So we hear these questions nearly every day on LGD forums and Facebook pages and they go something like this - Can I use a Great Dane as a LGD? Or a St. Bernard? How about a heeler and Golden crossbred? My neighbor has some great pups that are a cross between a Great Pyrenees and an Aussie, so would they make a good LGD? How do I train my German shepherd to be a livestock guard dog? We also see lots of dogs advertised as LGDs – but they aren’t.
Livestock guard dogs or LGDs are a group of similar dog breeds just like herding dogs or hunting dogs belong in their own groups. Being a LGD is not a job you can train any other breed to perform. Developed over centuries by working shepherds, livestock guard dog breeds possess a specific set of qualities and behaviors that make them excel at this very special work.
Other breeds are used in different countries and may occasionally be found here as well. Nothing else is truly a livestock guard dog.
This is what is crucially important to remember – the livestock guard dog breeds have been selected for a very low or non-existent prey drive, a longer period of social bonding than many other breeds, and a physical appearance that suggests “friend.” They have also been selected for the essential traits of attentiveness, trustworthiness, and protection of their stock. When a good LGD is aggressive with outsiders or predators, it is not hunting for prey but protecting its pack mates, which might be sheep or goats. Neither are they are protecting themselves when they attack or chase a large predator – they are protecting their stock. LGDs also possess instinctual responses to first warn off threats rather than immediately attack. Successful owners take these natural LGD behaviors and carefully monitor and develop them as their pup grows. These inborn traits can be so strong that some adult LGDs, who were never socialized with stock as puppies, will still make outstanding guardians – because of the strong and correct instinctual behaviors they possess.
Due to their size and appearance, members of the public sometimes confuse LGDs with protection breed dogs. However, many LGD breeds have been tested by police, military and Schutzhund trainers, who have repeatedly found them unsuitable because of their important lack of strong predatory behaviors. Conversely, this is why protection breeds do not make good LGDs – they have a strong predatory instinct.
The inherited LGD traits are the reason why you can’t take a Lab or a Border collie or another non-LGD breed and easily train it to behave properly as a livestock guard. The prey or chase drives in many breeds are just too high to make them reliable guardians. Some breeds are excellent watchdogs but lack the nurturing instincts a LGD exhibits towards its charges. Other breeds lack the size or the coat to work outside in difficult weather. Still others do not possess the size, agility, or sense of responsibility to take on serious predators. These are also the reasons that crosses with a LGD and a non-LGD breed are just not reliable as working livestock guardians. Many breeds make great all round farm dogs, but they should not be trusted or expected to live reliably with stock 24 hours a day.
If you are looking for a real livestock guard dog, which possesses ALL of these valuable traits, choose one of the recognized breeds or a cross between two LGD breeds. There is no better guardian of your flock or herd.