It is a crisp autumn morning and as I walk to the barn I hear the goats hollering, the rooster crowing, and excited barking from our puppy. Sultana greets me at the gate, squealing with joy and rolling over for a belly rub and then squishing herself as close to my body as she can, a wriggling ball of lovable fur and puppy smell. Sultana is our now 14 week old Anatolian/Kangal puppy, currently in training as a future guardian for our livestock.
A lot of people are learning about Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD’s) these days. They are becoming ever more popular and more and more breeds are available to the farmer, both large and small scale. These dogs are bred for a specific purpose and are all rather large in size and often noisy, especially at night. They have been used for hundreds of years, bred to protect livestock from predators and to be able to think for themselves. These are dogs with strong wills and an instinct to protect and nurture. As wonderful as these dogs are, they require a lot of time and training from their owners, something many are not aware of. I would like to take you along for the journey in raising Sultana to become the guardian she was bred to be.
Livestock guardian dogs start life much like any other well-cared for puppy. They stay with mom and siblings from birth until a minimum of 8 weeks of age. 12 weeks or more is better and allows the pup to learn appropriate behavior. We bought Sultana from a good breeder at the age of nearly 12 weeks of age. I picked her from among the other pups for her size, the shape of her body and head (wide and strong and big) and for her behavior. She showed intelligence, yet was fair with the other puppies, often coming out on top in play but never acting mean. She was not scared of new things, but careful and watchful first, yet with an air of confidence. We intend for her to be bred eventually for additional working dogs for our farm, so with that in mind her body was of huge importance. These dogs often have hip issues and we wanted to do the best we could at selecting a dog that could whelp and hold up to her fast growth.
We chose our breed carefully for our needs and based on breed traits we liked. Most around us have Great Pyrenees dogs, but many of them (and many of the other LGD breeds) have long coats that are better suited to colder regions. I wanted a shorter-haired dog that would do well in the hot and humid south and still be comfortable in winter. For us, the Anatolian/Kangal was the breed of choice.
Each breed has personality traits that make them good for different situations. Some, like the Pyrenees, are more stand-offish in general. Others tend to be more aggressive with a threat, such as the Anatolian. Some breeds are happier close to the stock and tolerate smaller land space, others need room to roam and space to observe the stock from further away to maintain their sanity. Among each breed, the dogs have a range of personality as well. Some are leaders, some are roamers, some are nurturing stay-at-home types. Once you find a breed that suits your basic space and situation and your own level of confidence you can select the best dog from among them personality-wise. Some of the most common in the US are the Great Pyrenees, Anatolian, Meremma, Sarplaninac, and Karakachan.
One thing to generally avoid are mixes with anything other than a proven, generations-old guardian breed. Labs, collies, shepherds, hounds and more do not mix well with livestock and should not be chosen as guardians, even if mixed with a proven LGD breed. Sometimes it works, but more often than not the mix is not going to be reliable. Also remember when you decide to get an LGD that you can expect to put in a good 2 years of training, and even a grown, trained dog will need to be worked with to accept you and your stock. Rescues can be a great resource for finding dogs to guard your stock, but many also come with issue from poor training or have problems with containment, or simply are not suited to work with livestock despite their breed. Choose carefully to get a dog that you will keep its entire life as these dogs become very devoted to their families and their stock.
If you choose well, you will have a protector and companion that you will wonder how you ever did without.