We have a pack of livestock guardian and herding dogs. Their job is to manage the farm. Dogs have a strong sense of propriety and that things should be in their place. This means the pigs and sheep should stay in the pastures and not wander out on the driveway or road. A herding dog does the work of five skilled people. Guardians make sure that predators stay out of our fields due to the dog’s marking and patrolling.
Our dogs do both duties: herding and guarding. This cross functionality gives them more versatility. The pack has lived and worked on our farm for six generations – the original sire, Coy, showed up and insisted he was going to work here whether we liked it or not. He was a strong negotiator.
We wouldn’t want to farm or homestead without them.
Note: If you’re looking for puppies or working dogs see here.
Feeding Big Dogs
Blue Sky Days, Dogs & Boys
Never go down to the end of the town
Killer Kita – Training the Untrainable
Makes Me Want to Gag
Katya the Creative Curser
Helen Keller Moves
Conversations with a Dog
Pika on Snow
Beyond the Veil
Pika On Snow
What kind of breed is the dogs? Great Site…
They’re a pinch of Black Lab, a pinch of German Shepherd and a lot of Other. We have had five generations of them here on our farm. The original sire showed up at our door and said he was going to work here. And that was that. Despite our protests. He won.
Nice dog. :D wish I had one
Do you ever have puppies for sale and/or information on starting a mixed breed as a working farm dog?
There have been times we’ve had pups for sale but they are few and far between because we don’t have litters very often. See this list of articles and this article in particular for info on working dogs.
The articles you highlighted aren’t there anymore. . could you send me an updated website for those articles. . we currently have a fixed black lab male (puppy) but I want to get him a companion when he grows up a bit more and a helper on our little farm. . I don’t really want to go through the puppy stage anymore and would rather go through a shelter or get a mix and would love to know the best one to look for.
Oops. Typos in the links. I just fixed them. Try them again. I don’t suggest a shelter. You want a dog that was raised around the target livestock and has working parents. Part is instincts, part is learned.
If you keep a list, save my info as interested in a pup. Beautiful dogs! I need a good LGD to keep thhe coyotes away from my goats.
I do have a list. It is long and we don’t have litters very often. If you see another good dog looking for work, offer them the position because it could be a long time before we have any available.
Hello, I’m fascinated by your work with the dogs. It sounds like amazing teamwork. My family runs a livestock farm in TN. We have always had border collies for herding, and typical “mountain-breed” dogs as LGDs, but I’ve never heard of mixing the two. As with the above comment, I would pay well for a dog that had grown up with your pack. And I’m in no hurry, so I’d love to be added to a wait list. However I presume just buying a pup wouldn’t be enough. The dog would need to learn from your pack, and I’d need to learn from you! Have you considered posting any youtube videos on how you communicate with your dogs? I am a lifelong student of dog-human interaction, but you sound like you are on another plateau entirely! I would even be willing to drive up to VT to watch and learn from you if you would allow it! In particular, I am interested in developing a group of dogs we can use with our pigs, to allow them to forage in the forest. Right now they are confined to only pasture where we can fence them.
Another option, would you be willing to offer a male stud service? Or do you think that would even work? We definitely can go to a lot of trouble to find excellent “natural” dogs here, but I think like I said before, the genetics are not enough. Dog and human would have to both learn from you guys!
Anyway, I’d love to hear your thoughts and in the meantime I’m going to continue reading your blog posts. Amazing, inspiring stuff!
I am guessing based on what I’ve seen and read that the reason most breeds are not cross purpose is that they’ve been specifically bred for one function, either herding or guarding. There are likely some exceptions such as German Shepherds which can do both. Our pack is about 87% wildun with the remainder being split between German Shepherd and Black Labrador. I’ve been selecting for six generations those who do both herding and guarding. So some of our pack’s ability is likely old genetics, instinct, some is likely from being selected over that time-frame and some is likely cultural as they have grown up in a multigenerational pack where the lore is passed down from generation to generation thus accumulating cultural skills of the herding and guarding.
Great dogs! How do you keep them from breeding year-round? What are your LGD management practices and do you train them?
The females only come into heat about once a year, occasionally twice if there is a competitive situation of rank turmoil. Even then, only the dominant female is the breeder. We have never had a sub female breed despite having many times when there are many females. Also only the dominant male breeds. Rank is very important in their society. Everyone else’s job in the pack is to support the alpha pair, take care of the pups and defend the territory. All this works together to make them natural partners in ranching and hunter gathering as their social structure fits in very well with our own.
When you want a litter do you always breed the alphas, or do you sometimes select other pairs? if so, how do the alphas react when a lower level bitch has her litter? Love your site!
Lower level bitches don’t have litters so that has never come up. The hierarchy in the pack is a very strong social order.
Hello Mr. Jeffries,
I have recently been given permission to keep some goats and chickens on some scrub land. The place is infested with coyotes. I’m planning on using Premier electric fencing (solar powered) and I would like to get a guard dog. I am wondering if only certain dogs (not breeds necessarily) make good guards/herders? I found a couple dogs up for a adoption, they look really nice but I’m not sure how to tell…Would I need more than one dog if I was herding the goats somewhere outside fencing? I’m looking at 6-10 goats. Do you think you could send me the links you where talking about?
These are the links to the dogs:
Thank you so much,
I’m not sure which links you’re thinking of. Coyotes will jump the fences with ease. Chickens in netting are a buffet. Dogs are a must have. However, chickens are the hardest animal to train dogs to guard because the chickens push the dog’s hunting reflexes. Neither of those dogs looks like a good choice. You want a dog that was raised to guard livestock and specifically chickens and goats/sheep. Goats are challenging to fence – you’ll want tall, hot fences and to train the goats to the fencing.
If you can possibly get AC power to the fence that would be better. You can get a much better AC powered fence energizer for a lot less money than the solar units. Solar units tend to be under powered.
Hey my question would be the dog in the pic uptop what exactly is it? it looks similar to a wolf i live on a farm and need a dog that can herd the cows but ive got a love for the wolf and id like to get a dog that looks like a wolf or one that looks nearly identical to the one in the picture above is there any information you could give me or possibly when you have a litter let me know? i love the way that dog looks but i need it to be able to heard the cows.
We don’t know the exact breeds of our dogs. There is a little German Shepherd and a little Black Labrador. The rest is unknown since their ancestors simply showed up at our doorstep and started working here of their own accord. What I would suggest is you look to get a dog from working dog parents who are doing the sort of work that you want the dog to do on your farm. Ideally the pup will be raised by the parents to do the work from birth. Select the best and add some training to get a great working dog.
Is there any chance you all are expecting puppies or something any time soon? ive looked but i have not found anything that looks as similar to a wolf whic id like that can actualy heard cattle instead of hunt it. theaching it i can do on my own but id like something that is workable and looks pretty much like what you have there.
We have litters very infrequently and don’t anticipate any soon. I have a list of people who are interested in pups and will add your name to it. However the list is quite long so if you see another good working dog go with that.
alright and also if you dont mind me asking how long roughly would i be looking at as a waiting time?
oh and how much do they cost / what saze do they tend to be fully grown?
It would likely be years. We tend to just have litters as we need replacement pack members. Our dogs tend to be about 75 to 85 lbs with the males being bigger and females sometimes being smaller. The largest ever was over 120 lbs at around a year and was perhaps 185 lbs at adulthood. I was told that his maternal grandfather, who we did not have, was 165 lbs. The smallest adult is probably 45 lbs (female). When we have sold them the price of a mostly trained one year old was $650 to $1,000. Expect to continue training for years to get the maximum potential from a dog. Continuing education.
I have two working dogs and I couldn’t agree with Walter more. My Akbash female is 6 years and starting really doing a great job with our calves and pigs at about 3 years. She was good in the pastures and loved to mother the calves but took a much better interest as she aged. She had another partner (an Akbash male) and they didn’t work well together. He was a poultry killer and we donated him to a sheep farm where he does a wonderful job. I replaced him with another male- a Bernese Mtn. dog and Pyrenes. He was kenneled in the chicken pens during babyhood to keep that issue from repeating itself. He has been a terrific working partner to the Akbash female and she began to gain weight, act less nervous, and performed much better as a guardian. She has also trained a rescue guardian female Akbash that I placed on a turkey farm in California that is doing an amazing job. So, it takes a watchful eye and a ton of training to get a good pair or pack and once you do….you hope it lasts forever! These dogs have to have the parentage, the early exposure, and the proper training to be successful….not for those light at heart for dog training devotion.
Hi Walter, you posted a picture of one of your dogs protecting one of your sick piglet from your other dog. And then you mentioned that when a piglet dies you feed it to the dogs and then I understood why the dog was so protected of the piglet, because it was potential food!
I always thought that guardian dogs work so well because they were so territorial and they did not want any other animals in their territory.
I had a great Pyrenees for 11 years protecting sheep and chickens in the fence area. He was a wonderful dog. Sure when he was a puppy I lost a few chickens on account of he being playful but he never eat them. Unfortunately dogs don’t live for ever so after he left us we thought that things were going to work out the same as it did with him, loose a few chicken in the puppy stage and so on. Well for the past two years we have been struggling and having so much heart ache. First we got a Anatolian she was beautiful but she killed and ate my chicken, we had her for about a year thinking we could break her from that, it did not happen. She lives in a goat farm now. Then we got a maremma, we had him for over 6 month and discover he could not hear, we returned him to the breeder. Then we got another great Pyrenees….. ( I had to stop to wipe my tears) he’s a little over a year old now and he was doing so well yes, he killed a few (just playing) but he did not eat them until this hen had babies and he got hold of one and I guess he eat them and when they were all gone he started with older ones and had kill one a day and partially eating them.
We did not know how good of a balance we had till it was gone. Now I’m face with another dog that I can’t keep and it’s taring me apart. I love all my dog very much and I absolutely hated when I have to part with them.
He is an excellent dog and beautiful and has bonded with the sheep so well but my chicken are free range and we love the eggs they produce and won’t give it up.
We have tried going with out a dog but a course of two weeks all my chickens were killed by predators from the ground and the air.
My question to you is how do you get your dogs to not kill what they obviously want to eat and even fight over it among them.
All is not lost. Chickens are indeed the hardest livestock to train guardian and herding dogs to because the chickens do all the right prey moves to say, “Eat Me!” But, even a confirmed chicken killer can be retrained to become an excellent guardian and herder. I have done it repeatedly on dogs who came in to us from other sources or pups who left, were not trained by their new families and then returned to us. You should read the story of Killer Kita who was a puppy of ours that went to someone else when she was young, got no training and came back to us a total disaster. With a lot of hard work I was able to retrain her and it was well worth the effort. With Kita I had to use a remote collar. It is very rare that I’ve had to resort to that level of training. I think this was because she had been off the farm for so long and missed critical development and training time here on the farm. With the other dogs we train them from puppyhood. They learn “No!”, “Drop”, “Gentle” and other words as well as simply being instilled in the culture of the farm by the older dogs. I suspect that through lengthy remedial training possibly with the collar, you will be able to train your dog to not harm the chickens but rather to protect them and not to eat anything you don’t approve of. Note that you’ll probably want it to hunt rodents and other pests. These are a large part of our dog’s diet just as they are in the wild. Thus don’t over train.
I read your article Killer Kita and it gives me hope, thank you.
Now you never mention though if Kita was eating her kill?
My case is a little different that your Kita. Chico was and perfect (almost) dog till those babies chicks were born. He knows he does not suppose to do it he never does it when we are around. The chickens walk all over him and he ignores them but later in the day when we are not looking he will get just one and eat the skin from the neck. He could kill all of them at one time but won’t do it. When I go to do my chores in the afternoon he
inmidiately takes off away from me and then I know that he has killed and sure enough I look around and find the the remains.
I’m willing to try the shock collar but I would have to be hiding somewhere and use it if he goes for one. The ideal would be to place something on the chickens to activate his collar, have you hear of anything like that?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. She had interference from me and the other dogs who were correcting her. The lead dogs didn’t like what she was doing and after she had killed several times they wouldn’t let her near the livestock if at all possible. This helped me with retraining her. After she was fully retrained she would bring me dead piglets she found out in the field to ask if she could eat them (the difference between found dead and kill is obvious if you’re there). Then I would allow her to eat them or divvy them up.
With your dog Chico you need to start at square one and re-establish training, working him back up to the trusted level. This is what worked with Kita and with other dogs that I trained who came to us as adults and untrained. It is a slow process that takes a lot of patience but it is well worth the effort.
Thank you so much for all your input, it really helps to hear from other people who have been there and know how it feels and can share their experience.
I was ready to give Chico up (there is this family that want to adopt him) but now I’m ready to give him a chance, I even order the dt plus system collar. Thank you again!
They say not to let the dogs know what the collar is for but our dogs know full well. They’re quite smart and I’m sure Chico will understand too. We also have the boundary collar which is worn by our lead dogs. They then set the boundary for everyone else. Kavi knows full well that the radio collar is his “Free Collar” that allows him to be off lead. He will ask for it: “Collar” (display of neck) “Stick around” (nose circle upward) followed by “Please”. In the times when he and I are going to go outside the boundary area he will ask me to remove it by showing his collar and signing “No” for off. One of the issues with livestock guardian dogs is that they have naturally large territories and they don’t necessarily understand exactly what humans consider the boundaries. With training they can learn the boundaries but sometimes stray farther than one would like. With a large pack it is helpful having a leader who has a set boundary and the radio collars define it well just like electric fencing does for the livestock.
Walter we raise and train started lgds. we have mostly Anatolians and crosses with Maremma. the inexperienced should be very wary of shelter dogs as breeds and background are often misrepresented. in my extensive experience prey drive dogs crossed with lgds are a disaster .At the age of 2 or so they usually turn killer. We are very careful in placing our dogs as they require a committment for the life of the dog…
I agree with you completely about the rescue and shelter dogs. One can not simply take a random dog and drop it on a farm expecting it to be able to do the job. It may be that the Anatolians and Maremma are not good for crossing with herding – I don’t have experience with either of those breeds. Our dogs have a high prey drive and work wonderfully with the animals in both of guardian and herding capacities. This dual ability is what we have selected for in our dogs for many generations. Our wolfish ancestors were natural ranchers.
I came across your Kita story while looking for some training tips for the untrainable and I loved it, it was a very inspiring story.
So I was hoping maybe you could give me a few suggestions if you have the time, I am not a farmer my pup is just a run of the mill family member with no actual job….yet. so here is my problem I recently adopted a siberian/timber wolf I was told shes roughly about a year to a year and a half old. I love this pup dearly but she is out of control!!! the only command she knows is sit, she jumps the fence or tunnels under it (whichever is easier at the time) and she will do it while I’m standing just a few feet away. she uses my house as a bathroom when it suits her even though she knows its a big no no (you can tell by her reaction when u find it that she knows darn well!) and dont even get me started about her leash manners, lets just say she walks me, or i guess runs me lol. I realize that these problems are from lack of training but I have no idea how to train her which is why I chose to adopt a bit older of a puppy rather then a puppy puppy. I was told her only problem was the leash manners and she was good with everything else, I didnt bother to see how bad she was on leash before i took her, I figured it was probably just a lack of being walked that and because it was either me or the pound and no dog deserves the pound. I’m sure the previous owners had left her chained just like in your kita story. I got her in jan. of this year, and I had started her with pulling my children in sleds while she was on leash, which she did wonderful with considering her leash manners pretty much suck so she obviously needs to be a working dog and i would love to keep up with the sled pulling but in the summer i cant because everything she pulls would have wheels and i dont want my kids bailing onto cement, if she walked better this would not be an issue. for the bathroom issue I’ve tried verbal positive and negative re enforcement and while she either gets all cuddly and happy or hides under the table it doesnt make any change afterwards, she continues with the unwanted behaviours. For the walking I’ve tried verbal, Ive tried pulling her back so shes beside me continually, Im now on choke chain (without the spikes just the plain chain) and now theres no snow to slow her down! lol. The only thing ive seen work is this one time she chewed my roommates shoes when i first got her and my roommate chased her around the house with the shoes in question and she hasnt touched any since but I am totally against THAT kind of enforcement (i was at work when it happened) if you can turn a bolter/chicken killer into a working dog that stays on the property I know you MUST have some awesome training tips. please help me oh mighty pack leader! LOL
She sounds much like Kita. It will be a lot of work to train her but well worth it. You might look into clicker training, many people have a great deal of success with that. The first thing to do is simply getting her attention and holding it. Then you need the basics of “Good” and “No!” with her name to establish communications. I would suggest multiple short sessions a day. Five minutes at a time three to five times a day is more effective for training than longer times. Gradually build. She does need to know you’re boss, the Alpha. Good luck!
I will try the things you have suggested fingers crossed!!! thank you very much Walter, take care!
I simply love your dogs!!!! They are so beautiful and intelligent! I love the stories about how they interact with each other with you and with the animals. It is such a wonderful thought that they live natural lives in a pack that goes on for many genearations.
You were kind enough to reply to one of my posts on Permies about protecting livestock from large predators (mountain lion, gray wolf, black bear, coyote and down…)
You recommended a “pack” of LGD’s and good fencing.
Can you elaborate on good fencing? High-tensile Electrified? If so, # of strands, height, etc?
Any details from your experience would be a wonderful help.
Also, pack size? How does one determine what is needed?
Keep up the great posts.
We have a variety of types of fencing. As long as motivation is under control and the pigs are trained to electric very little can be sufficient. Here is the best we’ve done which we’re gradually implementing everywhere.
One dog is sufficient for most light predation situations. Two or three dogs is far more powerful than one for dealing with almost any predator. The higher the predator pressure the more dogs. The larger the area the more dogs. The more valuable the livestock the more dogs. We have five to thirteen at any time typically.
I love your blog, which I just discovered today! I am trying to rehab a farm in Missouri with the goal of doing pastured livestock. I am not ready for it now… but if you have farm dog pups available in the future PLEASE put me on the list. They are truly gorgeous, impressive animals. We have a very bad coyote problem in Missouri, and I would be interested in at least two pups/adolescents or adults eventually.
Thank you so much for what you are doing and writing, it is educational and inspirational!
Leah, I’ve added your name to the list of people who would like pups. The list is long and the supply is short since we only have a litter every few years. Thus if you come across a good dog, do snap it up. To deal with coyotes I would suggest good fences which act as a boundary marker and more than one dog if the predator pressures are strong. Coyotes can overwhelm a single dog.
Dogs are so adorable. And dangerous too(for intruders).
I would love to be put on your list for pups! If i could get more than one that would be lovely!
Im planning to buy a farm in oregon in 2019-2020 with my family and my parents, and we are hoping to have herds of cattle, pigs, and sheep on pasture, so i was hoping to get pups (or adults!) from a good starting line. I have a young male kelpie mix that will do wonderfully (he herds my babies around very gently all day! Lol) but he unfortunately was fixed when we got him.
I would also love to get a few good females to breed with your pack and expand genetics if you were willing, and i wanted to know what breeds you would look for ideally. I normally go to the humane society, but as manditory fixing happens there, thats obviously not an option.
The breeds ive been looking into so far are lfg dogs like great pyrenees.
If i could get a line going that would be willing to herd AND act as a LFG, that would be perfect, but i wasnt sure if it was really a possibility since the lines seem to be drawn fairly distinctly among breeds.
Send me an email and I’ll put it in my folder of WantPups. But beware we do not have litters very often.
As to breeds that I am looking for, it would be similar to what we have: large, thick furred to withstand our winters, athletic, intelligent. German Shepherd, Wolfhound and “Other” are all of interest.