Guardians of the Herd: Livestock Guardian Dogs for Goats
Livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) play a pivotal role in safeguarding goats and other livestock, providing a formidable line of defense against predators. From their breeds to dietary needs, roles, and the rules governing their deployment, this article explores the essentials of using LGDs for goat protection.
1. Why Goats Need LGDs:
In areas with a high prevalence of predators, goats are vulnerable to attacks. LGDs act as a formidable deterrent, discouraging predators from targeting the herd. Their presence alone often prevents predation attempts.
2. Selecting the Right Breed:
Choosing the appropriate breed of LGD is crucial. Common LGD breeds include Anatolian Shepherds, Great Pyrenees, Kangals, and Maremmas. There are also other breeds to consider for LGD’s: Kuvasz, Karst, Karakachan, Komandor, Ovtcharka, Tatra. Each breed exhibits distinct characteristics and strengths, so selecting one that aligns with your specific needs is paramount.
Some of the biggest factors to consider are their hair coat and their mental disposition. If you live in a colder climate, you’ll want to consider a guard dog with longer hair to help keep them warm during the cold winter. And if you live in a very hot climate, the shorter haired dogs will be better suited.
Some of the breeds will mature intellectually faster than others and you’ll find that some breeds wander more and some have a more even, laid back personality. It all comes down to preference but knowing your preferences before buying your guard dogs will help you immensely in the long run.
3. Understanding Their Diet:
A well-balanced diet is essential for LGDs to perform optimally. High-quality dog food, supplemented with meat, ensures they receive the necessary nutrients. Adequate hydration is equally important, especially in warmer climates.
An LGD dog will think of themselves as a goat. They may even eat the grain and hay that the goats are eating. But this isn’t enough protein or the proper diet for a dog. It will be wise to have a separate place for the dogs to eat while the goats are eating. And you may find that some dogs will gorge themselves one day and not eat for several days or go and bury it and come back to it later. Each dog is different, but it’s really important to feed your dogs appropriately.
4. Distinguishing Roles:
LGDs can be broadly categorized into two roles: patrollers and guardians. Patrollers actively move around the perimeter, while guardians stay close to the flock. A mix of both roles can enhance overall protection.
So some LGD’s will be patrolling dogs and some will be guard dogs. And usually they won’t switch over to be the other type. You won’t know what type of dog you have until they have matured and made it evident. A patrolling dog will always need a lot of room to roam and won’t know the difference between your goats or your neighbors. They just know that all goats need guarding.
Some have “their herd” and won’t guard anything else. And some won’t mind which herd of goats you put into their pasture with them, they will just guard whatever is in the pasture. Some prefer to guard the bucks, and some the does. Make the best matches possible for the best possible outcomes for both you and the goats.
5. Rules for Deployment and Initiating LGDs:
Socializing LGDs with humans is crucial, enabling them to be handled for routine tasks like medication administration and feeding.
Establish clear boundaries and rules for your LGDs. Training them to understand the property limits helps avoid unnecessary confrontations with neighbors and ensures effective protection without encroaching on adjacent lands.
It’s best that a LGD isn’t left alone with children, or other animals its not specifically meant to be guarding. And a good guardian dog will prefer to stay with the goat herd it’s meant to be guarding anyway.
Paring a puppy with an older, well-trained LGD will help contain and direct the puppy-ness that will be displayed until they are around 18 months old. Around that age, they will “switch on” and be ready to work seriously. But never put a puppy directly into a goat pen immediately. They should be be put in a pen right next to the goat pen for awhile and then when ready to put in with the goats, monitor them closely. Remember, even when a LGD is very large, they are still a puppy even up to 18 months of age.
You’ll also not want to put a puppy in with kids, pregnant does or nursing does. They need to be put in with a mature LGD and the larger bucks and does, this will give them some experience with goats that can knock them around and show them where they belong in the pecking order.
Two guard dogs together usually have the most impact but it’s important to know that intact male or female dogs will always have something else on their minds, wether it be breeding or raising pups. A completely unrelated male-female pair, neutered and spayed, are usually a really good match. Matching siblings can sometimes cause problems because of natural sibling rivalry.
Also, if two dogs are fighting never try to pull them apart or get between them. They are fierce and strong adversaries and you will be injured if you get in between them.
You must be the “alpha” in the relationship but must never hit them or raise your voice at them. If they do need training and instruction, grab them by the scruff of their neck and roll them on to their back. If they are bred well, then their natural instincts will be just that…natural behavior. But like any animal needing training, they will have a small part of their personality that will need to be tweaked by that alpha human in their life.
When a good LGD dog enters a new pen with the goats, it will usually make a circle around the enclosure, mark its territory, and it may go around the goats and lick and paw their faces. If your goats have never been around a dog before, they may be quite alarmed and on alert. It may take them some time to get used to their new guardian. Don’t leave them alone until they are feeling safe and unconcerned.
6. Most Active Times:
LGDs are most active during the night, coinciding with peak predator activity. Their nocturnal vigilance helps deter and confront potential threats, providing a layer of security when goats are most vulnerable.
In the daylight hours, the dog may appear to be doing nothing. They are resting, but they are also keeping watch as they rest.
7. Behavioral Traits:
LGDs exhibit distinct behavioral traits. They are naturally protective, forming strong bonds with their charges. Barking is a common communication method, serving both as a warning and a deterrent to predators. They will have a distinct bark when predators are around, as compared to when they are excited to be fed or find a goat down.
If you live in an area that would have a problem with barking dogs, then LGD’s might not be the best option for your situation.
Other factors to consider are ones that might seem alarming. If a doe has a stillborn kid or miscarries, you might find that the dog eats the remains. They have a valid reason for this: by removing the remains, they are lessoning the chance of it attracting predators to the scene. Or the dog may push away a sick goat from the herd or try to push the sick goat back to the herd, both of these actions are directly trying to protect the herd from drawing attention to predators. They have a sense for when a goat is sick and needs attention or is dying.
8. Other Options if a LGD Doesn’t Work for You:
This might become a laughing matter within the family, but if a LGD isn’t an option but you’re needing a short term solution fast, ask the male members of your family to urinate alone the fence line of your property. Any smell that a predator can’t figure out, will cause them to head the other way.
You can also look into Nite Guard. They claim: Nite•Guard solar provoides excellent security for your home, buildings, cars, campsites. Simply place one or more Nite•Guards on the exterior of your home, building, car, or campsite and the flashing red light will appear as a security system that keeps intruders away.
Some people will introduce a donkey as a protection animal. But my advice would be to not do this. Donkeys can cause a lot of damage to goats, including biting and throwing young kids, causing damage or even death. They view any new or unknown animals as intruders and will push them away and out of the herd.
Llamas are aggressive and can be a deterrent to predators but they can not kill or effectively push away a serious predator
Livestock guardian dogs are indispensable allies in ensuring the safety and well-being of goat herds. From choosing the right breed to understanding their dietary needs and deploying them effectively, integrating LGDs into your goat-rearing practices enhances the overall security of your livestock. As guardians and patrollers, these loyal companions contribute to the harmony between human caretakers and their caprine charges, creating a safer environment for both.