Our farm is nestled in riparian woodland at 1000 feet elevation on the Eastern edge of the Northern Oregon Coast Range. Predators include cougars, coyotes, hawks, owls, black bear and wild dog to name just the largest. Everything in the woods likes chicken, that’s for sure.
When moving here we knew the first order of business would be a Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) for our goats and birds. We have secure fences and little in the way of close neighbors to be bothered by barking – one of the primary lines of defense for an LGD.
After a lot of research we chose the Maremma Sheepdog – a guardian dog originating in Italy that is becoming popular in the US with goat and sheep farmers. The breeder we purchased from is highly ethical, registered with the MSCA and OFA (Hip Dysplasia) Certified. We were very lucky to bring home our 8 week old Maremma the same month we moved to the farm.
LGDs must be raised in the barn and the pasture. While these pups are simply irresistible, when born and raised in a barn and pasture they do a much better job guarding. That is not to say that you should be hands off with your puppy. A well-trained dog that is able to get in the car and see a vet when needed, that allows you to trim nails and inspect for injury, a dog that can come when called (rare, but possible given their mood) is incredibly useful. These dogs are capable of bonding with their charges and their humans, but they must know that their first role is as an LGD.
To back up our growing youngster we brought on a seasoned guardian – a 6 year old neutered male Akbash named Amboy who came from a sheep farm in Spokane. Amboy settled in very quickly and protects the goats, chickens, house dogs and cats as well as humans. He is impossible to keep fenced but he keeps a good eye on his charges.
Having an adult LGD available to train our first Maremma puppy was a huge benefit. He kept her in line, kept her company and helped her keep focus on the pasture instead of wishing the humans would come to call. When you don’t have an adult LGD to mentor, more work is certainly involved. However the main work of raising an LGD is simply in keeping them out of situations where they can develop bad habits. With time their instincts take over and you need offer less guidance.
If you’re interested in Livestock Guardian Dogs please explore them in great detail before committing to a purchase. These animals require training, knowledge and supervision to make their genetic instinct work for your farm. There are great facebook groups such as “Learning About LGDs” that offer real time advice. There is also a lot of conflicting information and it can be confusing. Researching and choosing a reputable breeder is essential. That breeder should offer guidance and resources and be available to answer your questions. Getting out of the way of the dog’s instinct is part of the process, but being a support system and a friend for your animal is absolutely required.