Livestock Guard Dogs: Just Like Lassie, Only Better

Sheri Dixon
12 Min Read

When I had my dairy goats in Wisconsin nothing bothered them, and they lived happily and without a care in the world.

So when I got my land in Texas, I confidently fenced off an area, put up a little shelter, and installed two lovely Nubian doe-lings, China and Marigold, both pregnant.

One cold winter night, with the sleet blowing horizontally across the fields, I did not hear the goats calling me when I got home from work.  I grabbed a flashlight and told my husband to stay at the house (city boy, with a very soft spot for the goats). The flickering beam of the flashlight confirmed my fears.  The fence had been dug under by dogs and my beautiful goats lay dead, marred only by the gaping holes in their throats.

It was over a year before I could talk my husband into trying again.

The new goats, Alice and Trixie, were put into a different pen, adjoining the back porch.  Whenever we were gone, or at night, they were locked up onto the porch. They found this to be really really boring (even for goats) and were not even remotely potty trained, making the porch toxic and stinky in short order, even though we’d bedded the whole thing with straw.

My search began for an LGD: Livestock Guardian Dog.

LGD’s are dogs that are not herders, nor are they attack dogs.  They are exactly what they are called: “Guardians”.  Their job is to live with the stock and make sure nothing gets in to hurt, steal, or eat it.  Their first line of defense is just their size; they are enormous.  If size and a menacing bark do not deter, they will place themselves between their charges and perceived danger.  If all else fails, they will resort to violence, and woe to anyone on the receiving end of over 100 pounds of angry dog.

In this country, we see mainly three breeds of LGD’s: Komondor (Komondorok plural), Anatolian Shepherd Dogs, and Great Pyrenees (Pyrs).

Komondorok have white coats that grow in cords, like dreadlocks.  They are cautious by nature, and tend to bond to only one person or immediate family, and are creepily formidable when stalking a stranger.  The Komondor Club of America stresses the importance of obedience training and socialization of the young puppy to help assure that your adult dog will be a stable member of society.  These dogs are very intelligent and tend to think for themselves, so if you fail to establish your role as “alpha dog”, your Komondor will happily assume he’s in charge.

The coat requires a lot of care, and when they get wet, they stay wet.  Really.  For weeks.  I am skeptical of how well they fare in a southern summer, but I have seen some here in Texas, so I guess they do alright.

Anatolian Shepherds are also generally cautious, with the Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club giving the same advice about socialization and training as the Komondor club, but there are exceptions to every rule.  The Austin Zoo has one who sleeps on the porch to the gift shop like a giant Welcome Mat that you have to take a BIG step over.  Their coat is more like a Lab or German Shepherd, short and thick, and they come in various shades of grey and brown.

My personal experience is with Pyrs.  I chose this breed for a number of reasons: they are the most friendly to strangers (anyone is calmly welcomed unless proven untrustworthy), their fluffy white coat sheds nicely into a summer coat with a minimum of brushing, and most importantly, because I got one for free.

Galut was the one remaining pup from a litter of 10, and her mother was, frankly, tired of motherhood.  In a fit of annoyance, perhaps after hours of her puppy yapping nonstop into her ear while she was trying to watch her stories, Galut’s mother grabbed her by the scruff and shook her, giving her a nice puncture wound. (I have honestly felt the same way about my own offspring on more than one occasion.)  Her owners just didn’t want the hassle of treating it, and “poof”, I had my LGD.  Galut was 10-weeks old and over 25 pounds when she came home.

There are various thoughts on the proper training of these dogs (Great Pyrenees Club of America has a several).  Some say they can’t be proper guardians if they are treated as pets, and advocate tossing them in with the livestock and having no contact with them whatever – no petting, nothing.  Although Galut went to live with the goats, not in the house, we have always made a big deal out of her, petting, baby-talk, the whole nine yards, and she guards just fine.

They DO make good housedogs.  In fact, the next time we are in the market for a housedog, a Pyr will be what I look for.  In the absence of livestock to guard, they become excellent babysitters.  I’ve heard of more than one Pyr pushing toddlers away from danger, and they not only tolerate small fry (goat kids OR human kids) crawling all over them, they adore it.

Even as a puppy, Galut never jumped up on us, and if I need to catch her and she’s being playfully (but annoyingly) evasive, I send my 5-year-old in after her.  He just grabs her collar and brings her to me… a 45-pound boy leading 110-pound dog.

Most trainers will tell you not to trust the dogs around newborn livestock until the dogs are over two years old, and I have to agree.  For the first two springs, I tied Galut in a corner of the goat-pen with a 20-foot chain till the babies were several weeks old.  She was just too much of a puppy herself.  She was so thrilled with the new playmates she’d grab them by the leg, hold them down with a giant paw and lick them till they almost passed out.  Just like magic, the spring she turned two the over-exuberant teenaged puppy became a calm, benevolent matron.

I do have trouble when a baby goat imprints on her instead of its mother.  Sometimes it takes the better part of a week to convince the little one that, cozy as Galut is, lunch comes from Mother.

With their size, you would expect LGD’s to eat you out of house and home.  When an LGD is working on a large ranch in a remote area, the Gravy Train is scarce or non-existent, and these dogs have been bred accordingly.  I feed Galut a one-pound coffee can of mid-quality dry food twice a day, and to be honest, the goats eat about 1/2 of that before she loses patience with them and scatters them with a giant “WOOF”.  A friend of mine has to feed her dog away from the goats, because her goats are not impressed with her dog’s “WOOF” and ignore him.  It is indicative of these animals’ temperaments that they will go hungry before hurting one of their charges.

LGD’s can be found through online clubs, word of mouth, or newspaper ads. Unless you are interested in dog shows, registration is not important.  As with all big breeds, hip dysplasia is a concern, and I would take it as a very good sign if a breeder had his/her dogs x-rayed to check for soundness, since dysplasia is hereditary and a dysplastic dog can’t do a very good job of guarding, will have a shortened lifespan and a lifetime of pain and discomfort.

It is important to get a puppy and raise it up with your stock, or a young dog who has been raised with stock.  Our first “freebie” Pyr was an adult stray and she’d obviously never seen goats.  She wanted to chase them, plain and simple, and promptly moved on to a home with two old ladies to care for and who love her right back.

A lot of folks let their LGD have free run of their property.  This is fine if you have A LOT of property.  Your LGD will decide how far his/her territory goes, and your neighbors may not appreciate the big doggie that keeps pushing THEIR kids back into YOUR yard.  Galut lives in the goat pen with the goats, and once when a coyote decided my chickens were a daily-special buffet, I turned her loose in the horse pen (mostly heavily wooded) for a few days to convince the coyote to move along.

Prices are hugely variable.  You can pay up to $1000.00 (or more) for a puppy with a fancy-shmancy pedigree if you want a show-dog.  For a well-bred LGD, out of working parents, expect to pay from $150 to $500.  Every once in a while, if you keep your ears open, make your desires known and have patience, you will luck into one like I did.

Whether your LGD’s charges are goats or toddlers and the predators are coyotes or burglars, these dogs will spend their lives keeping their family safe.  When I have Galut filling the entire backseat of my car for a trip to the Vet, I look into those calm big brown eyes gazing over my shoulder.  Even though she has never growled at anyone, I know that she would not hesitate to protect me.

It’s a good feeling.

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