Farmstay U.S. Blog

Created for and by travelers and the farmers, these posts will cover a variety of topics related to farm stays in the U.S.

Livestock Guardian Dogs

Dogs in the SnowIf you visit a farm that raises livestock, you may encounter livestock guardian dogs (LGDs). LGDs aren't your usual pet dogs, which people don't always realize. We've heard stories of well-meaning neighbors accusing farmers of mistreating these working animals, or worse, threatening to remove the dogs!

We asked one of our Farm Stay U.S. members, Ruth Pepler of Dogwood Hills Farm in Arkansas, about her experience with LGDs.

Some of the things I have discovered about these amazing dogs over the years I have learned the hard way. Our very first Pyrenees, Maya, was given to us because she would not stay way out in the pasture with the goats. She kept coming to the farm house. Our set up was much more to her liking with our farm house in the middle of the hub of pastures.

At Home with the Livestock She was an excellent guardian and could be completely trusted with moms delivering, chickens and baby chicks, and our guests. She knew that the guests belonged there and watched over them as well!

They say it's not good to let them socialize with people or they won't do their job. We have not found this to be a problem.

When visiting a farm with livestock guardian dogs, it's always good to know the ground rules. These dogs have a very specific job to do, and you would not want to distract them. The rules at Dogwood Farm, for example, are:


  • Don't hand feed the dogs. Scraps can be given to them in their feed buckets.
  • Don't chase the chickens or any other animal, the dogs find that to be questionable behavior.
  • Listen to your parents... the dogs know they are your Alpha!

Nursing Puppies
Learning to Guard

 

LGDs may work alone, if the farm is somewhat small, or there may be several dogs working together.

At first, I didn't know that it's hard for them to be the only LGD if the predators are thick. Our dogs run 72 acres, not a large farm, but surrounded by numerous coyote, big cats, an occasional wolf, and bear. We now have a team of 3 adults and 3 puppies. They work very well rotating and training the younger ones.

One of the things I have noticed as the younger ones step up into a more active role, is that they will dig out a hole or several holes in prime locations for watching their charges. If I can't find a dog, the first thing I do is look out where the goats are, then check the opposite hillside and there, dug into the side of the hill, is a watchful dog.

 

Digging Cooling Off

Winter is a whole other topic. The barn is open on either end. The dogs have access to hay, heated water, and cozy goats to snuggle up with. Where do they sleep? Smack in the middle of the driveway, out in the snow, with a paw over their nose! We've discovered that ice blocks make great toys! They carry them all over the place.

Good Dog

Thanks very much to Ruth for sharing some great photos and talking with us about these special "farm hands"! Do you have questions about livestock guardian dogs? Leave it in the comments.

(Photos courtesy Dogwood Hills Farm)

3 comments for “Livestock Guardian Dogs”

  1. Posted Tuesday, November 17, 2015 at 12:59:08 PM

    Hi Ruth, I read your article with MUCH interest. We have a terrible time here with foxes killing our "farmstay pets" plus our commercial sheep flock. I have always assumed that I could not have a LGD as the farmstay operates on strangers visiting all the time??? with of course lots of little people! I am obviously wrong. Do they get along with the other domestic pets? Do you need to give them any special training not to be aggressive/protective with strangers endlessly arriving?? Do they stop chasing a intruder out of their paddock once they get to a fence line??
    I'd love some answers, and some suggestions on more reading/learning.
    Many Thanks.

  2. Gravatar of Ruth PeplerRuth Pepler
    Posted Monday, November 23, 2015 at 9:34:55 AM

    Elaine,
    From my experience, I have found that LGD's raised from puppies have been the best to interact with our guests. Our farm house is situated in the middle of the pastures with our guest house about 1000 ft away with woods in between. There have been many times when our guests get to the cottage and call up to let us know they have arrived. We let our guests know in advance that they will be greeted by the dogs. The dogs seem to know who belongs.

    That said, as far as protecting the live stock, a single puppy is not able to do the job safely. Ideally, I would speak to a breeder that has a LGD that was raised doing it's job, but maybe is a little to people social. You could then check out that dog and make sure you and it are a good fit. We did get a 1yr old last year to add to our adult dogs. She stays in the goat pen with a radio wire collar to keep her where I want her. She minds me, but was VERY social and we need the radio collar to provide consistent boundary for her. She is now working very well, but it took a lot to get her there.

    Back to puppies ( who need the protection of an adult dog for about a year or so) we work with them right from the beginning to make sure they don't beg for food, nip, chase chickens (or children). This is very important, especially when we are serving food outdoors or hosting an event. I don't want the dogs to ever grab food from someone. I also don't let them jump up and we work with them a lot when they are little, because one day they will be really big. We show our guests how to keep them from jumping up ( we hold a hand out over the dogs head from the time they are little) If for some reason they do jump up a quick knee to the chest sits them back down.

    Our pyrs are separate from our pets. The pets go in the fence by the house at night and are not allowed to just roam the fields ( they would chase the cows if they could). The pyrs would be very confused if I let the Aussie Shep and Border Collie aggravate their charges. The pyrs sleep in the barn most of the day and patrol the pastures at night. Unfortunately, 2 of our pyrs go outside the fence to push the coyotes etc farther away. I don't think they want the predators to be able to get as close as the fence. We have never lost a farm animal to predators, but we have lost LGD's to the coyotes. Now we run the 6 dogs. 2 --4 yr old, 1- 18 mo old, 1-14 mo, 2- 8 mo old. The 8 month old pups are not yet allowed to join in the calling back and forth yet. That seems to be a voice maturity thing. The 14 mo old only started participating in the calling about 2 months ago.

    I have not had them ever be unable to distinguish guest from stranger. They did, however, look very perplexed one day when a child that stopped by with his mother started kicking his mother. The dog looked through the fence at me, waiting to see what I would do, very confident that she could manage the disobedient child. I quickly asked them to leave :)

    I hope I've answered your questions. Check out Livestock Guardian groups on Facebook. There are lots of varying opinions, but the farm stay situation is unique and doesn't fit the typical mold of LDG "rules". It is, however, very helpful.

  3. Posted Monday, July 25, 2016 at 5:56:04 PM

    Such adorable dogs you have there. They look too cute while guarding your farm and taking a bath. You really take good care of them while they're roaming around your farm.

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