Choosing Your Livestock Guardian Dog

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This Great Pyrenees puppy is learning early to respect the animals it will eventually protect.
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LGDs re typically raised from puppyhood in close contact with the flock.
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LGDs often take up a post that allows them to oversee the entire flock.
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“Farm Dogs” by Janet Vorwalk Dohner shares the history of humans and dogs working together.

Farm Dogs(Storey, 2016) by Janet Vorwalk Dohner is an in-depth guide to different dog breeds, while telling the history of dogs and humans working together for survival. She goes through each breed and how they each have been bred throughout history to be utilized on farms. In the following excerpt, she explains what to look for in a good livestock guardian dog.

What to Look for in an LGD Puppy

Good LGDs are valuable, often difficult to locate, and frequently command a relatively large purchase price. An LGD puppy is easier to find than a reliable adult. You might be tempted to consider buying a dog from a breeder who does not do routine health checks in an effort to save money. However, LGDs are slow to grow and mature, demanding a large investment of time and guidance to become good working dogs. Buying a dog from a reputable breeder, who selects for good health, working behaviors, and temperament, greatly increases your chances for success and a sound dog.

Breeders observe their puppies for several weeks to determine personalities and behaviors. If you are buying a pup from a distant breeder, rely heavily on his or her knowledge and opinion. Even if you are able to visit the pups in person, it is advisable to rely on the breeder’s experience. Be honest in sharing your planned role for this dog, as well as giving a true assessment of your experiences with large dogs.

Besides overall good health, there are several indicators of good working LGD behaviors. Unless you are planning to breed or show, minor issues such as incorrect marking or color, are not important. Pink skin on eyelids, lips, and nose can lead to sunburn or lesions. Overly large puppies can suffer from orthopedic issues when grown. Undersized puppies may not develop the size and strength necessary to deal with predators. When looking at a pup, assess the following:

Activity level. Dogs with lower activity levels are generally more suited to be both working and companion dogs. They are easier to train and less inclined to roam than dogs with high activity levels. Exceptions can occur in situations with expansive pastures, large flocks of animals to monitor, and high predator pressure.

Prey drive. Pups with low prey or chase drive either just watch a small thrown object go by or investigate it once, but not again. Avoid puppies that chase or fight over a thrown object or continually chase it.

Temperament. Look for a pup who is interested in you but not overly aggressive, fearful, shy, or clingy. Avoid the pup that runs up to you first or demands your attention. Calm, thoughtful puppies are desirable, as are ones that accept new objects or loud noises. Pups that walk away after meeting you, hang back from the rest of the puppies, or simply curl up and sleep are often good choices for a working dog. Avoid pups that struggle, growl, or bite when you handle them.

Pain threshold. Working dogs need to tolerate being jostled or bumped or run over by stock, so avoid pups that are sensitive to pain. You can test this with a gentle pinch between the toes or elsewhere. Typical LGDs are very stoic and do not admit to pain.

Reaction to stock. Look for a pup that is curious but cautious. Good indications of appropriate behavior include avoiding eye contact, a lowered head and tail, rolling over, licking at the mouth, and choosing to sleep next to stock. Avoid pups that bark, jump, or bite stock. Even when they are shoved or stepped on, LGDs should remain calm and gentle around livestock.

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Excerpted from Farm Dogs© by Janet Vorwald Dohner. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.