Livestock protection dogs and their care
Examples of some typical breeds in this group include:
- Pyrenean Mountain Dogs
- Maremma Sheepdogs
- Anatolian Shepherd Dogs
Your dog is a Livestock Protection dog if they:
Are quite independent and like to lie by the doors and exits of your house while staying near the family to watch over you. They don’t have much desire to run or chase, nor are they keen on playing with toys or retrieving balls for a long time. Your dog may enjoy chewing, but probably prefers to do so undisturbed and away from the family, enjoying the treat all by themselves. If you have a Livestock Protection dog, they are large and powerful, and usually have a thick double or corded coat to protect against the elements! On hot days, your dog may seem rather sleepy and prefer to lie in the shade rather than move around very much.
Exercise and play
Your Livestock dog’s exercise needs are based on their interesting origin as a ‘farm dog’. Livestock dogs were 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, which means the winter is no problem for them! Cold and wet weather will not deter your canine companion from wanting to be outside, whether to patrol the garden or simply lie about watching the world go by.
Your Livestock dog has a great deal of stamina and enjoys going on long walks with you, especially when they are younger. In between walks, your dog will quite often be content to spend the day ambling around the garden and snoozing, but don’t be fooled – they’ll always stay receptive to their environment and the location of the family ‘flock’.
Livestock Protection dogs are happiest when they have a lot of space, so the larger your garden, the better. If your dog is confined to too small a space and becomes 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 this allows them to perform the tasks they were bred for as working dogs, and to safely roam around the property without the worry of them disturbing neighbours or barking at approaching strangers – no matter how helpful they think they’re being!
Your Livestock Protection dog is naturally independent, having been bred to stay out protecting livestock from predators and thieves in remote or mountainous areas. Unlike Livestock Herding breeds such as Collies, which work closely with a handler, Livestock Protection dogs were often left out in sole charge of their flocks. This is why your dog is usually quite content to amuse themselves and remain calm when alone in the home – it’s quite a responsibility they had!
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. This was supplemented with sheep’s milk and cheese by their shepherds. So how can you satisfy your dog’s need in a similar way?
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 their day, and this is rather similar to the tasks they would have to do as a ‘working dog’. Once found, removing the treats from the toys will stimulate their problem-solving skills and exercise their physical dexterity. Because of their laid back temperament and how happy they are to keep themselves amused, you might say that Livestock Protection dogs are some of the calmest dog breeds around!
Playing with your Livestock Protection dog
As your Livestock Protection dog has a naturally independent nature, they don’t need as much direct playtime with you as other dog types, but that’s not to say they don’t enjoy a bit of fun! When your dog is a puppy, your whole family should play with and train them, helping your dog form a strong attachment with everyone. As they mature, your dog might become a little less playful – don’t worry, as this isn’t unusual.
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 – this is a lot of fun for them, and it’s great to watch them play, too!
Livestock Protection dogs form close bonds with their family from an early age and are naturally protective of them; you’ll always know they’re there for you. Don’t be upset, though, if their affection isn’t easy to see. Unlike many other dogs, Livestock protection dogs don’t show as much love and devotion by wagging their tails and fetching slippers. Instead, they show it in their own way – for example, by being alert to any noise and protecting you from potential danger. This is because they have traditionally been used as ‘farm dogs’, and like to keep a look out for danger! While they are part of the family, they usually prefer to watch more independently from the side lines to ensure that everyone is safe and protected, rather than being at the very centre of family activity.
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 dog training
As they have great natural guarding instincts and might be wary of unfamiliar people and animals, thorough socialisation from an early age is an especially important aspect of livestock protection dog training. This, coupled with their size and strength, means that it is particularly important to ensure your dog is 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. You might know something isn’t dangerous, but your loyal dog automatically wants to leap into action!
Livestock Protection Dogs are usually quite vocal and, when working as guards, will bark loudly and impressively to ward off potential predators and threats - which is why they are good farm dog breeds. In modern homes as pets, 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. For livestock protection dog training inside the home, it helps to train your dog to be quiet after giving their 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 they can enjoy a good bark at a time when it’s convenient for you both, such outside on a walk. Teaching your friend to start and stop barking means that you can quieten them more easily when they bark at an inappropriate time. Read more about training your dog to bark at a time that’s good for both of you.
If your dog is staying home alone for a little bit, make sure they have been exercised beforehand and have something to do to prevent them from becoming restless. Boredom can lead to your dog finding their own entertaining – this might be destructive behaviour, barking, or attempts to escape by scratching or biting at doors. When left with a treat-filled toy in a room or kennel, they are more than likely to snooze for a couple of hours, staying well out of trouble.
Livestock protection dogs will generally accept whatever family they grow up with – including cats, other dogs, and livestock. 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 important.
Livestock Protection dog nutrition
Many dogs within this group developed as working dog breeds, so they had to be very resilient and capable of fending for themselves when necessary – for example, by hunting rabbits and other small prey, or scavenging where they could to survive. Being inventive with how you deliver your dog’s daily food allowance will appeal to their foraging instincts, and will keep them far more occupied than if you just presented their food to them in a bowl twice a day!
Scatter a third of your dog’s daily dry food allowance as widely as possible on the lawn so they can have fun sniffing it out, and hide another third in food-dispensing toys or empty cereal boxes for them 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 your Livestock Protections dog wet food, use other more convenient treats as rewards when training, but be careful to include them when calculating their daily food requirements. Your dog should be fed at least two meals per day; the main meal should be made up of 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 – it might seem like a good idea to them at the time, but it could easily make them poorly.
To keep your dog healthy, simply follow the feeding guidelines on your dog food packaging. If, after scattering their food for them to find, they rest of the portion looks small there’s no need to worry. If your dog has all their daily food allocation and a complete diet, they’ll have all the nutrients they need to keep them satisfied and in top body condition.
So to keep your special livestock protection dog happy, all you have to do is think about their particular needs – and when these are satisfied, you’ll no doubt have a happy, loving and highly enjoyable companion no matter where life takes you!