Livestock Guardian "Charlie" with bucks
LIVESTOCK GUARDIAN DOGS
Goats are a prey species that require protection from predators. All breeds are sprinters rather than long-distance runners and their horns provide limited defense. Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD) have been bred for thousands of years to provide this protection. Whether coyotes or bears or packs of roaming dogs, LGD's are the best predator protection available. Other types of livestock guardian animals cannot see as well at night and don't seek out predators with their sense of smell like livestock guardian dogs.
There are many breeds and cross-breeds of Livestock Guardian Dogs. Anatolian Shepherd, Karakachan, Great Pyrenees, Komandor, Maremma, Ovtcharka, Karst, Tatra, and Kuvasz are a few of the most recognizable LGD's in this country. With subtle differences between them, most breeds perform their jobs similarly. Some mature faster intelligence-wise, others have long coats adapted for comfort in cold climates, and some breeds are more even-tempered. I prefer the Anatolian Shepherd breed because of its short hair (perfect for hot Texas), its sunny disposition, and its early mental maturity. Anatolians are smarter than most people you'll ever meet. I have also come to like the Anatolian-Karakachan cross. I do not like a Pyrenees cross; they tend to be wanderers.
The Livestock Guardian Dog is single-mindedly focused on the protection of its herd. Livestock Guardian Dogs are often not social animals, tending instead to stay with the goat herd. Although some folks manage to make pets and companion animals of them, their "alpha" nature does not suit them for this role. They should never be left unsupervised with children, pets, or livestock other than those that they are guarding.
Some people believe that you should never interact with your LGD. This is wrong.
The LDG has to be socialized in order to handle, feed, and medicate it. If you have dogs, cats, poultry, or other livestock, you must take care when introducing the LGD to these animals. Unless the Livestock Guardian Dog is taught otherwise, all other animals, even other Livestock Guardian Dogs, are enemies to its livestock. A LGD puppy raised with an older Livestock Guardian Dog should allow the older dog to temper the rough playfulness of the puppy to avoid injuries to your livestock. There are drawbacks to beginning with a puppy, particularly if predators are a current problem. A puppy isn't ready to handle predators on its own and won't be until it is about eighteen (18) months old. From weaning to about 18 months of age, the LGD exhibits puppy behavior. Then one day the light will go on in the dog's brain and it will all come together. Suddenly you have a fully-functioning and capable Livestock Guardian Dog. They seldom sleep under shelter, at least in my part of the world (Texas.)
LGD's work best in pairs. A male-female pair, definitely neutered/spayed, works well together. Dogs that are sexually intact are not working when they are breeding or raising pups. An older dog works well with a younger, less-experienced animal, teaching the pup how to refine its instincts and control the playful behavior that can result in injured or dead goats. Do not run two unspayed females or two intact males together.
It is dangerous to physically get between two fighting LGD's. To separate two fighting dogs, use the strong spray from a water hose. Do not put yourself between them or you will need medical attention. Running littermates together is usually not successful because of sibling rivalry.
Livestock Guardian Dogs are highly intelligent and sensitive animals. Their ability to sense what is happening makes them good at their jobs. Don't shout at them and never strike them with any object, including your hand. Speak calmly and slowly when instructing or correcting the actions of the LGD. You must at all times be the 'alpha' (the dominant one) in the relationship. Take a misbehaving LGD by the scruff of the neck and turn it upsidedown on the ground to indicate to the dog that you are in control. Ninety-nine percent of the dog's activities will be the result of instinct bred into it. That other 1% can make or break its effectiveness, and that is where the 'alpha' human's role is critical.
LGD's are big animals. They grow fast, often achieving weights of over 100 pounds in 12 months or less. Their bodies mature faster than their brains, so remember that you will have a large puppy on your hands for some time. Livestock Guardian Dogs under 18 months of age should work in tandem with an older LGD. Recently weaned puppies should be put in a pen separate from but adjacent to goats before being introduced into a goat herd. After several weeks of this arrangement, carefully introduce the young LGD into a small group of goats in a location where you can monitor all activities.
Don't put pups in with juveniles under a year of age, kids, pregnant does, or does that are nursing kids. Don't put multiple puppies in with the same group of goats; their rough-housing will wind up hurting or killing goats. Put a pup with an older experienced LGD who is assigned to a herd of mature bucks or does. The pup needs to get knocked around by the bigger goats so it learns its place in the pecking order. It is fast enough to get away and harder to hurt than the goats.
When an adult LGD is put into a pen of goats, it will usually walk the perimeter fencing, stopping to smell and urinate on fence posts. It may also walk up to each goat in its newly-acquired herd and lick or gently paw its face. This is normal get-acquainted behavior. You should be there to supervise until the goats quit cowering from and accept the dog. This should not take long if the dog is LGD material. Not all of them are LGD material.
The biggest challenge facing most LGD owners is making sure that the dogs get properly fed. The Livestock Guardian Dog thinks of itself as one of the goats in the herd. The dog will assume a subservient place in the herd and will sometimes give up its food to its goats. Some Livestock Guardian Dogs will eat goat food at the trough with the goats it is guarding and may try to eat hay. This nutritional level is much too low for a canine. Establish a location where the dog can eat undisturbed by the livestock, and feed the dog at the same time that the goats are fed. Don't be surprised if the LGD eats one day, then skips eating for several days. Some Livestock Guardian Dogs tend to eat like wolves -- gorging when food is plentiful to hold them over until the next meal is available. Other LGD's wait to be fed daily. Some LGD's will bury their food and come back to it when they want to eat it. Always feed your dogs.
The Livestock Guardian Dog often looks like it is doing nothing. Don't be fooled. The LGD is always on watch. During the daylight hours, the dog will be hard to find and, if located, will appear to be sleeping. In fact, it is resting and watching everything. Two or three dogs working together will be spread out around the pasture at strategic points and inconspicuous to all but those who know how to look for them. Introduce a strange animal, person, or object into that pasture and watch what happens. A ruckus ensues as the dogs make their presence known by calling out to the intruders and to each other. The LGD will position itself between the threat and its goats.
Nighttime is when the Livestock Guardian Dog becomes active, vocal, and really goes to work. As dusk approaches, the dogs begin to call out to each other and to predators. The LGD has sounds for each situation; when predators are around, it makes a distinctly recognizable bark that is quite different from the sounds made when you offer feed or when a goat is down. Specific sounds are vital for protecting the herd from predators. LGD's are barking machines. If the sounds of dogs barking all night bothers you or your neighbors, then Livestock Guardian Dogs are not for you.
Some LGD's are guarders and some are patrollers. Unfortunately you won't know the difference until you observe the mature dog at work. The dog will be about 18 months of age before it is a successful working animal. A patroller does not become a guarder easily, if at all. Patrollers need acreage over which to roam. Patrollers don't know your goats from your neighbors' goats. They are all goats in need of its protection. Some LGD's stay with their herd, regardless of where you move them. Others stay in one pasture and you can exchange goats often. Some dogs prefer female goats; others, male goats. You must adapt your management to the Livestock Guardian Dog's skill set or find a good home for it and start with another dog.
If you are on small acreage or in a suburban area, predator protection other than Livestock Guardian Dogs may be your best choice. The NiteGuard solar-powered predator light has proved to provide predator protection to goat producers on small acreage or in suburban areas where "patroller" LGD's will not stay home. Check the product out for yourself at www.niteguard.com. Used in pairs and priced inexpensively, these lights are carried by Jeffers (1-800-533-3377). If none of these options works for you, ask a male family member to walk the perimeter of your property and urinate along the fence line. This is not a joke. Predators rely on their sense of smell; unfamiliar smells cause them to shy away. However, this is NOT a long-term solution to predators.
Behavioral traits of Livestock Guardian Dogs can be confusing to people unfamiliar with them. Example: A doe gives birth in the pasture and the kid is stillborn or dies. To protect the rest of the goats, the LGD will eat the dead kid so that predators are not drawn to the herd. It would be easy to misinterpret this situation as one in which the dog killed the kid, when that is not the case. Another example: The Livestock Guardian Dog will stay with a sick or lame animal and sometimes appear to be harassing it, when in fact the LGD is trying to separate it from the herd for the herd's overall protection, or the dog will force the downed goat to move towards its herd for protection. A good Livestock Guardian Dog will sense if the goat is dying or has a good chance of survival.
I have personally had the following experience: Breeding-age does were being found with bloody tails. Two of them actually had their tails bitten off. Two weeks of investigation revealed that the buck placed with the does was so eager to breed them that he was chasing and catching them by their tails as they ran from him. Goat producers not knowledgeable about LGD's might have blamed and punished or destroyed the dogs.
Livestock Guardian Dogs are independent and self-sufficient. Some may survive for days in pasture conditions with their goats. They may catch and eat rabbits, squirrels, and other small animals, but it is always necessary to provide dog food for them. The dogs may be willing to hunt for their food, but remember that such activity takes them away from the goats you want them to guard. If they run out of prey to catch to eat, then they will eat whatever they have to kill to survive. You don't want it to be your goats.
LGD's should be vaccinated against rabies, parvo, distemper, and other serious diseases annually since their exposure to these diseases is high. In some areas, it is wise to give the rattlesnake vaccine for dogs.
Livestock Guardian Dogs do not need us. It is WE that need THEM.
Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 7.1.20
Our lead Anatolian Shepherd amongst West Texas spring wildflowers
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