Bigger predators, bigger dogs

They say it's not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog. But when it comes to protecting livestock from large predators, that might not be entirely true. According to information from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), expanding populations of large predators such as wolves and grizzly bears could necessitate some re-thinking as to breeds of dogs used to protect herds of livestock.

Predation in cattle and sheep herds is a significant problem in many parts of the country, and actual death loss is just one consequence. A Drovers/CattleNetwork article earlier this week described how research is showing predation from wolves can traumatize surviving cattle in a herd, resulting in long-term losses in performance and reproduction.

Gail Keirn, with APHIS public affairs, notes that dogs currently used for guarding herds, even large breeds such as Great Pyrenees, Komondors, and Akbash, are suitable for chasing off coyotes but too often come out on the losing end of encounters with larger predators.

To address the issue, researchers with USDA's Wildlife Services (WS) program and the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) are exploring options for developing larger European breeds as livestock protection dogs. Last year, the group began importing young dogs from breeds such as Kangal, Karakachan and Cão de Gado Transmontano for evaluation as livestock protection dogs.

Livestock protection dogs typically begin their training as puppies and grow up among the livestock they will protect. The researchers have placed young dogs with commercial ranchers in several Western states and will monitor their movements and behavior using GPS collars and direct observations. To be effective, livestock protection dogs must bond with livestock and be fearless and aggressive toward predators, while not being aggressive toward other dogs or people.

A USDA factsheet provides information on selecting, raising and using livestock protection dogs, as well as some potential problems or challenges.

A report, entitled Livestock Guarding Dogs: Their Current Use Worldwide, provides an in-depth overview on a variety of livestock protection dogs.