Livestock Guardian Dog Breed Comparison
Are Great Pyrenees dogs the best for your goats?
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Livestock guardian dogs have been utilized throughout Europe and parts of Asia for thousands of years, but they are just starting to gain traction throughout North America. There are quite a few breeds to choose from, and some are harder to find than others, especially in the United States. If you are considering a dog for your herd, consult a livestock guardian dog breed comparison and research the individual traits to find what will best suit your specific needs.
History and Background
Livestock guardian dogs have been selectively bred for literally thousands of years to possess specific traits. Some of these traits include having a very low “prey drive.” This means that they have virtually no instinct to hunt, stalk, kill, or consume prey. Guardian breeds are also incredibly protective of their herd. They bond with the animals, living with them and protecting them from goat predators. Most livestock guardian breeds are very independent, not needing much human instruction. They often prefer to make their own decisions regarding their herd and how they respond to threats. They are all large dogs, able to fight against wolves, large cats, and even bears. All but one rare breed of livestock guardian dog possess a double coat of hair. While the outer coat varies in length and texture by breed, this double coat with the soft undercoat provides excellent insulation against extreme weather, both hot and cold.
Livestock Guardian Dog Breed Comparison
Consult this livestock guardian dog breed comparison to help determine the best dog for farm protection in your area.
Akbash Dog — Originating from Turkey the Akbask dog is a popular choice and works well in both open range and fenced pastures. They will protect early and from all predators, including people they do not know. They bond strongly with their herd and possess strong maternal instincts toward the animals. Akbash dogs are working dogs and want a job to do. Their coat is well-suited to colder climates.
Anatolian Shepherd Dog — Another Turkish breed, the Anatolian Shepherd is very territorial and responds quickly to threats. They are considered moderately reactive in how quickly they escalate from barking to attacking a perceived threat. They have lower energy than many other livestock guardian dog breeds but still need regular exercise and space to roam.
Armenian Gampr — From Armenia, the Gampr has a lot of variability in appearance. While they are lower energy, they react and escalate quickly when threatened. They are quite reserved, independent thinkers. Their preferred guardian style is to patrol around the herd. They can be aggressive to other dogs. You will need good fences to keep a Gampr enclosed.
Central Asian Shepherd — This breed works well in a pack where there can be a division of responsibilities. They are highly reactive to threats, keeping predators well away from the herd. They form strong bonds with their owners and may be a little more trainable than other guardian breeds. While this dog will accept people properly introduced by the owners, they are intolerant of all intruders if the owner is not present. This breed can be a good family guardian dog as long as they are well-socialized. Because of how strongly they bond with their family, this dog does not rehome well and needs daily interaction rather than being alone on a range. They are very vocal, especially at night when patrolling. They require very good fencing.
Great Pyrenees — Known outside North America as the Pyrenean Mountain Dog, this guardian breed originates from France and is quite popular and well-known throughout the world. Known as a mellow, low energy dog, they are often companion dogs rather than livestock guardians, although they still excel at guarding. While they are aloof with strangers, they love children and will protect them as their charges. They can bark a lot, especially at night. They need good fencing as they are prone to expanding their territory. Because the Great Pyrenees is less aggressive to humans, they are a good choice for farms that will have regular visitors. They prefer to bark away threats and will only attack if the predator is insistent. If you want your Great Pyrenees to be a livestock guardian dog, be sure to go through a breeder who specializes in guardian lines rather than companion lines.
Kangal Dog — Another breed developed in Turkey, the Kangal is more social with people than many of the guardian breeds. They are gentle with their charges and do well with children and other pets. However, they can be aggressive to other dogs that are not part of the household. They usually observe their herd from a vantage point, occasionally patrolling. They will place themselves between any perceived threats and their herd, barking before attacking. The Kangal can make a great farm dog or family guardian in addition to livestock guardian. Their coat is well suited to extreme weather with a shorter summer coat and dense double winter coat.
Karakachan Dog — This dog is from Bulgaria, developed by the Karakachan nomadic people. There is a broad range of temperaments in the breed ranging from submissive to dominant and low to high reactivity toward threats. They do not make good companion dogs but are typically good with children. They are very alert with their herd and will even move the herd to an area that they deem to be safer. They are proven against even large predators but less aggressive toward people.
Komondor — The “mop dog” originated from Hungary. While this dog may look funny with its long cords of hair, it is not one to tolerate threats to its herd. The Komondor is highly reactive to predators including human intruders and must be well trained and socialized early. Although this is a very dominant breed, they do not respond well to harsh discipline. They bond strongly with their owners but if left alone too much will become overly protective against all humans. Komondors will fiercely protect all that is considers theirs, including their owners/family. This breed is not for inexperienced owners. If you choose this dog, request a tutorial on proper coat care to help the cords form properly without huge mats.
Kuvasz — Another dog from Hungary, the Kuvasz is very loyal to his family and often won’t bond if he is rehomed. Because they bond so fiercely, they are better suited to be an all-around farm dog/farm protector rather than being full-time with livestock. They are affectionate and soft-tempered, but not a good playmate for children because their protective instinct can cause them to overreact to rough play between children. The Kuvasz needs good fences and lots of socialization.
Maremma Sheepdog — The Italian livestock guardian does not accept other humans on the property well even after being introduced unless the owner is present. They prefer to live outside and are very much a working dog. The Maremma bonds closely to the herd and is less prone to wandering, although this does not mean you don’t need fences. While they desire contact with owners, they seem happiest when tending their herd.
Pyrenean Mastiff — A huge Spanish dog, they weigh 120-150 pounds or more. They are more common as companions or family guardian dogs, but they still possess the traits of a livestock guardian. They do not bark as often as other guardian dogs and are less reactive in general. They willingly accept people when introduced by the owner. However, they are great at climbing fences to escape. Their coat is heavy enough that they cannot tolerate high heat and humidity very well.
Spanish Mastiff — This dog can weigh up to 220 pounds. While the Spanish Mastiff is slower to react, he can attack ferociously. They are not very affectionate and can be stubborn, but they do need regular human interaction. They work very well in areas with large predators and seem less reactive toward humans.
Tibetan Mastiff — This dog makes a great farm or property guard because of their desire for interaction with their family. They will bark a lot, especially at night. You will need a good six-foot fence with precautions against digging to keep this dog in. They are not suited for very hot humid climates because of their thick coats.
Many traits such as size and guarding instincts are common to all livestock guardian breeds. However, temperaments and reactivity levels vary highly. Some are more accepting of people visiting while others will not allow anyone they do not know well to enter their territory. It is important to research the breeds and also the pedigree of livestock guardian dogs before choosing one to watch over your herd of goats.
Do you keep any dogs from this livestock guardian dog breed comparison? What do you like and dislike most about your goat guard dog?
Dohner, J. V. (2016). Farm Dogs: A Comprehensive Breed Guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.