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Before You Buy a Livestock Guardian Dog or Puppy

With the increasing use of livestock guardian dogs, we are seeing more inappropriate breeds or crossbred dogs being offered for sale as livestock guardian dogs. If you are not familiar with the recognized breeds of LGDs, you can find the names of the breeds here. Choosing a pup or a dog from one of these breeds or a cross of these breeds, gives you the very best chance of success. LGD breeds were developed through centuries to be perfectly suited to this work and they inherit a set of genetic behaviors and traits. You cannot train another breed to be a LGD. It is important to remember that LGDs are a specific group of breeds, like herding or hunting breed groups, not a job. Other breeds do not possess the specific combination of inherited behaviors and traits that make a dog a LGD, including: a longer period of bonding; low prey drive; nurturing and protective instincts toward their charges; sufficient size to deal with large predators; a coat adapted to living outside; and the independence, self-thinking, and defensive aggression to respond to predators or threats.

Here are some guidelines to help you make a good selection of a LGD pup or adult.

  • Do not adopt a pup under the age of 8 weeks and preferably one closer to 12 weeks old. Research has proven that pups learn important lessons from their littermates on how to interact with other dogs and bite inhibition. Most experienced owners and breeders would advise you to only raise one LGD pup at a time. Working pups do not need a playmate. In fact, two pups can be overly focused on each other instead of you or your stock and will often encourage each other to get in trouble as they pass through their troublesome teens. Littermates are especially problematical. Most experts recommend staggering the ages of your LGDs if possible.

  • Do not select a pup that is small, fine-boned, or has a pointed muzzle. Most LGDs average 20 lbs at 8 weeks of age. At 16 weeks, they should weigh 35-40 pounds. A pup that is significantly smaller probably has some non-LGD in its parentage and will not grow large enough to deal with a predator. Although heartbreaking, do not buy a sickly or undersized puppy because you feel sorry for it. A LGD pup is an investment in protecting your valuable stock and farm. This is not the time for compromise.

  • If you are obtaining an adult LGD, he should weigh 80 to 120 lb or more, depending on the breed. However, also avoid oversized and massive dogs, which may result from crosses with other breeds. LGDs need to be large enough to deal with predator threats, but also fast and agile with great stamina. Some very large, imported dogs were bred for dog fighting or guard dog work, not as livestock guardians. Overly large dogs are also more prone to hip or joint injuries and a reduced lifespan.

  • Do not select an albino dog or a dog lacking dark coloring around the eyes or on the nose. Pink skin on the nose or around the eyes poses a serious risk of sunburn and skin cancers, especially for a full time working LGD. No LGD breeds have pink coloring in those areas.

Several characteristics are likely a result of outside breeding.

Crossbred dogs with herding or hunting breeds generally possess high prey drive – exactly the opposite of a good LGD. Crosses with herding dogs are especially common, since both types of dogs often live together on farms or ranches, but the resultant pups will be too small and too likely to possess strong chasing behaviors. Crosses with other dogs like a Saint Bernard, Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, and others will lack appropriate behaviors as well. Do not take a chance with your valuable stock.

Do not consider a pup or a dog with:

  • Blue eyes or red or blue merle coloring. No LGD breeds have blue eyes or merle coloring. Speckling and freckling of color in white areas is also suspect. These traits indicate another breed in the dog’s parentage – mostly likely a herding breed.

  • Ears that are semi erect, pricked, or set high on the skull like they want to stand up. All LGD breeds have low set, drop ears unless they have been cropped.

  • Straight, thick tails. LGD tails are typically long and often curved, sabre-like, curled, or have a crook at the end. Some breeds may have cropped tails.

  • Very short, single or smooth coats. All LGD breeds (except for the extremely rare Laboreiro) are double-coated.

Whether you are considering a purebred LGD or a LGD x LGD cross, take some time to research the expected appearance, coat, and coloring of the breed or breeds.

Read the standard and look at pictures. Breeds have typical coats, colors, and color patterns. An unusual color, like black or black and tan, can be a good indication of outcrossing in some breeds. The Big White Dogs or BWDs - Great Pyrenees, Akbash, Maremma, Polish Tatra, Kuvasz, Komondor, and crosses of these breeds - are all white colored dogs that may have some lightly colored patches of cream, tan, red, or gray which typically fade as the dog ages. Badger markings or black edging on ears on a Pyrenees are acceptable. A BWD dog should not be colored black and white or resemble a Border Collie.

Concern about LGD color is not just relevant to dog showing or purebred breeding – it is a very helpful tool in determining a dog’s appropriate ancestry. Unusual colors or patterns should always raise a red flag because they suggest that the pup has another breed in its background. Even in breeds that appear in many colors, some colors are not very likely at all. If you have any doubt, seek a second opinion from a breed authority or LGD expert.

When shopping online, remember the good advice – buyer beware. Be especially cautious if the breeder cannot produce any registration, pedigree, or breeder information for a dog that is labeled as a purebred. You should not be asked to pay a purebred price for a dog without documentation.

Keeping these guidelines in mind will help you avoid the pitfalls or potential problems of LGD shopping, and will greatly increase your chances of success.

Thanks to the LGD experts at the Facebook group Learning About LGDs, who are dedicated to provided correct information for both new and experienced owners of livestock guardian dogs.

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