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As the rusty minivan I didn’t recognize came pulling down my long, secluded driveway, I didn’t pay much attention to who was heading toward my home. I was on the phone doing an interview for a magazine article. But soon my attention turned from the interview to the guy in the van. I didn’t answer the door when he first knocked because I was waiting for the right time to cut off my interviewee.

When I didn’t answer the knock at my front door, the man proceeded to knock on all of my other doors. I guess he figured that nobody was home so he headed toward my workshop. Just as he stepped into my shop, I cut the phone interview short and rushed out on my deck. I yelled out to him and he quickly ran to his van muttering something trying to prove his innocence and sped off. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last time I had unwelcome guests. Since my house is secluded, I think many people believe it is an easy target. After several more uncomfortable situations, I decided I needed a guard dog.

The problem was that I also have livestock. The last thing I wanted was a guard dog that preferred fresh chicken or lamb chops to dog food. I needed a dog that wouldn’t bother the livestock. I wanted a dog that wouldn’t eat livestock, but rather protect the animals from coyotes. Yodel dogs, such as Basenjis, are often on the edges of my fields and I didn’t want them coming any closer. I needed a true guard dog.

Komodor Dogs
LGDs like the authors Komondor often tend to blend in with the hers that they guard

The Komondors

After doing a little research, I found the dog I was looking for. I purchased a Komondor, which is one of the many livestock guardian breeds. For hundreds of years, livestock guardian dogs have been popular in other countries.

Livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) are known for killing wolves and coyotes that attempt to take sheep or other livestock from a pasture. However, these large dogs haven’t been extremely popular in the States until the last few decades. A livestock guardian dog is the perfect dog for anyone who lives on a farm, has livestock and may need protection for the livestock or his family. 

Robyn Poyner from Missouri says she can’t put a price tag on her dogs’ value. Poyner owns Poyner Goat Company. She said, “Before I had livestock guardian dogs, I was losing one or two goats a week to the two-legged predator (man). After I purchased a dog, I haven’t lost a goat since.” 

My story is similar to Poyner’s. From the moment I bought my Komondor, we have had fewer problems with people pulling down our driveway and I haven’t lost an animal to predators. I have goats, chickens, sheep and rabbits. Most of my animals wander around all day without fencing and my dog has kept them safe. Meanwhile, a friend down the road has lost numerous chickens, and his are kept in a fenced area.

Find A Breeder

Finding the right breeder for a livestock guardian dog is not that simple, Poyner explained. “Many people  breed  LGDs for show, and although a show-quality dog might look nice, not all of them have the guarding instinct in them. My dogs are around my goat kids from the moment they are born and protect them from everything, including other dogs and people. People who want a LGD to be protective of livestock should do some research and buy a dog from a breeder who breeds the dogs as guardians.” 

My Komondor was purchased from Melport Meadows in Wisconsin. Lisa Anderson and her husband own the farm and breed Komondors and Great Pyrenees. Their puppies are born and raised in a barn so the farm animals are part of the dogs’ family. 

“Our dogs spend a lot of time with livestock and so do their puppies. When the puppies go to new homes, they are used to being around chickens and other livestock, which is very important,” said Anderson. 

Dog Neutering
Carol Ronan neuters all of her LGDs because “that makes them better guardians.” Her LGDs protect her sheep and goats.

Proper Training

Training a LGD, like training any dog, is extremely important if you want a dog that will guard you and your livestock. I have had puppies that kinda jump at chickens or other animals when I first get them,” said Poyner. “When people see this, they think it is cute. It may look cute, but I quickly stop this behavior, because as the dog ages, it will start to chase animals and you can’t have that if you want a dog to protect livestock.”

The blessing and the curse of LGDs is that they are extremely intelligent. I have had many dogs over the years and I can honestly say my Komondor is probably the smartest. With intelligence come some challenges. “From the time a person brings home a LGD, the puppy needs to learn who is in charge and what the boundaries are,” Poyner said. “They also need to learn the boundaries of the farm. LGDs like to wander, so if you want to keep them contained, a good fence is needed.”

Like all dogs, every LGD is different. Some will stay put on a farm, while others may have a tendency to wander. Training is absolutely necessary if you want a dog that will stay where you want it to.

LGD Breeds

There are 30 breeds of LGDs and finding the right one for you can be difficult. The most popular LGD in America is the Great Pyrenees. The problem is that this breed might not be the best breed for serious farmers and people who need a guard dog. “There are some good Great Pyrenees breeders out there who breed the dogs to be guardian dogs, but many of them don’t have the protective instinct in them anymore,” said Poyner.

One of the main reasons I went with a Komondor is because Lisa Anderson told me that they are leery of strangers, don’t quickly trust anyone and are very protective. My Komondor was a rescue dog and had lived with livestock before. When I brought her home, she went and sat with the sheep. When they moved, she moved with them. When they laid down in the barn, she did the same thing. When coyotes and predators are in the area, she barks like a crazy fool. She is exactly what I needed. When someone pulls down the driveway, she goes berserk, but in a good way. There is no question that if someone tried to harm my family, she would come to the rescue. 

“My favorite breed is the Estrela Mountain Dog,” said Poyner. “My dog Rico is the alpha of my nine dogs. He trains the young dogs how to be guardian dogs, how to protect the livestock and is incredibly intelligent. When I first got him, he was so protective of the goat kids he wouldn’t even let the mother goat near them. We eventually got him over this problem. To this day he is very protective, will lick the goats clean after they are born and keeps everyone and everything away from the newborn kids until he decides it is safe.”

Livestock Guardian Dog breeds
Because LGDs are so intelligent, they have a keen sense for what is going on around them and who and what they can trust.

Guardian Traits

Because LGDs are so intelligent, they have a keen sense for what is going on around them and who and what they can trust. When my children are out with my dogs, my Komondor is never more than 10 feet from them. The flip side is that you really have to keep an eye on them when strangers come over.

“One time my brother came over and went into the pasture when I was not here. When he picked up a kid goat, one of my dogs knocked him down. When he tried again, the same thing happened. The dog didn’t bite him; it was just warning him to leave the goats alone. I have had situations where the outcome was much more severe. Once I was walking through my pasture and noticed a shredded pair of jeans and a pair of sandals. Clearly someone was trying to steal a goat and one of the dogs intervened,” Poyner explained.

In most cases intervention isn’t necessary. “When picking out a LGD breed, I suggest people get one that is intimidating looking so when a stranger approaches, just the sight of the dog makes him think twice about trying to do something he shouldn’t,” Poyner added. Most LGD breeds weigh more than 100 pounds and are extremely tall. My Komondor has cord-like hair that makes her appear mean. Many people who enter my driveway refuse to get out when they see her. The bark of most LGD breeds is very loud and deep, which frightens man and beast.

Pet Or Protector?

One tough decision all LGD owners are faced with is whether the dog will be a livestock dog or a pet. My Komondor visits the barn daily, rubs noses with my dairy goats often, walks the perimeter of our land when I allow it, but for the most part she is the guardian of my family. That is what I chose. I only have a few livestock that I breed and keep for our freezer, so I don’t need several dogs that guard my critters 24 hours a day. 

Many farmers choose to have the dogs protect livestock around the clock. “If someone wants a dog to truly bond with the livestock and treat the livestock like family and protect them like family, the dogs should live with the animals full-time,” said Anderson. Poyner echoes the same thing. “We have nine LGDs and most of them spend most of their time with my goats. We have a dog or two that comes inside, but for the most part they are guarding animals.”

I believe I have the best of both worlds. My Komondor sits on our back deck most of the time. From it she can protect the house but can also keep an eye on the landscape. She can see the chickens, goats and the sheep, and if anything looks out of place, if anything makes a weird noise, if anything tries to sneak into the yard, we know about it regardless of the time of day. It is important to note that we don’t lose very many crops to deer since we got our dog. Deer are not permitted in the yard under her watch!

An LGD isn’t for everyone. They are large and intelligent. Those two things can create some problems, but if you have room for the dog to roam, have the time to train it and no longer want to lose livestock or your tools, an LGD might be for you. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION

•Poyner Goat Company 
poynergoatco.net; 417-442-4970

•Melport Meadows
melportmeadows.com; 608-654-7999

This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Fall 2014 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here

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