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Herding Dogs and Guard Dogs

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I’ve been working on my Zazzle store putting up products with dog silhouettes on them. Right now I’m working on the category of guard dogs. I like to read about the rare breeds I’m working on. But what makes me cringe is the description of the livestock guard dogs as herding dogs. They are not the same thing at all.

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Guard dog and Border Collie

Livestock guard dogs live with the stock, often from a very early age. They are usually large and white since sheep will more readily accept something that looks like another sheep and a big dog will be more intimidating to predators. Their job is to protect the stock, chasing off everything from coyotes to bears and, in some parts of the world, even cheetahs. They may round up the flock if they perceive danger, but they are not used to herd stock under direction of the shepherd. They need no special training to do their jobs so obedience to the shepherd was not a consideration in breeding. Some breeds in the livestock guard dog category include the Great Pyrenees, Maremma, Kuvasz, Komondor and Akbash.

A herding dog was developed using the hunting instinct of the dog. They crouch, stalk and stare at their prey. They circle around in a similar fashion to wolves and bring the prey to the handler.  They are highly trained and the most obedient dogs were the most useful and therefore the ones selected for breeding. They do not need to be large, but they do need to be quick and tough to handle all kinds of livestock in all sorts of climates.

Many herding dogs cannot be left unsupervised around stock. Their drive to work is too strong and left alone, the hunting instinct can take over.  I know of instances when sheep have been mauled or killed because of loose working dogs. It is not all that common but it can happen.

Doc HerdingBorder Collies are the first that come to mind, but other breeds include the Australian Shepherd, Australian cattle dog, kelpie, Shetland Sheepdog, bearded collie and the Belgian sheepdogs.

While a livestock guard dog or LGD may be referred to as a shepherd, it is not a herding dog. And herding dogs might protect the herd, but only under some circumstances.

What is more disturbing is when people who might have one of each type of dog say they want to breed them together. My first thought is “why?” The results may well be a dog that can’t do either job adequately.

If you’d like some detailed info on LGDs visit http://www.canids.org/occasionalpapers/livestockguardingdog.pdf

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About ragtimelil

Writer, collie mom and all-around great person.

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