Monday, October 26, 2015

Close Guarding LGDs vs. Far Ranging LGDs: What is best for YOU???

Welcome new readers.  2,990 of you were on this blog in just one day last week, a new record for me.  This blog is now averaging well over 600 hits a day - over 1,800 on some days - and I'm glad you found it.  Please share it on your Facebook, Twitter and Google accounts as much as you like.

As you've already figured out, I don't tip toe around tulips here; I shoot straight from the hip and cut through the politically correct crap being spewed about LGDs elsewhere.  Too many armchair "LGD experts" with minimal credentials or credibility have flooded the LGD world with a lot of very questionable if not downright terrible advice.  Too many people have been led down the wrong path by all this bad information.  Too many flash in the pan breeders are out there, people who can give zero support because they don't even know what the hell they are doing themselves let alone being able to help a customer.

Some people have made terrible choices in LGDs or mistakes, and they and the dogs are paying for it. Many people run out and get LGDs when they don't need one. 

I hope by sharing my experiences over these past years living in my large pack of LGDs on my ranch, I can expose you to a more successful and meaningful experience with your LGDs. By showing you how to understand them better, how you yourself must participate, how to make better choices in breeds or crosses for your set up, and importantly, further prodding you to always respect these great dogs as more than "disposable tools", I'm hopeful you can glean enough from this blog or my website,, to improve your LGD relationship.  

Of course, the main focus of this blog is also the breed I hold most dear, the magnificent Spanish Mastiff.  You will find my insights to the breed are unique in this country, and the Spanish Mastiffs I've bred and have working all over the USA have quickly become the new standard of excellence in the breed in America.  Again, thanks for finding and sharing this blog.  

Well, you are here to learn…so again, thanks for reading, and now back to class!


There are a lot of LGD breeds out there to choose from.  They are not all the same.  Some are defined as "close guarding". Others, prefer to patrol perimeters.  Others, even farther ranging, are predisposed to go out, often 100's of yards, if not miles, and hunt down predators. 

The time to think about what "style" of guarding works best in your situation is before you get your LGDs.  It will take some honest introspection on your part, and perhaps resisting the "glamour" of exotic breeds for what really makes the most sense for YOU.  That means you say "no" to that litter of temptation if the breed would be a train wreck.

The huge commercial open range operator's needs are not the same as a small hobby farm, homestead or ranch under 40 or 60 acres, under fence.  Those smaller set ups would probably fare best with close guarding breeds who prefer to stay close to their livestock.

By "stay close", I mean lay near or within the stock at all times, not just checking in once a day.  I mean dogs who want to be near stock, all the time.  I mean, if something is threatening the flock, the dog stays near it or in it.  If something comes along, over at the fence line, they might investigate or go run it off - or, if you run a combo of perimeter ranging dogs with close guarding, your close guarding dogs will stay with the stock, and let the perimeter crew check out the possible threat.  That is one of the reasons why some people run a combo of guarding styles in their LGDs so that they are covered on all (or most) bases.  Maremmas are a popular close guarding breed in the US.

LGD crosses are everywhere.  I have bred some great ones.  However, I'll be the first to warn you, with crosses, its always a crap shoot what the dog will guard like, especially if someone takes super opposite breeds and crosses them.  You might have one or two pups be close guarding, and the rest far ranging, or ??  Or?  You'll never know, until they are grown.  Keep that in mind when you are trying to decide on what works best.

Great Pyrenees are a wonderful example of a breed that likes to patrol the boundaries of its pastures and check things out.  They also will roam if not fenced in…in some instances, quite far off.  My three Pyrs, Pinta, Peso and Petra, will regularly go to the back fields and fences to check out threats, while my closer guarding breeds, Spanish Mastiffs and Pyrenean Mastiffs, stay with the sheep and cattle.  Before my fences were tight, my Pyrenees went on saunters that often turned in to several miles.  Not good!  But once my fences were tight, those escapes came to an abrupt end.

The two more far ranging dogs I have are Pak (pictured above) and Pala, "the Mafia Brothers" - half Maremma and half Anatolian.  Now here is where crap shoot of cross breeding, "hybrid vigor" and guessing what parent the cross will take after, enters the scene.  

In both boys, the Anatolian father prevailed in guarding styles.  Although Pala resembles a gorgeous Maremma on steroids, neither he or brother Pak took after their more sedate, closer guarding and nurturing Maremma mother.  Instead, they took after their ball busting far ranging father, a huge pure white Anatolian I met when I picked the boys up from their large scale commercial, open range sheep outfit outside of Elko, Nevada.  Running on unfenced terrain with coyote, lion, bear  and yes, even wolves are coming into this area - the LGDs for this operation had to be tough and willing to confront danger and the producer who had herders with the dogs and flocks, wanted far ranging dogs.  The operators switched from running only Maremmas to bringing in an Anatolian and crossing it on the Maremmas.  They later bought two pups back from me - out of Pak, and a Kangal female I owned.  In short, they decided to go with far ranging dogs - Kangals are champions at far ranging - and were phasing out the Maremmas.

The only problem with doing this is that if all your dogs are off hunting down Mr. Bear or Wile E. Coyote, where does that put your sheep?  In harm's way, because there are no dogs staying with the sheep.  If they are all out chasing predators, that is not the answer, either.

Again, running a combo of guarding styles can work well for those of you running on enough acreage that will keep the far ranging breeds content.  Here's where the rubber meets the road.  Akbash, Anatolians, Kangals and other breeds like to explore and need ample space to remain content.  If they don't have enough room, they often make it by simply jumping over or digging under your fence lines.  So, if you are small acreage, your best bet is a close guarding breed - or, make sure your fences are tight and good to run a combo of guarding types.  

When LGDs were introduced to this country in the 1970's unfortunately the breeds picked by the "experts" - people we now realize were perhaps not the best choice - ran heavy on the 'far ranging' front.  Unfortunately the government didn't bring in Polish Tatras - a close guarding breed - or Spanish Mastiffs.  They started out with mostly turkish based breeds that are far ranging by nature.  Well all good and dandy for Mr. Big Open Range producer but the average family hobby farm, didn't need that kind of protection especially when it was usually over at the neighbor's or five miles away.

Breeds and Guarding Styles

Close Guarding

Polish Tatra (almost impossible to find in the US), Spanish Mastiff, Maremma, Pyrenean Mastiff

Farther Ranging

Great Pyrenees (perhaps not to the extreme of other breeds), Akbash, Anatolian, Kangal, Kuvasz, Komodor (some guard close but they can be extremely territorial)

I'm leaving out many of the exotic breeds because honestly, the jury seems to be still out on the actual 'guarding style' for many of them.  If you talk to breeders of these mostly Eastern Bloc countries' LGD breeds, just be sure to cut through the puppy sales pitch and hype, and don't be shy about getting second and third opinions on what the breed really guards like.  What most of them seem to share is a distinct need for ample socialization in order to be safely handled and used around people.

A quick recap:

Smaller (5-40) acreage under fence set ups would probably do best with closer guarding breeds, and perhaps running them with some far ranging breeds for maximum coverage in heavy predator load areas as long as the producer accepts the responsibility of keeping those far ranging dogs satisfied and content to stay home and not ten miles away.  Again, good fences make good neighbors - make sure your's are tall and tight!

Larger(40+) acres and open range/public lands operators probably do best with dogs who will travel and range farther out. However, within reason; the LGD who likes to be a mile away from his flock is no use to a good shepherd because he's left his sheep alone and unattended. Again, here's where the smart guys on open range use a combo of guarding types, both close and farther ranging.  Minimize your loss risks and dog up smart!