Updated: Sep 20
When we started our homesteading journey Josh and I tossed around the idea of a livestock guardian dog (LGD) but didn't really think it was necessary. Often times you'll see information regarding needing a certain amount of acreage to warrant an LGD, which we didn't think we met that requirement.
We housed all our livestock close to our house as we believed that would be enough of a deterrent for predators in our area (we have coyote, fox, raccoon, hawks, eagles, etc.). It took us experiencing a few tough loses to rethink this whole thought process. The toughest being a goose, named Goose. She was one of the special ones. Raised her as a gosling, she'd come by name & always loved a good cuddle session to start her day.
We ignorantly thought geese would be enough of a protectant for our laying hens. It took us losing her to a coyote attack (right in our front yard) to realize we were oh so wrong.
That was enough of a lesson for us to realize we needed a livestock guardian. We spoke to other farmers who had LGD's on breeds available, training required, etc. We found a puppy ready for a new farm to call her own, we scheduled a visit to meet her, see if her personality would fit us/our farm... the rest is history.
We welcomed a 12 week old Great Pyrenees puppy "aka polar bear" to the farm & named her Goose in honor of our beloved gosling. Goose, the LGD, would take over her role in protecting our farm. Josh and I often talk about our gosling and how naive we were in thinking she was safe.
Some basic things to consider when looking for a LGD:
Ensure you are purchasing from a working farm. Goose came from parents who were both working dogs on the same farm. We were able to meet both parents.
Verify if your dogs were raised outdoors or indoors. We prefer that the puppies be raised outdoors as they have been bred for centuries to protect livestock.
Not any breed can be a livestock guardian dog. The most common breeds are Great Pyrenees, Maremma, Anatolian Shepherds, Akbash, Karakachan, Central Asian Shepherd, or a mix of those breeds. Steer clear of known herding dogs as this is a completely different (undesirable) trait in LGD's.
The first year with Goose was all about training and encouraging her to progress in her role as protector of the farm.
We had zero experience in raising a LGD, but did plenty of research in the beginning. Our main focus from day one was basic obedience. She learned recall, basic manners (sit, stay, lay down), and accompanied us during our farm chores twice a day. We preferred to keep things simple. We found praising good behavior with high value dog treats and scolding bad behavior with a loud "NO" was about all she needed.
This is why it is so important to purchase a working dog, from working lines. You can't expect a dog to do something that they weren't bred for, regardless of the breed. We needed to teach
her basic commands, but as far as protecting the farm came naturally to her as she matured... she just needed guidance from us. One thing we were told over and over again was that we would have to contain her to one fenced in area. Which wasn't ideal for our farm, we have pastures located all around the property, chickens spread out and they all needed protecting. We made it part of our daily routine (twice a day) to walk our property line with - again reinforcing good/bad behavior for staying within those boundaries. It took a long time and a lot of effort on our end, but I am please to report it worked. Goose knows here boundaries and will not cross them. She jumps fences/gates to patrol where she is needed in that moment.
Where is she on market days?
Goose's job is to protect the farm from predators - both animal and human. So, when it comes to Sunday market days it can be a bit overwhelming for her to see all these unfamiliar people visiting the farm all at once. Most guardians also value their personal space - Goose in no exception.
This is why you won't find Goose at work on Sunday market days. We like to say every Sunday she gets a well deserved break with a high value treat. It's not a bad experience for her as she would be extremely stressed otherwise, this way she's able to relax and recharge for another week of hard work on the farm. Due to the nature of her job - we don't allow visitors to meet/pet her. Unlike a pet, she is a working dog, with a job and it's just not something we allow on our farm.