Livestock Guardian Dogs: Live & Let Live Sheep Protection

The gold standard for non-lethal livestock protection, livestock guardian dogs can be invaluable partners in raising sheep and other vulnerable animals.

by Jana Wilson
PHOTO: Olivier Tabary/AdobeStock

I’m not sure why this is so, but recently several sheep producers in my online groups have asked about benefits and disadvantages of using livestock guardian dogs (LGD) for their sheep. One possible reason? The reintroduction into the wild of predators that were very low in numbers and probably endangered. 

We chose early on not to use an LGD for our sheep. We live in a fairly populated area, and LGDs usually do a lot of their patrolling (and barking) at night … as they should! Given my druthers, though, I’d rather have one and may yet someday if we move to a property farther away from houses and people. 

Non-Lethal Predator Control

I spoke to Denice Rackley, owner of Clearfield Stockdogs and a sheep producer for 20 years. She has a large farm in southern Indiana and uses several livestock guardian dogs (LGD) to keep her sheep safe.

For her, the LGDs are the best and most workable option. She says they live out with the sheep 24/7 and are gentle with the sheep (or should be if you are going to use them) and ferocious with any intruders that come in or near the field. Like her border collies are her partners when moving the sheep, the LGDs are her partners in protecting them. 

One interesting thing I had not thought about before: Keeping an LGD means you don’t have to kill or trap predators. An article in an Oregon farming newspaper noted that many livestock keepers don’t want to kill predators, preferring a “live and let live” situation. Consider, too, that populations of many predators have stabilized over the years—both good and bad news for sheep farmers.

With a good LGD, though, you won’t have to deal with predators. The worst that usually happens is the dog will chase away any coyotes, cougars, bears or neighborhood dogs. Many have found that bringing in one or two LGDs to a livestock operation can be just as effective as trapping or shooting these unwelcome visitors.

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When farmers partner with these dogs, they establish a productive relationship that makes everyone happy.

Read more: Donkeys make great small-farm livestock guardians!

Getting It Right

Over the past years, many smaller farms have popped up, although the use of LGDs doesn’t seem to have skyrocketed. One reason for this? If you want an effective  LGD, you’ll have to buy a good one from proven parents. 

While you won’t need to train these trained animals to guard, you will have to do some training them to work with you as a partner on your farm. But most people who have taken the time to do this right agree that the LGDs are worth their weight in gold. 

One Oregon farmer, Cindy Benson, and her husband bought a 640-acre farm near the border of California and Oregon.  For many years they raised mini-donkeys with no trouble … until there was.  Animals began to disappear on a regular basis until they found tracks they determined were cougars.

At that point, they decided to get an LGD. They never looked back 

“I don’t believe that predators should die,” said Benson. “They are part of the ecosystem. One of us is not more important than the other. But, at the end of the day, I moved into their backyard.” 

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