Keeping your livestock and farm animals safe is an important job.
And there is no one you can trust more than livestock guardian dogs.
These dogs have been used by farmers for centuries to watch their animals. Whether it is predators or strangers, livestock dogs are able to protect their flocks.
LGDs take their job seriously and are bred for this purpose. They enjoy working and are used by farmers as guardians of sheep, cattle, goats, llamas, horses and chickens.
Find out all about these amazing dogs and the top 10 breeds.
Table of Contents
What Are Livestock Guardian Dogs?
Livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) are dogs that are bred to protect farm animals from predators, stray dogs and people. Typically these dogs are large and live outdoors with their flock most of the year.
Different breeds protect different kinds of livestock.
The type of livestock dog you choose should be based on the farm animals you have and what job you want them to do.
Some dogs guard cows, goats and sheep, while others protect smaller animals like chickens and ducks.
Not any dog can guard livestock, it takes a certain type of temperament and body.
Most dogs specifically bred to guard the farm weigh over 100 pounds. Their large bodies and strength help them fight off or intimidate predators.
Some dogs will bravely fight with the predator, while other breeds prefer to stare them down and bark. The guarding style of each dog depends on their breed and temperament.
Not only must these dogs be big, powerful and intimidating, but they also must be very patient.
They must be able to sit outside all day to watch over their flock. This is why many of them also have coats that were bred to withstand different kinds of weather. For most of the day nothing exciting happens, but when it does these dogs must be ready to jump to action.
Finally LGDs must also be very friendly and comfortable living with farm animals.
You don’t want a dog that chases your chickens all day to be their guardian. They must respect their flock and know how to keep them together.
These dogs are not family pets, though many of them are incredibly friendly and gentle.
Farmers depend on these large dogs to protect their animals, especially when they are not actively out on the farm. Their purpose in life is to work and watch over the livestock at all times. They are very happy to do that job and will do anything to protect their flock.
10 Livestock Guardian Dog Breeds
The Kangal Dog is a very ancient breed that is related to early mastiffs. It was first used by Turkish shepherds to guard their flocks of sheep and goats from wolves, bears and jackals.
This Turkish dog is named after the Kangal District of Sivas Province in Central Turkey. Because this region is so isolated, cross-breeding was very rare, making its lineage very pure.
Turkey today considers it its national dog.
The Kangal Dog was first imported to the US in 1985 for livestock guarding, though it still isn’t recognized by the American Kennel Club. It only became recognized by the United Kennel Club in England in 1998.
Kangals are big-boned and powerful dogs bred to fight off predators.
A Kangal dog is always on the alert. It is very territorial, defensive and will confront any threat to its flock. Though it prefers to intimidate predators, it will attack if necessary.
This breed is quite independent, very wary of strangers and is not as affectionate with its family as most dogs.
- Height: 28-32 inches
- Weight: 90-145 pounds
- Protects: Sheep, goats, cattle and chickens
Great Pyrenees come from the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France. They were known for their legendary “zen-like calm” and courage. During cold, snowy nights they were trusted by farmers to watch over their sheep and scare off the wolves and bears.
They were so famous that in the seventeenth century King Louis XIV appointed them as the Royal Dog of France.
Great Pyrenees are possibly the most common livestock guardian dog owned by farmers in the US.
These giant, fluffy, white dogs are incredibly versatile and friendly. They can do just about anything from watching over your livestock to laying with you on the couch after a long day on the farm.
Great Pyrenees are deceptive gentle giants.
Their fluffiness and calmness suggest a quiet soul, but they are actually very courageous and will fight off any predator that threatens their livestock.
- Height: 25-32 inches
- Weight: 85-100+ pounds
- Protects: Sheep, cattle, goats, llamas, horses and chickens
The Akbash is another Turkish dog breed, but unlike other LGDs on this list it is very rare.
In Turkey these dogs were used by villagers and shepherds to guard their sheep from wolves. When they sensed any danger they would “alarm bark”, sometimes even to the point of being excessive.
Akbash dogs were imported into the US for the Predator Control Program in 1980. Ever since then, they have been used for keeping sheep, goats and chickens safe from predators.
The Akbash dog can adapt to many circumstances and acts on their own.
They are very calm and gentle, and share a quiet affection with their family. They get along with both children and other pets and are very protective, but always remains aloof to outsiders like strangers and stray dogs.
These qualities make the Akbash not just a great livestock guardian dog, but also a great pet. They even respond very well to training.
These dogs are always white, though they can have dark spots of skin pigmentation. They are a unique combination of Mastiff and gazehound with long legs, a deep chest and a muscular body. Their head is wedge-shaped with pendant ears.
- Height: 28-34 inches
- Weight: 90-120+ pounds
- Protects: Sheep, goats and chickens
Anatolian Shepherds have possibly existed since the Bronze Age 6,000 years ago. These dogs are from Anatolia, the Asian part of Turkey. They were bred to be the guardians of sheep and goats for shepherds of the region.
This dog guards just about any kind of livestock, and can fend off predators such as wolves.
In Namibia ranchers actually use the Anatolian Shepherd to guard their livestock against cheetahs!
Anatolian Shepherds first came to the United States before World War II to participate in the secret “Sheepdog Project” for the Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, due to the war, the program was canceled.
The Anatolian Shepherd did not see its popularity increase until the 1970s when ranchers decided to use it to protect flocks of sheep, goats, cattle, horses and chickens.
Anatolian Shepherds are hard workers and independent. They are very territorial, protective and can think on their own without the guidance of a farmer. Because of this they are not as affectionate as other LGDs, but still remain loyal.
These dogs are often confused with the Kangal because of their appearance. However, they tend to be smaller than the Kangal, though their body remains quite muscular and powerful.
- Height: 27-29 inches
- Weight: 80-150 pounds
- Protects: Sheep, goats, cattle, horses, chickens, ostriches and llamas
In ancient Italy there were two types of shepherd breeds in the Maremma and Abruzzes regions. Because of their extensive crossbreeding since 1860 the two breeds have been known as just one, the Maremma Sheepdog.
In 2006 the UKC recognized the Maremma Sheepdog as a breed.
The Maremma Sheepdog was used to protect flocks such as reindeer and chickens, as well as property.
It is not typically aggressive and would rather bark at predators than engage in a fight.
Maremma Sheepdogs are a very intelligent breed with a quiet disposition. They are very perceptive and do not trust strangers.
To their owner they are very devoted and affectionate. They can even show love by leaning into you. They will stick by your side as close as possible to keep you under their watchful eye. However, because of this overprotective nature they might confuse harmless situations as dangerous.
The Maremma Sheepdog is often described as majestic for its white coat that sometimes has a slight wave. Its head is like a polar bear’s because of its large, conical shape and black nose.
- Height: 23-29 inches
- Weight: 65-100 pounds
- Protects: Sheep, cattle, goats, reindeer, chickens and property
Central Asian Shepherd Dog
The Central Asian Shepherd Dog is often considered one of the oldest dog breeds.
Central Asian Shepherd Dogs were said to have been formed by natural selection for over 4,000 years in the territory that spans from the Caspian Sea to China and from Southern Ural to Afghanistan.
This dog quickly became famous for its fearless disposition.
First-time owners might find one difficult to handle because of their strong disposition. They are bred to work and friendliness is not their best trait.
A Central Asian Shepherd Dog is independent, proud, courageous and hard-working.
These livestock guardian dogs protected not only all kinds of livestock, but also the modes of transportation of the nomads, including camels and horses.
The Central Asian Shepherd Dog is a dog of great size and power. They have rectangular heads and triangular ears that are low set and hanging. Their double coat is short, though it becomes longer in the neck area where it forms a mane.
- Height: 25-27 inches
- Weight: 85-110 pounds
- Protects: Cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, horses and camels
The Spanish Mastiff first appeared in the Iberian Peninsula around 2,000 years ago. Spanish shepherds relied on this mastiff to protect and herd their sheep.
Every year their sheep would migrate from the south of Spain, where they spent the winter, to the mountains in the North for the summer. This dog’s role and usefulness peaked in the 10th century when Spain’s economy revolved around wool production.
The Spanish Mastiff is very intelligent and aware of the power it carries.
It can be aggressive with predators and strangers, but with the family it is the sweetest and most caring dog. It is incredibly affectionate and does well as a family dog, as long as you put it to work on the farm.
Spanish Mastiffs are a very kind and noble dog, but underneath their gentleness there is a warrior’s spirit.
This courageous dog will take down any predator with its immense body size. It is also known for its deep bark that can be heard from long distances.
Spanish shepherds are a mix of majesty, beauty and power. Their huge body is covered with a gleaming short coat in colors such as fawn, red, black and yellow.
- Height: 28-35 inches
- Weight: 140+ pounds
- Protects: Sheep, cattle, goats and property
The Komondor is from Hungary and under its mop appearance there is a huge and well-muscled body.
Hungarians used this dog as a sheep guard dog breed as it could fight off any ferocious predator with its power and confidence. Even if a Komondor is quite big and bulky, it is surprisingly light-footed and agile.
In Hungary this breed is known as the king of flock dogs for its abilities to guard sheep.
A Komondor is extremely affectionate and protective of their family. They are also quite intelligent and eager to please, even with their independent thinking. These qualities make the Komondor a great family dog, but like all other LGDs they need to have a job!
You will easily recognize the Komondor for its longs white cords.
These cords help them blend in with the sheep they protect. They also help to protect from harsh weather and the teeth or claws of predators.
- Height: 25+ inches
- Weight: 80+ pounds
- Protects: Sheep, cattle, goats and alpacas
The Pyrenean Mastiff is thought to have descended from the Molosser dogs brought to Spain about 3,000 years ago
Pyrenean Mastiffs would accompany shepherds as they migrated with their huge flocks of sheep across Spain. These mastiffs were necessary for the protection of the sheep against wolf and bear attacks through the Pyrenees Mountains.
The breed almost became extinct in the 1940s due to the breakout of war and scarcity of food in Spain.
In the 1970s the breed was revived by a small group of breeders who were invested in establishing the breed standard and keeping it alive.
The Pyrenean Mastiff is still a rare dog in the US as there are only 6,000 worldwide.
Pyrenean Mastiffs are still used as a livestock dog, but many families have adopted them to be a pet. They are incredibly friendly, sweet and calm. They love children and because of their low prey drive do well with other pets too.
- Height: 25-31 inches
- Weight: 120-140 pounds
- Protects: Sheep, cattle, chickens and people
The Kuvasz is a majestic snow-white, wavy haired dog that comes from Hungary.
Kuvasz were used as a livestock guardian dog in the Middle Ages, but their courageousness and beauty won them a seat in the house of royalty. At one point only the highest nobles could own a Kuvasz.
In the fifteenth century King Matthias I claimed that he trusted his Kuvasz more than his palace guards.
A Kuvasz is very bold, keen and loyal.
There is no one you can trust more than your Kuvasz when it comes to protecting your livestock and family.
Kuvasz will protect everyone under its care, even to the point of sacrificing itself. It is highly devoted to its owner and quite affectionate with the family. This spirited dog can be silly and playful, but might be a bit overprotective.
This beautiful dog has an imposing and striking stance. It looks like a sheep with its wavy hair, but is quite lean and tall.
- Height: 26-30 inches
- Weight: 70-115 pounds
- Protects: Sheep, goats, people and property
Livestock Dogs Ranked By Job
Livestock guardian dogs are specifically bred to protect animals such as sheep, goats, cattle, chickens, and even reindeer, alpacas or camels. Farmers and ranchers put their trust in LGDs to take care of their animals.
Most of these dogs are large, fluffy and have been bred for centuries.
Each of them has their own style so no two breeds are exactly alike.
The type of dog you get for your farm will depend a lot on the kind of farm you have, how much livestock you have, what kinds of animals you keep and the location of your farm.
Below we suggest the top three breeds for many different types of farms.
Small Guardian Dogs
Not all animals on the farm are large cows. Some are small chickens or cats.
Guardian dogs were traditionally used for flocks of large animals, but they can also protect smaller animals. Some of the smallest livestock dogs include:
Large Guardian Dogs
Lots of LGDs are made to guard large cattle.
You’ll find them more frequently guarding animals like cows, but they can even do horses and alpacas.
Some of the biggest breeds include:
Goat Guard Dogs
Those that do well with sheep are also used for guarding goats:
Sheep Guard Dog Breeds
Some LGDs were mainly bred for herding and protecting sheep.
Flock protectors often come from Spain and Italy and were hailed for this job:
Chicken Guard Dogs
It takes a special kind of dog with lots of patience to watch over clucky chickens. They need a low prey drive and should be okay with the noise:
Farm Guard Dogs
Some LGDs not only protect the animals of the farm, but also your property and people as well. They are excellent watchdogs and can see a threat before it even happens. If you want a livestock guardian dog like this, then take a look at:
How to Train Livestock Guardian Dogs
Training a livestock guardian dog starts from the moment the puppy is 8 weeks of age.
LGDs have been bred for centuries to guard, so they will naturally have a sense of what they are supposed to do. The process of becoming the flock protector still takes time, patience and guidance.
These dogs typically live outside with the farm animals from a young age.
This means that you should have a yard shelter set up and ready for your puppy. These dogs need to spend a lot of time outside with the animals, so it is important that they learn from a young age that this is where they live and sleep.
Their shelter should initially allow them to watch their flock, but not interact with them.
When unsupervised the puppy should be confined in some type of pen so that they cannot directly touch the livestock.
Never leave the puppy alone or give them access to the livestock as they will be very curious and even start nipping. Puppies that show unwanted behaviors such as chasing the flock should be stopped immediately and separated from the flock to calm down.
All introductions and interactions must be supervised until the puppy has matured. The puppy should always be kept on a leash throughout all of these introductions.
It is normally best to use older and calmer livestock that won’t mind a curious puppy for the first introductions. Having an older dog that already knows the flock can also be helpful to teach the puppy how to act.
Early socialization with the flock is key so that the puppy learns they are to be respected.
With consistent and firm positive reinforcement your puppy will progressively understand what you want from it.
LGDs are smart dogs and will catch on quickly to the behaviors you want them to display.
By the age of 10 months your dog should be old enough to be able to consider the livestock as part of its ‘pack’. During this time you should slowly start reducing your supervision.
Many livestock guardian dogs are bred to be independent thinkers so obedience training can be difficult for them.
Where Do Livestock Guardian Dogs Sleep?
A livestock guardian dog should sleep outside on the farm.
For centuries they had to keep watch at all times and alert the farmer or shepherd when anything was wrong.
Dogs are den animals, so a puppy will especially be happy to have a place that it can call its own. They should have some type of outdoor shelter like a kennel.
Some LGDs like the Spanish Mastiff make great family dogs and will be happy sleeping inside, but this is rare and most should sleep outside.
How Many Livestock Guardian Dogs Do I Need?
It all depends on the type of dog you get and the size of the farm
Some dogs like the Spanish and Pyrenean Mastiff were made to guard livestock in packs. Others like the Kuvasz prefer to be the only dog.
It is generally recommended that you keep one livestock guardian dog per 100 animals.
If you have only a few farm animals, then typically one is enough.
Do Males or Females Make Better Guardian Dogs?
Both female and male LGDs are excellent at the job they do.
Some people find that females tend to stick closer to the herd while males roam more, but neutering can help decrease this roaming behavior.
The gender of the dog has nothing to do with whether it is effective as a livestock guardian.
Pick a livestock dog based on the temperament of the breed and what you want them to guard.