A guardian dog watches over livestock such as sheep, ducks, chickens and turkeys and the like, to protect them from predators. The breeds, training and management of guardian dogs is very different to the dogs used to guard homes and properties.
If you are considering buying a guardian dog you need to consider such things as the size of your property, the number of livestock and animals you have (or intend to have), the topography of your property and the likely number and type of predators in the area.
Each and every property is different and livestock needs also vary. A good Maremma guardian dog will look after a flock of 100 to 1000 sheep or chickens, depending upon the property. It is always best to ask the advice of a farmer with a successful guardian dog, then test your dog on a small number of animals. If the trial is successful you can expand it to cover all of your livestock.
Over the centuries there have been a number of dogs that have been bred for their ability to guard livestock. These breeds include the Maremma, the Anatolian Shepherd, the Central Asian Ovacharka and the Pyrenean Mountain dog. In Australia, the Maremma is the most common and popular guardian dog.
Once you have settled on the breed of your choice you must consider the age of the animal. You are able to buy a pre-trained dog from one to three years of age, or a pup from eight weeks of age. This is ideal if you wish your guardian dog to bond with your animals while they are young. At about a year old you can expect your guardian dog to be effective.
Ensure that the guardian dog is a full-blood guardian breed or a cross of two breeds to ensure the long-term success of your dog.
Guardian dogs generally live in the paddock with the livestock, full-time. Obviously they do not eat grass like most of the animals they guard, so require health care and treatment just like any other dog. They need appropriate food for their age and are able to be trained to eat from a self-feeder that dispenses dry dog food. This reduces the need to visit the paddock so frequently. Your guardian dog should be regularly wormed and vaccinated according to your vet’s recommendation, and de-sexed if you do not wish to breed with it.
Guardian dogs will also need to be protected from ticks if you live in a problem area, and need to be checked and treated for fleas and other parasites, just like any other dog.
Guardian dogs will most likely come into contact with wild dogs, wombats and other animals, so may come into contact with diseases such as mange and/or scabies. Breeds such as the Maremma may require the hair clipped from their feet in order to reduce grass-seed problems. In general though, guardian dogs will live long healthy lives in the paddocks amongst the livestock.
Just like other dogs, your guardian dog needs proper care and feeding, and in return they will give many years of faithful service.