Livestock Guardian Dogs: What You Need to Know BEFORE You Get One!

The Question is: Do you NEED a Livestock Guardian Dog?

Let’s get real about livestock guardian dogs, also called LGDs. There are a lot of misconceptions about what they are, what they can do, and how to train (or not to train) one.

So who am I to talk about LGDs? Well, before I got one, I did a lot of research, read a lot of books, and talked to a lot of other people who owned them. Plus, I’ve had LGDs myself for about 20 years now, so I’ve got some experience.

Here are some things I’ve learned, plus things I wish I’d known before I got LGDs:

First The Basics: Just What Is a LGD?

LGD is short for Livestock Guardian Dog. Some people say LGD dog, and that’s okay, but it’s not really necessary to repeat the dog part.

Now you probably already know this, but just to be sure we’re on the same page…  Livestock Guardian Dogs are NOT the same as a herding dog. I’ve found over the years if I tell someone I have a livestock guardian dog, their mind seems to immediately leap to herding dogs and Border Collies.

NOT. THE. SAME.

If you want a dog to herd sheep, then yeah, you can’t go wrong with a Border Collie. But if you’re looking for something to keep your livestock safe, you need a livestock GUARDian dog (see, it’s right in the name… they GUARD your animals!)

These dogs have the instinct to keep things safe. They’ve been bred to protect their charges from predators. Depending on your situation and the breed of your dog, they can either stick close to the animals they are guarding, or range further afield and protect the animals by keeping predators away from your farm.

So in a nutshell, a Livestock Guardian Dog guards your livestock. Simple. 🙂

Who Needs a Livestock Guardian Dog?

If you have a farm, homestead or larger ranch with any kind of livestock, one (or more!) of these dogs can be a big help in keeping your animals safe.

When I first got a LGD, I had sheep, goats, llamas and all kinds of fowl, including peacocks, that they looked after. As I got to retirement age, the livestock has mostly dwindled to chickens, guineas, and turkeys. But no matter what kind of critters I’ve had, these dogs have done a stellar job of keeping all the animals that live here safe, including cats and people.

These dogs can be a chicken guard dog, dogs that protect sheep, herd protection dogs, goat guard dog, livestock protection dogs… whatever you want to call them, and whatever livestock you want them to protect, they can do it.

LGDs for Predator Protection

So it’s not so much a question of what kind of livestock you have, but more a question of, “Do you have predators that can kill your livestock?”

Some people have no idea there are predators around their property, especially if they’ve newly moved from the city to a more rural area. I had a new neighbor who wanted to put a chicken coop in her unfenced back yard that had woods not ten-feet away from her proposed coop site.

I tried to tell her she would have trouble keeping chickens safe, but she insisted I was wrong. She’d never seen any predators so therefore there must not be any predators. She swore up and down there was nothing that could hurt the chickens, so no problem!

Turns out she was wrong.
The foxes acquired a taste for them, and she eventually lost all her chickens.

The thing is, most predators are nocturnal, so unless you are up all night and outside, you probably aren’t going to see them. But if you have a big enough farm to warrant the services of a livestock guardian dog, then you likely have at least some of the smaller predators like opossums, raccoons, or foxes.

And by the way, this includes aerial predators like hawks as well. A dog can’t prevent their attacks as easily, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try and mostly succeed. My dogs go nuts if a hawk or owl flies over the property, barking and running along the bird’s flight path until it goes away.

Bottom line, the people who have a lot of livestock and also a bit larger property are the most likely to be able to use the services of a livestock guardian dog.

Pros of Having an LGD

These dogs are premium protection for your livestock. They guard your animals 24/7, even when you aren’t there.  Predators are sneaky, and some are pretty smart, so lights, fences and such don’t always keep them all away especially if you have a larger property.

But if you have LGD’s, predators learn to give your farm a wide berth.

Reasons NOT to Get a Livestock Guardian Dog

I love my LGDs with a passion, but I know these dogs aren’t for everyone. Even if you live on a farm they might not be the right fit for your particular situation, especially if you have a smaller homestead.

Remember, above all, these are WORKING dogs.

So if you are just looking for a pet, or you live in an apartment, or you just think they look cool… sorry, but none of those are good and valid reasons to have a livestock guardian dog.

The problem with the above is you are likely in love with the IDEA of a particular breed of livestock guardian dog, and not necessarily grasping the REALITY of having such a dog.

This is not an uncommon occurrence… think how many times people see a dog in a movie and suddenly want one. For instance, I recently read that lots of Game of Thrones fans bought huskies, shepherds and other high-energy dogs, wanting to own a pet that resembles the “direwolf” seen in the show.

Now a lot of these dogs are being dumped at animal shelters because people had no idea what kind of needs that particular dog really had or if it would fit in their lifestyle. Getting a dog then later having to give up the dog is hard on the family, and goes without saying is REALLY hard on the dog.

In other words, don’t get an LGD (or any other dog for that matter) without thinking it through and being sure this kind of dog is what you really need.

They are great at their job, but they are not the right choice for everyone. There are some downsides to them and you need to be sure you know about those downsides, understand the ramifications of those downsides, and can live with those downsides before making a decision to get one of these dogs.

Cons to Having an LGD

So what are some of the downsides to consider if you think you might want one of these dogs?

They are BIG dogs. That means they eat more food. A *lot* of food, and buying the cheapest kibble available is not a wise decision. They need good food to stay healthy and do a good job. These dogs are an investment, and you want that investment to stay around in good working order for a long time. 🙂

When they need medicine or supplements, their large size means they need bigger doses so it costs more for that as well. Flea and heartworm treatments are more expensive for extra large dogs!

And if you decide to have your dog spayed or neutered, many vets charge more because it’s a bigger dog.

Also, if you happen to live in a hot climate and want your dog clipped, and need to have someone else do it, that often costs more because they are so big.

Bottom line, the price of acquiring the dog is just the beginning. These dogs are not cheap animals to care for properly, so that is a definite consideration.

They bark a lot. If you have nearby neighbors, they might not appreciate the fact you have dogs that bark all night. If you are a light sleeper, YOU might not appreciate the fact they bark all night.

But please don’t even think about getting one with the idea you will train it *not* to bark or put a “bark collar” on it. That would just be inhumane. They are SUPPOSED to bark. That’s part of how they guard and warn off predators.

Since that is part of their guard duty, trying to train them not to bark would be crazy. It would be like buying a flood light for security and never putting a light bulb in it. What’s the point?

Just. Don’t.

Livestock Guardian Dogs Are NOT an Instant Solution

This is important: don’t get an LGD if you think it’s going to be an instant solution to your predator problem. Unless you get an adult, already trained dog, that’s not going to happen.

They don’t mature until they are around two years old. So yeah, don’t think you are going to get a pup and throw it out in the field and everything will be hunky-dory from day one. Repeat… Not gonna happen.

What was I thinking?First you’ve got to live through the puppy and teen-ager stages. There will be times you want to pull your hair out and wonder what in the world possessed you to get that dog in the first place!?!

So if you don’t think you have the patience to get through the training and craziness of the first two years, an LGD might not be the best choice for you.

Mythbuster: They Don’t Need Trained

And yes, pay attention to that word … TRAINED. It’s a myth that LGDs do not require training. Yes, the instinct to guard is bred into them. Yes, they are intelligent dogs who do a lot of thinking and problem solving on their own.

BUT! And this is a big BUT!! They still need to be trained. They need to learn what animals they are supposed to be protecting. They need to learn the boundaries of your property. Like any dog they need training, it’s just that they need some different kinds of training than a companion dog.

Unless you get really lucky, you can’t just throw the dog out into the pastures and expect everything to work out just the way you hoped.

It’s more likely at some point things will go wrong, and the poor dog will be blamed… when it’s the human’s fault for not letting the dog know what is expected of it.

However, that being said to make sure they get training, if you are looking for a dog that instantly obeys every command you give it… you are likely to get very frustrated with LGDs.

These dogs are prone to ignore you at times. Remember, this dog is an intelligent thinker and problem solver. If you tell the dog to do something, it will not always snap to and do what you told it to do. They’ve got their own agenda – protecting their charges – and they may not think what you want to do agrees with what they feel they need to do.

So be forewarned, you may not want one of these dogs if you can’t stand a dog that won’t do everything you tell it to do, every time you tell it to do something.

I know that sounds like opposites …. don’t get an LGD if you aren’t willing to invest the time it takes to train one, but don’t expect instant obedience either. But it’s the reality of having a livestock guardian dog.

Summing It Up

Livestock Guardian Dogs can be a great addition to your farm. When acclimated to your livestock and situation, they can keep predators away that you don’t even realize are there.

But they take an investment in time and money, so think though all the reasons to have or NOT to have one before you jump in and get one. For your situation it might turn out that the better course of action would be for you to tighten up your security for your animals instead of getting a big dog that needs looking after so it can look after the other animals! 🙂

Another Take on What Is and Is NOT an LGD…

Here’s a funny video about what is an LGD, and what is not. This guy has a couple of Great Pyrenees, and has some good points to make even if it is humorous.

I’ve got to say, I love his example of what is NOT an LGD. 🙂

And did you note? I’m not the only one who says these dogs aren’t for everybody. They have a very specific purpose, and specific traits, so be sure that’s what you need and want before you get one!

More About Livestock Guardian Dogs

Stay tuned… in subsequent posts I’ll be writing about choosing the right LGD breed for your situation, and what you need to do before getting one!

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