Preserving the Essential Traits and Behaviors of Livestock Guardian Dogs
Kangal Dogs belong to the larger group of LGDs or livestock guardian dogs. As long time owners and board officers of the Kangal Dog Club of America, we are concerned by the changing situations in the homeland of our dogs. Unfortunately, these observations are valid for livestock guardian breeds in several other geographical areas, as well.
Developed over many centuries by working shepherds, livestock guardian dogs possess a specific set of qualities and behaviors that allow them to excel at this very special job. They are responsive and friendly to their owners as well as nurturing and protective to their charges. Many livestock guard dogs are highly bonded to their flocks. During the day, you might observe them patrolling or marking the area around their stock but they might just be sleeping. Nighttime is usually when they are more active, barking loudly at perceived threats. If the threat comes closer, they will escalate their barking and posturing in an attempt to drive the predator away. If it becomes necessary they will confront the predator. They do this all without human direction.
Livestock guardian breeds possess the size, agility, courage, and sense of responsibility to take on predators, while remaining gentle with their smallest charges. To do this, these breeds are selected for a very low prey drive– the opposite of hunting or herding breeds. And they are bred to be self-thinkers – exactly the opposite of guard or protection dogs who respond on command to attack. 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 good guardians – because of the strong and correct instinctual behaviors they possess.
To work with livestock or to live in a home as a companion, the LGD breeds must be consciously socialized to accept that most of the strange behaviors of humans are harmless. They must not be encouraged to be aggressive toward people. The innate peaceful nature of these gentle giants must be respected and nurtured for their own well being and that of society.
People who seek a watchdog or protective companion are often disappointed that young livestock guardian pups love everyone they meet. Their naturally protective nature becomes apparent as the dog matures. If the dog has been taught to be suspicious of or hostile toward humans, the result can be regrettable. There is no need to encourage such behavior - or worse - to attempt to provoke aggression toward humans. Misguided "training" to change the pup's friendly nature is contrary to the young dog developing sound judgment. Sound judgment in livestock guardians is developed through gentle but firm nurture of a tolerant and calm temperament. Selecting or breeding for work as protection dogs would destroy this instinctual and essential nature.
Due to their size and appearance, members of the public sometimes confuse LGDs with protection breed dogs. However, police, military and Schutzhund trainers have tested many LGD breeds, and they have repeatedly found them unsuitable because of their important lack of strong predatory behaviors and their independent thinking. Conversely, this is why protection breeds do not make good LGDs – they have a strong predatory instinct and reply on human direction. In their homelands, some LGD breeds were used as sentry, camp, or estate dogs, alerting their owners to threats. This is not the same as protection work. In the old Soviet Union, some LGD breeds were taken from their shepherding homes and bred specifically for military and police use. These lines should be avoided in choosing potential LGDs.
Dog fighting has long been a part of the heritage of many LGDs. Most lines of LGDs from regions other than Western Europe will probably have individual dogs in their background that have been used for dog fighting. This is especially true in more recent times. The difference between dog fighting in the past, as compared to present, is largely a matter of degree and of intent.
In the past, the use of livestock guardian dogs to fight with other dogs was largely incidental and a byproduct of the use of these dogs as sheep guardians. The fact that these dogs’ roles included the protection of their charges from intruding canines and other predators meant that LGDs will be prone to engage any invader that is aggressive to their territory or charges. There have long been traditions and cultures that have used these types of dogs for fighting; however, any effort that has seen lines of these dogs used and bred specifically for fighting means their removal from their traditional roles as sheep flock guardians.
Today’s dog fighting craze and breeding industry is completely removed from the use of the dogs as livestock guardians and it has unfortunately become an entity unto itself. This effort to produce dogs as fighting machines has invaded a sizeable and significant segment of the dogs being bred in many regions today, especially as the local livestock industry dwindles away. Gambling and the production of fighting dogs for a profit motive has, in many cases, overshadowed the working LGD dog tradition, which has been the true foundation of these dogs. This problem cannot be overstated. We see multi generation breeding operations of dogs selectively focusing on fighting ability and success, or on extreme size. This has been compounded by the heightened popularity of the livestock guardian breeds. And, it utilizes the Internet to promote and provide a highly effective medium for the dogfighting market.
Livestock guardian breeds are valued for their protective instincts toward their charges and a graduated response to perceived threats. The use of LGDs in dogfighting is detrimental to their essential characteristics and may destroy their ability to work together in packs against large predators. Breeders producing dogs for this purpose are likely to outcross to other breeds to produce extreme physical characteristics and aggressiveness. Even if other breeds are not used, breeding dogs will be selected for characteristics that are inconsistent with the essential qualities of the livestock guardian dog: namely, its effectiveness and safety as a protector with balanced temperament and physical conformation. Breeding for dogfighting will endanger the physical attributes, temperament, and reputation of livestock guardians,
As interest in the native dogs from these regions has exploded in recent decades, both domestically and internationally, we have seen an exponential growth in the number and size of breeding operations producing and marketing the dogs. Paradoxically, as the need for these dogs as working sheep guardians has dropped in their homeland, we have seen an inverse increase in the breeding and marketing of the big Turkish dogs by both large and small kennel operations. In tandem with the dogfighting obsession, we are seeing alternative approaches, whereby dogs are being bred as wolf, brown bear, and boar killers. Often,we are seeing dogs, who have never even met a sheep or a goat, being bred and then taken out on hunting expeditions and being judged and valued on their valor or prowess in the chase and kill role. Also, as people want to “prove” their dogs on social media, we see increasing evidence of staged animal killings, where people cripple wolves or boars and then set their dogs on them so that they can film the kill.
This being said, recognizing the fact that dogs from LGD heritage have been used to chase down and kill predators is a fair and relevant part of their history. But not when it is being done with complete ignorance of the dogs’ past function and role as guardians bonded to their sheep. Any good LGD will instinctively drive off and attack an invading intruder species, such as a wolf, wild boar or bear. But, when generations of these dogs are bred to chase and kill animals and are NOT used as LGDs, this is a significant and important factor to consider.
It is very important to remember and keep in mind that the LGD breeds we value are livestock guardians first and foremost, and should be bred with a mentality that stresses bonding with stock. Any approach that ignores this over multiple generations will compromise what we can and should accept as a working LGD.
Secondly, a dog that responds as needed in a graduated way is more likely to function well as a LGD than an explosive dog that is intent on chasing down and engaging all perceived threats. Among people who have experience with the various livestock guardian dog breeds, there is a consensus opinion recognizing that different breeds do show varying levels of reactivity to intruders, although making generalizations in this regard can lead to inaccurate theories and assumptions. Breeder selection plays a crucial role on this front. Dogs who are more aggressively reactive might suit the needs of some situations, but may also be a liability in many modern-day scenarios.
As a general rule, dogs that have been bred and used in more highly populated areas tend to be described as “less reactive” (such as the Great Pyrenees from Western Europe) than dogs in areas that are more isolated and confront higher predator pressure (such as Central Asian Shepherds from regions east of Anatolia). However, this type of generalization can also lead to false assumptions, as certain lines from Eastern Europe, from the Caucasus and from Turkey can show significant variation in reactivity levels that will undermine a simplistic West to East gradient.
Beyond question, however, is the fact that dogs from working backgrounds as livestock guardians will most likely exhibit the desired qualities so cherished in the type. As soon as they are removed from this pool and bred for other purposes, there is a heightened risk that the human breeder’s other priorities will come into play. Many of these dogs have never seen livestock, and this is deeply concerning for people who want to obtain dogs that will be trustworthy and reliable LGDs. We need to pay attention to what the dogs are being bred and used for in their countries of origin. Our dogs are meant to be LGDs, rather than professional dog fighters, chasers or killers. Selecting and breeding for protection, dogfighting, or hunting work will ultimately destroy the instinctual and essential nature of livestock guardian dogs.
© Janet Vorwald Dohner and Cedric Giraud 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this text without express and written permission from the authors and owners is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jan Dohner and Cedric Giraud with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.