I wasn’t familiar with the term “Livestock Guard Dog,” (LGD for short) before moving to the farm. I had heard of the Great Pyrenees breed, but not “Akbash,” a breed which originated in Turkey and means “white head.” A few years into my country life, a neighbor’s dog had a litter of puppies. Through her I had learned a little bit about her dogs, Pyrenees/Akbash mixes, which guarded her herd of goats, and occasionally the neighbor’s cows.
I went over to her house to see the puppies and consider if one might be a good addition to our family. They had corralled all nine puppies in the bed of their pickup for me to see, and when I approached they all scampered to the opposite end of the bed.
Except for one.
She came to me and picked me out as her new family.
That day happened to be 9/11, so being in a patriotic mood I named her Liberty Belle, “Libby” for short. She’s the only dog I’ve ever picked out and she has turned out to be darn near perfect. I don’t know how one could live in the country without an LGD.
LGDs have amazing instincts and are used to protect a variety of livestock, including poultry, goats, sheep, horses, and more. Before getting Libby, I researched their traits.
One thing that I read which is both a pro and a con is that they don’t respond to commands very well. They are independent-minded and respond quickly to anything they deem a threat. The way that it’s a good thing, though, is that when there’s a predator, they don’t have to be told to act. While their owners are soundly asleep, they’re on duty. It’s pretty often that we find dead raccoons, opossums, or armadillos in the yard. She even chases off birds of prey.
LGDs bark a lot, but that is how they do their job and another characteristic to be aware of before purchasing one.
When Libby was about six month old she had her first “save.” We were watching tv one evening when she started barking. It seemed a little more insistent than usual so my husband took a flashlight to investigate.
He has a trailer with a large smoker on it. It also has a roof held up by a metal frame. We had a solid black cat at the time and I guess she was climbing on the trailer, lost her footing and slid down between the smoker and the frame. It being all metal, there was nothing she could sink her claws into to climb back up, so there she hung by her head on a cold winter night.
My husband found her and freed her, but if it hadn’t been for Libby, I feel sure the cat would have died before morning.
A Job to Do
Livestock Guard Dogs aren’t for everyone. If you’re considering getting one, then I highly recommend researching them and learning more about the various breeds and their traits.
For one thing, they need a large territory, and a job to do. I was at an animal shelter once and they had a Great Pyrenees that had been returned by a family who had adopted it but lived in a neighborhood. Unfortunately, it killed one of their neighbor’s dogs, so they took it back to the shelter. I can speak for mine, and she does not tolerate visiting dogs well. As she’s gotten older I’m sometimes able to convey to her that a visiting dog is okay, but otherwise she will bark and jump at the car they’re in until they leave.
If you’re going to visit a farm with an LGD, don’t assume that it’s alright to take your pets along. You could unknowingly cause a lot of trouble. LGDs are prized for their independent nature, quick-thinking, and protective instincts. We would feel terrible if they harmed a friend’s pet.
Dogs are often dumped out in the country, and loose dogs are a danger to farm animals. They can kill chickens and other small livestock. They can even chase horses, literally, to death, or cause them to injure theirselves. That’s why Libby’s instinct is to keep them away, especially coyotes. At night we can hear their eerie yips and howls all around us. If it weren’t for Libby, our poultry wouldn’t last very long.
Protecting the Homestead
In addition to protecting other animals, Libby also guards our garden and orchard. By keeping unwanted varmints out of the area, she prevents raccoons from raiding our fruit trees, or deer from ravishing our garden.
As imposing as LGDs are, they are also amazingly gentle and nurturing. We just about always have cats (they have a job to do, too) and Libby is tolerant of kittens jumping on her, playing with her tail, and swatting her nose.
A few years ago when we had turkeys, they would come up to the porch and share her dinner. She never snapped at one. I saw her gently drive them away a few times, but she often let them eat.
LGDs are usually good with children, too.
Could a Livestock Guard Dog be in your future?
LGDs are a good investment, but please research and consider carefully. They are wonderful dogs in the right situation.
For More Information
Livestock Guard Dogs: Selection, Care, and Training is a comprehensive book.
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