Livestock Guardian Interview with Mountain Woods Farm

I recently interviewed Renee at Mountain Woods Farm about all things Livestock Guardian dog! In this post I will be sharing my takeaways from the interview. (a Cliff Notes version if you will!) But I would highly encourage you to head to our Instagram account to watch the entire interview as it is packed full of information for new livestock guardian dog owners and seasoned vets alike! I would also just like to put a little disclaimer here the there are opinions (both mine and Renees in this post and in the interview and it is 100% okay if you don’t agree with everything, we all respect each other’s thoughts and opinions in this space)

To give you a brief background on Renee, she grew up showing dogs and her parents have been breeding dogs since the 60’s. She first saw LGD breeds at one of her dog shows and fell in love with them. and the rest! Is history! Renee now works with people all over the country on livestock guardian dog behavior and training and I am so honored to have been able to sit down with her for this hour long interview! For those of you who don’t have Instagram, you can watch the hour long interview on Youtube here:

Photo by Stephannie Camosse Photography – Sitka is 100% Great Pyrenees

Livestock Guardian Breeds & Training

  • LGD breeds were bred intentionally to have soft facial expressions so at to appear less intimidating to the stock they live with.
  • As the owner or farmer, it is important to look at your livestock guardian dog as a partner and not as a pet.
  • Set your puppy up for success by spending time observing them and learning their personality and what motivates them.
  • We have to put our dogs in a position to always be successful. Once of the most common complaints she hears from new owners is “my puppy is chasing my stock”. Well we as owners shouldn’t be putting a puppy that’s not ready in a position to chase the stock to begin with. We need to always be setting them up for success from day 1.
  • When choosing an LGD breed, if you are getting a dog that is a cross, make sure it is only crossed with other livestock guardian breeds and especially NOT herding breeds. They are not the same thing.
  • When looking for a breeder to get your puppy from, choose a breeder that is using their dogs to guard livestock too. This way your puppy can begin learning from their parents immediately.
  • Look for a breeder who offers lifetime support in terms of coaching you, but also in terms of them always being willing to take one of their dogs back-no questions ask. Life happens, and a good breeder will stand behind their dogs and always take on of them back no matter the age.
  • Some dogs are food motivated and some a praise motivated. It’s important to know which your dog is in order to better train them.
  • A guardian dog is not ready to be left alone with the stock full time until they have grown out of their adolescent stage. This is a different age for different dogs. Generally speaking, most LGDs are solid with hoof stock around 1-2 years old. In Renee’s experience she feels that female LGDs grow out of the adolescent stage faster than males (TYPICALLY).
  • When and LGD is ready to be with poultry is a whole other ball game-LGDs don’t bond to poultry the way they do to hoof stock. This can be up to two or three years, or even never. There are some LGDs that just can’t be with poultry. Their personality doesn’t allow for it.
  • If you’re wanting an LGD specifically for poultry, best recommendation would be to get an older dog that is already trained to work with poultry. If you are going to get a puppy then get one from a farm where they are going to be raised around poultry.

LGD Healthcare

  • LGDs are large breed dogs and therefore many costs associated with them will be greater. (ie. more food, larger doses of medicine when they get sick)
  • It is important to find a vet who is comfortable with livestock guardian dogs because they do not respond in the traditional way a companion dog would. You need a vet that knows how to approach them and handle them effectively.
  • Often times when approaching an LGD for the first time, less is more. They are sizing you up in a way, so give them their space and time to do so.
  • Bonus point if your farm vet can just treat your LGDs and they don’t have to leave the farm.
Rhona is 80% Great Pyrenees, 20% Anatolian Shepherd

Adding additional LGDs to your farm

  • When you add a second, third, fourth, etc LGD you will see their personal preferences come out. Once there are more of them, they don’t necessarily have to do the portion of guarding that they don’t like as much because maybe that portion is another dog’s favorite portion. This is when you will see things like one dog patrols the perimeter, one dog stays with the stock etc.
  • Renee recommends a three year age difference between your LGDs
  • Also recommends running either all neutered males or alternating male, female, male, etc. But she does NOT recommend running two females in the same pasture. “They don’t call them bitches for nothing” hahah! But for real, they will fight to the death. Keep your females in separate pastures.
  • A solid, adult LGD can train a puppy for you. And this can be one of the best ways to train a new puppy.

LGDs and your neighbors

  • If you live in an area where you have neighbors within ear shot of your dogs barking it is likely that at some point you will need to speak with your neighbors about your LGDS.
  • Making friends with your neighbors and informing them are your two best bets in terms of getting them to understand the purpose of your LGDs
  • It is likely your neighbors will have never heard of an LGD before, and helping to educate them is a great way to build trust with your neighbors and get them to understand your LGDs job.

Renee has graciously included this great pamphlet that you can leave in your neighbors door or go through with them to help them understand LGDs.

Breeding Livestock Guardian Dogs

  • Important to check every aspect of health care we can and to only breed the healthiest stock out there
  • Breed type and structure- not cow hocked, back high in the rear, bow legged. Poor confirmation will cause many different problems from joint issues to muscle tears.
  • Every breed club has a document with the breed standards that you can read through, see pictures etc. For example I have read through the Great Pyrenees one on the AKC site many times and know that Sitka’s lips hang a bit lower than is to standard so that is something we will want to compensate for when choosing a mate for him.
  • Always want to improve upon what you have. It’s good to know that no dog is perfect and find those faults in your dog and breed to a dog that has an advantage in that attribute.
  • 70% livestock guardian dog breeders are breeding for incorrect coat. Their coat should require little to no maintenance from you. If you’re having to brush your LGD regularly, their coat is not to the standard it should be. Occasional mat behind the ear or on the pants is fine but you shouldn’t be pulling chunks out of them every week and you should never have to shave them. (I personally have one dog that I have to brush all the time and the other that I’ve never brushed a day in his life. Guess which one we are breeding?)
  • Temperament and drive. The dog should want to always be with their stock. You also don’t want a dog that is too shy or too aggressive. A lot of these characteristics aren’t fully developed until your dog reaches maturity (2 years old) so you don’t want to breed them until you know what kind of dog it is that you are breeding.
  • Renee does not recommend breeding dogs until they are at least 2 years old. Pelvis and elbows can’t be properly tested until they’re 2. OFA certified 2 years and older. Heart and thyroid can be tested at any time.
  • Frequency of breeding- a lot of literature supporting 2 different methods. Can also depend on how quickly your bitch bounces back from her litter. If your dog hasn’t had a c section or other complications then it is okay to breed back to back heat cycles. (usually 6 months after the last heat cycle) Other studies out there recommend skipping a heat cycle in between (breeding every other heat cycle).
  • Follow up with your puppy buyers. What are these dogs like at 1 year, 2 years? Is there a trend you are seeing or issue? Is this a good pairing to breed again?

The last thought I’ll leave you with that I found insightful was when Renee said “if you know better, then do better”. Never be ashamed if you did something out of ignorance of just not knowing. Farming and raising any kind of animal is a steep learning curve and you can only be as good as the knowledge that you have. For me, I am always trying to learn more and grow more in every aspect of the farm and I know I have a lot to learn over the next 2 years before we breed our female LGD, Juniper. I’m sure I will make mistakes and miss a few things the first time but then I will learn and do better the second time and so on and so forth.

I hope you found this post helpful and I would like to remind everyone one more time that there are a lot of opinions (supported by facts) in this post and it is okay to disagree with some of them. How boring would this world be if we all agreed with each other all the time?

Take care buddies, and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post!



PS. for some of my favorite LGD pampering supplies check out my list here: LGD FAVORITES

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