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Livestock Guardian Dogs for Small Farmsteads

 
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WHAT MAKES A GOOD SMALL FARMSTEAD LGD?

Once people decide to incorporate a Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD) into their permaculture system the next question is, “what the best breed?” This is one of those questions that people have a wide variety of opinions on and they all can be correct. I know when we asked that question we discovered that here are many different breeds of out there that can do the job and all of them fit roughly the same description – big, gentle with livestock, and ruthless with predators. However, we needed something very particular within that broad description.

Living close to forest service land/wilderness, we were loosing critters left and right to predators so we decided to get a LGD to keep the local predators at bay. In addition, we thought it would be fun to have a cart dog for moving loads of hay and wood here and there about the property. However, just any LGD wouldn’t do. We needed a dog that was a bit more trainable than the average LGD so we could use them as a cart dog, that was great with kids, social with at least our house dogs, and accepting of the people we have coming and going from our resilient education center.  

Fortunately, I have a lot of experience with dog behavior and puppy assessment so I studied different breeds and began to look at what is available in our area. I was searching for the traits that would lead to success in our small permaculture farmstead and education center. These included human and canine sociability, trainability, adaptability, and intelligence all wrapped up in a fluffy, well-structured package.  Keeping these traits in mind, we found Nala, a ¾ Great Pyrenees/ ¼ Anatolian cross, followed by Appa, a registered Karakachan. Our LGD canine partners have made it possible for us live in harmony with our neighborhood predators without jeopardizing our relationship with our human neighbors.

The big fluffies (as we affectionately call them) are incredibly effective with predators. We live on heavily forested property where our completely free-ranging chicken flock grew from 4 in the spring to 22 in the fall. We can take both dogs to public places without problems, they accept visiting dogs with introductions, and know to just roll the neighborhood dogs who dare the fence instead of seriously injuring them. Both dogs have gone to major public events as part of educational displays with no issues. They have good enough leash manners to be walked by our 2-year-old grandchild, and they greet strangers with a gentle friendliness. Further, they rarely bark for more than a few minutes, guard whatever we ask them wherever we ask them, stay inside a 4-foot field fence and are loving members of the family. Everything we hoped for from small-farmstead LGDs.

Since these 2 LGDs so exemplified what is needed in a small-scale system, and we had people requesting pups, we decided to breed them. Watching them parent is fascinating as they still retain so much of the primal instincts of wild dogs while being such loving, nurturing canine partners. Nala is an excellent mother who has raised a fine litter of pups. Somewhere around 5 weeks she began regurgitating food for the pups and letting dad greet them. Then, at 6 weeks, he took over day-care while she went on guardian rounds but she still sleeps with them at night. In the last week she has started carrying food to them during her mealtime (even though we feed them as well).

These deeply-rooted, primal instincts to nurture and protect are a result of eons of evolution; it can neither be taught or taken away by house time or too much attention. Like their parents, the pups are social and responsive, easy around the stock, and already showing guardian instincts.  With daily handling, their natural connection to humans is being strengthened as they prepare to enter into lifetime partnerships protecting their shepherds flocks and herds. I feel privileged to be part of such a long tradition of canine-folk partnerships that has been foundational in the evolution of resilient agriculture.

Three Females Available from the Above Described Litter. Contact Delyla at caninepackpartners.com for more information.

Traits of a Good Small Farmstead Livestock Guardian Dog


- Willing to stay home with limited or no fencing.
- Avoid pups from dogs in large systems where they guard by working perimeters.
-  Trainability/Good Communication Skills
- Must be able to teach proper manners, other farm jobs, and to limit barking.
- Independent Thinking
- LGDs must be able to problem solve without direction to outwit predators and manage barnyards.
- Adaptability
- Must be able to guard a wide variety of stock, including non-traditional animals such as poultry, in a wide variety of situations and transition smoothly for field to barn to house to town to educational event and home again.
. – Discernment
- Able to discern the difference between real threats, house dogs and visiting dogs and respond accordingly limiting barking and avoiding injuries to non-threats.
- Human Sociability
- In a small farmstead where LGD’s will have daily interaction with people and family, friends, customers, and helpers are coming and going it is important for LGDs to get along with people, particularly children.


Three Females with the Above Qualities Available: Contact Delyla at caninepackpartners.com for more information.
LGD-Pups-in-the-Snow.jpg
LGD Pups in the Snow
LGD Pups in the Snow
 
master steward
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Hi Delyla, welcome to Permies!

Great post and I love the picture of the adorable pups. My wife and I are beginning farmers, and we talk about getting one or two LGD's. While we currently only have chickens, we do plan to add cows, pigs and goats as time goes forward. (In fact, just this morning I watched from the kitchen window a coopers hawk navigate my overhead fishing line around my chicken coop and fly off with a 12 week old leghorn). Can you please offer some insight on what's involved with training LGD's to recognize what is "family" and is to be defended? If I raise pups with a flock of chickens, then in a year add cows, and a year later add goats, will the adult dogs recognize the new livestock additions as part of the family and know to protect them along with what they grew up with? Could you elaborate on how much is instinct and how much training is required from a homesteader/farmer? And one more thing, are there added benefits to having a pair of LGD's compared to a single dog? Thanks!!
 
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James Freyr wrote:Hi Delyla, welcome to Permies!

Great post and I love the picture of the adorable pups. My wife and I are beginning farmers, and we talk about getting one or two LGD's. While we currently only have chickens, we do plan to add cows, pigs and goats as time goes forward. (In fact, just this morning I watched from the kitchen window a coopers hawk navigate my overhead fishing line around my chicken coop and fly off with a 12 week old leghorn). Can you please offer some insight on what's involved with training LGD's to recognize what is "family" and is to be defended? If I raise pups with a flock of chickens, then in a year add cows, and a year later add goats, will the adult dogs recognize the new livestock additions as part of the family and know to protect them along with what they grew up with? Could you elaborate on how much is instinct and how much training is required from a homesteader/farmer? And one more thing, are there added benefits to having a pair of LGD's compared to a single dog? Thanks!!



Not who you asked but we had a 4 year old LGD before we ever got any poultry/livestock. He does not consider them his and I doubt he ever will. He kills more of our animals than any other predator we have about. The only reason the pigs are safe is because, let's face it, they would eat him first.

Now when he was a pup our neighbor had cows and he adopted those cows as his own, much to my neighbors chagrin. I think we could probably add cows and he would guard them without issue.

We now have 4 LGD's  and several of them who grew up with the animals are not aggressive to them and completely trustworthy.

We treat our dogs more like house pets than guardians, but mostly I think what I expect them to guard is different. They go out with our kids and stay in at night with us. Someone has attempted to rob us twice, both times failed thanks to angry big dogs. We also have predators living on our property that are a risk to our children and they know they are not allowed to leave the fenced yard without at least one of the dogs. They are trained to stay with the kids, and while it's never been tested, I fully expect that they would guard the kids from harm. We have some really active badgers this year. Holes all over the place. There is no way I would send my kids outside to play if not for those dogs.
 
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If I am to ever get an LGD it will have to be one that only barks when absolutely necessary.  I don't live in an ag zoned area, so I have to abide by county noise rules, and my next door neighbor is a bit of an overreacting jerk about dogs barking (besides being somewhat unstable in general).  
 
Delyla Wilson
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Hi James,

Thanks for the welcome. I have been lurking for a while but haven't figured out how to post before now.

Congratulations on becoming beginning farmers! When we got Nala we had a few chickens, a couple of geese, and one 6 month old bottle lamb (the other had been eaten by a bear). Now we have cows, pigs, and goats as well so we are on a similar path. When we ate the lamb she had nothing but chickens for a while so I started doing a bit of cart training which she is begrudgingly willing to do (but willing).

As to training... A well-bred LGD know their guardian job instinctively - I never taught my dogs to be wary of aerial predators but they got the owl to move out of the barnyard.  They also should come with the inherited intelligence to communicate, learn, think, and discern. How to live with your particular situation you have to teach. We always start our LGD puppies in the same way we do any other dog because I will not have an unmanageable animal on the property. This means that all LGDs on our place are house trained, walk politely on a leash, have some simple obedience(wait, sit, come) and learn what is and isn't ok to chew on. In addition, we socialize them heavily taking them everywhere we can for the first month or so. This includes the feed store, the university campus where I work, and, once fully vaccinated, popular dog walking places. Further, I vet-proof my dogs by spending a few minutes every day for the first several months touching my dogs everywhere...I play with there feet, gently pull on their tail, brush them, check eyes, ears and teeth, rub their bellies and gently stretch their legs (I have done this with the pups since they were 3 weeks old). This is critical in my opinion because it can save you thousands on vet bills over time because your dog does not have to be anesthetized to be treated. So in that way they take the same amount of time as any other puppy. For me this is not a ton of time I have to cut out of my life because I simply incorporate the pup into everyday life, dragging it along wherever I go. During that time I go out of a way to define what is mine (kids, chickens, goats, other dogs, cats ect) - eg what they have to accept and guard. By the time they are 4 to 6 month old these basics are solidly in place and they spend more time in the barn yard then not.

The other training challenge I have found with the LGDs is around chickens. Every LGD we have had so far have gone through a chicken chasing phase during the teenage years. When this happens we simply back up a step and the dog spends more time in training again. For the LGDs that have been raised around chickens this training back slide was easily corrected with supervision around chickens and correction if they show interest. We have also had to correct a bit of youthful play with the goats as well as with the teenage LGDs but they learn fast. All of our dogs have been great around all the livestock and chickens by a year.  The first dog is the hardest because you have to do all the training. If you have a good first dog like Nala was, they do a great job of checking teenage rowdiness so it is easier on you.

Once they have this solid foundation we are good to go. When I bring on new animals I introduce them to the dogs and tell them they are mine. I greet new people, then introduce them to the dogs and they accept that person because I do. For new dogs, I do all introductions in the daylight outside the fenced area they primarily guard. Again, I greet the dog in front of them, tell them the dog is mine, then we all take a short walk together. After that those dogs are allowed inside the fence.

As to a pair vs single. In the long run, a pair is better than one for a couple of reasons. They are more effective in pairs. Though we had stopped losing bigger stock, until we got a second dog working, chickens still occasionally disappeared. Also, if they are facing big predators or packs pairs are much safer for the dogs and, finally, they are happier to stay home with a canine companion in the barnyard (though for some that is their stock dog friend). That said it is highly unadvisable to get two pups at once. Either start with one pup, raise it right and then get a second the following year or bring on an older started dog that has been raised right (be sure it has been exposed to chickens in particular) then, once they have a chance to settle in, get a puppy as a partner.
 
Delyla Wilson
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The problem Elle faced with their  first LGD is why I stress good breeding. Humans have an amazing ability to breed instinct right out of dogs as we breed them toward being pets instead of partners. This is why a dog raised with livestock can be terrible while one raised as a house dog can turn into amazing guardians. I don't believe we can teach them to be guardians - they either have the inherited ability or not - what we teach them is how to live with us.

And Andrew's concerns about barking are one of the major challenges faced by folks with small farmsteads, neighbors who don't want to listen to a dog bark all night. One of the reasons I am in love with Karakachans is that, due to the nomadic nature of the peoples that bred them, they are significantly less barky than our sweet GP even though she raised him so I though he would surely follow her lead.

 
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