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Livestock Guardian Animals


A growing number of livestock producers are using guard animals to reduce predation on livestock. Llamas, donkeys, and dogs are animals most commonly used for this purpose. The best guard animals stay with the livestock without harming them and aggressively repel predators. The unique characteristics of each livestock operation will dictate the type and number of guard animals required for maximum effectiveness. Characteristics


Llamas can provide an effective, long-term, and economical alternative for predator control in a variety of farm and ranch conditions. Llamas have ideal characteristics for protecting sheep and goats, which include:

• minimal training required and they don’t have to be raised with sheep and goat flocks

• graze the same pasture; no supplements or special foods necessary • require similar vaccinations, worming, and hoof trimming

• can be effective guarding animals for 10-15 years

• instinctively dislike canines

Llamas’ responses to predators include: becoming alert, alarm calling, walking to or running toward the predator; chasing, kicking, or pawing the predator, or positioning themselves between the sheep and the predator. They have also been known to herd the sheep together into one area to try to keep them safe. Characteristics that should be looked for in selecting a guard llama include: independence, curiosity, awareness of surroundings, not fearful of unfamiliar things, and not afraid of dogs, but wary of them.


Donkeys are gaining in popularity as protectors of sheep and goat flocks in North America.  Here are some key points in using a donkey for predation control:

• Use only a gelded jack or a jenny (female); intact males can be aggressive towards livestock.

• Use only one donkey for each group of sheep.

• Allow 4 to 6 weeks for a naive donkey to bond with sheep.

• Remove the donkey during lambing to prevent accidental injuries to lambs.

• Use donkeys in small, open pastures.

• Use donkeys with small flocks (less than 300 head of sheep).

• Test a new donkey’s response to dog species by challenging it with a dog in a pen or small pasture.

Donkeys are extremely intelligent, with acute hearing and sight. They do not like change in their surroundings, and will drive off a predator by braying, baring their teeth, running and chasing, and attempting to bite and kick an intruder.


Livestock guarding breeds originated in Europe and Asia, where they have been used for centuries to protect sheep. Some of the most common breeds are Great Pyrenees (France), Komondor and Kuvasz (Hungary), Akbash dog and Anatolian shepherd (Turkey), and Maremma (Italy). Guard dogs have been bred and trained to enhance many traits. Here are some key points in using dogs for predation control:

• Minimize human contact at 8-12 weeks of age. To be useful, they must bond with the flock they protect, rather than with the owner.

• Avoid pups that seem overly shy, or one that dominates its litter mates–it may later try to dominate its owner.

• It may take 2 years for the dog to mature, therefore, manage the livestock in accordance with the dog’s age and experience (e.g., use smaller pastures while the dog is young and inexperienced).

• When considering owning a guard dog, research the characteristics of the different breeds.

Before differentiating between breeds, there are a number of characteristics most livestock guard dog (LGD) breeds share:

  • Most LGD breeds are over 100 pounds.

  • Most are both good with familiar people yet unfriendly with other dogs (including strays).

  • They’re able to live outdoors all year long.

  • Having been bred by nomadic farmers, they may try to expand their territory by breaking through insufficient fencing (get a good fence).

  • As (stubborn) independent thinkers, they require conscious attention to both training and socialization.

  • They’re highly sensitive to livestock behavior, and LGDs won’t harass livestock when hungry.

  • Most bark — a lot — when sensing an unfamiliar or threatening presence (you may want to prepare sensitive neighbors).

  • Their value (for keeping your livestock alive) means that acquiring an LGD will be a financial investment

Owning a guard dog requires a significant amount of investment and patience in training. Some potential problems with guard dogs include dogs that wander and do not stay with sheep, chasing or playing with stock, harassing or injuring stock, and aggressiveness towards people.

Remember to Socialize Your Livestock Guarding Dogs!

Livestock guardian dogs are known for their intelligence — after all, their owners trust them to protect an entire herd of livestock by themselves! Because they have a level of intelligence that allows them to assess and respond to threats independently, they can also prove quite stubborn, even when receiving a command from their owner. As long as your prioritize consistent training and socialization, though, you can be confident that your livestock guardian dog will obey your commands when necessary.

Guard animals are not a cure-all for all predator problems. Although the use and effectiveness of guard animals has increased, some livestock producers continue to require other animal damage control measures in addition to their livestock guardians.







Great Pyrenees




Anatolian Shepherd






Tibetan Mastiff

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