How to build a livestock guardian dog pack

livestock guardian dog and puppy
Colter meets his great-great granddaughter, lovingly nicknamed Piggy. At five weeks, a lot of expectations rest on her little shoulders. (Courtesy of Farei Kennels)

Let’s face it. There is nothing humans like to do more than coo over puppies. I’m a lot more interested in what’s on the inside of a livestock guardian dog puppy, and what’s going on behind that cute face. I’m hoping it will grow into a good working dog — an asset. I really don’t care what it looks like.

A lot goes into the selection of a dog for the farm. We have a unique setup and a relentless predator load. Livestock guardian dogs are hampered by limited visibility in the wooded areas, and challenged by the hilly, rocky terrain and the weather.

The last few winters have been mild by most standards, but the warmer temperatures and lower snow totals have us all dealing with icy, crusty conditions that make it hard on stock dogs and predators alike. Coyotes can’t hunt small rodents in those conditions, but they and the smaller predators can skim across the crust at summer speeds, while the heavier livestock guardians tend to break through. The cattle dogs were a bigger help with the foxes last winter but even they know not to stray too far from the safety of the guardians.

Newest addition

I am currently watching our newest addition, fondly known as Piggy. At just five weeks old, she’s already got sass and a no nonsense attitude when it comes to dealing with her siblings. Piggy has some enormous shoes to fill with the loss of her grandmother earlier this summer.

But the traits I am already seeing will serve her well here. Most of the guardians are female. She’ll need some sass to fit in. She’s also on the heavy side, showing her great-great grandfather’s influence. Size is something I’ve been adding back into my lines, as bears become more of a problem. Mild winters bring them out at the worst of times.

What to look for

The addition of a livestock guardian dog is a debated topic, with a lot of breed stereotypes thrown around about guarding styles. Any time someone tells me “this breed does this,” I think about the different personalities and skill sets in my pack, all of the same breed. Numbers also affect guarding style. Having enough dogs to do the job has a major impact on the “way” they get it done.

When selecting a dog for someone, one of the first things I look at is the temperament of the shepherd. It’s important to select personalities that work well together from the top down.

It’s also important to add a temperament that fits well with any current pack members. Too many “generals” and you wind up with infighting and jockeying for position. At the same time, having too many “soldiers” isn’t good either. Somebody has to lead and make decisions when the shepherd isn’t there. It’s part of having a healthy pack dynamic.

Take time

Age is also a factor in adding a new addition to an existing pack. I like to stagger mine one to two years apart. This allows me to concentrate my training on the newest member knowing that everyone else is solid and will provide a positive influence for the growing pup.

It also means that barring tragedy on the job, I can have a new pup trained up in time to retire an older adult to the farm proper. A good breeder should help you consider all of these aspects of adding a livestock guardian to your farm, setting you and the dog up for success.



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