Livestock Guardian Dogs in America


BronteI really appreciate the below quote from the book Livestock Protection Dogs: Selection, Care, and Training by Orysia Dawydiak and David Sims. They capture well some of the thoughts I’ve been having about how to mold our young LGD into a good long-term sheep guardian.

In Old World countries where livestock protection dogs have been traditionally used, lifestyles and farming practices are different than those we know in North America. Throughout Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean Basin, full-time shepherds are common. Sheep owners in a village often form communal flocks of sheep during the summer months when high country pastures can be used for grazing. Shepherd and livestock protection dogs accompany large bands of sheep to mountain meadows,. During these times when many protection dos are present, older dogs help to discipline and train younger ones. With one or  more shepherds always on duty, undesirable behaviors can be spotted and corrected immediately. In this setting many stimuli act on a protection dog, including social interactions with other dogs. Boredom is unlikely to occur. If attacked or threatened by a predator, a protection do can reasonably expect to be backed up by his fellow pack members. He can also expect that a shepherd will be somewhere nearby, if not always in sight. …

Most North American farms would not fit into the scenario described above. Farms here have fenced pastures in lieu of open maintain rangelands. Livestock are moved abruptly from pasture to pasture, sometimes by truck.There are few full-time shepherds, goat herders, or cattle tenders. Protection dogs are often required to work along without aid or training from an experienced pack of peer dogs. Many protection dogs are initially placed with livestock that have learned to fear dogs. A significant part of the task of protection is having the confidence of the animals being guarded. North American guard dogs may be expected to develop their self-confidence with livestock that will run away from them or even show hostility. After a protection dog has gained the confidence of the flock or herd and has matured into a successful guardian, he is almost always left alone to perform what can be a very boring duty.

When such factors are considered, you may wonder why protection dogs transplanted from the tranquil mountains of Europe and Asia are able to work at all in the United States and Canada. Yet they do! The reason for their success is not so much the training techniques that are described in the succeeding chapters, but rather the highly evolved instincts of the dogs. If you have purchased a healthy protection breed puppy with an established guardian pedigree, he will probably  become a good livestock guardian, in spite of any errors, you, the owner/trainer, might commit. In fact, you will never actually “train” your protection dog to protect. You will instead attempt to create an environment in which the dog is able to develop and express  his inherited talents.

The challenges I’m observing and facing about our LGD are these: She has no “role model” of an experienced guardian dog to mimic, and there is no older dog, or me, out there 24/7 to scold her if she abuses the sheep. She sees the Border Collies, whom she admires, “chase” the sheep; and is somewhat inclined to mimic this behavior or try to join in. The sheep have learned to move for dogs, so they need to learn a new thing: which dogs to respect, and which dogs to ignore (and even further: eventually they need to learn to go to the LGD if they are fearful of something). Bronte was properly raised in a barn with sheep, so she is dearly bonded to them and has the capacity to walk and sit amongst them calmly. But her desire to treat them like peers gets her into trouble when she sometimes plays to rough with them, in the manner she would wrestle with another adolescent dog.

But, as the above quote points out, the situation is not hopeless. The goal is to create an environment where the dog can make good choices and learn desirable habits, so that over time, her guardian instincts will deploy in the manner I desire. I’ll try to write a bit about my training methods with her in the coming days, and how things have been going so far. 

4 thoughts on “Livestock Guardian Dogs in America

  1. Doris says:

    Fascinating! Can’t wait to read what you have to share. I am beginning to think it is easier on a puppy to have an elderly dog in the pasture to not only set an example, but be a buffer for all that energy younger dogs have to release. I’m thinking it would be much easier on the herd that way. I had gotten a very well trained shepard/g.retriever mix and she was huge in gettin my heeler/Pyrenees mix house trained. Am thinking I will eventually get an Anatolian or Akbash but so far I only have 5 acres so would have to find just the right dog, probably elderly, that would be ok with such a small territory.

  2. workingcollies says:

    Hi Doris
    Yes, definitely it is better to start with an older, trained dog and then use that one to “raise up” any new puppies. That’s the advice from “all the books.” But, trained, mature dogs are really hard to find! A few times I’ve seen them advertised and responded right away, only to have the seller say they’d had hundreds of inquiries! So, here we are, making things work with this silly teenager. 🙂 It’s working, but just more work for me in the sort term. I can’t wait until she’s older and lazier!!

  3. discombobulatedshepherdess says:


    I have an 8 month old ASD who was exhibiting some of the same rough play behavior with anything that moved. He was reared with sheep, but seemed to have forgotten his manners when it came to chickens or goat kids.

    We found and purchased an older female, she’s 4. She saw him through the fence and within the first 10 minutes of their meeting she was correcting his behavior. LGDs learn by watching and our young pup had learned that it was a good thing to CHASE, because he had seen me rounding up a chicken a time or two.

    Our female does not chase the livestock, she moves through them calmly and gives them space, but always defers to them. Our young male has come a LONG way since we introduced the female and his behavior has GREATLY improved.

    As our flock grows we plan to add a herding dog, but not until our pup matures.

    I highly recommend you either purchase another working dog or send your dog to training…experienced working dogs are worth their weight in GOLD!


    • workingcollies says:

      discombobulatedshepherdess, thanks for your comments, that’s great to hear your pup was able to learn from an older dog. It’s interesting to consider what motivates older dogs to discipline younger ones, whether it’s a true understanding that the pup’s play is bad for the stock, or just general older dog irritability. In all my house dogs, I’ve always noticed the older dogs not being tolerant of a puppy’s play, and putting a stop to it. Especially my herding dogs, they do not like disorderly conduct of any kind! 😀

      I would think that approach still has to be used with caution and supervision, though, I don’t think you can count on an older dog to completely train an LGD pup on his or her own. The pup still needs careful supervision and management. And, the opposite could happen as well, if the two dogs became pals, the younger dog might inspire a “good” dog to go bad, and the two of them could learn to chase livestock together.

      I wrote this post a year ago, and wrote subsequent posts on my strategy for managing and training Bronte. We had some constraints that made integrating her harder than it normally could be. We had an immediate need for an LGD due to coyote kills, and no adult dogs were available to us (the rare one advertised on craigslist would have fifty inquiries in a half hour’s time, LGDs are in such demand in our region). If I could have bought and adult instead of a pup, I would have, hands-down. I’m not aware of anyone in my area who would be willing to host an LGD pup in training, and risk their own livestock while the pup learns what not to do. We had to put her to work right away at the age of five months, which is also not advisable, but was necessary for us. And we could not have her be absent from the farm for training, we needed her presence immediately and consistently.

      But, these are common challenges people in the U.S. face in integrating an LGD. I was able to make it work, with careful steps to keep her from taking the wrong path. We now have a second LGD as well, each dog works a different pasture. Bronte is still a handful, but she’s maturing physically and mentally, and that’s making a big difference, she is a lot less silly. I think she may be ready to live with the sheep full time in the next year. She has learned more skills too, she understands verbal discipline more now and her recall is better.

      I have been training and competing with dogs for nearly thirty years, and I find this is a very different kind of training. Dogs which live in the house learn a lot of stuff we take for granted, just because they are with us a lot. LGDs have so much less human interaction, that it takes a lot longer for them to learn concepts like “don’t” and “come here.” But the effort is worth it, I agree with you, LGDs are worth their weight in gold, because of the losses they prevent.

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