Why I love livestock guardian dogs and why I think you should too!

Heads up: This article may not be to the taste of those who propound LGD use for the specific purpose of livestock protection only.

Kuvasz dogs like this one at Red Moon Acres Farm protect goats and homestead against coyotes, wolves, cougars, and bobcats

K2, the Great white Kuvasz and a livestock guardian dog (LGD) breed originating from Hungary, was hiking about 3 meters (3.28 yards) ahead of me. It was a typical late spring/early summer hike on the side trail leading to Halfway Log Dump of the main Bruce Trail of the Bruce Peninsula National Park.

Hiking toward the lakeshore was pleasant and offered no incident. We reached the beautiful but empty lakeshore and after a few selfies, I decided to return.

I started feeling warm even though it was pleasantly cold. Soon, I began to sweat profusely. I had my eyes on the trail itself as dormant trees had their roots spreading out on the soil surface like serpents, trying to get a hold of anything they could find. I didn’t want to hurt my toes by hitting a protruding root.

The sound of the waves breaking on the rocky shores gave way to total silence where I could hear the swishing of my clothes and thudding of the hiking boots in a vast expanse of timelessness. Occasionally, a gull flew overhead asking for a morsel of food.
And then there is was.

Turning a bend, K2 stopped in his tracks looking straight ahead with a cautious look, ears cocked backwards. When I reached him, I was overwhelmed by the site too. There, just 20 meters ahead on the trail, stood a black bear looking at us.

This black bear in the Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina seems to be on the prowl. It is generally easier to defend oneself against a black bear attack

K2 froze in his tacks, as trained.

I let K2 lead me during the hikes, but he is trained to not chase critters. Having a big puppy from a breed that is only passively aggressive (more on this later) had an advantage that day. If bear attacked, I could have let him go to at least act as a deterrence, or so I hoped.

Why did we get a big dog like K2?

As a family, we had decided on Kuvasz breed after lot of research work. We wanted to have a medium to large size guard dog for home that had low prey drive, was agile and capable of protecting us against intimidating critters, was hypoallergenic, was a couch potato inside and able to accompany us on long-distance hiking adventures outside, and was able to cope with the extreme winters of southern Ontario.

The key learning was that it pays to have a dog matching with one’s lifestyle. After our research and responses from quizzes, our search was narrowed down to what are known as livestock protection dog (LGD) breeds.

Here are some reasons I think you should also consider keeping an LGD or two:

Reason # 1 – Their first and foremost duty is to protect livestock

Wolves of a pack are a family unit with a head mating pair (called alpha male and female) and their offspring from various litters, who are fully bonded to each other. This characteristic of wolf has been retained in livestock guardian dogs (LGDs).

LGDs are bonded to the livestock. They protect their charges (cattle, sheep, goats, chicken, humans, etc.) from predators and bandits wherever they move for grazing. They will challenge a dangerous intruder if they perceive it as a threat to their pack, which is livestock. If they are kept as pets, they will take their humans as their charges.

Source: Cindy Kolb

Most dog breeds in this category are large and muscular – Great Pyrenees, Italian Maremmas, Turkish Kangal and Akbash dogs, Caucasian and Central Asian Ovcharkas, Hungarian Komondorok and Kuvaszok, Polish Tatras, Kosovan and Serbian Šarplaninac, Bosnian Tornjaks, Bulgarian Karakachans, etc.

If you are interested in learning about LGDs, I found the book ‘Farm Dogs’ by Janet Vorwald Dohner very useful for people who have farms/hobby farms/big residential estates and may be looking for getting a dog or two. The book can also come in handy for new ranchers and livestock keepers who may be looking for keeping dogs for herding and protection purposes. The book is full of facts and superb pictures. In fact, there are so many pictures that this can be easily taken as a coffee table book, except it has much more content in it too.

A Turkish shepherd dog guarding sheep

In her book ‘Shepherds of Coyote Rocks‘, Cat Urbigkit has written on her adventurous life as a shepherdess herding her flock of sheep in northwestern Wyoming and in the process has described the region, LGDs, transhumance across the global and wildlife conservation in a beautiful and a lively manner.

Cat Urbigkit with her two livestock guardian animals and a sheep

Reason # 2 – They protect wildlife, especially predators

In Namibia, Anatolian Shepherd Dogs (ASDs) are effectively saving endangered cheetahs from being killed by the local farmers and cattle and sheep grazers. This is how it works. When cheetahs leave their wilderness and intentionally or unintentionally cross into land where humans graze their livestock, they try to make an easy meal of goats or sheep there. In retaliation local men kill them.

The Cheetah Conservation Fund breeds and provides ASDs to these local people for guarding their livestock. Now if a cheetah sneaks in, it is confronted by these vicious large size dogs. No cheetah will want to get into this dangerous confrontation and will return to Savannah to hunt its natural prey. The results show that the number of cheetahs killed by humans has drastically dropped ever since ASDs have been employed for livestock guardian duties.

LGDs are protecting wildlife elsewhere also.

Middle Island is a tiny spot of land off Warrnambool, Victoria in southern Australia. This island has recently come into the headlines of a major conservation effort regarding the endangered Fairy penguins living there. At one time 5,000 of these defenseless birds used to live in a colony on the island. However, by 2006, only 10 penguins were all that remained. Culprit? Island predators, as William Stolzenburg mentions in his recent book ‘Rat Island’, foxes and dingoes.
Shot of a researcher holding a penguin with Maremmas in the bg

Source: The National

The Warranambool City Council received $15,000 in grants from Powercor Corp. and a local governmental Authority to fund an innovative conservation project. Two pups of Maremma sheepdogs, a beautiful white furred livestock guardian dog breed, were brought in and introduced to the island and the penguins. The Maremmas quickly developed a bond with the penguins and succeeded in keeping foxes and other predators away ensuring that bird population could recover. Today, the penguin population has increased to at least 80 adults and 26 chicks.

I suggest that those countries that are having problems with snow leopards and common leopards predating on livestock consider Namibian model too.

Reason # 3 – They make good watch dogs

K2, our 2 years old Kuvasz then, was going berserk with high pitched barks looking outside through the window on the front street. My wife looked out and did not see anything unusual. But then after 30 minutes there was police with their dogs searching all over the neighbourhood. Because K2 was then barking at their dogs, they came over our home and informed my wife that burglars had broken into the neighbours house, but ran away without stealing anything. That is the reason why our dog must have been barking. The police advised my wife that when K2 barks never go out of the home to check as that could be dangerous. Stay inside, look from windows and if anything looks suspicious call 911. Apparently our safe and upscale neighbourhood had become a target of burglars from another town.

K2, the Kuvasz, performing his watch dog duty at my home.

Watch dogs, dogs that bark to send an alarm signal to their humans rather than fighting the adversary off, have greatly improved barking sounds. The bark that alarms its humans has many levels. It is the one that is high in pitch and repetitious and sends the highest level of alarm that has saved many a homes from robberies.

Generally, all LGDs, are lazy dogs, who would spend most of their time half-dozing on a carefully chosen perch from where they can easily observe the proceedings. When an unwanted entity enters their territory, an LGD will first give a low pitch alarm bark and will get up showing its large size. If the perceived enemy does not retreat, a series of deep booming barks coupled with a few quick intimidating paces forward should send it packing. If the threat still does not retreat, the high pitched barking will reverberate in the air throughout a mile radius, which should send the threat in escape mode. But, an LGD is a watch dog till this point only. If the threat does not subside, an LGD will resort to an all out attack until the former is neutralized.

If you are living in a neighbourhood that is a target of obnoxious element of the society, an LGD as a watch dog will bring comfort to your household.

K2 does not like someone on the other side of the fence

In order to read an account of watch dogs in terribly risky situations, John Vaillant’s ‘The Tiger’ is a thrilling book. Vaillant covers dogs, but in the context of their accompanying hunters in Amur forests and sometimes becoming prey of the Amur tigers themselves. Dogs in this book hunt by their masters’ sides and get hunted by Amur tigers and their role is frequently described under tragic circumstances. However, the book starts with a thrilling but not a tragic confrontation of a female dog and the man-eating tiger.

Reason # 4 – They are good guard dogs for home and persons

During my hiking trips in areas where coyotes and black bears flourish and even pumas could be lurking around, I have observed big mansions where K2 and I are greeted or scorned by small and medium size dogs roaming free on the property while the children are playing nearby. This indifference of home owners toward safety of their furry friends and children makes me wonder. Agreed that these dogs never crossed the boundary to pose any threat, a coyote or a bear doesn’t necessarily know and obey the “Do not enter the premises” and “no trespassing” rules.

A small dog comes to check us out as we hiked pass this estate

Living in risk prone areas with smaller dogs can become life threatening for both humans and their dogs.

Not all dogs are capable of thwarting an attack by a large predator. To protect their charges from large adversaries, you need to have dogs who are bigger, are agile, and have greater fight drive instead of prey drive.

LGDs are the best bet here

In my opinion, fight drive instead of prey drive makes them greatly different from German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Malinois, Giant Schnauzers, Dogo Argentinos, etc. Dogs of these breeds have a high prey drive and are therefore, trained to be used as attack dogs as well. Generally, an LGD will rely on creating ‘fear factor’ only.

Two maremma shepherd dogs were on guard duty and showed their weariness of us

LGDs make great guardian dogs that will stand up to any adversary. Kelly Murray of Barriere, British Columbia narrated an interesting story. Her Kuvasz dogs incessantly barked and acted extra protective when she was out in her fields and continued barking from inside the home throughout the night. Kelly discovered the next morning that a cougar had spent a major time of the previous day and the whole night hidden in the bushes nearby. Needless to mention, they were acting like watch, as well as guard dogs.

Reason # 5 – They are good companion dogs for an outdoorsy Person

An LGD like K2 is a large size dog, upward of 110 Lbs. He is a good hiking companions as he tends to conserve energy by not running unnecessarily on trails and can carry a load of up to 25% of his own weight in his doggy bag packs.

Besides, as mentioned earlier, since he is properly trained, he can provide a good deterrence against an adversary like wolf, bear, cougar, or an inveterate human brawler on the trail. Admittedly, I will never put him in a life threatening situation though.

K2 with his backpack during a February hike

Dogs’ vision is roughly as good as ours, but they have better night vision, peripheral vision and motion detection that can be helpful while hiking all alone or in the dark. Their smelling and hearing senses are much better than ours. Their olfactory sense, especially, provides a window to recent past, present and therefore, near future. They can smell presence of a danger much before humans can. An LGD behaving nervously when outside may well indicate presence of a danger lurking nearby.

K2 is suspicious of something during an April hike

Worth reading is the book ‘Following Atticus’ by Tom Ryan. It is a remarkable true story of a man and a dog embarking on the challenge of a lifetime. Tom, struggling in his personal life, and his miniature schnauzer companion, the “Little Buddha” Atticus M. Finch, attempted to scale all forty-eight of New Hampshire’s four thousand foot White Mountains twice in the dead of winter. It is a story of love, loss, and the resilience of the human and animal spirit. The duo was struck by a tragedy though. Atticus was attacked by two big dogs near a hiking trail and brutally mauled. The little guy recovered. Also, the two ran into a black bear and that could have resulted in a tragedy.

John Ryan, Atticus and the cover page of the Book

If you are hiking or trekking on those lonely trails out there, there is a chance that you may encounter similar adversaries. Presence of well trained big dog or, preferably, two, will come in handy.

LGDs fit the bill.

Camping out with a big dog, an LGD, on guard is a comforting feeling

Bonus reason – If you have them, you get to hear ooh and aah

When I am on busy trails, K2 always attracts folks who first express admiration at his beauty and then inquire what kind of a dog is he.

A friendly trio of hikers with boxers stopped by

This takes me to my pet peeve. Till late 1980s, one used to see many different kinds of dogs in the neighbourhood. Setters, spaniels, pointers, boxers, collies, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Chesapeake Bay retrievers, etc. all were a frequent sight. Yes, you would also see golden retrievers and Labradors, but that was not all it.

Today, everyone has those golden retrievers and golden-doodles.

When I am on trails, the people come over to pat K2, it gives us a feeling of elation. It is true that K2, an LGD, stands out.

A hiker approaches to pat K2

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