Grazing sheep beneath dark sky.
 
Guard Animals.  Great Pyrenees guard dog with flock of sheep.

Guard Dogs to Protect
Your Flocks and Herds

Sign:  Area Protected by Great Pyrenees. Drive Carefully.  Sheep on Road.

Guard dogs bred to protect livestock from predators have been used for thousands of years in Europe.

Studies show that properly trained livestock guard dogs reduce predation by as much as 93%. Guard dogs are not pets, and must be specially raised and trained in order to be effective. They may also pose a risk to people, and are best suited to large herds in remote locations.


Great Pyrenees guard dog with flock of sheep.

Guard Animals

Specially raised livestock guard dogs are one of the more effective strategies for reducing livestock predation by mountain lions and other large carnivores. They have been used in at least 35 states after being introduced to the United States in the early 1970s. Other guard animals — such as llamas and donkeys — are more effective against coyotes than lions. Horned cattle are also being used in some ranching operations as a deterrent to predators.


Training and Behavior

The use of dogs as livestock guard animals appears to have originated in Europe, and dogs have been used there to protect flocks and herds from wolves, bears, foxes and domestic dogs for many thousands of years. Records from Ancient Greece and Rome describe the use of an extinct breed of dog — the Molossus — for livestock protection. "Never, with them on guard," says Virgil, "need you fear for your stalls a midnight thief, or onslaught of wolves, or Iberian brigands at your back."

A Pyr gains acceptance from the flock by being submissive. The ewe or ram postures by butting and the Pyr responds by crouching down. Not being a threat, the sheep readily accept the dog.

Guard dogs differ markedly from sheepdogs which are trained to herd, and the breeds used differ as well. Guard dogs are trained to integrate themselves within the flock, transferring the canine pack social structure, and therefore learning to protect the flock from harm. The light coloration of most guard dogs is believed to allow them to more readily blend in with the sheep, be accepted as part of the flock, and also to confuse predators.

Guardian dogs may be trained to boundary limits by walking the fence line repeatedly, setting their territory and that of the flock. Usually, guard dogs need not actually fight a predator, but frighten it away by displaying their large size and loud bark.

Dog Breeds

The most effective breeds include Akbash, Kangal, Great Pyrenees, and Komondor. Less commonly known are the Turkish Kars, Turkish Tazi, Czechkoslavakian Chuvatch, the Polish Tatra, the Hungarian Kuvasz, Tibetan Mastiff, and the Italian Maremma.

 
Akbash breed of livestock guard dog.
The Akbash is one of several guard breeds of Turkey, originating in the west central region near Ankara. It is white in color. It is believed to be less aggressive towards people than some other guard breeds, but still very aggressive toward wild predators and other dogs. There are more than 2000 Akbash dogs in the United States, and one of the three breeds the USDA most recommends as guard dogs.
 
Kangal breed of livestock guard dog.
The Kangal, known as the national dog of Turkey, is tan in color with a distinctive black mask. It originates from the Sivas-Kangal region of the country. The Kangal became known in the United States in the 1980s, and has a large frame, powerful chest, pendant ears and short blunt muzzle: characteristics of early mastiffs. It is often called an Anatolian Shepherd, which is more accurately a term for any of the dogs from Turkey, and the name can be confusing.
 
Great Pyrenees breed of livestock guard dog.
Great Pyrenees were originally bred as dogs of war, and then used during times of peace to guard sheep and goats. They are less agressive towards people than some of the other dogs used as guardians.
 
Komondor breed of livestock guard dog.
The Komondor originated in Hungary, and is another large, white-colored breed, distinguished by its long and heavily corded coat. Hungarian records as far back as 1544 mention the breed, which has been declared one of Hungary's national treasures.

Costs and Benefits

When properly trained and raised with the herd, livestock guard dogs have reduced predation on livestock by over ninety percent in many cases. Some ranchers reported an estimated value around $3,000 of open-range sheep saved per dog per year from predators. Of course, this amount varies from ranch to ranch depending upon the size and value of the herd.

But in the majority of cases, the money saved from the reduction in predation greatly exceeds the purchase price of a livestock guard dog (ranging anywhere from $200 to $1,000 depending on breed, bloodline and age) and a few hundred dollars per year for their annual maintenance cost (food, veterinary care, and miscellaneous).

Great Pyrenees guarding sheep at the Schmidbauer Ranch.

Ed and Erlyne Schmidbauer inherited this ranch from Ed's parents, who bought it in 1945. The family has always raised sheep here. However, wool is now a money-losing product (shearing alone costs more than the wool brings), so they sell lambs for meat. Their daughter raises goats on adjoining property. They sell their hormone-free products seasonally at local farmers markets under the label Haehl Creek Ranches.

The Great Pyrenees (or Pyrenean Mountain Dogs) are the sheep's protectors against coyotes, mountain lions, bears, and roaming domestic dogs. Although even these large dogs would be no match for a bear in a fight, the large predators seem to respect the "territory" of the guard dogs and stay away. The last of this year's lambs are still with their parents, but were do to be taken to the slaughterhouse within the coming week.

Someone in the group asked Erlyne Schmidbauer why they use dogs rather than llamas as guards. She laughed and said, "Mountain lions like llamas even better than sheep!" She said that the one drawback of the Great Pyrenees is that foxtails in their long fur are a big problem, particularly between their toes.

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Larry McCombs

Before purchasing a livestock guard dog, contact a few breeders for more Information. Remember that livestock guard dogs are not pets, and must be specially raised and trained in order to be effective. They are best suited to large herds in remote locations because they can pose a risk to people.