There are so many livestock guardian dog breeds that it can be daunting to pick the right one for your small farm, hobby farm, or homestead. First, make sure to bone up on the basics of having a livestock guardian dog, ensuring that the choice to have one at all is the right one for your farm.
Determining Your Needs and Situation
Next, assess your needs thoroughly. Will your dog or dogs guard sheep, goats, poultry, or a combination of animals? Do you have children and need a particularly child-friendly breed? Is your terrain mountainous, open fields, a combination of woods and fields, or something else? What is your climate like? Most livestock guardian dog breeds were bred in specific regions from western Europe to Asia. Selecting a breed that originates from an area with a fairly similar climate can be a consideration. Here are some of the more common breeds of livestock guardian dogs available in the United States today.
In France, the Great Pyrenees is one of the most familiar livestock guardian dog breeds. In the United States, most of them are actually kept as pets. They are very nurturing with children as well as young animals. They do bark a lot, including at night. These dogs have heavy, long coats that require regular grooming and can be too hot in humid or warmer climates. Great Pyrs are typically one of the least aggressive breeds. Since most are bred for companion purposes, you may need to do your research to find a good breeder of working Pyrs with proper guardian temperament.
Anatolians are from Turkey and range from 90 to 150 pounds and 27 to 29 inches in height. They have a short, rough coat and are very muscular and strong, with thick necks and bodies and broadheads. Their superior sight and hearing are assets to their service as livestock guardian dogs; they are fast and agile as well. Anatolians require extensive socialization and like to roam.
From Hungary, the Komondor is known for its long and heavy, felted cords or dreadlock-like fur, which provides significant protection from weather and bites from wolves. The Komondor's coat requires a serious maintenance commitment, or you can clip the coat. They grow up to 80 to 100 pounds and 25 to 27 inches tall. These are very protective and territorial dogs and require a lot of socialization.
Estrela Mountain Dog
Estrelas are typically long-haired, with males roughly 88 to 110 pounds and 26 to 29 inches tall. They get along very well with children but are strongly protective against strangers. Their bark is loud and threatening. Estrelas can be particularly strong self-thinkers and require a good deal of socialization.
Pyrenean Mastiffs are a traditional Spanish breed weighing between 120 and 150 pounds and standing 29 to 30 inches tall. Its coat is medium to long and requires grooming. Suspicious of strangers, the Pyrenean Mastiff will stand down when introduced to visitors. Pyrenean Mastiffs are excellent with children and tend to bark less than most other livestock guardian dog breeds.
These are one of the largest livestock guardian dogs, growing to 28 to 35 inches tall and 185 to 220 pounds. Spanish Mastiffs can seem aloof and passive but react strongly to threats. These dogs are so large and heavy that hot or humid climates can be a challenge. They are slow to mature given their large size.
Originating in Italy, dating back to ancient Rome, the Maremma is an excellent livestock guardian dog. Its smaller size of 70 to 100 pounds and 25 to 30 inches in height can be easier for some farmers to handle, but they are still very protective and good guardians. Maremmas have long coats. Although they can be somewhat aloof, they do like to interact with their owners. Maremmas need a job to do; they do not make good companion animals. They do require a lot of socialization.
Tatras are affectionate and have more gentle temperaments. They may be well-suited to smaller farms with frequent visitors. They are 80 to 130 pounds and 26 to 28 inches tall with a heavy coat that does require grooming. The way Tatras alert is unique: they move between the flock and the predator and alert bark, only attacking if the predator moves closer.
The Kuvasz is 90 to 110 pounds and 28 to 29 inches tall and particularly human-oriented. Because of this, they became common as family companions in Hungary, where they originated. They are especially suspicious of strangers. These dogs are particularly agile and fast and tend to work further from the flock than some other livestock guardian dogs. They have a heavy white coat.
Bulgarian Shepherd Dog or Karakachan
These dogs were developed to protect against wolves and bears in Bulgaria. 70 to 110 pounds and 25 to 29 inches tall, these are a smaller livestock guardian dog breed that comes in shorter and longer-haired types. Karakachan is usually affectionate and docile with family members, but they are still very much a guardian. Their temperament is steady and even.
These large dogs were used through the Himalayan mountains for thousands of years. These are among the largest livestock guardian dogs and the originators of the mastiff breeds. They can stand as big as 26 inches at the shoulder and often weigh well over 100 pounds.