Livestock guardian dogs
December 26, 2009 7:38 PM   Subscribe

The 445supermag family is looking for a dog. Specifically, we are looking for a dog to guard our small flock of ducks from area coyotes.

The perfect dog would be happy on our 3 acres of cow height fenced in area (it is fenced for smaller animals too - no going through the wire, but not so high a motivated couldn't jump.) We currently have 3 kids ages 5 to 10, 2 cats and 5 ducks. We potentially want to get some geese, and maybe a goat or cow. Neighborhood kids come to our door unannounced, as does the mailman. We occasionally have company (other than the kids) that we would like the dog to not be aggressive towards.

We have had dogs years ago as pets, and do plan to do more reading up on how to handle and train working/flock guard dogs. We plan to do whatever is necessary to ensure that we, the humans, are the top of the pack, not the dog. We are willing and able to do daily longer walks if that is what the dog needs. We plan to get a puppy so that we can train the dog to protect our animals.

So, what is the best dog for our needs? It absolutely must be trainable to not eat our livestock, and while I'm sure a lot of dogs may be good with prey animals if raised with them, we'd like to do whatever we can to prejudice this characterist genetically. Unfortunately, most humane society dogs are pit bull or Labrador mix. Bonus points if you can figure out away for us to avoid a puppy mill or direct us rescue operation west of the Rockies.
posted by 445supermag to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Border collies require a lot of training, but their intelligence and herding capabilities would fit the bill.
posted by mozhet at 7:57 PM on December 26, 2009

Many farmers I work with have Maremma Sheepdogs and Kuvasz. They do a great job and have never been aggressive with humans like me, though they are more interested in their flock than their owners.
posted by melissam at 8:04 PM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

A recent AskMeFi discussion suggested English Shepherds as good working dogs, and it looks like there are several rescue organizations on the west coast.

I'm a cat person who's considering getting a working dog to help with livestock, so I'll be watching this thread with interest.
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:06 PM on December 26, 2009

I don't have a breed suggestion, but I would look for a large breed as coyote attacks on dogs are also a possibility.
posted by cecic at 8:07 PM on December 26, 2009

Sorry to contradict mozhet, but you do NOT want a herding breed as a livestock guardian. The specialties are not interchangeable! A herding breed will literally work any livestock they are are left in charge of (winged or hooved) to death.

If you are considering adding other critters to the farm you may want to look into donkeys or llamas, they will also guard their pasture mates.

Try to find a reputable breeder that raises the pups with the stock you want them to guard (in your case ducks). Ask around at local feed stores and local vets (farm vets in particular). There are several email lists and forums dedicated to LGDs, join and learn and ask questions.

Best of luck in your search!
posted by labwench at 8:14 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Great Pyrenees are popular here in northern Idaho. Collies I have known would be mortified if you asked them to guard anything. But could you get a collie for your kids? They are great dogs. And then get a dog to guard your collie. I have a breeder in Seattle. Me-mail me if you want her address.
posted by cda at 8:32 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another note that Pyrenees seem to be very popular in my area. Googling finds people talking about using Great Pyrenees with ducks (or other fowl), too.
posted by dilettante at 8:38 PM on December 26, 2009

Around here (lots of small farmettes with sheep, goats, fowl, etc, plus big commercial operations), people have mostly gone to llamas/alpacas (I'm not always sure which is which) for guarding purposes, rather than dogs. They are easier to manage, cheaper, don't tend to bite passers-by or run away, and never eat the livestock. Occasionally I see great pyrenees, but that's really rare.
posted by Forktine at 8:42 PM on December 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have to vote for German Shepherd Dog. They were originally bred to herd sheep, but they are protective of whatever you put them in charge of. I have one, and she has absolutely no prey drive. She doesn't even chase a ball. (She does chase the local stray cats out of our yard, but she only started doing that after I set her after them three or four times. Once she realized that I didn't want them in the yard she took it on herself to keep them out.)

She is protective of us, but is welcoming to visitors. GSD are also big enough to hold their own against a coyote. Just keep in mind that they need physical and mental exercise, they actually like obedience training. Ours is really smart, it takes very little to teach her a new trick. She also likes to have a job. Ours does a 'patrol' of the backyard every night before bed. She has to be let out to do a lap around the fence line. She doesn't do any business, and she isn't just moving for exercise. Her ears are up and she is checking things out. One quick lap and she can go to bed. We really lucked out and found her at the local Humane Society when she was a year old, and we've never had any problems with her. (Except that she sheds like crazy.)

I have to disagree with labwench, if you get a herding dog you can teach them to 'watch' or 'guard' instead of herding. If you let them loose and don't give them any training they may herd whatever they can, but with proper attention this doesn't have to be a problem. I'm partial to GSDs, but I also had a Border Collie and she was very similar. I think a smart herding dog is just what you need.

Oh yeah, llamas spit. My GSD doesn't even drool.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:49 PM on December 26, 2009

Seconding the German Sheperd. I am on my third and have never met a smarter dog. They love having a "job" and are good with families. I have a 10 yo and a 8 yo that adore him and he returns the love all day long.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:59 PM on December 26, 2009

The best dog to protect your poultry is an electric fence. Sorry. Look for one of these. And don't listen to the person on the phone, buy a ground post. My partner and I raised a couple hundred poultry last season behind electric mesh fencing and had not a single loss to predators. And, from what we've heard from the whiny-assed punk bitch neighbors, our poultry attracted legions of coyotes.

Our border collie mutts do wonders at keeping coyotes off our two acres through the magic power of urine smells, and they fuck up any raccoon they can get their jaws on until I can shoot it, but I'm still looking at running electric around the perimeter.

FWIW, I know people who use geese for coyote deterrence.
posted by stet at 9:00 PM on December 26, 2009

I think I'm the resident English Shepherd owner and I agree with the recommendation for you. The great thing about them vs. Border Collies or Corgis (the other breed I considered) is that they can be used both as Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD) and herding dogs. The parents of mine did both with birds and goats and did fine. They're not as single-minded as most herding breeds. They're also great with kids and new people, but they're definitely aware of who 'their' people and animals are and if asked, will do a great job of protection. My dog's father was known to chase foxes and similar just to the end of their farm and then leave them alone. They don't have a kill instinct, just a 'get the fuck away from my stock' instinct.

Another cool thing about them is that since they're a UKC breed, but not AKC is that they're bred for temperament and smarts rather than to look good in a show ring. It also keeps the prices down nicely. I really can't recommend the breed enough if you're wanting an awesome all-around farm dog. That's what I got mine for and he's that and more. I don't think I'll ever get another breed.

If you'd like more info or breeder recommendations, feel free to MeMail. I also have pictures in my Flickr account if you want to see what they look like.
posted by youcancallmeal at 9:02 PM on December 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've seen a couple of farmers swear by Akbash dogs. The dogs are big enough to take on coyotes no problem. The dogs would live with the geese & ducks, and are easily trained so that they don't chase them.

The guide says:

The Akbash Dog is an ancient breed originating in Turkey where he was used to guard livestock. It is believed that his ancestry was influenced by both Sighthound and Mastiff breeds. Though a large dog, he moves with surprising speed and agility, able to run at great speed with a gazelle-like grace. He also has an acute sense of sight and hearing.

The Akbash Dog learns quickly; however, he can be easily bored with repetitive obedience training exercises so may not be the ideal candidate for Obedience competition. As a livestock guardian, the Akbash is an independent thinker and can be dominant toward other dogs. He is naturally calm but can display ferocity when protecting property or livestock. His aloofness toward strangers, loyalty, affection, complete dedication and devotion to his family and any animals in his charge make him the ideal guard dog.

Another characteristic of the Akbash Dog is, both males and females, have a strong maternal instinct, especially toward small and young animals and children. The Akbash will bond to whatever he is raised with. This is why it is always suggested that the working Akbash pup be placed with the livestock he will eventually be expected to protect.

So if you got one, it wouldn't be much of a family pet, though the ones I saw were very friendly and easygoing.
posted by Salmonberry at 9:59 PM on December 26, 2009

I came in here thinking that my wanting to post about Shadow, my old German Shepard, would likely be the only one, but that I really wanted to post it. Then to find two others -- Yay!

We didn't have other animals for her to guard (another reason I was thinking maybe to not post) but Shepards *love* to work, and they are really bright. And they *love* family, too, and understand it; they know their people, who belongs and who doesn't. And Shadow was just great, she knew the perimeter of the yard and kept in it -- no fences needed -- and kept anything/anyone else out. A fantastic guard dog, loud and ferocious but not aggressive unless/until you got over the line she was guarding. What a dog!

As with so many AKC dogs, look out for hip displasia (sp?) -- she had it, slept on her back a lot of the time, esp as she got older -- it was comical. She lived to 16, a love machine to family and friends, and game til the day she died. A great animal.

um, yep -- she shed. hurricanes of hair in spring, bad as an akita maybe, and that's saying a lot

posted by dancestoblue at 10:27 PM on December 26, 2009

Border collies are great but I'd also suggest thinking about an Australian Shepherd. They are fantastic dogs. As for training, skip the dominance/alpha stuff and check out Karen Pryor and Jean Donaldson. Aussies, like Border collies, learn unbelievably fast and are hard wired to herd and protect. And they are cuddly as can be.
posted by bearwife at 3:40 PM on December 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Aussies. They work wonderfully with both livestock and families. Very loyal, very quick to defend their pack, but intelligent enough to take their lead from the alpha.
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 1:12 PM on December 28, 2009

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