Livestock guardian dogs (LGD) have faithfully served humans for thousands of years by protecting livestock from predators, saving agricultural operations valuable time and money. The use of LGD in the United States began in the 1970s in response to the elimination of inhumane predator management methods. LGD play a vital role in providing non-lethal predator management which also helps in wildlife conservation efforts. Although there are many breeds, the most commonly used are Great Pyrenees, Akbash, Anatolian Shepherd, Kuvasz, Komonder, Pyrenean Mastiff, Maremma Sheepdog, and Kangal.
Many agricultural operations take excellent care of their LGD. However, dogs used for agricultural operations have no legal protections, leaving them vulnerable to neglect, abuse and abandonment. Some LGD that are still being managed with the same unclear and subjective animal husbandry practices from the 70's which have become outdated as we evolve into a more advanced and humane society.
American Sheep Industry (ASI) Recommended Best Management Practices for Livestock Protection Dogs can be found on industry association websites and explain the benefits of management methods such as providing food/feeding stations, water, microchipping, medical care (preventative, routine and urgent), vaccinations, spay/neuter, and socialization/training (humanizing). Unfortunately, when these recommendations are not put into practice, it can result in starving, injured dogs and mothers and litters being left behind or "rescued" by the public. Sadly, most do not have any identification. This results in a burden to animal shelters and the communities they serve as well as conflicts with the public on public lands, leaving the flock vulnerable to predation and putting the safety of the public and the welfare of the animal at risk.
ASI strongly believes that the use of LGD on federal grazing allotments is in serious jeopardy. We agree. Conflicts with the public could be minimized, if not entirely avoided, by enacting protections such as providing food/water, medical care, microchipping as well as prohibiting breeding at will on open range and fines for abandonment. On public lands, these could be tied to grazing permits to ensure the safety of the public. Not only would this improve the wellbeing and working conditions of the dog but it would protect the investment of the producer as well.
Our goal is to advocate for these mandates on as well as continuing to inspire improved management of LGD by educating large and small producers, homesteaders and companion owners on the benefits of proper management that includes socialization and training (humanizing), GPS collars and spay/neuter as methods to remedy problems such as roaming, unwanted litters and conflicts with the public. We also aim to work with associations and agencies in creating sheepherder training and livestock guardian dog certification programs.
We believe that all working dogs deserve protections against hunger, thirst, pain, injury and disease.
The need for improvement
A study was conducted in 1983 that demonstrated the effects improper LGD management methods . On ranches, 50% of the dogs were dead within 18 months. Overall, 48% of LGD did not make it to age 6. Of those deaths, over half died from an accident, which included getting shot, poisoned, or run over and one-third were "culled", typically shot to death, by their owner for displaying "inappropriate" behavior (inattentiveness, etc). The study was conducted to demonstrate what NOT to do.
Despite this compelling evidence, some LGD continue to be managed using these same archaic management methods and continue to be culled, killed by preventable accidents and suffer with injuries, severe infestations, dehydration and malnourishment. Some LGD breed at will in remote vast areas, which often leads to females running off to give birth and intact males chasing off other males. If they have had inadequate socialization and an inability to be recalled, they are left behind, many of which do not survive extreme climates.
There remains a social responsibility to assure and to improve the work conditions of LGDs, as with all working dogs. These tragedies are preventable with the use of improved LGD management methods. These management methods have been proven to benefit the dogs, the producer and the public.