Saturday, April 29, 2006

Working Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs)

Dogs have been used to protect livestock as long as people have been raising sheep and goats. Livestock Guardian Dogs live with and protect their charges, instead of herding them like Border Collies, Shelties, Corgies, and other herding breeds. They are large dogs, independent, and have definite minds of their own.

Traditionally, LGDs worked in conjunction with shepherds as flocks ate their way through the landscape. The use of dogs as flock guardians had dwindled by WWII, and after the war it was rare to see working guardians in Europe.

In the 1970s the USDA started experimenting with LGDs to prevent coyote predation of sheep, the Coppingers did research at Hampshire college, and several dedicated Great Pyrenees breeders started placing dogs into working situations, and learned how to support the livestock producers who took on their puppies.

The role of the working LGD in the United States is quite different from their historic roles. They and their charges are usually kept in fenced pastures without a constant human shepherd for backup. LGDs are used to guard a wide variety of animals - sheep, goats, llamas, poultry, and pretty much any critters that need protecting against predators. The predators are most often coyotes and loose dogs, although cougar, bear and even wolves threaten the more remote farms.

Of course, even those dogs kept as companions work. They protect their homes and people, and any other animals within their domain. This means they bark a lot. They make their own decisions, which means they are stubborn and tend to go deaf when what they hear isn't what they want to do. They don't take well to strangers on their territory. Wonderful dogs, but not for everyone.

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