Are you wondering if you need a livestock guard dog on your property? If you need homestead dogs, what are the best breeds for you to consider? Do you know what you need a dog to do on your homestead? Before you purchase a homestead dog, we invite you to consider the following points.
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Note on Space for Homestead Dogs:
If you’re living on an urban homestead, this article probably isn’t for you simply because of the size of your lot. The dogs typically considered homestead dogs are larger and extremely active. This usually means that they require at least an acre to patrol and work. Homestead dogs need space and activity to stay healthy and happy.
Maybe you have extenuating circumstances and still need to know about homestead dogs? Okey dokey, here you go!
#1 Thing to Know About Homestead Dogs
There are books and sites to read, and lots of people to talk to – all of which is a great thing! However, the bottom line is that dogs are living creatures and are, therefore, individual and unique.
There are certain generalities we can make about this breed or that one but, in reality, each dog will be different.
What this means is that you and I should do all the research we can and make the best decision we’re able about which breed is best for our homestead. After that, we invest time and energy into training that dog to do what we need it to do. We also have lots of patience when they mess up.
If it turns out the dog isn’t a good fit for our homestead, then we do all we can to find that dog a new home better suited to their personality. Hopefully, that won’t be necessary, though!
3 Homestead Dogs to Consider
Here are a few livestock guard dog breeds to consider:
- Maremma (Kuvaz & Great Pyranees – they’re very similar)
You’ll notice that I didn’t include other worthy dogs like:
- German or other Shepherds
- Standard Poodles
That’s because, although the above breeds can be good hunters and great guard dogs, they’re not specifically bred to protect livestock.
So, the first question you need to ask yourself is: What do I need a homestead dog to do on my homestead?
This article pre-supposes that you need homestead dogs to guard livestock (and maybe your family, too). Pulis have a potential bonus in that they herd livestock, as well. Consequently, we’ve decided to focus on the three breeds mentioned above for simplicity while still maintaining variety.
Are there other breeds and other reasons to have homestead dogs? Yes,and you should get to know them!
If you’d like to hear from an active homesteader who uses his dogs to hunt and guard his family, please visit this informative Homesteady video on farm/homestead dogs. It’s about 20-ish minutes, so feel free to skip around to the parts that are most relevant to you. He does Q&A throughout.
Homestead Dogs – Profiles of the Three
We’re going to cover these three breeds briefly, and then give you some general information links on where to learn more about Livestock Guard Dogs (LGDs). They’re not like other dogs and it’s really important to know how to raise and train them.
Just a quick note:
Komondors and Maremmas are commonly white, but variations can appear in coat color. Puli are white or black most commonly. If color matters to you for camouflage or herd blending, I thought I’d toss that in there just for information’s sake.
Homestead Dog #1 – Komondor
These lovely dogs are the breed with “dreadlocks”; their fur naturally droops, curls and coils down their coat. You don’t usually brush them for that reason, though you can trim their coat.
- Males can weigh around 100-120 pounds and the females just shy of that (80-100).
- Their life expectancy is pretty typical of a large, working dog – 10-15 years.
Komondors have huge heads to accommodate their huge brains. Like all LGDs, they’re are trained to be protective of their flocks (they were originally bred for sheep and cattle) and make decisions for their care.
This makes LGDs stubborn, opinionated and independent – all of which can be seen as both a challenge and a blessing. It’s best to train LGDs from a young age to socialize with humans and livestock.
Komondors can be particularly territorial and cautious around strangers, so socializing them young is important.
Homestead Dog #2 – Maremma
Big-headed and big-bodied just like a Great Pyrenees and Kuvaz, the three breeds are nearly twins!
As with all LGDs, you need to display calm assuredness when issuing commands because Maremmas are smart and independent. Most are calm and dignified, though affectionate enough when not on duty.
- A Maremma’s weight and life expectancy are similar to a Komondor’s.
Of interest is their adaptability to cold climates, though a Maremma doesn’t particularly care for hot ones.
I find that Isaac, my Great Pyr (similar to a Maremma), struggles in the dead heat of summer, though he can take all other types of weather just fine. He grows an extra thick coat in the winter and actually sleeps on ice when he feels like it.
In the summer, though, his coat thins to nearly nothing and he suffers from heat sores. I do have the complication of an extremely humid summer heat, but I thought I’d share for a little anecdotal information. I do use herbal preparations to treat Isaac’s skin in the summer.
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Homestead Dog #3 – Puli
Puli (Pulik is the plural version of the word, though it’s pronounced the same) have dreadlocks very similar to Komondors, though they’re half the size.
- Coming in at a modest 25-30 pounds, these dogs are a classic herding dog.
- Bred to move livestock quickly and efficiently, they’re sometimes called the gymnasts of the dog world.
- They’re purported to be friendly and easy going, much more so with strangers than a more intense breed like a Komondor.
- Much like the other LGD breeds, Pulik are adaptable to weather and environment.
Pulik do function as guard dogs but seem to be more suited to herding, which you may or may not find of value with the livestock you’ll have. (Herding dogs can worry smaller animals like poultry.)
Pros and Cons of LGDs as Homestead Dogs
Probably the best thing about LGDs is that they can guard against a wide variety of predators and threats.
Their talents enable them to protect an array of different livestock options. This means that one dog can often guard chickens, goats, pigs, whatever. If you have multiple flocks and herds, you may discover you need more than one dog. However, one LGD could theoretically cover your entire property if it’s under five acres.
Another benefit of LGDs is that they’re incredibly smart and have a capacity to bond with their charges to create solid relationships of trust. Since they work all night and often during the day (after a bit of a rest if they’ve had a busy night), they provide near constant protection.
Since they’re close, LGDs can provide protection for the homestead family, too.
They’re not a flawless option, of course.
- Like most dogs LGDs dig, but since they’re typically larger dogs, the holes can be epic.
- LGDs are often quite big and require a good amount of feed.
- You have to have really good fencing to keep LGDs in if you want to keep them close to home because they love to wander. Basically, if they can see it, they consider it theirs to protect.
- Another annoyance is that they bark. And bark and bark. Now, this is a very good thing because their bark is the first line of defense against predators and it’s very effective. Your neighbors may not enjoy all that noise, even if the barking is protecting their lands, too.
- LGDs are not so easy to train to do normal dog things like sit and stay because of how independent they are.
All in All
However, once they’ve matured past the age of two and with suitable training, they can be trusted to guard entire flocks and herds on their own! (HOWEVER, you may want two for each area if you have any pack predators like coyotes.)
Here’s a video I really enjoyed covering the things you should know before you get LGDs. The video covers topics like:
- Climbing – yes, climbing!
- Night activity
- Training needs from 0-2 yrs.
- The need to work and never be bored
- Great explanation of why to train well – especially why having older and younger dogs together is beneficial
Do I Pet My Livestock Guard Dog?
There are those who claim you shouldn’t pet or show too much affection to your LGDs, but I completely disagree with this. First of all, it’s not in my nature.
Also, I want my LGDs to be very used to people, so they don’t scare away my guests or get agitated when we have new people over. For some individual dogs, who may not crave human attention and affection, this standoffish approach might work well.
I have two videos below that show/explain both approaches so you can ponder what you’d like to do. There’s another video there that give some history of LGDs in the US. It also has more on hands-on vs. hands-off discussion, including explaining how the pack mentality can expand to include you.
To Touch or Not To Touch Your Homestead Dogs?
The main goal of training is to put yourself in the alpha position so that your LGDs respect what you want them to do. Always talk to the breeder from whom you purchase you dogs to learn their philosophy on showing affection to your LDGs and other homestead dogs. Even if you disagree, it’s good to fully understand the environment in which your new dog has been raised. This will help you manage it and your expectations.
I find that a lot of the old-time farmers/ranchers are of the no (to less) touch ideology. The younger farmers/homesteaders are more open to methods of training that include touching.
I already shared my personal take, but you need to decide what you think is best.
(I’m NOT going to NOT pet a puppy or a dog and tell them I love them and that they’re fabulous – it’s just NOT going to happen. However, you might be a far more disciplined person than I am!)
- At 3 and 9 minutes see/hear dog training information with Justin Rhodes
- Exact opposite training for dogs – little long winded but this kind of topic is well suited for experience tales.
- I like this video for the history and information on “the way of the pack”. The book she mentions has been published and is available on Amazon. I haven’t read it, but here is a link to read the reviews.
Will You Need an LGD?
My first response is yes, if you have any kind of acreage, absolutely! Even if you don’t have livestock yet, a good homestead dog can help keep the deer out of your garden and your kids safe playing in the pasture.
Other Guard Animals
However, you may run into people who are able to use their alpacas to guard. Or, use llamas and/or donkeys.
My friend, Chris, reviewed a book called Livestock Guardian Animals that mostly focused on dogs as guard animals on the homestead – the review is here. However, inside the body of the article she talks about how she uses llamas to guard their sheep flocks. It was really interesting and is something to consider.
Here’s a fascinating take on using alpacas as guard animals on a farm in South Africa. You get to see them work protecting with a night cam.
I still think a good homestead dog is worth his weight in gold! However, I wanted you to know there are other options, if you decide dogs aren’t going to be your thing.
Homestead Dogs Resources
Here are a few more articles for your consideration.