Finding the Perfect K9 for Your Farm
A Livestock Guardian Dog is the perfect dog for anyone who lives on a farm, has livestock and may need protection for the livestock or themselves.
As the rusted out minivan I didn’t recognize came pulling down my long secluded driveway, I didn’t pay much attention to who it might be. I was on the phone doing an interview for a magazine article. Very quickly my attention turned from the interview to the guy in the van. I didn’t answer the door when he first knocked because I was doing the interview. When no one answered, he knocked on all my doors. When he thought he was all alone, he headed for my work shop to steal tools. As he walked in my shop, I told the person I was interviewing I had to go…
I stepped out on my deck and yelled at the guy; he quickly ran to his van muttering something trying to prove his innocence and sped off. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last time I had unwelcome guests. Since my house is secluded, I think many people believe it is an easy target. After several more uncomfortable situations, I decided I needed a guard dog.
The problem is I also have livestock. The last thing I wanted was a guard dog that preferred fresh chicken or lamb chops to dog food. I needed a dog that wouldn’t bother the livestock. I wanted a dog that wouldn’t eat livestock but rather protect them from coyotes. Yodel dogs are often on the edges of my fields and I didn’t want them coming any closer. I needed a dog that truly was a guard dog. I didn’t want a dog that barks but with a little baby talk is putty in anyone’s hands.
A Livestock Dog is the Perfect K9 for the Farmer
After doing a little research, I found the dog I was looking for. I purchased a Komondor which is one of the many Livestock Guardian Breeds. For hundreds of years, livestock guardian dogs have been popular in other countries. Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD) are known for killing wolves and coyotes who attempt to take sheep or other livestock from a pasture. However, these large dogs haven’t been extremely popular in the states until the last few decades. A Livestock Guardian Dog is the perfect dog for anyone who lives on a farm, has livestock and may need protection for the livestock or themselves. Robyn Poyner from Missouri says she can’t put a price tag on her dogs’ value. Poyner owns Poyner Goat Company. She said, “before I had livestock guardian dogs, I was losing one or two goats a week to the two-legged predator (people). After I purchased a dog, I haven’t lost a goat since.”
My story is similar to Poyners’. From the moment I bought my Komondor, we have had fewer problems with people pulling down our driveway and I haven’t lost an animal to predators. I have goats, chickens, sheep and rabbits. Most of my animals wander around all day without fencing and my dog has kept them safe. Meanwhile, a friend down the road has lost numerous chickens and his are kept in a fenced in area. If you want to reduce your animal losses, get a LGD; it is that simple.
Finding the Right Breed
Finding the right breeder isn’t as simple. “Many of people who breed LGD’s breed them for show and although a show quality dog might look nice, not all of them have the guarding instinct in them,” Poyner said. “My dogs are around my goat kids from the moment they are born and protect them from everything including other dogs and people. People who want a LGD to be protective of livestock should do some research and buy a dog from a breeder who breeds the dogs as guardians.”
My Komondor was purchased from Melport Meadows in Wisconsin. Lisa Anderson and her husband own the farm and breed Komondors and Great Pyrenees. Their puppies are born and raised in a barn so the farm animals are part of the dogs’ family. “Our dogs spent a lot of time with livestock and so do their puppies. When the puppies go to new homes, they are used to being around chickens and other livestock which is very important,” said Anderson.
Training the Dog
Training a LGD, like training any dog, is extremely important if you want a dog that will guard you and livestock. I have had puppies that kinda jump at chickens or other animals when I first get them,” said Poyner. “When people see this, they think it is cute. It may look cute but I quickly stop this behavior because as the dog ages, it will start to chase animals and you can’t have that if you want a dog to protect livestock.”
Teach Them Who is the Boss
The blessing and the curse of LGD’s is they are extremely intelligent. I have had many dogs over the years and I can honestly say my Komondor is probably the smartest. With intelligence comes some challenges. “From the time a person brings home a LGD, the puppy needs to learn who is in charge and what the boundaries are,” Poyner said. “They also need to learn the boundaries of the farm. LGD’s like to wander so if you want to keep them contained, a good fence is needed.” Like all dogs, every LGD is different. Some will stay put on a farm; others may have a tendency to wander. Training is absolutely necessary if you want a dog that will stay where you want it to.
A Breed for Every Lifestyle
There are thirty breeds of LGD’s and finding the right one for you can be difficult. The most popular LGD in America is the Great Pyrenees. The problem is this breed might not be the best breed for serious farmers and people who need a guard dog. “There are some good Great Pyrenees breeders out there who breed the dogs to be guardian dogs but many of them don’t have the protective instinct in them anymore,” said Poyner.
Because LGD’s are so intelligent, they have a keen sense for what is going on around them and who they can trust. When my kids are out with my dogs, my Komondor is never more than ten feet from them. The flip side is you really have to keep an eye on them when strangers come over. “One time my brother came over and went into the pasture when I was not here. When he picked up a kid goat, one of my dogs knocked him down. When he tried again, the same thing happened. The dog didn’t bite him; it was just warning him to leave the goats alone. I have had situations where the outcome was much more severe. Once I was walking through my pasture and noticed a shredded pair of jeans and a pair of sandals. Clearly someone was trying to steal a goat and one of the dogs intervened,” Poyner explained.
Purchase an Intimidating Dog
The nice things about LGD’s is in most cases intervention isn’t necessary. “When picking out a LGD breed, I suggest people get one that is intimidating looking so when a stranger approaches, just the sight of the dog makes them think twice about trying to do something they shouldn’t,” Poyner added. Most LGD breeds weigh more than 100 pounds and are extremely tall. My Komondor has cord like hair that makes her appear mean. Many people who enter my driveway refuse to get out when they see her. The bark of most LGD breeds is very loud and deep which is very intimidating.
Will Your Dog Be a Pet
One tough decision all LGD owners are faced with is will the dog be a livestock dog to a pet. My Komondor visits the barn daily, rubs noses with my dairy goats often, walks the perimeter of our land when I allow it but for the most part, she is a guardian of my family. That is what I chose. I only have a few livestock that I breed and keep for our freezer so I don’t need several dogs that guard my critters twenty-four hours a day. Many farmers choose to have the dogs protect livestock around the clock. “If someone wants a dog to truly bond with the livestock and treat the livestock like family and protect them like family, the dogs should live with the animals full-time,” said Anderson. Poyner echoes the same thing. “We have nine LGD’s and most of them spend most of their time with my goats.” We have a dog or two that comes inside but for the most part, they are guarding animals.”
I believe I have the best of both worlds. My Komondor sits on our back deck most of the time. From here she can protect the house but she can also keep an eye on the landscape. She can see the chickens, goats and the sheep and if anything looks out of place, if anything makes a weird noise, if anything tries to sneak into the yard, we know about it regardless if it is one in the afternoon or one in the morning. It is important to note we don’t lose very many crops to deer since we got our dog. She doesn’t let the deer in the yard!
A LGD isn’t for everyone. They are large and intelligent. Those two things can create some problems but if you have room for the dog to roam, have the time to train it and no longer want to lose livestock or your tools, a LGD might be for you.
Sidebar 1 – Rescue Dog
Because LGD’s are so large and protective, people who purchase them sometimes realize (which is what happened with my dog) that they are too much for them to handle. Poyner has also purchased rescue dogs. They can be a fraction of the cost of a puppy; in some cases already trained and they make great companions or livestock guardians. If you would like to give a rescued dog a second chance, get online and start searching for rescue dogs that are the breed you are looking for. My rescue dog is worth her weight in gold. She protects everything that is important to me.
Sidebar 2 – Crime and Dogs
The man who tried to steal my tools was eventually caught. Over the course of several months, I talked to a local detective who had been dealing with burglary most of his career. I asked him about alarm system, having guns and having a big dog. According to him and the burglars he has interviewed over the years, a dog is the greatest crime deterrent. His exact words were, “A dog is a wild card most burglars don’t want to deal with.”
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