Livestock guarding and herding dogs

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As far back as thousands of years ago, humans started to use dogs for the protection of livestock and to help shepherds and shepherdesses. There are two different tasks for the dogs: herding and protecting.

Herding dogs

Livestock herding dogs help with the daily movement of the herd, keeping the herd together, guiding it to desired areas and keeping it there. These dogs are specially trained to move herds from one grazing area to the next. As so-called paddock working dogs, Border Collies are the preferred breed. So-called furrower dogs are deployed to move the herd from one area to another and keep it there like a living fence. They have also proven themselves useful with nomadic shepherds and shepherdesses who walk along roads. Livestock guarding dogs work very closely with their shepherd or shepherdess.

Livestock guarding dogs

In most countries, the use of livestock guarding dogs is still a preferred method to protect livestock on (alpine) pastures. There are different types of livestock guarding dogs, mostly used with sheep and goats, but also to protect cattle and and pigs. Usually, the dogs grow up in the barn with “their” herd, together with human contact and more experienced dogs.

When working, livestock guarding dogs live with their herd on the pastures. They observe their surroundings attentively and independently. Their natural instinct quickly detects whether any danger is near. Through their socialisation and character they decide that neither bikers nor hikers with children and family dogs are a danger to their herd.

They regard humans with curiousity and approach them in a friendly and respectful manner, if they are approached with the same friendliness and respect. This behaviour is astonishing to many who mistakenly believe that the dogs approach any passersby with aggression. These dogs protect their herd against kills of wolves, bears, wild dogs, foxes or crows, mainly through their presence. Their size, confident appearance, the continuous marking of their territory, their strategic distribution in and around the herd all contribute significantly to their deterring effect on hungry carnivores. Despite their independent behaviour they have a close connection to their shepherd.

If sheep are not yet accustomed to dogs, a settling-in period is necessary to familiarise sheep flocks with the work of livestock guarding dogs, and potentially also herding and cattle-dogs. The integration of dogs into sheep flocks is particularly efficient, if some sheep present are already familiar with the presence of dogs.

With their commitment, these dogs make a professional contribution to shepherding and the protection of livestock. They form a team with their shepherds and should receive respect and societal recognition accordingly.

Livestock guarding dogs – Breeding and use