Guardian Dogs – A Farmer’s Best Friend

Dogs have many jobs in today’s society: guide dogs, police dogs, therapy dogs, detective dogs, sled dogs, hunting and tracking dogs, herding dogs, and the list goes on! For most of us, when we think of working dogs on the farm, our first thoughts are of herding dogs like Border Collies, moving from a low crouch to a full run as they move sheep through a field.

Did you say “LGD”?

Did you know there are other types of working farm dogs? We’re talking about livestock guardian dogs, or LGDs, for short! What are LGDs, you ask? Their title gives their job away; they are responsible for protecting farm animals. Usually, LGDs protect animals like sheep that are easier prey due to their smaller size, but you can find them protecting all types of farm animals.

Where would I see LGDs?

With sheep that are grazed extensively – meaning the sheep are given access to large areas of grazing land – our partners at High Country Lamb are no strangers to the challenges that Mother Nature brings with predators like mountain lions, coyotes, and bears (oh my!). One way to deal with these kinds of predators is to use LGDs. Though dogs are not the only species that can act as guardian animals, High Country Lamb have found that dogs are well suited to the job. They use a variety of breeds, including Anatolian Shepherds, Great Pyrenees, and Akbash dogs – all of which are well known LGD breeds.

What do LGDs have to do with GAP?

The use of well-trained livestock guardian dogs fits well with GAP’s sheep standards – deterring predators from hunting and killing sheep, especially the vulnerable lambs. These dogs are bred for a number of traits that help them with their jobs:

  • Ability to live in harmony with the flock they are protecting;
  • Physical attributes that allow LGDs to be successful in the climate and environment they live in (large size to scare off predators and thick undercoat for chilly winters, for example);
  • Gentle with people; and
  • Most importantly, ability to detect and deter predators.

As you can see, these are not the type of dog to binge watch Netflix on the couch with their owners! They are happiest living outside and keeping their flock safe.

Anatolian Shepherd Lulu taking a break snuggling in the hay with the other animals at High Country Lamb Ranch

Socialization is key

Though livestock protection generally comes naturally to LGD breeds, individual personality and early life experiences also play a role in the success of an LGD. At High Country Lamb Ranch, dogs are bred and raised on farm – living with the sheep from day one. This helps the puppies bond with the sheep they are to protect. The dog breeds that High Country Lamb uses are known for their independent and strong-willed natures, making them suitable for this type of work. While independence is a very important trait, it’s also important that the dogs are well socialized with the farmers and other humans to allow for ease of handling and routine care-giving. Though LGDs can be gentle and friendly, they are also very loyal and protective, and if spotted out with sheep, passersby should give the dogs space and avoid disturbing them or their flock.

Young puppies at High Country Lamb Ranch

An important job

Good guardian dogs are worth their weight in gold – they make sure to keep the flock, especially young and vulnerable lambs, safe from predators. They are good at keeping a very watchful eye on their charges – sensitive to slight changes in the demeanor of the flock. They’ll also patrol the perimeter of the pasture on a regular basis, especially at night, when predators are more active. This helps deter predators without having to set up really long fence lines (not practical for extensively grazed flocks) or set traps (leg traps, snares, etc. are prohibited by GAP’s standards).

Amber (Anatolian Shepherd / Great Pyrenees / Akbash cross) keeps a close watch over her flock of lambs at High Country Lamb Ranch.

Did you know that GAP has requirements within our species-specific standards for guardian dogs too? Pozzi Ranch, one of our other GAP Animal Welfare Certified partners also uses guardian dogs to protect their lambs. Read here to learn more about their operation. GAP also certifies the ingredients used in many pet food brands. We traveled to the SuperZoo pet industry trade show in August to meet with brands prioritizing animal welfare in their businesses as well. Check out our adventures here.

To keep up-to-date with more posts like this, follow #GAPFarmLife on social media (including Instagram and Facebook)! And the next time you see a farm picture with a “funny looking” sheep, it is probably a livestock guardian dog! Now you know.

Krysta Morrissey

Author Krysta Morrissey

SENIOR FARM ANIMAL WELFARE SPECIALIST, GLOBAL ANIMAL PARTNERSHIP. Krysta's childhood dreams of becoming a large animal vet influenced her decision to study animal biology at the University of Guelph in Canada. While there, she found her love for farm animal welfare science and shifted gears to continue her education in poultry, mainly chicken, behavior and welfare. Her Master’s and PhD degrees focused on hunger mechanisms of broiler breeders and hens, and how those can be influenced in order to reduce feather pecking and cannibalism behaviors.

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