“Lucy’s only 9 months old, so this is her first real snowfall and it seems she likes it. Before you think I’m abusing my animals, understand that she has access to a shed and a barn, but prefers to be outside. It’s a Livestock Guarding Dog thing.”
This photo got a lot of attention when I posted it on social media the other day. I expected some comments to be negative but was pleasantly surprised in finding that all comments were positive, some complementing my young Anatolian Shepherd but many sharing similar stories of how their LGD loves the snow and cold and refuses to come in when the weather is, by most standards, inclement.
It’s really a matter of context and understanding your particular breed. Some dogs don’t do well out in the cold and need to be sheltered when the mercury dips and snow and sleet begin to fall. Others, like Lucy, have been bred for centuries to endure and thrive in adverse conditions because that’s really when the threat of predation is the highest and they are needed the most.
Coyotes in my neck of the woods get a little hungry and a lot more aggressive when the snow falls and their regular prey hibernates or takes to the dens. That means the LGD’s have to be even more vigilant and they really can’t do that if they are brought in and confined, as some well-meaning but narrowly worded local laws require of “pets” during extreme weather.
I love Lucy (hey, that might make a good TV show title) however, she’s not my pet, she’s my co-worker. Wikipedia says her ancestors “originated in the Anatolia region of central Turkey. It (the Anatolian Shepherd) is rugged, large and very strong, with good sight and hearing that allow it to protect livestock. With its high speed and agility it is able to run down a predator with great efficiency.” The same might be said of my old Šarplaninac, whose genetics go back to the Šar Mountains in the border area between Kosovo, Macedonia, and Albania. There are over 40 recognized breeds of Livestock Guarding Dog and dozens of hybrid breed combinations, but they are all similar in one regard – they are tough dogs bred to do a tough job under, at times, extreme conditions. Most of them do so extraordinarily well with little training or human influence. They should be rewarded well for their work, but they don’t take well to pampering.
The use of dogs in protecting livestock originated over 2000 years ago. Both Aristotle‘s History of Animals and Virgil‘s Georgics mention the use of livestock guardian dogs. They’re reasonably new in the United States, being introduced in the 1970’s.
This was not intended to be an exhaustive treatise on LGD’s. There are lots of smarter folks who have done a much better job than I could extolling the virtues of these marvelous animals. A quick Google search of Livestock Guarding/Guardian Dogs will yield more information than you will ever need. Livestock Protection Dogs: Selection, Care, and Training by David Sims and Orysia Dawdiak is a valuable resource and Cat Urbigkit’s Brave Dogs, Gentle Dogs: How They Guard Sheep is as sweet and loving a tribute to LGD’s as you will ever find and a great way to introduce kids to the concept.