Unlike herding dogs, such as Australian cattle dogs, the purpose of livestock guardian dogs is to guard cattle and other livestock. They are typically large breed dogs, weighing between 80 and 140 pounds and standing 25 to 36 inches tall. They are independent, intelligent and courageous. Raised with their livestock, these dogs become a part of the herd and stay with their herd, protecting them against predators such as wolves, dogs, mountain lions and bears. There are four main breeds used in the United States as guardian dogs, though they are not the only ones.
The Great Pyrenees originated in the Pyrenees Mountains of Europe. They are, as the name suggests, a large breed dog weighing between 85 and 140 pounds. They have more than 1,000 years of history guarding livestock and protecting them from bears and wolves. They are nocturnal in nature and do not tolerate predators of any kind, as they work to keep livestock safe. Ranchers use them as livestock guardian dogs that live with the herd or as ranch dogs that protect the livestock, ranch and the family.
Anatolian shepherds come from Turkey where they are called coban kopegi, which means “Shepherd’s Dog.” They average between 80 and 150 pounds and, despite their large size, they are quick and agile. This enables them to chase down predators quickly and effectively. They are alert, intelligent, calm and observant.
The akbash is another Turkish dog often referred to as coban kopegi or akbas and has been guarding livestock for more than 3,000 years. The akbash is a white dog averaging between 90 and 130 pounds. They are naturally dog aggressive, making them ideal livestock protectors. This behavior, however, requires frequent and regular socialization if the akbash is going to be a companion dog. They are an intelligent, courageous and loyal breed.
The Maremma, or Maremmano-Abruzzese, comes from Italy where it has guarded flocks of sheep for more than 2,000 years. They are very possessive of their owners and animals and will defend and protect them. For this reason, Maremmas are not recommended for house pets unless they are well socialized from a young age. They weigh between 75 and 100 pounds.
While these are the top four breeds used as livestock guardian dogs in the United States, other breeds include the Karabash, or Kangal, the komondor, the Kuvasz, the Tibetan mastiff, the Tatra sheepdog, the Slovak tchouvatch, the caucasian Ovcharka and the Castro Laboriero.
- Purdue University Animal Sciences: Working Dogs
- Livestock Guardian Dogs Association: Livestock Guardian Dogs
- United States Department of Agriculture: Livestock Guarding Dogs
- Great Pyrenees Club of America: Livestock Guardian Dog
- Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club of America: Anatolian Shepherd
- Anatolian Shepherd Dog Club of America: The Anatolian Shepherd Dog AKC Breed Standard
- Dog Breed Info Center: Akbash Dog
- Maremma Sheepdog Club of America: Frequently Asked Questions
- Dog Owner’s Guide: Livestock Guard Dogs
- Duncan Smith/Photodisc/Getty Images