Finding the right jobs for livestock guardian dogs

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livestock guardian dog goats
Colter, the patriarch of Farei Kennels, is one of the livestock guardian dogs that gets along with goats, oddly enough. (Photo courtesy of Farei Kennels)

I am not a writer. I am a farmer, mentored by a writer and a baker, but that is a different story. I raise sheep, chickens and dogs. I also feed and help care for my mother’s goats. Through hap and circumstance, I am also helping her build her herd into something that fits her current lifestyle and needs. These things have changed considerably since she first bought goats.

Flock vs. herd

I’ve found it to be interesting learning the difference between goat and sheep mentalities — flock vs herd. It’s also helped me understand why I like sheep. This isn’t really about the goats though. It’s about dogs. Goat dogs, to be precise. My mother has one Kangal, Amaya, who has guarded her small flock for two years. As we expanded the herd and subsequent grazing areas, I have lent my mother an additional dog on a rotating basis to give hers a break or a teammate.

Due to this unique situation, not only do I have a young dog who came from a farm with goats, but a number of my younger dogs have spent a fair amount of time with them. To say I find the dynamic interesting is an understatement.

Goat dogs

It takes a certain individual to work with goats. Much like 3-year-old Sakura, who does well with the sheep but much prefers the poultry, some dogs just seem to be goat dogs and some do not. My mother’s dog didn’t start guarding goats until about 18 months old, but she likes them and they like her.

Amaya does not like weather. Unlike most of my guys, she will forgo food if it’s raining. Just like the goats. My 6-year-old Mimi also likes goats, and will actively groom and cuddle them. My young male, Fitz, although he comes from a goat farm, would much rather be with the sheep. He will guard the goats if I ask him to, but it’s an ambivalent sort of guardianship, and the goats mostly ignore him. Colter, my oldest male, chums around with our young buck.

Sheep vs. goats

I do a lot of observation when I’m out working and the stock are in view. Sheep are flock animals and show affinity for members of their group, making sure everyone sticks together. They stay in constant communication when on the move, much like migrating geese. Certain individuals have specific roles; I have a lead ewe and what I call the “caboose ewe.”

It’s always the same girls making sure they all stay together, even calling to me if I lag behind when we change grazing areas. My ram watches over the babies and more vulnerable members of the group bunched in the middle. I notice the dogs regularly checking in with these sheep when they come in off patrol to rest with the group.

Goats seem to be more focused on themselves. Everyone is responsible for their own well being. Goats who lag might be called to by the herd queen, but no one will wait for you.

Guarding goats

I notice that the dogs spend more time checking in with all the goats, rather than just the leaders. It’s more work. They don’t stay together as much during grazing. The dogs have a more erratic protection area as individuals do their own thing throughout the day. I will be interested if this behavior changes as we add numbers and get more of a “herd” going. I notice that my goat dogs ask for breaks more often and do better with a higher percentage of dogs to goats.

I tell you all this for a reason. I have always maintained that the dog will care about what “you” care about. I considered the idea that they take care of the goats, because I care about my mother, who cares about goats.

Except this does not carry over in all instances. Just like their independence in other aspects — and despite my love of sheep — some of them still like goats.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. great, really intreresting. have u tried rottys? …possibly too lazy ?, all very trainable/ boxer rcan have more energy and can have a high top speed, u possibly like a more rare breed. im in new zealand and rare dogs are v costly, i allso like being able to replace the dog quickly as the more common dogs are stolen or hurt being stolen?

  2. LGDs are a specific breed group that does not include any of the ones you mentioned. These dogs have been bred for thousands of years to have a specific skill set. Some things you just can’t train.

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