Monday, October 13, 2014


Thank you for your interest in our little farm. We have lived here for thirty-five years! We have enjoyed raising many animals but currently we are devoting our time to raising quality Shetland sheep and historic breeds of chickens, such as the Dominique.

Most importantly, our animals are protected by Kangal Dogs. Kangal Dogs are a traditional and very old livestock guardian from Turkey. We have owned LGDs (livestock guardian dogs) for more than thirty years and we have experience with different breeds. We choose to breed and promote the Kangal Dog because we believe they combine the best traits we value in a livestock guardian. We invite you to learn more about them here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Selecting a livestock guard dog; what is the difference between a full-time livestock guard dog, general farm guardian, or family companion?

Selecting a livestock guard dog; what is the difference between a full-time livestock guard dog, general farm guardian, or family companion?

The first step in selecting a LGD, is determining what role you expect him to perform. This decision can determine which puppy you choose from a litter. It is also essential in correctly providing his earliest experiences and training. Individual dogs from the livestock guard dog breeds perform all these roles, but some breeds are better suited to one job over another.  Remember that males and females perform these jobs equally well.

A full-time livestock guardian means just that – the dog lives with his stock 24/7 – whether in the fields or barns. He does not come in the house. He does not play with the other family dogs in the yard. The attention you give him should all happen where he works and lives. He is content without constant human contact and may actually seem somewhat aloof. He has inherited the good guardian traits of low prey drive, attentiveness, trustworthiness, and protection of his stock. And, most importantly, his early experiences were well shaped and he was carefully supervised throughout his first 18 – 24 months. We will be learning how to do this in several up coming posts.

However, the full-time LGD still needs to be socialized and handled.  In the past, some LGD users advocated raising a puppy away from almost all human contact.  Frankly, this is a very dangerous idea. LGDs must be leash trained, accustomed to nail trimming  and basic grooming, and receptive to handling from you and your veterinarian.  If your vet doesn’t make farm calls, your LGD also needs to be able to ride in your car. Appropriate attention and handling will not prevent the puppy from bonding to or socializing to his stock. Again, this should all happen in the pasture, not your house or yard.

A full time LGD also deserves human interaction.  When interest in using LGDs was renewed in the 1970s, there was a mistaken impression that these dogs worked completely alone. In reality, in their homelands these dogs were usually in the company of shepherds. Either the dogs were out with the shepherds during the day and home at night; or the sheep, shepherds, and dogs camped out in the mountains throughout the summer. Even at night when the dogs patrolled the grazing animals or slept near the penned stock, the shepherds were close by. This was an affectionate, working partnership. Here in North America, we often ask our dogs to do something much more difficult – to live with the stock and only see the shepherd only once or twice a day or sometimes not for days at a time. When we think about the traditional LGD experience, we see how many dogs from the LGD breeds also work well as either general farm guardians or family companions.

A general farm guardian sleeps outside of the house – perhaps in a doghouse, a garage, or a barn.  He patrols the areas around your farm buildings and surrounding fields or paddocks. He may accompany you as you tend your stock during the day. If you need to do chores in the dark, you can have no better companion. He may spend the day with the stock, provided he has been appropriately socialized and trained with these animals. As long as he has free access to his patrol area, he will protect your home, your outbuildings, and adjacent fields – alerting you to situations that require your assistance. Many LGDs protect poultry by patrolling outside the poultry enclosures, not inside. Without complete 24-hour access to pastures, he may not be able to provide total protection from predators, but if your farm is fairly compact and he has access to areas adjacent to your pens and pastures, he will do a good job of warning predators away during the night.

For many families this is a comfortable compromise, as they are free to invite their LGD inside the house for short visits and family pets can interact. A quick observation - some LGDs are not comfortable inside and may get restless quickly. If this option is what you are looking for, some LGD are breeds better choices for this type of job and more amenable to meeting visitors and family friends. These breeds have traditions as guardians of rural homes and family farms.

To raise a successful farm guardian, you need to give him the modified experience of a full-time working LGD and a family companion. He should spend some time penned next to stock during the early period of intensive bonding. Take him on a leash as you do your regular chores. Praise good behavior and gently scold undesirable behavior. Pay close attention to fencing and gates in order to keep him in the areas where he is permitted. LGDs are naturally guardians of large areas, which may extend beyond your property. At the same time, provide the socialization and training necessary for a good family companion dog.  Do not bring him inside to sleep unless you want him to be a family companion rather than a farm guardian.

To be a family companion is a challenge for both the LGD and his owner. LGD puppies are big, adorable goofballs and adults are striking, powerful dogs, so it is understandable that people are drawn to them as potential family companions. For the most part, LGD breeds were never traditional housedogs, although some breeds are more amenable to the comings and goings of family and friends. Some breeders may be very reluctant to sell a puppy to a home in the city or suburb, even to an experienced, dedicated owner. You need to ask yourself these questions before considering an LGD as a family companion:

·      Do you truly understand the intrinsic protective nature of these dogs? As an adult, a LGD WILL respond to perceived threats both human and animal.

·      Do you have the experience and commitment to train and socialize him? He will quickly become a very large and powerful dog, often described by long-time owners as a “self-thinker” and not highly trainable. Will all family members be comfortable with this dog and able to control him?

·      How will you keep him safe and secure? LGDs dig under and climb over typical fencing with ease. You will need very robust and tall fencing to contain him. Invisible fencing will not work.

·      How will you provide for his exercise needs? LGDs are not reliable off leash or at a dog park.

·      How will you prevent boredom? LGDs are working dogs. If you don’t give them a job, they will create one – barking loudly for hours at perceived threats, digging immense holes, destroying furniture, etc.

Barking, shedding, and an owner’s inability to control or contain his dog are the primary reasons LGDs kept as companion dogs are turning into rescue groups. Despite all these warnings, LGDs can and do make excellent companions – for the right family in the right situation.  A rural home can provide lots of exercise and activity for an LGD, while he provides excellent protection for the homestead.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Choosing a Livestock Guard Dog Breed

Kangal Dog Sivas Regal's Fistik, copyright J. Dohner

It is definitely true that most people do not know what livestock guard dogs are or what they do. Owners of LGDs have answered these questions many many times. No, they are not herding dogs. No, they are not guard dogs. Then there are the questions about breeds. Most LGD breeds are uncommon and many are downright rare. Yes, it’s fawn with a black mask, but it’s not a mastiff. Yes, it’s white and fluffy, but it’s not a Great Pyrenees. Finally, there are folks who believe that LGDs are all essentially the same and therefore don’t regard breed distinctions as important or relevant.  Breeds?  Aren’t they all the same?

Yes, there are indeed many different breeds of LGDs in the world. Some are now here at work in North America, but others are primarily only found overseas. To those of us who work with these dogs, it’s all fascinating stuff. If you are thinking of adding an LGD to your farm, you will find advertisements for various breeds and crossbreeds. Learning about the various LGD breeds, their origins, and their traits is important to help you make your decisions.

LGDs were developed throughout a wide sweep of southern Europe and Central Asia. The LGD breeds obviously have the same basic set of behaviors and they often look quite like each other. Although these breeds are closely related in function and appearance, we are learning more about how each group of people in a different area selected their LGDs for traits specifically adaptable to that group’s particular geography and husbandry needs. There can be real differences and specializations between these breeds – such as style of work, temperament, and other behaviors - even though they may share distant common ancestry. These differences should be valued because they increase your ability to choose the right breed for your situation.

Some differences you can expect to see include: size (from to 60 to 150 pounds or more); coat length; relative aggressiveness and other behaviors towards predators; dog aggression; suspicion or wariness of strange people; tolerance of trustworthy strangers on the farm; acceptance of children; territoriality; nurturing of baby animals; sharper or aloof temperaments vs more family friendly or social dogs; more passive vs more active natures; and others.

Recently, Conservation Media created a short video, Livestock Guard Dogs; Working on Common Ground, for the organization People and Carnivores. Ranch owners, Cody and Liesl Lockhart, ranch owners, present a good introduction to the differences between breeds and the importance of those differences in a real working setting. People and Carnivores is also an excellent of information on co-existing with predators.

Important disclaimer – as you begin talking to people about LGD breeds, you will soon discover that different people have different observations about LGD breeds. And they can be quite passionate about it! It is also very important to know that individual differences between dogs in the same breed also can vary, just like in all other dog breeds. This is all understandable because working with dogs is an art not a science. Please take all comments about breeds as a generalization not a hard-and-fast rule.

With a handful of exceptions, most LGD breeds were landrace rather than standardized breeds. Landrace means that a dog or any livestock animal has been bred without a formal registry, although their breeders may have kept written or informal pedigree of the their animals. Standardized breeds have an official registry and a standard of appearance that the animals are bred to. Landrace breeds often have a greater diversity of appearance than standardized breeds. Most LGD breeds are now making the transition from landrace to standardized breeds, as breed clubs and registries have recently come into existence in their native countries as well as in their adoptive homes in North America and elsewhere in the world.

Choosing a breed of LGD will require that you do some research and carefully consider your specific needs. Although no one breed is better than another, one breed may better fit your situation and particular needs. Carefully consider your farm or ranch’s physical situation and pastures, your husbandry style and management practices, your dog handling skills and confidence, the types and numbers of predators in your area, your possible need for multiple dogs, your livestock, your neighbors, whether other people visit your property or family regularly, your climate, your interest in grooming a dog, and the size of the dog. Both males and females guard equally well.

Availability will also be a big consideration. Reliable, full-grown LGDs are difficult to obtain since they are highly valued by their owners and not likely to be for sale. Occasionally good working dogs become available when owners sell their stock or ranch. In any case, an adult working dog or well-started adolescent dog is valuable, so you should expect to pay a substantial price for one. Some LGD breeds are also quite rare in population numbers or geographically. Good breeders often have waiting lists for pups. It may be necessary to drive some distance or have a pup shipped to you. Be extremely cautious of deals that seem too good to be true. Breeders simply cannot buy good breeding stock, perform the necessary health tests, give proper medical care, offer health or behavior guarantees, and provide good food for growing puppies for a cut-rate price. An inexpensive or free puppy will cost you the same to feed, medicate, and care for as a carefully bred pup from a breeder who performed health and behavior screenings on the parents. Meanwhile you will invest many hours training and socializing this pup, perhaps only to discover that he is poorly qualified to be a working LGD or has crippling hip disease. In the LGD world, it is completely true that you get what you pay for.

In North America, we have seen an explosion in the numbers of LGD breeds since the 1970s, when the interest increased in using LGDs for predator control.  At that time, the Great Pyrenees was the only traditional LGD breed present in relatively large numbers in North America. The Komondor and Kuvasz were also here but much less common. At that time the American Kennel Club recognized these three breeds primarily as show and companion dogs, although savvy dog folks were already working with them on their own farms or ranches. Soon other LGD breeds began to be imported, such as the Akbash, Anatolian, Maremma, Sarplaninac, and Kangal. Today the LGDs found in North America also include: the Caucasian Mountain Dog, Central Asian Shepherd Dog, Estrela Mountain Dog, Gampr, Karakachan or Bulgarian Shepherd Dog, Polish Tatra, Pyrenean Mastiff, Slovak Cuvac, Spanish Mastiff, Tibetan Mastiff, and others. 

A word about crossbred dogs. There are tremendous numbers of puppies and dogs available that are the result of crossing two or more LGD breeds together. Yes, there are excellent, working crossbred LGD dogs and I do not wish to offend anyone who is fortunate enough to own one. There are also many crossbred dogs that are the result of completely unplanned or poorly selected breedings and they are often found in shelters or rescue situations. Many of these dogs have already failed once or more in an LGD situation. If this is your first LGD, please don’t take on the additional burden of rehabilitating a dog. If you do desire a rescue dog, I strongly recommend only adopting a LGD from the official breed rescue of a national club or one that is affiliated with a LGD group, where knowledgeable people have evaluated the dog’s suitability and temperament. Despite their good intentions, most rescue groups that place many different breeds and crossbreeds are not knowledgeable enough about LGD behavior to help you make a good selection.

In addition, genetics has proven that crossing an alert and highly responsive breed with a calm, placid breed, will not give us puppies whose behavior falls neatly in between the two extremes. Some will be more like their mother, some will be more like their father, and some may be completely unpredictable in their combination of behaviors. Remember, a pup may look like one parent and act like another. Even in purebred litters, it requires an experienced LGD owner or breeder to recognize the traits a particular pup possesses for a successful placement in a specific working home. To maximize your odds of success, if this is your first LGD I would suggest that you choose your pup from a more predictable breed background and from a breeder who will give you support and mentoring.

As a breed conservationist, I am personally passionate about the importance of preserving the differences between breeds. To me, these predictable differences are gifts from the many generations of breeders who came before us and they are irreplaceable and easily lost.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

How Livestock Guard Dogs Work

In a previous post, “What is a Livestock Guard Dog?,” I described what livestock guard dogs do but it is exceptionally important to know how they do this job. Understanding how not only helps us work with our LGDs but also explains why other breeds or crosses with non-LGD breeds are not likely to do this same outstanding job. The how is a set of behaviors shaped over time through human selection.

To understand how LGDs work, we have to step back into the actual domestication process because that has shaped the behaviors we see in dogs today. Of all the thousands of species in our world, humans have only successfully domesticated a very small handful. We have domesticated only two predators – cats and dogs – and many of us question just how domesticated cats are? Scientists have come to understand that the animal specie itself must possess certain characteristics that actually allow domestication to occur and chief among them are the abilities to live in social groups and use some form of communication. Wolves have these traits, which enables them to form strong bonds in their groups.

Some students of domestication actually believe that both humans and dogs stepped together on the path of domestication, with the wolf choosing to come into the camp of humans and form a bond of mutual survival. In either case, the wolf cub that was adopted by humans within his critical early period of social development began the process of domestication. The dog is also humankind’s first domesticated animal - a marvelous partnership that has a very long time to develop.

Domestication is a complex process, which affects both physical and behavioral traits. Mammals, in particular, change a great deal in shape and development as they grow. This potential is what humans have selected and shaped – actually stopping physical and behavioral development in different stages. To see the proof of this we just need to look at the more than 600 breeds of dogs found around the world, some with more wolf-like appearance and behaviors and others with extremely puppy-like appearance and behaviors.

One aspect of canine evolution that can be manipulated through selection is neotony – the retention of juvenile traits in an adult dog. These traits include behaviors such as attention seeking, begging for food, submissiveness, waiting for the adult to return, the delay of a fear response to strangers, barking, and playing. The delayed fear response is especially important because it allows puppies to more time to form social bonds to humans or other animals, such as sheep or goats. The delayed fear response ends much sooner in wild canines than in dogs, where this critical period has been extended to 12 weeks or more. LGD breeds, in particular, have a very long period of delayed fear response.

Neotony explains the very basic nature of livestock guard dogs, even in their physical appearance. Most LGDS look like big, over-grown puppies even in adulthood. And these big puppies with their curvy tails and floppy ears don’t look very much like wolves or coyotes anymore and so our sheep have come to accept these “not-wolves” among them.

Another set of behaviors we have modified in dogs is predatory behavior. Predator behaviors occur in this important order: orient – eye – stalk – chase – grab – bite – kill – bite – dissect. If you think about the various groups of dogs – herding dogs, hunting dogs, and others – you can see exactly which predatory behaviors they display. Border collies “eye” and “stalk” even at a very early age. Sight hounds excel in “chase” and terriers “bite” and “kill.” Protection dogs will “grab” on command and hunting dogs will “orient” and “eye” but not “chase” and “grab” without command, and never “dissect.” The very best livestock guard dogs don’t display any of these predator behaviors toward the animals they protect.

Some livestock guard dog puppies will display behaviors such as chasing or grabbing. If they occur, they appear at 5 to 18 months of age, but they can be extinguished if the critical socialization and bonding period was successful so that the young dog formed social behaviors toward livestock. If an adult working dog or a human stops these wrong adolescent behaviors when they happen, they most often disappear by adulthood. A good LGD puppy that seems to be practicing predatory behaviors with stock may also be attempting to play rather than exhibiting true predator aggression. An adult dog or a human should stop these inappropriate behaviors just like you would stop any other undesirable behaviors in a pup.

This is what is crucially important to remember – the livestock guard dogs breeds have been selected for centuries for a very low or non-existent prey drive, a longer period of social bonding than many other breeds, and a physical appearance that suggests “friend.” They have also been selected for attentiveness, trustworthiness, and protection of their stock. When a good LGD is aggressive with outsiders or predators, it is not hunting for prey but protecting its pack mates. They possess instinctual responses to first warn off threats rather than immediately attacking. All of these traits can be so strong that some adult LGDs who were never socialized with stock will still make outstanding guardians – because of the strong and correct instinctual behaviors they possess. Due to their size and appearance, members of the public sometimes confuse LGDs with protection breed dogs. However, many LGD breeds have been tested by police, military and schutzhund trainers, who have repeatedly found them unsuitable because of their important lack of strong predatory behaviors.

Understanding the complicated biology of livestock guardians gives us a tremendous appreciation for them and what they do. It helps us select the correct puppy. It helps us train them to be good partners on our farms. It also explains why other breeds don’t make good livestock guardians and why crossing other breeds with LGDs is a very bad idea. A crossbred LGD and herding breed pup will probably have the drive to chase and herd combined with great size and power. A crossbred LGD and a protection breed may have his predatory behaviors completely disrupted and be completely unreliable among stock.

LGDs were developed throughout a wide sweep of southern Europe and Central Asia. Although these breeds are related in function and appearance, we are learning more about how each group of people in a different area selected their LGDs for traits specifically adaptable to that group’s particular geography and agricultural needs. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Pros and Cons of a Livestock Guard Dog

Choosing a livestock guardian – the pros and cons of livestock guard dogs

The choice to use a livestock guardian to protect your stock should be made seriously and with some forethought and planning. Using a living animal as a livestock guardian is not only a responsibility but also it requires you to gain some knowledge. It will ultimately require your commitment to an animal’s care, your regular attention, and perhaps some careful training. Acquiring this knowledge and some prior preparation before your guardian arrives will make the use of a livestock guardian more successful, as well.  If you are not sure which livestock guardian would make the best fit for you and your situation, here is a no-holds-bared and nitty-gritty look at the pros and cons of each potential guardian – dogs, donkeys, and llamas. This first post will look at livestock Guard Dogs (LGDs)

The pros:

  • LGDs can guard a wide variety of animals including poultry, sheep, goats, cattle, llamas and alpacas, miniature horses and other equines.  Guarding poultry presents a difference set of challenges than other stock, but it can be done successfully with attention to some training and the choice of a dog. Equines can likewise be problematical since the horse or donkey can have a natural flight or fight response to canines, but again, it has been done successfully.  LGDs can provide protection outside and around buildings that house other animals, such as poultry or rabbits. 
  • LGDs actually bond to their stock and will exhibit nurturing behaviors, especially to young animals.
  • LGDs protect stock against a wide variety of predators, both large and small, including the most dangerous such as feral hogs, wolves, bears, bobcats, and mountain lions. LGDs can work in groups. Owners who face serious threats by large predators often employ two or more LGDs together in a field. Most LGDs actively bark and chase large birds (eagles, hawks, owls, vultures and others) away from their stock. LGDs routinely protect stock from all small predators including foxes, coyotes, roaming dogs, raccoons, weasels, minks, skunks, opossums, and feral cats. Although LGDs usually provide non-lethal predator control, owners do, at times, find the remains of these smaller predators in their pastures and barns.
  • LGDs can work in very rough and large fields or pastures.  They will actively patrol and mark their territory, especially at night.  
  • LGDs have a graduated response against predators, which generally frightens or warns the predator away without the need for an actual attack. The dogs begin with barking, which becomes more frenzied if the predator does not back off, followed by posturing or charging.  LGDs attack only if the predator is not driven away.  Owners learn to interpret the barking so that they know when backup assistance may be needed. 
  • LGDs can provide predator friendly control rather than other lethal forms of control such as shooting, etc.  Your customers often appreciate this approach if you sell products.
  • LGD barking provides an alert to the owner about threats and disturbances.  LGDs also provide this alert about threats to family and farm, not just their stock.
  • LGDS provide long-term protection against predators.  Predators often become used to or habituated against lights, sirens, and other visual or auditory methods of frightening predators away. Predators don’t become habituated towards LGDs.
  • LGDs can work with their stock 24/7, which means stock can stay out to graze at night or when the owner is away from the property.  This also reduces human labor needed to bring flocks into a barn or protective paddock every night. LGDs are usually more active at night than during the day.
  • LGDs allow you to use a pasture with active predator problems in the area.  One summer, we used a pasture with a den of coyotes right outside the fence.  It was a summer of much barking and howling, but we did not lose even one tiny Shetland lamb to those coyotes.
  • LGDs are self-thinkers, which means they can analyze a potential threat.

And now the cons:

  • Good LGDs are valuable and they demand a relatively large purchase price. They are also slow to grow and mature if purchased as a pup. Young dogs need time and your guidance to become good guardians. You may be tempted to re-home dogs that have failed elsewhere or are offered cheaply. You might consider buying dogs from unproven bloodlines or breeders who do not do routine health checks, in an effort to save money. These are risky choices, especially if you are new to using a LGD. A good breeder will be a good mentor to you and is invaluable. Dogs from good breeders, who select for working traits, greatly increase your chances of success. I will go into more about selecting a good LGD pup in a later blog post. 
  • LGDs require good fencing. Really good fencing. LGD breeds were developed on open pastures and they worked in the company of shepherds day and night.  Their idea of their territory may be much larger than your pasture or even your farm.  LGDs can dig and climb and slither through amazingly tight spaces. If your fencing is poor, you will either need to reinforce it or add electricity – or choose another livestock guardian. On the plus side, good fences also protect your stock. 
  • Speaking of digging, LGDs often dig dens to protect themselves against heat or cold. You should provide appropriate shelter for them, which may reduce this need to dig their own.
  • LGDs will bark at night.  This is how they work because this is when predators are most active. Remember that they hear and see better than you. You can help teach your dog about appropriate barking, but if barking will seriously bother you or your neighbors, you need a different livestock guardian.
  • LGDs need dog food instead of forage or hay.  Their food needs to be provided for them in a protected way from weather and other animals. LGDs need regular veterinary care; preventative medications for rabies, heartworm, parasites and other diseases; and a certain amount of grooming, such as clipping claws or tending to long coats.
  • LGDs need to be handled and socialized. You need to be able to leash your dog, medicate it or tend to injuries, and confine it or transport it, if necessary. If this basic care isn’t taken you may find yourself with a very large, uncontrollable dog. Don’t choose a LGD to guard your flock if you are not comfortable working with very large dogs. 
  • LGDs may be aggressive to strangers on your property. This can be a liability.  It is a reason for good fences, educating your neighbors, and a posted sign that say Livestock Guard Dog at Work.
  • LGDs can be very protective of stock.  They will probably need to be confined when veterinarians or sheep shearers are working on their stock. They may not tolerate herding or other farm dogs.
  • LGDs cannot be used along with traps, snares, poisons or other forms of lethal predator control.