My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

Understanding Your Livestock Guardian

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Breeds: Akbash Dog, Anatolian Shepherd Dog, Caucasian Shepherd Dog (Caucasian Ovcharka), Great Pyrenees, Komondor, Kuvasz, Maremma Sheepdog, Pyrenean Mastiff, Tibetan Mastiff

When we humans started amassing large numbers of animals, such as flocks of sheep, we issued an open invitation to local predators to come get the goods. Sheep — slow, easy-to-find, abundant — are a predator’s dream come true.

With our flocks threatened, we decided to fight fire with fire. We created a large predator of our own to help out. To further protect our flocks, we often bred these guardians to look as much like sheep as a dog can. Large, white, and shaggy, our canine stealth weapons blended into the flock seamlessly until a threat arose. Then out they came, bark furiously, defending against – but not pursuing – the threat. It is no help to the shepherd if the dog chases an individual wolf all over creation while the rest of the wolf pack attacks the flock.

What kind of dog does this history create?

Independent
These dogs act on their own. When your friend, Bob, jumps out from behind a door to “surprise” you, do not expect your dog to wait for your command to act, nor will he stop in mid-air on command. These dogs are serious; they need extraordinary amounts of training to be responsive in a moment of perceived crisis. Of this group, the Great Pyrenees is the softer and easier to control breed.

Barks
Many of these dogs bark, especially at night and not always at anything you can put your finger on. Some people suspect the dog is posting an auditory “Beware: Guard dog on duty!” sign.

Does not Wander off Territory
Normally not wanderers, these dogs want to patrol their territory daily. If your boundaries are made clear early in his life, your dog will respect them. If you allow him to form his own, he may include parts of neighboring properties. A secure fence is your best ally.

Large and Powerful
These are huge dogs with little sense of humor about their work. Amazingly intelligent animals, if they are not socialized extensively, trained persistently and managed responsibly, they can be a hazard.

Single-Family Dogs
Once these dogs have bonded to you, they have little use for anyone else. Again, Pyrs are the most social of this group, but in general, they will only have eyes for you. This may sound flattering, but it is a great deal of responsibility.

Aggressive
Built to protect, these dogs will warn with a bark if given a chance. But if a threat appears in their home, many absolutely will act. Don’t send your neighbor into the house for a beer – not, at least, if you like him. These dogs can also be fierce if any strange dog enters his territory.

Common Problems: Aggression of all types, difficult to control, barking, digging.

The Good Home: Experienced dog people who want a canine project. Flock guardians are not casual dogs, but high-maintenance animals that need an endless amount of socialization and training to be their best.

The exception to this is the Great Pyrenees, who, after years of breeding for show, is generally a kinder, gentler dog than his more primitive counter-parts. If you want a white mountain of fur and are ready a serious commitment, the Pyrenees is your best choice.

Kuvaszok and Komondorok are amazing dogs: loyal, intelligent, and focused but they are not appropriate for a casual home looking for an easy companion dog.

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