Guard animals are an indispensable part of a well run farm, especially if you have animals outside, and more so if you have acreage. Even on a small farm in the city, a guard dog can be of an immense help.

It is wise though, to understand that guard animals have limitations to what they will do, and how they will behave. Understanding those limitations will help you to not expect something from an animal that it is incapable of giving.

Breed and Species Behaviors

Animals have instinctive behaviors that can be increased within specific breed lines, or decreased within breed lines, but which will still remain animal behaviors, not human behaviors. Things that seem simple to you may take more reasoning steps than a dog, donkey, or goose, is capable of getting through.

Breed influences these behaviors - instincts can be encouraged or discouraged through breed lines. Many breed lines have as part of the breed standard, certain personality and behavior characteristics. You can breed them partially out, over hundreds of generations, but they will never be entirely predictable, and when you are done, you do not have that breed anymore, you have a different breed! The point being, certain breeds may never be suitable under any circumstances for life on the farm.

Geese tend to be good guard animals to keep strangers away from the gates. But they may be similarly aggressive with you. They tend to be less distinguishing between friend and foe, and tend to be either protective, or not, depending upon the breed. Geese won't stand up to many predators, but they usually intimidate mischief makers - a goose pinch is no fun!

Dogs, donkeys, and llamas may be more discriminating between friend and foe, but they do not distinguish them by the same rules YOU do. Just because you know someone, does not mean they are safe to the animal. These animals may be very defensive, and hence, very aggressive, with strangers.

Dogs that have been bred as attack or fighting dogs will always have a tendency to be unpredictable, especially around strangers, but often even around people they are familiar with. They are a poor choice for a farm guard dog, because they are similarly unpredictable around other animals. They have a higher than normal "fight or flight" response, and it is tuned to fight, not run. This is why Pit Bulls are so unpredictable (in spite of the theory that they are just dogs that have been mistreated on a case by case basis - not true). They were bred as fighting dogs - a breed that never should have been created in the first place, and which should be allowed to go into extinction now (they should not be bred nor encouraged as a breed - there is no purpose for their characteristics). Pit Bulls with puppies may be especially unpredictable - a further reason to not breed them.

Large livestock guardian dogs defend livestock very well. They have a reputation for NOT defending it against people though. They tend to be fairly gentle around people - indeed, this is a characteristic that distinguishes them from attack dogs. They will not bark a warning in many instances, though they may defend if a clear and emergent threat is evident in a way they understand. They defend livestock better than they defend people, also. Their outstanding characteristic is that they can generally be taught easily to NOT chase poultry.

Dogs with bird dog strains will ALWAYS chase poultry. They can rarely be trained to not do so, this is a characteristic that has been bred into them deliberately.

Some dog breeds in between, such as herding dogs, may or may not be taught to not chase poultry. If you have a free range operation, this may be a major consideration.

Pets Run Amok

Now, dogs will defend well against coyotes - so will llamas and donkeys. But there is one thing that none of them can protect you from:

Wild dogs. I don't mean wolves or foxes or coyotes. While wolves are also a threat that a good livestock guardian won't be able to stand up against, they are far less of a risk than wild domesticated dogs. People turn pets loose to fend for themselves. And they do. They run in packs - usually very large packs, but sometimes just a few dogs. The pack mentality and fearlessness seems to kick in with as little as two or three dogs.

Wild dogs are NOT afraid of people. That has been bred out of them. And if there is a pack running in your neighborhood, one of the sad truths is that your dogs are just as likely to JOIN the wild dogs as defend against them. No matter how much you love your dog, or think that your dog will be loyal, you cannot trust a dog to not join other dogs that are running in a pack.

If your dog DOES defend you, they'd be no match for a pack. Neither will you. Wild dog packs are incredibly dangerous. They will encircle, attack and distract, until they get you down. Once you are down, you are gone. They do the same with livestock. They take it down, and kill it - sometimes they eat it, sometimes they just kill it - either way, they are brutal and show no mercy, because you are not the good guy, you are prey, and they are predators once they turn. Animals that have been worried to death, or killed but not eaten, may have been killed by dogs.

Our family had a pet that began running with other dogs on our hillside - this was out in timber and farmland. They began killing cattle. My father put the dog down - because once they revert and run with a pack, they will never reform. They just don't ever go back.

Dogs that run in packs may still return home at night, all wagging tails and friendliness to their owners, at least for a time. But once they look to another dog as the Alpha, it is only a matter of time before you lose the place of influence over them. They will hunt, kill, and eat, ANYTHING. Other dogs, cats, rodents, farm animals (including cows and horses), children, adults, etc. It is all just prey to them. It seems as though once the barriers in the brain are down, the instincts suppressed by domestication come back with a vengeance.

Every dog has the potential in them for this - reported wild dog attacks have included packs with beagles, chows, and other smaller dogs not only running in the pack, but LEADING the pack.

Good fencing, and a trapline around the outside if that is allowed in your area, will be necessary if wild dogs become a problem. If there is a major economic meltdown, or chaos in the cities, people WILL turn dogs loose. Many of them will drive them "in to the Country" to let them loose, thinking it is kinder and they are less likely to get picked up there. Two or three people thinking like that, who think your neighborhood is a good place to dump, and you've got an uncontrollable pack out there.

This is one reason that many people shoot loose dogs on sight in the country, if they are on their property. You can't trust them. They often will decoy with a friendly one, while others sneak up. So farmers have learned to not trust strange dogs on their property. They put them down before they can become part of a VERY big problem.

Livestock guardian animals are a valuable working member of a well-run farm. Just realize that they do have limitations, and there are potential issues that can sneak up on you if you are not aware of it. Stay vigilant - because it takes more than a good guard animal to keep your farm, your animals, and your family safe.


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