herdsmen: between working dogs and pets | Master Edition

These days it is not uncommon to cremate our pets. I have a collection of boxes. I recently added one.

Maggie was my Great Pyrenees cattle guard dog. She died suddenly on June 19. Under a tree. Cause unknown. She was 8 years old. Below its life expectancy, but not by too many years.

I wonder how many other sheep and goat producers have boxes with the ashes of their cattle guard dogs. As for me, I couldn’t bear the thought of putting Maggie in the compost heap with the dead lambs and the placenta. It seemed like she deserved better.

On our small farms, livestock keepers are often stuck somewhere between working dogs and pets.

You have to be careful not to make them pets. They have a job to do.

In the same way, they are always dogs that need attention. At least some of them do.

I guess as long as they stay with the sheep and don’t eat them or come out the fence, they’re doing their job, even if they want the occasional treat or a pat on the head.

Maggie was a nice dog. My experience with cattle guard dogs (she was my third) is that they are gentle giants. I have always been amazed by the way they interact with their proteges. Lambs completely trust them, sometimes play with them. The ewes seem to accept them as members of the flock and are only a little hesitant when they have newborn babies to protect.

Sweet Guardians

Livestock guard dogs are tough when they have to be, but calm at other times. I slept better at night knowing that Maggie watched over my herd and my farm.

Not just any breed of dog (or just any dog) makes a suitable guardian for livestock. They are special dogs, specific breeds. Great Pyrenees is one of the most popular breeds. Most guard dog breeds are ancient European breeds that have guarded livestock for centuries.

Livestock guarding (or protection) dogs are much more recent in the United States. They only became a thing in the 1970s. Now they are commonplace on sheep and goat farms across the United States. Another place where you might find these dogs is grazing poultry farms.

Most livestock guard dog breeds are white or light in color. This seems to be the most acceptable color for the livestock they live with (especially sheep).

Livestock guard dogs lack the predatory instincts of other breeds. They protect and defend the livestock they grew up with. The behavior of a guard dog is instinctive. It is not taught. It cannot be taught. All you need to teach a livestock guard dog is basic dog obedience.

I will miss Maggie. She was an effective guardian for my herd and a good dog. I think of her when I see her box on the shelf. At the same time, I have to find a replacement for him.

Bette C. Alvarado