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Livestock protection

Examples of some typical breeds in this group: Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Maremma Sheepdog, Anatolian Shepherd Dog, Komondor

Your dog is this type if he:

Is quite independent and likes to lie by the doors and exits of your house while staying near the family to watch over them. He doesn’t have much desire to run or chase, nor is he keen on playing with toys or retrieving balls for very long. He may enjoy chewing, but probably prefers to do so undisturbed and away from the family. He is large and powerful, and usually has a thick double or corded coat to protect against the elements; on hot days, he may seem rather lethargic and prefer to lie in the shade rather than move around very much.

Exercise and play

Originally bred to protect livestock all year round,  protection dogs love the great outdoors and will quite happily venture out to the most exposed locations even in the harshest conditions. Cold and wet weather will not deter them from wanting to be outside, whether to to patrol the garden or simply lie about watching the world go by.

They have a great deal of stamina and enjoy going on long walks with their owners, especially when they are younger. In between walks, they are quite content to spend the day ambling around the garden and snoozing, yet always stay receptive  to their environment and the location of the family ‘flock’.

Livestock Protection Dogs need space, and so the larger your garden, the better. If they are confined to too small a space and become bored, they may start digging and even trying to scale or chew through fences to escape. Smallholdings make ideal homes for Livestock Protection Dogs,  as they allow them to perform the tasks they were bred for and to safely roam around the property without the worry of them disturbing neighbours or barking at approaching strangers.

Independent play

Livestock Protection Dogs are naturally independent, having been bred to stay out protecting livestock from predators and thieves in usually remote or mountainous areas. Unlike Livestock Herding breeds such as Collies, who work closely with a handler, Livestock Protection Dogs were often left out in sole charge of their flocks, therefore they are usually quite content to amuse themselves and remain calm when alone in the home.

Many types of working Livestock Protection Dog traditionally had to find their own food during the day, hunting small prey and scavenging where they could, and were supplemented with sheep’s milk and cheese by their shepherds. Leaving some strong, safe treat-filled toys for your dog to find in the garden and during ‘home patrols’ is a good way of adding some variety to his day, and rather similar to the tasks he would have to do as a ‘working dog’. Once found, removing the treats from the toys will stimulate his problem-solving skills and exercise his physical dexterity.

Playing with you

Given their more independent nature, Livestock Protection Dogs do not need as much direct playtime with their owners as other dog types, but that’s not to say that he doesn’t need any at all. When he’s a puppy, it is important that the entire family play with and train him so that he forms a strong attachment to all family members. As he matures, don’t be surprised if he becomes a little less playful and less interested in chasing after balls and toys.

A young or active dog might enjoy a game of hide and seek with one member of his family ‘flock’. If you have two or more Livestock Protection Dogs, they might well play chase games together , particularly when they are young.

Emotional bonding

Livestock Protection Dogs form close bonds with their family from an early age and are naturally protective of them; however, they are not always very demonstrative. Your dog may not show his love and devotion for you as other dog types might by wagging his tail and fetching your slippers, but he will show it in his own way, for example by being alert to any noise and protecting you from potential danger. While they are part of the family,  they usually prefer to watch more independently from the sidelines to  ensure that everyone is safe and protected, rather than being at the very centre of family activity.

Thorough socialisation from an early age is especially crucial for these dogs, as they have natural guarding instincts and a suspicion of unfamiliar people and animals. This, coupled with their size and strength, means that it is particularly important to ensure they are safe and content around both other people and other animals. Basic obedience training, particularly recall, is important for off-lead walks in case you encounter anything unusual or seemingly threatening to your dog.

Provide several comfortable beds or resting mats for your dog in strategic places around the home and garden, ideally in locations where he can keep an eye on entrances, gates, doorways and people.

Livestock Protection Dogs are usually quite vocal and, when working as guards, will bark loudly and impressively to ward off potential predators and threats. In modern pet homes, they are just as likely to bark at someone walking past your house, which might make them less well-suited to living in built-up areas or in places where there are many close neighbours. Inside the home,  it helps to train your dog to be quiet after giving his initial warning bark. If you teach your dog to bark on request, and encourage him to do so at certain times and under specific conditions, it will mean that he can enjoy  a good bark at a time when it’s convenient for you both, such as when outside on a walk. Teaching him to start and stop barking means that you can quieten him more easily when he barks at an inappropriate time. To read more about training, click here

If you need to leave your dog at home alone, make sure he has been exercised beforehand and has something to do to prevent him from becoming restless;  boredom can lead to destructive behaviour, barking, or attempts to escape by scratching or biting at doors etc. When left with a treat-filled toy in a room or kennel, he is more than likely to snooze for a couple of hours.

Livestock Protection Dogs will generally accept whatever family they grow up with – including cats, other dogs, livestock etc. They tend to be intolerant of outsiders though, and are likely to chase any neighbourhood cats that stray into ‘their’ garden, which is another reason why teaching recall at a young age is vitally important.

Nutrition

Many dogs within this group developed as working animals, and so  had to be very resilient and capable of fending for themselves when necessary - hunting rabbits and other small prey and scavenging where they could to survive. Being inventive with how you deliver his daily food allowance will appeal to his foraging instincts and keep him far better occupied than just presenting his food in a bowl twice a day.

Scatter a third of his daily dry food allowance as widely as possible on the lawn so he has to take his time to sniff it out, and hide another third in food-dispensing toys or empty cereal boxes for him to  discover outside. The remaining third can be split into two meals, presented in a bowl morning and evening, so that your dog will always continue to see you as a ‘parental’ food provider.

If feeding wet food, use other more convenient treats as rewards when training, but be careful to include them when calculating his daily food requirements. He should be fed at least 2 meals per day;  the main meal comprising one half of his allowance with the other half split up into 4-5 smaller portions and hidden in widely spaced locations for him to actively seek out. Remember to ensure that all your bins are secured with heavy or lockable lids so that your dog doesn’t manage to break in and help himself to any scraps.

As long as you are following daily feeding guidelines (see dog food packaging) overall each day and monitoring your dog’s weight to keep him in ideal body condition [link to body condition video], don’t worry if the resulting amount you put in his bowl looks small, and certainly don’t add more. Provided he has had his daily food allocation and you are feeding a complete diet, he will have all the nutrients and energy he needs to help him stay happy and healthy.

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