Before you think about choosing a Livestock Guardian Dog and what breed to get, be sure that’s what you need in the first place. If you haven’t read my post on “Livestock Guardian Dogs: What You Need to Know BEFORE You Get One!” it would probably be a good idea if you went back and read that first.
These are great dogs when you let them be and do what they were bred for. However, if you don’t know what you’re getting into, you might not be happy with having one of these dogs. They are NOT your typical companion dog! So do your homework and be sure this is the type of dog for you.
In fact, now might be a good time for a reminder about who is best suited to owning a livestock guardian dog. The following comes from the Maremma Sheepdog Club of America, but applies to about any breed of Livestock Guardian Dog. In fact, let me just substitute “livestock guardian dog” for Maremma to make it easier to read:
WHAT TYPE OF OWNER IS BEST for a LGD?
Love for your livestock guardian dog, or admiration of the breed you choose, is not enough. Livestock guardian dogs are completely unlike any other (non-livestock guardian) breed of dog you have ever owned, and as such need special owners who are prepared for the challenges they present.
If you are a person who requires instant, unquestioned obedience to commands by your dog, don’t buy a livestock guardian dog.
If you are a person who does not have generous amounts of time to spend with your dog, don’t buy a livestock guardian dog.
If you are a person who lives in cramped quarters or has neighbors who would object to a barking dog, don’t buy a livestock guardian dog.
If you do not have a large, fenced in area, don’t buy a livestock guardian dog.
If you are a person who cannot commit to the lifespan of a dog (up to 13 + years), don’t buy a livestock guardian dog.
If you are a person who collects unique breeds of dogs, don’t buy a livestock guardian dog just for the reason that they are “different”!
If you are a person who has had trouble owning and managing any other breed of dog, don’t buy a livestock guardian dog.
If you are a person who would find any of the livestock guardian dog characteristics to be a problem, don’t buy a livestock guardian dog.
If you are a person who has not had prior successful experience with livestock guardian dogs, don’t buy any livestock guardian dog except as a puppy.
These dogs are fantastic when allowed to do their job, but they do present special challenges in training, and in understanding what you can expect them to do… or not to do.
Choosing the Right Breed LGD
There are several breeds of Livestock Guardian Dogs, but probably the one that comes to mind first for most people is a Great Pyrenees. (And be forewarned: if you have any other breed of white guard dog like an Akbash or Maremma Sheepdog, most people will assume it’s a Great Pyrenees guard dog no matter how often you tell them different. And further, be prepared… a great many vets aren’t going to know the difference either.)
Here’s a list of some breeds of Livestock Guardian Dogs:
- Akbash Dog
- Anatolian Shepherd Dog
- Caucasian Shepherd Dog
- Central Asian Shepherd Dog
- Croatian Sheepdog
- Great Pyrenees
- Kangal Shepherd Dog
- Maremma Sheepdog
- Portuguese Sheepdog
- Tibetan Mastiff
Though a fairly extensive list, it’s not an all-inclusive list. Also, some of these breeds are definitely more easily found in the United States than others. Great Pyrenees dogs seem to be pretty common in all areas, but the rest are kind of hit or miss. If you are interested in a particular breed, you may discover they are available in your area, and then again, you might not.
Let’s face it, there’s not as big a market for LGDs as companion dogs, so there aren’t as many people breeding them. That means if you are set on a particular breed of LGD, you may have to transport one from a far off location.
What Traits Are You Looking For?
All of these livestock guardian dog breeds have been bred to have the instinct for guarding – usually for hundreds, if not thousands of years. That’s pretty much a given.
What can be different from breed to breed is how they accomplish that task. Some will hang out close to their charges, like right in the middle of their herd of goats or flock of sheep, while others will be more likely to patrol the fence lines and make sure no predators get onto their territory.
Some of the traits associated with the more common breeds in the US are:
Akbash: Alert, courageous, independent guardian with the speed of a sighthound and the power of a guardian. They can have a medium or long coat; both are considered acceptable to breed standards. This breed can also have dog-on-dog aggressive tendencies, though those raised with other dogs do a little better. Also can be prone to wander and to digging.
Anatolian Shepherds: This breed has only been in the U.S. since the 1970’s and are hard wired to be independent thinkers, territorial, wary of strangers and often unfriendly to other dogs. They are a muscular and reserved breed. Devoted to their herd but not necessarily friendly to people. Hot weather isn’t a problem as the ASD has a shorter coat. That means it doesn’t need as much grooming as longer haired dogs, but they do shed a lot. If you live in a mild climate, they will shed all year long. Anatolians blow their undercoat twice a year, as well.
Great Pyrenees: Probably the most well-known breed of livestock guardian dogs, this breed likes lots of space to roam. It generally guards by keeping predators away from their territory, instead of sticking close to the other critters. Like all LGDs, they are also apt to ignore commands, but they are usually people friendly. They have a thick coat, so that’s a consideration in hot climates. If you get one, you may need to clip them during the warmer months.
Maremma Sheepdog: One of the smaller breeds of LGDs, very loyal to their charges but can be standoffish with people. These dogs are more likely to guard by sticking close to the critters, especially if brought up with goats or sheep. They will stay in the midst of the flock, or find a vantage point nearby where they can see them and everything coming or going.
Learning More About Your Chosen Breed
The above descriptions are only a brief overview, and if you are interested in a particular breed, take a more extensive dive into information about them. Look for websites by the specific breed organizations and rescue groups for that breed as you’ll usually get better and more reliable information of how that particular type functions as a livestock guardian dog.
Some places like the AKC and sites with info about all dog breeds lean more towards information about the dog as a companion or show dog. That kind of skews the facts, even if they do include some about the dog as a working breed.
It is also important to note that while breed characteristics are helpful in choosing a dog with particular traits, there are variations within each breed. Every dog is an individual, and may not follow breed traits exactly.
In other words, getting a certain breed dog is not a guarantee it is going to act just like everything you’ve read or heard about that breed.
Also, mixed breed LGDs are popular, hoping to combine the best characteristics of each breed. For instance, a Great Pyrenees – Anatolian Shepherd mix or a Maremma and Great Pyrenees. That usually isn’t a problem, and can actually work out well. The main caveat is that the dog should be a mix of livestock guardian breeds so it maintains the characteristics needed for the job. These dogs have a unique temperament, and blending some other non-LGD breed in there might create problems.
Finally, once you choose a breed, you might have to wait for a pup. It would be fortunate indeed if at the same time you decided you need a LGD that a litter of puppies was available.
Also, it might pay to be flexible. While there are some differences between LGD breeds, they are all good, solid working guardians. If it turns out only one or two types are available in your area, keep an open mind and give them a look.
Get to Know the Breeder Before You Buy
Sadly there are people breed dogs for the sole purpose of making money. (Think puppy mills.) Any breed of dog that starts to get popular will have people raising them just to make money and that don’t really care about the genetics or raising sound dogs. You are most likely to encounter this problem with Great Pyrenees since they are the most popular LGD.
Now I’m not trying to say there’s anything wrong with making money from selling a litter of puppies, but a reputable breeder will want to breed sound dogs with good characteristics. They will care about those puppies and where they are going.
In other words, don’t be surprised if the breeder has as many questions for you as you do for them.
In fact, if the breeder shows no interest in what kind of situation the pup will go to, that would raise a red flag for me. They should want to match their pups to a good situation for both the pups and new owners.
There is usually a section for breeders on websites devoted to that particular type of LGD. However, a good way to find a reputable breeder is to ask people who already have LGDs. They can probably give you information on where they got theirs and ideas of where to find one. (And may even know some breeders you should steer clear of.)
The Start of the Pup’s Life
Ideally you will get to see the sire and dam of the puppies. At the least, find out if the puppy’s parents are working dogs. And what kind of environment has the puppy been exposed to for the first weeks of its life?
It’s an added plus if the puppy is being raised near some of the same kind of animals you have on your farm. It’s by no means a deal breaker if you have to introduce your pup to new kinds of animals; it just gives the dog a head start if it has already been around the same of critters you want it to guard.
How Many LGDs Do You Need?
One other thing to consider when choosing the LGD breed you want and getting a dog, is how many dogs do you need? If you have a small homestead, you might do with one, especially as you are learning to deal with this type of dog.
However, in the video below LGD breeder Brenda Negri talks about the need to consider how many dogs you should have for your situation. It’s not a cut and dried issue, but one worth considering, and something a lot of people don’t think about. One dog might be fine for your situation… but then again, if you have a large place, rough terrain, a lot of predators or some combination of those, it might be asking too much for one LGD to handle it all.
And the video is worth watching for the bit of history and other facts that are good to know about livestock guardian dogs.
Whether you agree with absolutely everything she says, she is experienced and raised a lot of these dogs so is worth listening to and considering her advice!
Summing It Up
By this point you have decided if you do or do not want a Livestock Guardian Dog, if it will work well for your situation, and if YOU are the right type of owner for such a dog.
You’ll have thought about the different breeds and learned more about the ones you are interested in.
Last you can check the availability of your chosen breed, and look for someone who is a responsible breeder with a good sire and dam.
Once you’ve found your LGD, you need to make some preparations. In the next installment, I’m going to talk about what you need to do to get ready before you bring your dog home.