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Multi-year Livestock Protection Dog Study Wraps Up – Different Breeds, Different Behaviors

   

When it comes to livestock protection dogs (LPD), one size (and breed) does not fit all.

For the last five years, NWRC and Utah State University (USU) researchers have been evaluating the effectiveness of larger European dog breeds to protect livestock from predators in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. In particular, researchers wanted to know the following:

  • Do LPD breeds behave differently?
  • Does sheep survival vary by LPD breed and predator species?
  • How do predators respond to the LPDs? 

Three large dog breeds ( Bulgarian Karackachans, Kangals, and Transmontanos) and their behaviors were  evaluated for use in livestock protection. Data were collected on the dogs’ behavior, dog and predator space-use, livestock mortality, and producer tolerances and attitudes.

“Although LPDs made sheep and other livestock less vulnerable to predators, the breeds under study showed different guarding traits and  behaviors,” states NWRC project leader Julie Young who directed the study which was conducted by USU student Daniel Kinka. “We found that Bulgarian Karackachans are more likely to stay with their flocks and defend from afar while Kangals (shown) are more likely to investigate a threat and Transmontanos are better at assessing threats.” 

When Kangals were present, the number of sheep killed by mountain lions, black bears and coyotes decreased. When Karakachans were present, the number of sheep killed by coyotes decreased. Not enough data were available  to determine the Transmontanos’ impacts. The number of interactions between grizzly bears and the LPDs were also too low to draw conclusions, but researchers did find that the presence of LPDs on the landscape did not displace bears. LDPs did displace wolves. Researchers hypothesize that wolves move to another part of their home range to avoid conflicts with the LDPs. When the wolves were absent from an area, researchers noted an increase in the presence of smaller predators, such as coyotes, foxes and bobcats.

The bottom line is that no single dog breed will likely be effective for every predator situation. Producers may want to balance the traits of multiple dog breeds by having some that prefer to stand guard with the flock and some that seek out and investigate potential threats. 

Several publications are in development. For more information, please contact nwrc@aphis.usda.gov

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