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Protecting Livestock from Predators – Bigger Dogs for Bigger Predators

Protecting Livestock from Predators – Bigger Dogs for Bigger Predators

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” - Mark Twain

Or maybe it’s a little of both. With the help of 19 producers, 21 sheep bands, and 65 livestock protection dogs (LPD) of various breeds, NWRC’s Utah field station, several WS state offices, and Utah State University (USU) will soon begin the final field season of a multi-year, multi-state study. The goal of the study is to determine whether larger European dog breeds, such as kangals, karakachans, and Cao de gado transmontanos, are more effective at protecting livestock from predation than dog breeds currently being used in the United States.

For centuries, LPDs have helped ranchers protect livestock from coyotes, feral dogs, foxes, and mountain lions. Without them, thousands of sheep, lambs, and calves would be killed or injured each year.

“Unfortunately, many of our current dog breeds are no match for our larger predators, such as wolves and grizzly bears, which are becoming more prevalent,” notes NWRC’s Utah field station leader Dr. Julie Young. “Finding suitable dog breeds for use as livestock protection dogs against wolves and bears not only helps us safeguard livestock and the livelihoods of ranchers, but also enhances and encourages coexistence between people and large predators.”

USU graduate student Daniel Kinka is leading field efforts in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming that monitor the movements of radio-collared LPDs and sheep. He compares the data to information on local predator activities gathered by trail cameras. Because it is difficult to observe an actual LPD-predator encounter, Kinka also observes the dogs’ behaviors when exposed to potential threats using a fairly elaborate decoy system (See photo and caption below).

Preliminary results show all of the dog breeds exhibit high fidelity to their sheep—meaning they do a good job of staying close to their herds. The dogs also distinguish between wolf and deer decoys with dogs responding aggressively towards the wolf decoys.

Trail cameras and space-use data confirm that LPDs, sheep, wolves, and grizzly bears share the same habitat during the grazing season, but more analysis is needed to determine how often overlap and interactions occur.

During the final field season and with more data, researchers hope to determine if certain dog breeds are better at deterring grizzlies versus wolves or if some are more effective in forested, open or fenced environments.

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