Interview With a Livestock Guardian Dog

By Staff

Reader Contribution By Marie James

Two valuable members of our family are our Maremma livestock guardian dogs, Augie and Callie. They watch over our chickens and the people who live and visit within their assigned territory. Though coyotes, bears, and an occasional cougar traverse our property, none of those intruders are allowed within our fencelines.

Augie and Callie are usually very busy day and night doing their patrols and checking on everyone and everything on the farm. But this week, Augie took the time to write a post for our family’s blog, Rural Living Today. After reading it, I asked Augie if I could interview him for this GRIT blog.

The huge fluffy dog agreed, and we sat down for a chat. Here is what he has to say.

Augie, we understand that the term “livestock guardian dog” applies to a group of dog breeds used for centuries to protect and defend flocks of sheep and goats. Tell us more about these breeds.

Well, there are several breeds of LGDs (that’s short for Livestock Guardian Dogs). Of course, I am partial to Maremma Sheepdogs, since I am one, but the others do a good job too! The most common in the western world are (in alphabetical order) Anatolian Shepherds, Great Pyrenees, and Maremmas. The Akbash, Kommondors, Kuvasz, and Tibetan Mastiffs are also becoming better known outside of the old countries.

How are the LGD breeds alike and different?

We all have some basic instincts that are the same. We all work hard to protect and defend our stock and our property. But there are differences too. Some breeds bond more to the stock or people, and some bond more to the boundaries they defend. Some are more likely to grow fond of children, and some would rather not be touched and petted very much.

How are the LGD breeds different from other dog breeds?

LGDs are wired instinctively to do whatever is necessary to protect our charges. We will even give our lives for our flocks and our people. We were not bred to be pets, though we are nice to have around and some of us really like people. We weren’t bred to be show dogs, as the focus on beauty and obedience could distract from our effectiveness on our jobs. We are not herding dogs, though we can herd our stock into a corner to protect them if need be.

Can LGDs be trained for obedience?

Why yes, we can be taught to sit, wait, come, stay back, and those kinds of things. If we know you are the alpha, we will obey. But our inner instincts will override our wish to obey if we feel there’s a danger. Don’t be surprised if I suddenly take off for the far corner of the property to scare off a coyote. If you tell me to get back when a stranger is there, and I sense you are in danger, I will want to stay at your side. I’m not being rebellious or disagreeable; I’m just letting my top priority and instincts take over until the danger is gone.

How do you LGDs learn your job?

Well, first of all, we start watching our mothers when we are very young. We will go on patrol with them and they’ll show us how the LGD work is done. Later we learn from other LGDs how to treat the stock, how to be watchful for threats, and how to bark different barks. The other dogs will teach us, train us, and correct us.

Do you need people to train you too?

Oh yes, definitely. They should show us our area to patrol and introduce us to our stock and people in the family that we are to guard. They should let us know what is normal and routine around the farm so we will know what isn’t. As puppies we shouldn’t be left alone with stock that might hurt us, or with little critters that we might play too roughly with. If there isn’t an older working LGD to teach us, the humans have to do the training. We will instinctively guard and protect, but we need to know the rules of your farm.

What are the basic requirements of a home for an LGD?

First of all, we work best in a team, so we prefer to have a partner or two. We need clear boundaries–good fences–that tell us what area we are to protect. We need a strong alpha human with time to work with us, making expectations clear and showing us what to protect. On a more practical side, we don’t usually like enclosed houses but we need shelter from extreme weather. We need lots of water and good food–plenty of it, because we are large dogs.

Is there anything else you’d like humans to know about LGDs?

Yes. Please don’t scold us for barking. LGDs bark! We bark day and night. We bark to warn far-off howling coyotes to stay away. We bark to tell passing deer and bears not to come any closer. We bark to announce approaching vehicles and anything that is out of the ordinary or does not belong. Yes, we will even bark at raccoons and chipmunks. Now, I don’t mean we should be allowed to bark for no reason or taunt the livestock with barking. Correct us for that, but please let us do our job-related barking.

And that reminds me of some good names for LGDs. How about Bob Barker? Sir Barksalot? Barkley? Tree Bark? Almond Bark? Okay, now I’m getting a little out there with names. Better go do my patrol and stuff that I’m good at.

Thank you, Augie Doggie, for the enlightening interview! For more insight into the life of Augie and his sister, Callie, see Augie’s post at Rural Living Today.

Marie and her husband, Jim, are developing a farm in the Pacific Northwest with their adult children and grandchildren. At The Homesteader Kitchen Marie and her daughter review kitchen equipment and talk about preparing and preserving delicious food. Along with other family members, Marie shares glimpses of country life at Rural Living Today and teaches practical skills at The Homesteader School.