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.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What is a Breed and Why Does it Matter? by D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM

I'm re-posting this wonderful article here because it seems to have disappeared from the web. Written nearly twenty years ago, this is still an excellent discussion of livestock guard dog breeds. This article and personal discussions with Dr. Sponenberg have been important in my own research and writing.

Dr Sponenberg is a professor of genetics at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, author of numerous books and articles on genetics and livestock preservation, and serves as the Technical Director of the Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

D. Phillip Sponenberg, DVM, PhD Professor, pathology and genetics
Technical director, American Livestock Breeds Conservancy 
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
Virginia Tech 
Blacksburg, VA 24061 

This article is a set of thoughts that I have been pondering for the last few years, concerning breeds, livestock guard dogs, and the interaction of those two subjects. My usual sphere of activity is with conservation of livestock genetic resources, and dogs differ from this in many regards. At the same time, though, the issues of breeds and breed conservation of dogs have many features in common with those of livestock. This article is going to wander a bit, and then will come back and hopefully tie all the loose ends into some sort of neat package. 

The development of all species of domesticated animals first arose as a partnership of humans with the species in question. In no case has this partnership been closer than has that of dogs and humans. Soon after domestication it was easily appreciated that not all dogs had equal talent for all tasks. As human endeavors became more complex, dogs were selected to be specialists for various tasks. This is basically the process of breed development, with profound consequences for the breeding of dogs or any other species. The important concept, at least in early stages of breed development, is that function guides the process, and external form simply follows along however it can. 

A breed can basically be viewed as a predictable genetic package. To be useful, breeds need to be predictable. That is the way that they can fit certain niches with a high degree of success. This matching of a breed to a niche is something that has largely gone from purebred dog breeding as dogs have moved from being essential partners in performing tasks, to becoming companions and companions alone. As the functional abilities of dogs have diminished in importance for human endeavors, so has the emphasis on these in breeding programs. As a result, the predictability of dog breeds for specific tasks is something that is generally underappreciated by the general dog owning, or even dog breeding, public. 

Breed development usually follows a fairly consistent pathway. The first stage of the development of most breeds is that people simply use what is locally available and adapt it to the task at hand. The resulting breed is therefore shaped by what is locally available (the founder effect), and the subsequent selection of this to suit a specific task. Since the goal of such breeding is function, the animals within the group are usually somewhat variable as to looks, but reasonably consistent as to function. This type of population is best termed a "landrace", which basically means a local or regional breed simply springing up and becoming uniform by virtue of local selection for a specific purpose. Any external consistency is a spinoff from a combination of founder effect or human selection for function. Border Collies are a reasonably good example of a landrace of dogs- they are consistent in behaviour (the key element of selection), and most of them are visually similar enough to be recognized as Border Collies. However, variation does persist and some Border Collies by heritage, pedigree, and behaviour are not all that easily recognized, even though they are still genetically predictable for the essential component of the breed (in this example, behaviour). 

The next stage of breed development is that of standardization. Standardization can occur through two main routes. One of these is local or regional, and more or less can be viewed as standardization "from within" as the breed is made more uniform but in its original niche. The other, aptly termed "gentrification", was coined by David and Judy Nelson, who neatly summed up this important process in a single word. Gentrification occurs when the landrace is taken out of its original site and then standardized remote from its original niche. This is standardization "from without". Either mechanism can result in a functional, predictable breed. Gentrification does have a certain inherent risk, though, in that removal of animals from the original niche can impose changes in the breed that deviate from the original purpose. 

Landraces occur as populations by accidents of history (founders) and selection, and geographic isolation. Standardized breeds take that isolation a step further by specifically only allowing breeding within the group, and also limit variability by deciding on a range of variation that is acceptable. The result is that the breed becomes much more visually uniform. The level of uniformity varies from breed to breed as the breeders' associations decide what to include and what to exclude. For example, the occasional brindle or black and tan Labrador Retriever shows up in a litter, but is excluded from the breed which only allows black, chocolate, or yellow. Golden Retrievers are even more restricted, while something like the Cocker Spaniel is allowed to have more variation for color. The important issue is that the range of variation in a standardized breed is arbitrarily narrowed by the breeders, and really may not reflect the original state of the population when it was simply functioning as a landrace. 

Gentrification has been an important refiner and definer of many livestock guardian dogs. When a breed is removed from its orginal location it is easy for the selection philosophy that guides its development to likewise vary. This poses a threat to many dog breeds, but especially to the livestock guardians whose task and ability are based on thinking patterns and not on external type. One way these breeds can change is simply selection for size. Most are large to begin with, and larger dogs are more impressive to the eye. At some point, though, bigger is not better and the moderate dog is more likely to succeed for years of hard use than is the oversized dog. This depends on breed, but breed differences for size are important and need to be fostered to maintain distinctive and useful breeds. The Spanish Pyrenean Mastiff, for example, has gone in this century from a somewhat plain, moderately sized, somewhat flat coated dog to a huge, huge impressive fluffy dog. For hard guardian work this change may not be beneficial. Especially if the change comes from crossbreeding, the dogs are also changed. Some Russian Ovcharkas may have increased size from outcrosses to St Bernards and other nonlivestock giants - the result being impressive dogs, but not reliable guardians. The confusion of large size with inherent guardian ability is a very real threat to the livestock guardian breeds. 
Some breeds are deliberately and somewhat artifially created, and circumvent the landrace stage. Such breeds are arbitrarily developed as standardized breeds from the outset. Doberman Pinschers are one example of such a deliberately standardized breed. These breeds can be expected to have even less variation that the breeds that were standardized from landraces. Few if any livestock guardian breeds fit into this type of breed, since most are regional breeds that spring from a given geographic area. 
The process of standardization, including gentrification, may or may not matter biologically, depending what was left behind in the process of standardization. It likewise may or may not matter politically, since each breed has a specific heritage. The important issue in breeding and maintenance of breeds is to be consistent with the heritage, so that the breed can continue in harmony with its heritage. Breeds do not pop out of the heavens fully formed - each one has a heritage. Selection for consistency with heritage is especially critical for breeds that still have functions to perform, since ignoring the historical function can result in eventual inability for the dog to perform. This is critically important in breeds such as herding dogs or livestock guard dogs, or bird dogs. It may be less critical in Irish Wolfhounds (no more Irish wolves, basically), or in dogs historically used for fighting one another, or various other tasks that seem to have largely gone by the wayside. In such cases of obsolete (or hopefully obsolete) function, perhaps it is logical for breeders to opt for selection for companion animals in a sound, safe, visually pleasing package. Nothing wrong with that - as long as critical functions are not being compromised in those breeds for which such functions are important. 

The question with livestock guard dogs is basically what sort of form does this genetic resource take? How is the genetic resource organized, and how should breeders breed and select dogs within the general framework of livestock guard dogs? 

One basic question is the issue of breeds - what are they and how many do we need? This gets to be an issue of lumping versus splitting. In livestock breed conservation the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is generally guided by the principle that it is best and reasonable to split if each subsequent population has a good chance of continued existence, selection, and function. Lumping makes the most sense when populations are related, similar, and unlikely to survive as separate populations. In each case the issue of lumping versus splitting can be tricky. One basic guideline is whether or not two populations are more like one another than any other genetic resource, and whether they can be expected to be vital and viable if split. Put another way, split when you can, lump when you must. Geographic origin and selection history are more important in this excercise than are external similarities, a point which is easily missed especially with the large, white guardian dog breeds. 

Livestock guardian dogs are a fascinating genetic resource of great value and utility, and safeguarding them as breeds is of vital concern to dog breeders as well as agriculturalists. Having these as predictable genetic packages is essential to a host of livestock owners. Livestock guardian dogs need to be consistent and predictable in order for the livestock industry to have rational choices for different situations. Different dogs are needed for different situations, and this is where breeds and breeders come in. No one breed can do it all - if that is the case then the predictability has been replaced by variability and picking a dog gets more difficult. This is not to deny that the variation within a breed can be nearly as great or greater than the variation between these breeds, but it is to state that predictability and "subspecialization" within the general livestock guardian dog breed group is a good thing, and should be encouraged rather than discouraged. 
One characteristic of these dogs is that they occupy somewhat neighboring ranges throughout a huge geographic area. Each geographic area can be expected to fine tune this resource to what was needed, and to what worked. This seems to have resulted in a number of related but distinct gene pools, from the Pyrenean Mastiff of Spain (spotted) to the white breeds (Great Pyrenees, Maremmas-Abruzzese, Kuvaz, Komondor, Polish, Russian, Akbash), colored breeds (Kangal, Kars, Shar Planinetz, Tibetan, Central Asian Owcharek). 

Questions for breeders working with these breeds include some idea of the original range of variation before standardization. What is amazing from a breed development standpoint is the relative consistency of type and visual appearance among these breeds. Many are white, which seems to have been imposed on these breeds at a very early stage of development. White guardian dogs were already well known in Roman times. This is largely due to deep seated conviction that such guardians stand in stark contrast to colored predators, and make keeping track of friend or foe an easier task for the shepherd. Equally important to some cultures is that white dogs blend into white flocks. In most regions white dogs also stand out against the landscape, again contributing to ease of detection. 

Against the obviously widely held preference for white dogs stand the colored breeds. These occur throughout the range of livestock guardian breeds as exceptions to the general rule of whiteness. The reasoning behind these being allowed to be variable for color would be an interesting study, of only because the preference for white appears to be so ancient and so firmly held. 

Breeders of livestock guard dogs are doing a great service for the livestock industry - if their charges remain faithful to the original purpose for which they were originally developed. The breeders' work and how they do it is essential. Since the breeds appear to have different propensities for behaviors critical to guarding livestock it is important to maintain these so that livestock owner can have choices peculiar to their situations. Making all of these breeds similar is to deny livestock owners choices that they need. Small flock owners in suburban (or subrural) areas have very different needs than range flock owners. Different dogs will be needed in each situation. This is an especially critical factor when considering "outlier" breeds that do not fit the usual livestock guard dog model: Kangal, Kars, Castro Laboreiro. These, and no doubt other, breeds need to be developed as their own unique gene pools and not crammed into the usual model. 

The challenge to all breeders of livestock guardian dogs is to reflect on the character and origin of their breed. This will guide the future development and selection of the breed, hopefully to retain its unique characters. The uniqueness and predictability of all of these breeds can then effectively serve livestock owners as they search for a practical solution to flock and herd safety under a wide range of conditions.

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.