what is a livestock guardian dog?
Dogs that work alongside shepherds and goat herders to protect livestock originated in Europe and Asia, and have been used for centuries around the world. Called livestock guardian dogs (LGD) or referred to as “big white fluffy dogs”, these brave dogs can be seen protecting large bands of sheep on the vast open ranges in the west to guarding goats or chickens on small homesteads in the tribal territory and everything in-between. Working LGDs play a crucial role in protecting livestock and demonstrate that we can coexist with wildlife, which is an important part of keeping our ecosystems healthy.
The most common working livestock guardian dogs found in the western states are Great Pyrenees or Akbash, The dogs are bonded with livestock from a young age and live with the livestock they are protecting. They're classified as livestock themselves by state governments and animal protections rarely apply.
Some LGDs prove to be ill-suited for working life and have transitioned to life as beloved family members in an environment in which they are allowed to express typical behaviors. A livestock guardian dog in this situation is referred to as a "failed" LGD or "companion" LGD. Most of these situations occur by way of a non-profit rescue or shelter impoundment and ultimately adoption. These dedicated dogs bond very deeply and are independent thinkers and problem solvers with lots of love and loyalty to give.
As with Police K9's, service dogs and search and rescue dogs, livestock guardian dogs need proper training and veterinary care from birth until they reach maturity to do the job - about 2 years old.
the life of a livestock guardian dog
A study published in the 1980s looked at the mortality rate of livestock guardian dogs living on small farms/fenced ranches vs. open ranches.
The study followed 449 livestock guardian dogs living in 31 states. The results are frightening. Almost half of the farm dogs were dead by around three years of age and almost three-quarters of LGDs working on open range were dead.
How did so many dogs die so young? The main causes of death (57%) were accidents. 33% of deaths were culls (owners killing their dogs because they didn’t like how they were behaving), and 9% of deaths were by disease. A closer look at the accidents shows that 32% of LGDs disappeared, meaning nobody knows what happened to them. The researchers suspect they were killed by methods of predator control, such as trapping, poisoning, or gunning. 31% of the LGDs were hit by cars, 14% were shot by neighbors who either didn’t understand the dogs were supposed to be with the livestock or who killed them out of malice. 9% were poisoned and 15% were lost to “other causes” not specified.
When these recommendations are not put into practice, it leaves the LGD vulnerable to neglect and at risk of being left behind or even worse, culled
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1) Inspire and educate large and small producers, homesteaders and
the public on the benefits of improved management methods such as sterilization, proven socialization and bonding methods and GPS collars in addition to basic wellness plans. Our goal is to inspire the use of livestock guardian dogs as they were originally intended - as partners!
2) Establish modern, proven and humane accepted animal husbandry practices and encourage support for them. Define animal cruelty as it relates to working dogs and advocate for legal protections that prohibit that cruelty, such as a "Humane Treatment for Working Dogs Act".
3) Develop partnerships with supporting associations to create sheepherder training and livestock guardian dog certification programs, both of which are encouraged by the American Sheep Industry Association and the Bureau of Land Management as well as public education campaigns that include posting signs and distributing flyers where LGDs are used.
4) Encourage agricultural operations to achieve A Greener World's Certified Animal Welfare Approved certification.