United States Government LGD Fact
Title: Livestock Guarding Dogs
Document-date: November 1994
Author/phone: Robin Porter (301/734-3265)
Contact-name: Larry Mark email@example.com
Posting-date: 07 Nov 1994
Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Fact Sheet.
Animal Damage Control November 1994.
Livestock Guarding Dogs
Livestock guarding breeds originated
in Europe and Asia, where they have been used for centuries to protect sheep
from wolves and bears. Americans have used guarding dogs since the mid-1970's.
They are large animals (80-120 pounds) and are usually all white or fawn colored
with dark muzzles. Some of the more common breeds are Great Pyrenees (France),
Komondor (Hungary), Akbash dog and Anatolian shepherd (Turkey), and Maremma
(Italy). Pyrenees and Akbash dogs are among the more successful breeds.
Unlike herding dogs, guarding dogs
do not usually herd sheep. Acting independently of humans, guarding dogs
stay with or near sheep most of the time and aggressively repel predators.
Genetics and proper rearing both contribute to the makeup of a successful
Some guarding dogs do not adequately
carry out their protective role. Failures can generally be attributed to
improper rearing or acquiring the dog after it is too old for training. However,
some dogs don't work well despite having been reared properly. Research and
surveys indicate that about three-fourths of trained dogs become good guardians.
Knowing what a good guarding dog is and how to raise one correctly can help
producers be sure they get the best possible service from their dogs.
Key Points in Successfully Rearing
a Guarding Dog
* Select a suitable breed and reputable
* Rear pups singly from 8 weeks
of age with sheep, minimizing human contact (probably the most critical ingredient
* Monitor the dog and correct undesirable
* Encourage the dog to remain with
or near the livestock.
* Ensure the dog's health and safety.
* Manage the livestock in accordance
with the dog's age and experience (e.g., use smaller pastures while the
dog is young and inexperienced).
* Be patient and allow plenty of
time to train your dog. Remember that a guarding dog may take 2 years or
more to mature.
Potential Benefits and Problems
With Using Dogs
An Oregon sheep producer nearly
eliminated coyote predation in her pasture flock of 50 ewes by adding a single
guarding dog. In 6 years of using the dog, she lost only one lamb to coyotes.
In contrast, coyotes and bobcats killed several sheep on her neighbors' farms
Effective guarding dogs help livestock
* reducing predation on sheep,
* reducing labor (lessening the
need for night corralling),
* alerting the owners to disturbances
in the flock,
* protecting the family and ranch
* allowing for more efficient use
of pastures and potential expansion of the flock.
However, guarding dogs require
an investment with no guarantee of a positive result. The dogs can become
ill, be injured, or die prematurely. Some dogs roam away from the flock.
Guarding dogs are potentially aggressive; some dogs injure the stock or other
animals, including pets, or confront unfamiliar people (e.g., hikers) who
approach the sheep. Producers who use dogs should post signs to alert passers-by
and escort visitors when near sheep.
Guarding Dogs and Other Control
The use of a guarding dog does
not prevent the use of other predation-control methods. However, the other
techniques must be compatible. The use of toxicants is not recommended where
guarding dogs are working. Traps and snares can kill dogs if they are caught
and not released in a reasonable period of time. As a precaution, dogs should
be restrained, confined, or closely monitored if these methods are being used
in close proximity.
An Idaho sheep producer reduced
coyote predation in his pasture flock of 200 ewes by adding a guarding dog
to his operation. Prior to obtaining the dog, the producer lost an average
of 12 lambs per year to coyotes. The use of the guarding dog, combined with
other predation-control methods, has resulted in a loss of only four lambs
in the past 5 years.
Guarding dogs can also be helpful
in range sheep operations. However, many factors influence dog effectiveness.
A Wyoming sheep rancher noted a significant reduction in coyote predation
in his range flocks for the first 3 years he used guarding dogs. During
that time, the coyote population continued to increase. In the fourth year,
the producer began to see a decrease in his dogs' effectiveness. Coyotes
had become so numerous they were simply overwhelming the dogs. By the fifth
year, his predation losses had returned to previous levels.
Recommendations for Producers
Guarding dogs will not solve all
of a producer's predation problems, but in many situations they are a useful
tool. They can aid in reducing occasional predation and have worked well
in both fenced pasture and herded range operations. Their effectiveness can
be enhanced by good livestock management and by eliminating persistent predators.
Guarding dogs may not be suitable
in very large pastures (several sections or larger) where sheep are widely
scattered. At least two dogs are recommended for range operations or in
large areas with more than several hundred sheep.
Sources of pups and additional
information about livestock guarding dogs can be obtained from the nearest
office of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) Animal
Damage Control (ADC) program.