Finding the Right Dog for the Job



We have all heard the age-old adage, “It is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” Now, if the fight is against a Grizzly Bear or a Grey Wolf where would you place your bet? Probably, not on your Yorkshire terrier. Many farmers and ranchers in the Rocky Mountain West, have relied for years on large “white dogs” for protection. This colloquial term generally refers to a Great Pyrenee, Akbash or otherwise mixed breed dog you might notice lounging protectively near a sheep herd on the Montana prairie.

Dr. Julie Young from the National Wildlife Research Center's(NWRC) Predator Research Facility in Logan Utah is now overseeing research to determine whether the size of the dog in the fight does in fact matter. Dr. Young spoke with Northern Ag Network last week and told us that she is asking, “Is it specific dog breeds or just the individual traits within a dog that better enable it to protect livestock from predators?”

While coyotes have had a consistent impact on herds throughout the region, given the increase in Grizzly Bear and Wolf populations as well as the sustained interest in protecting these species, researchers are specifically interested in non-lethal approaches to predator management. Is it possible that a domestic dog watching over a herd might help prevent the deaths of sheep as well as the deaths of the beasts that hunt them?

Protection dogs have already saved farmers and ranchers from devastating livestock losses and offered herds the peace of mind to eat in comfort in order to make it to market with plenty of extra flesh on their bones. However, agriculturalists have also felt the sobering impact of a faithful warrior gone missing or a guard dog injured and too afraid to remain at its post. So, Dr. Young and her team are intensely studying whether a larger, bolder breed might be more suited to the task of guarding against large carnivores.

[EasyDNNGallery|1755|Width|400|Height|400|position|left|resizecrop|False|lightbox|False|title|False|description|True|redirection|False|LinkText||]Through a process of identifying 33 different breeds of guard dogs, focusing on the 10 breeds which were larger and more bold, and eliminating those which have been popularized for other reasons, the study focused in on three breeds which are not only significantly larger than other guard dogs, but also reported as bolder in protecting livestock in their own countries.

The three breeds of study are the Kangal from Turkey, Karakachan from Bulgaria, and the Cãde Gado Transmontano from Portugal. Each of these breeds is renowned for their protective instincts. Kangals have not only defended herds against dogs, but attacked wolves in Turkey. Due to these acts of valor, Kangals have already been studied in Africa as a method of protecting herds as well as in turn protecting the endangered Cheetah. Over 300 Kangals have been imported to Namibia since 1994, and researchers report that livestock loss has been reduced by over 80{f2533179b7c7e7cbdbc11018732de14c82f3d44c9f1e829e9a046cc47141a2e6}.

In 2013,Young and her team began doing pilot work in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. The team identified sheep ranches in these states which have a notable and current presence of bear and wolf activity. Each ranch in the study has been given three neutered pups (one of each breed) imported from Europe, and these pups are currently being raised with their herds on the various ranches.

So, does the size of the dog in the fight matter? Young says that it is still early to give any results. The pups are still growing and will need to reach maturity of 2-3 years before they can be considered a fully capacitated protection animal. Anecdotally, Young says that some ranchers are already seeing results in individual dogs and ranchers say they are like the pups. Young says further, “We have enough anecdotal data that they are working as well as the other dogs indicating that it is worthwhile to continue the study.” However, this summer will be the first one where the dogs are beginning to be old enough that results may be seen.

John Steuber of Montana’s Animal and Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS) told Northern Ag Network that we are just now entering in to the large predator activity season, “Grizzly Bears are now waking up, calves and lambs are on the ground, and many ranchers are moving animals to summer pasture.” Now, is the time for producers to consider what they are doing to protect their animals.

Beyond utilizing protection dogs to prevent livestock loss, multiple groups in Montana are now coming together to discuss nonlethal methods for protecting livestock from natural carnivores. In January, a landmark workshop was held in Dillon, Montana joining together ranchers, conversation groups, livestock loss board members, and even biologists – 88 participants in total. Other methods that were discussed for protecting livestock include carcass pick-up programs which are gaining popularity in the Black Feet and Madison Valleys, using range riders, gathering cows in the evening, and even electric, solar-charged fences. The workshop was such a success; Wildlife Services will hold another Non-lethal Workshop in Polson, Montana on May 21. All producers and interest groups are welcome to attend.

If ranchers are interested in participating in the protection dog research program, they are encouraged to contact Julie Young at for more information.

For further history on livestock protection dogs and the ongoing research project, we encourage you to take a look at the following article from High Country News: .

Are you currently participating in the program and want to share your story with the Northern Ag Network audience? We would love to hear from you! Please write to us at .



Courtney Brown

© Northern Ag Network 2015



Kangal Shepherd (livestock-guarding dog) and flock of goats in Namibia“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia.


Murcho with karakachan sheep flock of Semperviva” by Semperviva – Semperviva. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.

CC BY-SA 3.0 

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x