Man’s best friend lifts their paw when called to action in modern day jobs that ask them to use their dynamic sense of smell to sniff out drugs, firearms, and termites. Their empathetic souls support people with depression and bipolar disorder, while also being the reliable companion that helps the blind and deaf.
Since dogs were certified as a new species, they have guarded sheep against predators under the title of "Livestock Guardian Dogs" or LGD’s. These brave-heart pups live with the flock and work to deter a hungry coyote or wolf from eating their fill. They are the quiet heroes who work alone and show a strength of character protecting their owners sheep.
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Signs a Dog Will be Good with Sheep
If you’ve ever watched an LGD in action, you’ve likely marveled at their ingrained ability to watch over their flock, often with no human intervention. In order for these sheep guardians to create perimeters, they defecate and urinate to promote scent boundaries that a predator might not cross. Basically, they are marking their turf and encouraging a mutual respect of territories.
The sight of an LGD is often all it takes for a bear, lion, or cheetah to move on. Perhaps it’s a code of survival between the species in a world where man is the predator for all to fear. Their other secret weapon is barking. A seasoned livestock guardian dog will initiate a warning to alert their owner if they sense something isn’t quite right. Guard barking tells the wolf or coyote to “back off.” Guardians of these dogs know when they start a ruckus, it's worthy of a look.
These dogs live full time with the sheep, so they are truly invested in their safety. They also prevent bears, wolf’s, hyenas, and coyotes from being trapped and eradicated by farmers. Conservationists applaud these honorable dogs as through their wisdom and ability to stand their ground - wild animals are able to co-exist. These guys are the security guards of sheep, whose permanent vigil sees them pacing the outlying areas, especially in the early mornings and evenings, a favorite hunting time for predators.
When faced with a persistent wolf, this legendary sheep guardian will bark with a threatening tone. If the wolf takes no notice, the dog will prepare to fight with teeth exposed, hackles raised, and a growl that means business. If the wolf was smart, they’d go looking for a feed elsewhere, as this iconic dog will lay down their life for the flock.
- Back hair on edge
- Exposed teeth
- Checking the perimeter
- Warding off predators
- Marking their territory
The History of Dogs and Sheep
Early man was given the seat of power on earth when wolves formed an unlikely friendship with them. This was an elite union that sent wild beasts scurrying as wolf and man took on the big guns of the wilderness.
According to Jane Dogs, sheep were organized and domesticated around 9000 BC. Mankind quickly learned that keeping livestock in an organized fashion offered a more settled lifestyle where communities could evolve with less need for hunting expeditions. The problem was predators seeing a flock of sheep had the same idea, and since sheep and goats were never fast on their feet, it was easy pickings for lions and coyotes.
An area referred to as the Fertile Crescent or “cradle of civilization" saw our early ancestors become farmers who looked to breed dogs with a lesser prey drive that could guard their livestock. From there, humans learned how to select specific traits in their dogs, procuring the various breeds we know today as LGD’s.
The Great Pyrenees dog originated in the Pyrenees Mountains, a border between France and Spain. When humans migrated into Europe, they brought their flocks of sheep, and this grandiose pooch was once the royal dog of France. King Louis XlV was so taken by the breed that he used them to guard the Chateau of Lourdes. White in color to avoid hunters targeting them at night, the Great Pyrenees is the size of a grey wolf and a descendant of the ancient and now extinct Molossus dog.
Another Hungarian LGD hero was once a guard dog to royals and possibly one of the oldest dog breeds in European history. The Komondor dog, with its braided, white coat was the perfect camouflage to thwart beasts of prey. According to Eagle Run, this old-world breed is called "King of the Working Dogs” and is thought to be of Asian descent.
One of the more independent livestock guardian dogs is the Akbash, a whitish-colored pooch that hails from Turkey, along with the Anatolian shepherd, a great friend to Turkish shepherds for thousands of years. These superman pups can take on predators while retaining a gentle approach to their life among the sheep. Shepherds often put a spiked collar on these massive mutts to prevent wild animals attacking them by the throat.
The Italian Maremma Sheepdog or Cane da Pastore Maremmano-Abruzzese is a native of Italy with a bear-like face and snow-colored fur. These are possibly the most popular of livestock guardian dogs, with origins leading back to Mesopatamia.
Science Studies Livestock Guard Dog Breeds
According to the US Department of Agriculture - livestock guardian dogs are a smart, cost-effective way to deter predators like bears, wolves, and coyotes from attacking the sheep.
This ancient canine carer is a solution to an age-old predator problem. People can’t watch their livestock 24/7, so the LGD becomes the nanny/guardian. The results from a unique study run by the department of agriculture found some imported breeds were better equipped to ward of wolves and coyotes than the standard Great Pyrenees, Abkash, and Maremma Shepherds.
The Scientist tells us this study involved bringing 120 LGD’s from Turkey, Bulgaria, and Portugal to test their might against the resurgence of wolf populations in America. A research biologist from Utah led the chase and went looking overseas for LGD’s that had proven successful in keeping their flocks safe from bears and wolves. The breeds chosen were Cao de Gado Transmontanos (Portugal), Karakachans (Bulgaria), and Kangals (Turkey).
All LGD’s are thought to trace back to the Tibetan Mastiff and, according to Bioscience, dogs and sheep were found in archeological digs around 3585 BC. Even in the Bible, there was a reference to a dog and its flock (Job 30:1).
The simplicity of a dog watching over the sheep is being monitored by top government agencies in their bid to reduce numbers of livestock fatalities. When vast numbers of wolves were eradicated during the 19th-century blitz, soon after, conservationists noted the negative effect it had on eco-systems. This caused a wave of concern, as every creature has its part to play in an evolutionary chain. Now that wolf numbers have risen, farmers are even more interested in the ancient livestock guardian dog.
Training a Dog to Live with Sheep
Training a dog to be a first-rate livestock guardian starts with choosing a pup from a top breeder. You want a puppy that comes from good LGD stock, so the guarding instinct is already there. Look for one with confidence and good sociability, whether they are male or female.
When your junior LGD is around 7 or 8 weeks, it’s time to place your pup in a small pen with a few nurturing Ewes who will not hurt them. The enclosure must be secure so your pup-ster can't do a Houdini and head for your home. This is their life from herein with the sheep.
It’s a good idea to put a small crate or kennel in the enclosure, so your puppy can retreat if needed. Keep their food there, but leave the water central so they’ll have to share with the sheep. Supervision is essential in these early days and will be the deciding factor as to how your sheep student gets along with their new friends.
When your pup gets to 16 weeks and appears confident, you can move them and their caregiver-ewes to the rest of the flock. If the instincts and desire to guard are there, training should be simple with some obedience commands put in place. "Stop" and "come" are the two LGD commandments. Some LGD youngsters can play rough with the sheep and will need to be corrected. You also want to discourage them from biting or jumping up at people.
Teaching a pup to "come" can be achieved with tasty treats. Put some distance between you and junior, then call them. They will soon know what is expected when a yummy piece of chicken is their reward.
You’ll also need to leash-train your pup and teach them to ride in vehicles, be brushed, or be contained in a crate. It pays to introduce them to other farm animals, like chickens and goats.
Safety Tips for Training a Livestock Guard Dog:
Choose a respected breeder.
Get the puppy used to living with the sheep.
Use only gentle sheep at the start.
Teach them to come and stop.
Check aggressive behavior with the sheep.
Supervise an LGD puppy.