The Amazing Loyalty of Guardian and Herding Breeds

October 21, 2013

By Linda Cole

There are very few dog breeds that aren’t loyal to an owner who has earned their trust and respect.  Stubbornness and independence are common characteristics in many breeds, along with the ability to think for themselves. But when it comes to loyalty, it’s the herding and livestock guardian breeds that display a unique devotion to those they bond with.

One trait wolves passed on to domesticated dogs was a strong sense of loyalty to their pack members – their family. In the early history of our relationship with dogs, warring humans utilized the size, aggressiveness and loyalty of large dogs to fight alongside soldiers on the battlefield. Since that time, dogs used in battle have been refined and tempered through selective breeding to fit into our more civilized world.

Guardian dogs, however, have remained much like they were when they were first created centuries ago to guard flocks from large predators. It’s thought that most livestock guardian dogs (LGD) are descendants of the extinct Molossus dog. These dogs were mastiff-like, big, powerful, courageous and loyal. Because guardian dogs are usually large breeds, it’s essential to make sure they get a proper diet formulated especially for big dogs, like the CANIDAE Life Stages Large Breed formulas for puppies and adults.

A good LGD or herding dog is alert and observant. Guardian dogs are aware of everything in their surroundings, and take their job seriously. A dog’s loyalty to his four legged family members is legendary. These working dogs are extremely loyal, alert, intelligent, willful, independent, good problem solvers, courageous and very effective at doing the jobs they were bred to do. The one thing guardian dogs aren’t usually good at is learning commands or tricks. LGD’s don’t do their job on command; they do it because it’s an instinct.

Livestock guardian dogs are put with the flock they will be in charge of when they are still pups. The dog lives with – and bonds with – “his sheep.” As an adult, it will be his responsibility and duty to protect each member of the flock, with his life if necessary. For the most part, guardian dogs bond with one member of their human family, but their strong sense of loyalty and protection extends to the owner’s entire family, home and property.

They are not guard dogs, nor fighters. Intimidating more than aggressive, their large size usually does the job to chase away predators without engaging in a fight. However, guardian breeds have the strength and courage to stand up to mountain lions, bears, coyotes or wolves if need be. They work by first standing up to show a predator their size. If that doesn’t deter them, the dog begins to bark, which is also intimidating.

A predator that ignores these warnings will soon understand the dog means business when it comes to protecting his flock. If the dog feels his flock is at risk, he will then move towards the threat at full speed, fully prepared to fight. Usually this is the tactic that finally chases a persistent predator away. Most livestock guardian dogs are white, to blend in better with a flock; this gives them the advantage of surprise over a predator. A light colored dog is also more readily accepted by the sheep.

A well trained herding dog works in different ways, depending on the breed, livestock and needs of the rancher or farmer. Border Collies use their famous intimidating stare to corral a flock of sheep. Corgis act more like drover dogs, nipping at the heels of cattle to move them. The loyalty of herding dogs to their owner is as awesome as the guardian dog, and some can work on their own, when necessary. Some herding dogs have been known to protect members of a flock if they are threatened, but they aren’t as intimidating as LGD, and they don’t have the size or muscle to stand up to large predators. Herding dogs that find injured lost sheep or lambs will stay with them, protecting them until the dog’s owner finds them.

Livestock guardian breeds were developed to embrace their charges as one of their own. Herding dogs were developed to meet specific needs of farmers living in different regions with managing and moving their livestock. Both have an amazing loyalty to their owner and willingness to do the job they were born to do. Guardian and herding dogs cannot be replaced with technology. Their innate skills will always stand the test of time while they go about their business as livestock guardians and herders, protecting and managing livestock under their control.

Top photo by Don DeBold
Bottom photo by 4652 Paces

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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  1. Can’t believe that you didn’t mention that Shetland Sheepdogs are ALSO herding dogs, one of the ORIGINAL herding dogs

  2. BeadedTail says:

    Those dogs sure are smart but wonder if they can herd cats! MOL!