This fact sheet was developed by students enrolled in Purdue's ANSC 442 Sheep Management course in Spring 1999, as a semester project. These fact sheets provide useful information on various topics related to sheep. View the list of fact sheets.

Working Dogs
Karen Pedden, Joy Willey, and Brian Lemenager

Livestock Guard Dogs

Livestock guard dogs (LGD) are mainly ancient breeds from Europe and Asia. These breeds include Akbash, Komondor, Kuvasz, Tatra, Maremma, and the very popular Great Pyrenees. The history of these breeds goes back many thousands of years. LGD generally share similar characteristics. Most are light colored so that they are able to blend in with the livestock; the light color also allows them to be distinguished from dark-colored predators.

LGD are large dogs ranging from 80-140 lb and 25-36 inches tall. Their size allows them to intimidate any potential predators and enables them to come out on top if a conflict should occur. LGD are known to be independent and intelligent individuals that must work on their own to protect livestock. They are laid back and are non-aggressive toward people and stock. They are roamers, very territorial and generally withstand extremes in temperature. Some common uses can be to protect stock, home, land, and owners against wolves, feral dogs, mountain lions, and even bears.

If the LGD is to be used in an area where neighbors are close, the owner must be aware that LGD have a natural barking behavior to warn off predators. Because LGD’s are nocturnal, as are most predators, they will bark often through the night. This is an important part of their job.

Benefits from the LGD include " reducing predation on livestock, reducing labor by alerting owner to disturbances in the flock, protecting family and ranch property and allowing for efficient use of pasture and potential flock expansion."

Other LGD web sites: or


Sheep Herding Dogs

There are various breeds of herding dogs but the Border Collie is the standard at which the other breeds are being judged. It is important that herding dogs posses attributes such as ability to gather sheep, strong eye, tendency to clap, and a natural instinct to herd sheep. Click here to read about these qualities.

Willis(Genetics of the Dog) has stated that these traits are lowly heritable. Lowly heritable traits require many generations of selection to show improvement of these traits. One advantage the Border Collie has over other sheep herding breeds is that Border Collie breeders have been selecting for these lowly heritable traits for centuries.

These traits can best be seen during sheep herding trials. There are trials held in many countries with the most prestigious being held in the United Kingdom. During these dog trials the dogs and owners are tested in their ability to communicate with each other while gathering sheep in an already prepared course. A description of the International Dog Trial can be found by clicking here. Below is a rough sketch of the layout for one of these trials.

There are also many magazines on sheep herding and Border Collies. Click here to access the quarterly journal called the Shepherd’s Dogge, a journal that contains information concerning Border Collies as well as dog trials.

Puppy Development

With the sheep herding traits being lowly heritable it is extremely important for the future sheep-herding puppy to be raised in an environment conducive to what will be his or her life’s work. The puppy’s psychological development can be divided into various stages. The first stage is termed the neonatal stage. This stage goes from birth to 13 days of age. In this stage the puppy is dependent on his mother. He is not able to see, hear, or maintain his own body temperature. The puppy does have a sense of smell and touch which he uses to find his mother. Puppies are exposed to stress in this stage when they are exposed to a cold environment for a short period of time. This helps them to cope with stress later on in life.

The next period is called the transitional period, which is when the puppy is 14 to 28 days of age. During this time the puppy begins to see and hear. During this period of nervous system development it is important to expose the puppy to many different stimuli which will be a part of his environment when he is an adult. It is during this time that potentially frightening sights and sounds should be introduced to the puppy and the puppy should be desensitized to these stimuli.

The third stage of development extends from 4-12 weeks of age. It is during this time period that it is important to introduce the puppy to the individuals, which will be in his environment including other dogs, children, people, sheep, etc. The puppy is capable of learning some basic commands at this time. It is during this time when he will determine where he will fit into the social hierarchy. Also the 8-10 week period is a time when it is important not to expose the puppy to severe trauma. This period in termed the fear period and severe trauma can result in a dog unable to cope with that fearful situation.

The last stage of development is the 3-6 month period when the puppy is undergoing rapid physiological development. During this period it is difficult to do extensive training.


Selecting a Working Dog

When selecting a guard dog or working dog there are several things to look for. You will usually find that you have better luck purchasing a puppy than a dog that is already accustomed to somebody else. Don’t forget the saying "it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks." With a puppy you can start teaching it at about 6 to 7 weeks of age. This does not mean starting them out on livestock. They should not be started on livestock until much later because they could be physically or psychologically injured resulting in an animal not fit for working livestock.

When picking your puppy you need to look at their feet. If this particular pup is a Great Pyrenees a bigger foot will obviously indicate a bigger dog which is what you would want in a guard dog. It is a good idea to check their mouth to make sure there are no overbites and to make sure the puppy will have a good grip. Another thing you can do is to check to see if the roof of their mouth is black and check if they have a poll on the top of their head. People often say you can tell if the puppy will make a good dog by looking for these two traits. Also you need to make sure your puppy is alert, intelligent, and aggressive with his or her littermates. You probably are not going to want to buy the runt of the litter because they tend to be timid and not as aggressive.



Checklist for selecting a Puppy

  • Buy from a reputable breeder
  • Prefer to see both parents (at least the mother)
  • From good working parents
  • Parents OFA certified (hips)
  • Parents free from genetic eye problems
  • Vet checked
  • Current shots and worming


Willis,Malcolm; Genetics of the Dog;Howell Book Publishers,1989

Ensminger,The Complete Book of Dogs, A.S. Barnes Co. 1971

AKC, The Complete Dog Book, 17th Ed. 1985

Bailey,Gwen; The Perfect Puppy, Readers Digest,1995

Troy,Suzanne, Dogs:Pets of Pedigree;Drake Publisher,1976

Fogle, Bruce; Know Your Dog Howell Pub. 1992