we have yet to lose an animal to predators under her watch. Gone are the days of raccoons and skunks snatching up chickens from the coop!
So, what's the difference between a Livestock Guardian Dog and any other kind of dog? LGD's are not a breed of dog, but a group of dogs that are bred to live with and protect livestock by deterring, and if need be, fighting off predators. Don't confuse LGD's with herding breeds. While some dogs are bred to direct the movement of a herd of animals, LGD's are meant to integrate with the herd, essentially becoming "one of them."
Like other LGD's, Athena was raised to live with livestock from early on. She was born into the guardian life, though introducing an appropriate breed from birth to around four months of age is good practice. She's a member of the herd of goats she lives with, and is so bonded that I honestly believe she thinks she is a goat. It's not odd to see her climbing on rocks or fallen trees along side our goats. She's even gotten excited at the site of grain and fought her way to get to it, just like her companions (if you have goats, you know what I'm talking about).
Where do you find your LGD? Finding a Livestock Guardian Dog can take some time. It's important to find someone reputable. After researching the breed that you feel best fits your needs, put some effort into researching and finding the right place (or individual) to purchase your dog from. Shelling out thousands of dollars for a fully trained guardian dog wasn't in the cards for us, so we looked into places like Craigslist, local papers and word of mouth. Eventually, we settled on buying our dog from a local farmer. Getting to know the person or place your dog comes from is important, so don't overlook it. You don't want to bring home an animal that is sick, ill-tempered or just all-around not what you wanted. Seeing the mother, as well as the conditions she was living in really divulges a lot of information. And it's also a great opportunity to ask questions in living color vice reading books or articles online. Advice and instruction in person can be more valuable than any publication. But use caution, no matter who you are dealing with. A LGD is an investment and should be purchased with the same consideration as you would have when making plans to build a home or purchase a new car. Don't settle on a dog because it's a great deal, cute (cute does not protect your livestock!) or just available nearby. Plan to invest not only money, but time in this purchase. Remember that old cliche, "You get what you pay for?" Well, it's a cliche for a reason.
What should you look for in a Livestock Guardian Dog? First and foremost, the animal should come from a reputable source. I realize I mentioned that above, but it's worth saying again. Know the right questions to ask, and ask them! A lot of people will shy off from inquiring because they worry about rudeness or feeling stupid. It's important to find out all the things you need to know to make a good decision prior to actually purchasing the dog. It will save you time and frustration, not to mention that temptation to post a Craigslist add begging someone to give your dog a new home. Make sure you know that the person is experienced with the breed and hasn't just popped up overnight to sell puppies for a quick buck. Check out this article on Buying a Livestock Guardian Dog by Catherine de la Cruz for specific questions you should ask a breeder. It's very informative and I really like the point she makes by saying, " If a cat had kittens in the oven, that wouldn't make them muffins---just because a dog is born in a rural setting that might include some kind of livestock, it isn't necessarily a "working" dog."
As for other things to look for, you'll want to inquire about the dog's lineage; was the mother healthy (displaysia, dwarfism, etc)? Have their been temperament issues of concern with any dogs in the line (overaggressive playing, injuring animals, not staying with the herd)? You want to find a dog that is likely to be aggressive and gentle, and be able to understand when to change roles. Athena has a bark that deters most predators from coming close enough to the barn to reach anything, but she also knows to be gentle with the goats (and the people living on the farm with her). It's also important that the pup you choose is not a loner (doesn't prefer to separate himself from the others). You want the dog you choose to protect your animals to, well... actually stay around to protect them.
Talk to me about price. Pricing is one of those things you just can't set in stone. It's going to be determined by a number of factors, not limited to the breed, age, sex, and individual you are working with. Raising an animal for a specific purpose, such as protecting your farm, is a time intensive project. Do not expect to pick up a dog (that will actually work out for you) for free online or in the local papers, or even for just a couple hundred dollars. Remember when I tossed out that cliche earlier? Remind yourself of that old, tired phrase, "You get what you pay for." While is is possible to find a good, hardworking dog at an exceptional price, it is absolutely not the norm. Expect to shell out upwards of $800, and you can expect to tack on some extra green to that price when factoring in things like vet visits, any medications or supplements, food, etc. An animal is a continued expense, so plan ahead.
But isn't there a greener option? There are a lot of conflicting opinions about encouraging any kind of dog breeding. A guardian animal will deter predators from coming to your property in the first place, and if an unwanted visitor were to show up, the guardian would be able to chase off the threat and protect your livestock. This saves other animals from being kept away by using poisons or injuring an animal with a gunshot wound, only for it to die from the injury miles away. If Athena defends her territory and has to fight to the death, that death is not in vain. She will consume most of that animal so it will not be wasted. Having a LGD has also spared us the expense of more extensive fencing and other precautions to keep unwanted visitors away (no need to set up traps anymore or elaborate arrangements to keep coyotes from digging under the fence). Considering these things has me convinced that a guardian animal (dog or otherwise) is one of the greenest options you could choose.
Just something to remember... No matter how much time you take and how much research you do, there is still a chance that the dog you choose will not work out for your needs. A dog, like people, have their own unique personalities and temperaments. If the first LGD your select for your farm doesn't work out, that doesn't mean another one will have the same shortcomings. If you decide on a dog that ends up eating your chickens, consider reassigning him to another job. Perhaps the dog would be better suited guarding your home (being fed earlier or more often
Need more info? It's impossible for me to tell you everything you need to know in just one article. If you've got questions or want more specific info, feel free to leave a comment or contact me using one of these options.
Be sure to check out these free resources for more experienced and detailed information:
And, while these guys aren't official livestock guardians, they sure do help keep unwanted visitors of all kinds away! So they definitely deserve an honorable mention!
Do you have a LGD? Are you considering getting one? Share in the comments!