For millennia, graziers in Europe and Asia have kept large guardian dogs to protect livestock and homes from wolves, bears and other predators. These dogs have been bred to behave very differently from typical sheep and cattle dogs. When properly bonded to livestock, guardians consider them not adversaries or prey, but respected companions with whom they live – a little like the relationship domestic dogs can sometimes have with other (non-canine) household pets. Guardian dogs are very protective of ‘their’ livestock, and the livestock in turn recognise and respond to that protection.
The dogs control predators not by killing but through signalling: scent marking their territory and vocal warnings. Like most animal rivals, dingoes, foxes, roaming domestic dogs prefer to avoid direct conflict and mostly go elsewhere. Should they persist, the guardians respond with aggressive posturing and finally will attack to protect their flock/herd. During an attack, the livestock don’t run from predators – a strong stimulus for predator chase and kill behaviours – instead, they gather behind the dogs who keep them safe.
Australian graziers are getting good results with guardian dogs when used correctly, from small holdings to large outback stations. They vigorously repel not only predators, but also kangaroos, feral deer and other animals. With sheep, the dogs pay for themselves within a year by reducing losses, other livestock can take up to three years. They lessen the need for lethal controls yet do not push the predators into neighbouring areas. Grazing competition is reduced and livestock feel safer, wandering more freely to graze.
Australian graziers are commonly biased against livestock guard dogs, perhaps from their haphazard introduction to Australia, lack of government support and the difficulty of believing guardian dogs can live permanently with the livestock and not harass and harm them as most dogs do. This bias is regrettable and has no basis in fact. As long as there are enough dogs for the property situation (terrain, livestock type and numbers, vegetation, predator type and numbers, etc.), they are one of the most effective predator control methods we have in this country. They have found common acceptance in the USA, Canadaand of course in traditional guardian dog regions. However, a grazier must be committed long term to their implementation, just as he/she must be committed long term to training and caring for traditional sheep and cattle dogs.
For successful application, graziers must strictly follow training and handling guidelines – they are dogs after all, not machines, and need careful guidance to properly grow into their role. To note: only use dogs from purebred guardian dog working stock; they should be correctly trained, desexed, deployed in appropriate numbers, and not be treated as pets. After training and once they have matured, guardian dogs work independently, living with the livestock and protecting them around the clock. They provide peace of mind for both the stock and also for their owners.
For more info see:
Guardian Dogs – Best Practice Manual for the use of Livestock Guardian Dogs from the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre
Livestock Guarding Dogs – Protecting Sheep from Predators from U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Other livestock guardian case studies
Candll Lamb and Cattle Co. (Canada)
Located near the town of Debden, two hours north of Saskatoon, in Canada, the Lockharts run a flock of 500 Canadian Arcott, Rideau Arcott, and Romanov ewes alongside 1000 custom cow/calf pairs, and their own herd of 550 moderate sized black angus and speckle park cows. Their animal and land management strategy encourages biodiversity, and this includes using a variety of Livestock Guardian dogs to manage predation. Predators that hunt traditional prey and learn to avoid livestock can co-exist. Coyotes and wolves teach their offspring hunting habits. One that kills livestock must be eliminated before the problem grows. Problem predators are killed by their livetock guardian dogs. However, predators that learn to avoid livestock also pass on this behaviour and the population of “trained” predators continues.
They’ve learned that preventing stock losses with LGD’s requires two things: the right type of dogs and the right number of dogs. A pack of several breeds has proven the most effective. Visit their website to learn more.
‘Using Coyotes to Protect Livestock. Wait. What?‘ Oregon State University
Livestock losses are an unfortunate reality of ranching and the use of traps and snares is a common way to attempt to reduce predator-livestock conflict. However, one USDA study (Shivik et al. 2003) noted that for many types of predators, there is a paradoxical relationship between the number of predators removed and the number of livestock killed. Surprisingly, these researchers found that as more predators were removed, more livestock were killed.
Similarly, in a 14-year USDA study at the University of California Hopland Research and Extension Center (Conner et al. 1998), researchers found that trapping of coyotes did not reduce sheep losses. In fact, scientists found that as trappers worked more hours, more lambs were killed by predators. The unexpected results in these studies can be explained by the reproductive strategy and territorial behavior of highly social predators like the coyote. Visit their website to read the full article.
LH image copyright to Randy Comeleo, RH image copyright to Louise Liebenberg