Livestock Guardian Dogs
A livestock guardian dog is a dog type bred for the purpose of protecting livestock from predators. Livestock guardian dogs stay with the group of animals they protect as a full-time member of the flock or herd.
Some of the more common breeds are Great Pyrenees (France), Maremma (Italy) and Anatolian Shepherd (Turkey). Unlike herding dogs, LGD's do not usually herd their livestock.
These noble, independent, highly intelligent dogs are perhaps the most widely used LGD in America. They do not accept vocal commands as readily as other breeds, but they’re considered more friendly with humans. Marquis Ranch has the great privilege of having these beautiful dogs and sometimes a litter of puppies as part of our family. They are truly our guardians.
All About the Great Pyrenees Breed
EARLY HISTORY: Known as Le Chien de Montagne des Pyrenees in its native habitat (the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain) and as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog throughout Europe, the Great Pyrenees is one of the oldest breeds in the world. While similar in size and stature to the Mastiff family, the Pyrenees is actually descended from the ancient large, primarily white, livestock guardian dogs of the Middle Ages and developed parallel to most modern breeds of dogs. The Pyrenees has remained virtually unchanged physically and mentally for hundreds of years, meaning that the breed has relatively few health problems in comparison to modern dogs. Pyrenees remains are found in fossil deposits of the Bronze Age (1800 and 1000 B.C.) It is believed the breed originally came from Central Asia or Siberia following the migration into Europe. Of both Basque shepherds and French royalty, it was in the Pyrenean Mountains and French royal palaces that the Pyrenees developed its inherent traits of devotion, fidelity, sense of guardianship, and intelligent understanding of mankind. Anything that threatened flocks learned to respect these flock guardians. With their ability to scent, to see, and to sense danger, many a shepherd and child, have owed their lives to these loving companions.
A SERIOUS WORKING DOG—A FLOCK GUARDIAN: The Pyrenees’s imposing size, strength, courage, and resistance to the elements proved invaluable to shepherds. The heavy double coat shields the dog from rain, wind, snow, sun, and predators. The Great Pyrenees is highly intelligent and independent. It requires no human intervention while in the field. The breed’s effectiveness as a guardian is an inherited, instinctive trait. As such, it does not require training beyond the socialization of the dog with its flock or with its human family. The Pyrenees is a versatile breed, making it a great watch dog and its calm nature makes it easy to train.
LOVING COMPANION: Of all the flock guardian breeds, the Pyrenees is by nature the best with people, offering a great tolerance and affection of adults and children, if properly socialized and trained. The well-socialized Pyrenees makes a loving, loyal companion, and effective watch dog. Naturally calm and well-mannered, it is usually quite tolerant of other pets with whom it has been raised. Pyrenees have a special love of children. Although very independent, a Pyrenees is also easily trained and has a unique personality that Great Pyrenees owners worldwide have grown to love.
GENERAL TEMPERAMENT: The Pyrenees’s calm, placid nature has allowed it to gently roam in and out of its flock, without raising alarm. The exception to this is if the Pyrenees perceives a threat to its flock or family. Then, the Pyrenees quickly changes gears and aggressively investigates and deals with threats without hesitation. Highly intelligent, perceptive, and independent, a Pyrenees will act upon these strong instincts, even to the chagrin of its owner. On warm days, it is common for the Pyrenees to dig holes, which can be 1 foot down and 2 feet across, in order to rest in the cooler earth. But some Pyrenees never dig at all. On warmer days, the Pyrenees will be less active and prefer to just rest until it cools down. Pyrenees like to play at dawn and at dusk. In the first snowfall, it is not uncommon for an older Pyrenees to play-bow or bound around like a 6-month-old pup.
INTELLIGENCE AND TRAINING: Highly intelligent and perceptive, a Pyrenees can sense even the most subtle mood changes in both humans and animals. This, among other traits, allows the Pyrenees to sort threatening animals and people from non-threatening. Although easily trained, the Pyrenees’s strong independence may need extra patient training and socialization. Quick to learn, a Pyrenees becomes easily bored if commands are repeatedly repeated! Not a come-sit-stay-rollover-fetch dog, it will usually pass on such as it doesn’t see the point of wasted energy.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: One of the most beautiful dogs in the world, its principally white, large, and muscular body structure defines it as a captivating and elegant breed. But a Pyrenees is more than a pretty face! A well-proportioned Pyrenees with its full winter coat appears to be larger than it actually is. There is a wide range of sizes in the breed, and a Pyrenees’s expected lifespan is 10-12 years. Bred for strength and endurance, a Pyrenees will usually conserve its energy until needed. Naturally nocturnal, it prefers to sleep during the day and be active at night patrolling home and property. Pyrenees recognize other Pyrenees and usually react more openly to them than to other dogs. The primarily white, double coat of a soft undercoat and thicker outer coat provides a waterproof barrier from wind, rain, snow, and sun, as well as protection from the teeth of predators. The undercoat will be shed or blown once a year, usually in the spring, which requires extra attention to ensure it is raked out to avoid mats. Coats vary in texture from the coarse working coat to “cotton candy”, very soft coat, and, as such, need different care. However, Pys shed some dog fur every day. The coat possesses dirt-resistant qualities allowing it to shed dirt or mud once it dries. Although Pyrenees can be all white, some tend to have some degree of grey, badger, or beige markings. Coloration tends to be heavier during puppyhood, gradually lightening during maturity. The breed’s trademark double dewclaws, 2 extra toes, are found on the inside of the back legs. Since these claws do not come into contact with the ground, periodic trimming is needed to avoid becoming ingrown. These extra toes are attached by bone and are NOT to be removed unless there is an underlying medical cause. This distinct characteristic adds to the ability of the Pyrenees to defend against predators. Single sets of dewclaws are on the front legs.
The dogs are introduced to livestock as puppies so they "imprint" on the animals. Experts recommend that the pups begin living with the herd at 4 to 5 weeks of age. This imprinting is thought to be largely olfactory and occurs between 3 and 16 weeks of age. Training requires regular daily handling and management, preferably from birth. A guardian dog is not considered reliable until it is at least 2 years of age. Until that time, supervision, guidance, and correction are needed to teach the dog the skills and rules it needs to do its job. Having older dogs that assist in training younger dogs streamlines this process considerably.
At Marquis Ranch our puppies are born and raised with the livestock. The mother of the puppies will take a three to five week break from working as an LGD and take on the temporary role of mother attending to her puppies.
When the puppy leaves the ranch at approximately 8 to 12 weeks, our suggestion is to begin a basic dog training routine, including walking on a leash, heal, sit, stay, and being tied up. You also want to immediately integrate them into the regular routine with the livestock. Doing this while they are small puppies will assist in handling them as adults. We have found them to be good and quick learners.
The three qualities most sought after in LGDs are trustworthiness, attentiveness, and protectiveness; trustworthy in that they do not roam off and are not aggressive with the livestock, attentive in that they are situationally aware of threats by predators, and protective in that they attempt to drive off predators. Dogs, being social creatures with differing personalities, take on different roles with the herd and among themselves; most stick close to the livestock, others tend to follow the shepherd or rancher when one is present, and some drift away from the livestock. These differing roles are often complementary in terms of protecting livestock, and experienced ranchers and shepherds sometimes encourage these differences by adjustments in socialization technique so as to increase the effectiveness of their group of dogs in meeting specific predator threats. LGDs that follow the livestock closest assure that a guard dog is on hand if a predator attacks, while LGDs that patrol at the edges of a flock or herd are in a position to keep would-be attackers at a safe distance from livestock. Those dogs that are more attentive tend to alert those that are more passive, but perhaps also more trustworthy or less aggressive with the livestock.
At least two dogs may be placed with a flock or herd, depending on its size, the type of predators, their number, and the intensity of predation. If predators are scarce, one dog may be adequate, though most operations usually require at least two dogs. Large operations (particularly range operations) and heavy predator loads require more dogs. Male and female LGDs have proved to be equally effective in protecting of livestock, however if there are no plans to breed a neutered male is one of your best choices as they only have one job and one interest.
While LGDs have been known to fight to the death with predators, in most cases, predator attacks are prevented by a display of aggressiveness. LGDs are known to drive off predators for which physically they would be no match, such as bears and even lions. With the reintroduction of predators into natural habitats in Europe and North America, environmentalists have come to appreciate LGDs because they allow sheep and cattle farming to coexist with predators in the same or nearby habitats. Unlike trapping and poisoning, LGDs seldom kill predators; instead, their aggressive behaviors tend to condition predators to seek unguarded (thus, nonfarm animal) prey. For instance, in Italy's Gran Sasso National Park, where LGDs and wolves have coexisted for centuries, older, more experienced wolves seem to "know" the LGDs and leave their flocks alone.
Not just any dog has the instincts for the job. Dedicated, wise, and noble, LGDs are less a pet than an independent contractor. LGDs are generally large, independent, and protective, which can make them less than ideal for urban or even suburban living. Nonetheless, despite their size, they can be gentle, make good companion dogs, and are often protective towards children. If introduced to a family as a pup, most LGDs are as protective of their family as a working guard dog is of its flock. In fact, in some communities where LGDs are a tradition, the runt of a litter often was kept or given as a household pet or simply kept as a village dog without a single owner.
Marquis Ranch puppies are imprinted when they are born and see humans as their second herd. The adult Pyrenees greet welcomed visitors with enthusiasm and are participative tour guides.
Establishing the Dog with the Herd
If you purchase a puppy, they will be about 8 to 12 weeks old when they are brought home and it is recommended to place them immediately with the livestock so they can start the bonding process – they must live with your livestock, not with you, from day one. It’s important to socialize LGDs with humans, as well, but it’s best to keep human contact to a minimum for the first couple of months.
The good news is that there is no need to train the dog to guard the herd – either they have the instincts or not. But don’t expect them to do much guarding during puppyhood (they will want to play with the animals at first). Look for the protective instincts to kick in at around six months of age; they will continue to develop until the dog reaches adulthood at about two years. If a young LGD play-chases their livestock companions too aggressively, use verbal reprimands to discourage the behavior.
They will need a rain-proof doghouse. Sturdy fencing is critical on farms and ranches where the livestock are not roaming large, open ranges, as most LGDs instinctively want to patrol a large territory. The same fencing that contains your livestock may not do the same for your dog, who can dig and jump (electric fencing is often an effective deterrent for both, however). WE have found that by training the puppy to the property perimeter fence lines they will work the given defined territory.