Thursday, August 31, 2017

Tips for Finding a Quality Livestock Guardian Dog Breeder

Tips for Finding a Quality
Livestock Guardian Dog Breeder
©2017 Brenda M. Negri
and Dairy Goat Journal 
Sept/Oct Vol 95, No. 5

Just ten years ago you had to hunt long and hard to find a breeder of working Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) in many parts of the country.  Not anymore.  With the burgeoning popularity and use of these flock protectors, now it seems as though everyone with a male and female LGD is breeding them – in all honesty, for better and worse. “LGDs for sale” groups and forums and “LGDs wanted” groups pop up every week on the Internet, and flood Facebook and social media sites.  Craigslist explodes with ads faster than they can be flagged as prohibited and removed. 

Choices, choices everywhere: ranging from great to good to bad to ugly!

For the future of LGD gene pools, this mass production of a faddish nature is not good, often producing substandard dogs of poor quality, lacking in size and often possessing inferior working and guarding instinct.  Livestock Guardian Dog breeds bred by fad-motivated breeders are demeaned and cheapened and used as hobby farm cash crops like pigs and goats.  The problem is, they are not butcher animals, and should never be reduced to that level and lack of respect. 

What typically comes with fad breeders is zero support for the buyer.  Why else do you suppose so many forums are filled with people having issues they need answers for about their LGDs?  It’s because they bought from bad breeders who won’t or can’t support them. 

Your goats are an investment and a valuable part of your farm or ranch.  You need them kept safe and sound.  Along with good fencing, attentive shepherding and other predator deterrents, a good LGD can be your goat herd’s life insurance.  The decision to buy and use LGDs is a serious, time consuming and costly commitment.  Do it right by buying quality dogs from a trustworthy, reputable and dependable breeder.

How do you sort out the reputable and trustworthy LGD breeders from those who are not? By doing your homework and asking the right questions, you can narrow down your choices to trustworthy breeders who will not evaporate the minute you take their pup home with you, or disappear the second your check clears.  Start by asking the right questions.  Then, observe.  Listen to your gut. If your gut says
“no, don’t do this” – then don’t do it!

The Top Ten Questions Every LGD Buyer Needs to Ask LGD Breeders

1. Why are they breeding LGDs and how long have they been doing it? Do they require an application? Are they simply breeding dogs as a cash crop to make money on a fad?  What is their game plan and their reason for breeding?  Can they document how long they’ve been breeding LGDs?  Do they strike you as someone who is truly invested in their dogs, or cavalier about them and disconnected?  Reputation breeders have an application process that vets out potential customers.  Instead of fearing this, the buyer should embrace the process as it shows the breeder cares enough to place their pups with the very best homes possible.

2. Are they breeding a legitimate LGD breed or cross of LGD breeds?  Where did their dogs come from? Unfortunately with the LGD popularity boom has come an increased lack of transparency and truthfulness amongst breeders.  In a perfect world, there’d be no deception and lies, but we don’ live in a perfect world, do we? Many examples exist of breeders claiming their dogs were imported over from another country when the dog was domestically bred here in the USA.  If a breeder can’t or won’t tell you the name of the kennel or breeder they supposedly imported a dog from, that is a huge red flag.  Imported bloodlines typically add to a dog’s price, so steer clear of anyone using the import ruse just to charge exorbitant sums for their pups.

The explosion in popularity of LGDs has unfortunately fostered increased bad breeding choices bordering on the ludicrous.  Classified ads abound of LGDs crossed with everything from herding dogs such as Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, to Great Danes, Newfoundlands, pit bulls and more.  The list is upsetting and endless.  The sellers of these dogs often try to pass them off as “the newest breed of farm dog” or a dog that “does it all: both guarding and herding”.  Some go as far as to try to create a new breed by crossing several breeds together and giving the end product a name. What this does to the gene pools in America is pollute and dilute great working instincts, physical soundness and type, and threatens to destroy guarding instincts.  It is every honest LGD breeder’s nightmare.

Typically bad breeding choices turn out to be high-risk dogs thick with prey drive and dicey if any guarding instinct.  Avoid these vanity based “Heinz 57” breeding fiascoes. Stick with a legitimate, known LGD breed or a cross of legitimate LGD breeds, and don’t risk your goat’s lives and safety on a crossbred mongrel.  Remember: a bad dog will cost you just as much to feed and take care of as a good dog.

3. Can they provide you references? Everyone has to start somewhere.  If this is a first time litter the breeder won’t have references on pups but you can ask neighbors for input on if the breeders’ dogs are trustworthy in livestock.  The new breeder will be forthcoming on their start up and not lie to you about it.

4. Puppy health: what’s included? First puppy shot series? Several de-wormings?  Micro-chipping?  Health papers including documented dates of vaccinations and de-wormings and any vet exams?  These are what separate a fad breeder from a professional, ethical breeder dedicated to producing top quality pups.  You’ll often see ads saying “up to date on shots” or “current on shots” – up to date from what date?  Current as in when?  Bottom line: how many shots were administered, and when? Ask them!  Health issues can crop up even with good breeders. It’s how they handle them that counts.  Are they forthcoming about structural testing such as OFA hip certifications and other recognized and respected health testing?  Do they frankly discuss losses or diseases they’ve suffered, or cover them up? 

5. Are both parent dogs on site?  Are they working in livestock?  Are the pups in livestock? Make sure the parents are what the breeder claims they are (especially with all the crossbreeding that goes on these days).  Ask to observe them in livestock so you can see their behaviors.  Whether a handful of stock or hundreds of head, you should see calm, nurturing dogs showing protective instinct, not rough housing or aggression.

6. Do they offer work guarantees? Occasionally a pup comes along in a litter that just does not have “it” and fails as an LGD. Will they buy back or offer a replacement pup?

7. Can they describe the training they put the pups through? Many ads will say “exposed to” or “have been around” as they describe their litter’s time in livestock.  What does that really mean?  Press for detailed answers.  Are the pups regularly with livestock?  Part time?  Or hardly ever?  A photo is worth a thousand words.  When you see ads for pups with photos of them without livestock nearby, or locked up in a chain link kennel, this can mean they really aren’t being exposed to or raised in livestock.  Can the breeder describe to you in depth their training and rearing process?  Remember, you are going to need to lean on them for support.  If they can’t give you good answers now, they won’t be of any help later on.

8. What kind of breeder support do they offer once you take the pup home?
Do they expect the buyer to keep in touch and keep them abreast of how the pup does? If the breeder stops taking your phone calls as soon as your check clears, you can pretty much rest assured you made a huge mistake in breeder selection. Will the breeder be there for you with training support or not?  If not, keep shopping!  Good breeders expect and need feedback from customers.  Be a good customer and give them progress reports on their pup so they can plan wisely for future litters and are able to better help you.

9. If the pup comes down with or dies from a genetic disorder will they replace it?  This is an easy yes or no answer.  If the buyer provides x-rays and/or a vet’s description of the malady that has struck the dog or pup, the breeder can then discuss with them the options for replacement.

When you go to look at a litter of pups, look for healthy pups that can be approached and handled.  They should have clear eyes, healthy coats, be confident and not frightened of visitors. The breeder should be handling them and socializing them.


Good LGD breeders are “open book breeders” who run a transparent, truthful breeding program that does not hide health ailments or losses.  They have high expectations of themselves, their dogs and their customers.  They don’t pressure sell because they recognize that LGDs are not the answer for all situations.  They are honest enough to tell the buyer they’d be better off with good fencing or other predator deterrents than the time required to raise and train an LGD, and the costly investment a good LGD entails. They respect LGDs enough to do an application process for potential owners and don’t sell pups to just anyone who flashes cash under their nose.

There are enough top tier, honest LGD breeders in business to not have to settle for poor ones.  Do your goats and yourself a favor. Don’t go with the cheapest, closest, easiest LGD breeder simply because they are convenient.  If they pass muster, answer questions and have quality dogs, great.  But if they don’t, instead of taking the easy route and paying for it in the end, plan on taking more time to find the right LGD breeder with trustworthy LGDs.  Travel time, price and what you have to go through to purchase the LGD pup will pay for itself in the long run if you go with a reputable, reliable breeder who’ll be there for you and your pup when you need them.  Your goats will thank you for it!


LGD Breeder Red Flags

Premature weaning of a pup from it’s dam and litter has serious consequences and reputable breeders keep litters till they reach at least 8 weeks, sometimes as old as 12 or 14 weeks. Puppies need to be with their dam and littermates for as long as possible to develop important social skills, and foster physical and mental development a human cannot replicate.

If the breeder acts uncomfortable as you ask questions of them, is vague or refuses to answer your questions to your satisfaction, keep shopping.  If the breeder is evasive about where they bought their breeding stock from, then you’re better off going elsewhere.  If they claim to have imported brood stock, ask for proof; novice LGD breeders “faking” imports has recently become a disturbing trend.

Most veterinarians will tell you puppies need a series of parvovirus and distemper vaccinations by a certain age in order to be properly protected from those potential killers. Likewise if a breeder has only dewormed a litter once by the time they are 8 weeks, it is not enough and pups will likely be full of parasites.  Find out what other vaccinations are mandatory in your specific area and ask if the breeder administered these as well. 

Somewhere between price-cutting and price gouging lies the sensible answer to the “how much should I pay for an LGD puppy” question.  Steer clear of pups priced ridiculously cheap (typically anything under $300) or priced at high extremes (very few ranchers can afford $2,000-and up working LGD pups).   The average price for a good pup out of more common LGD breeds (Great Pyrenees, Akbash, Anatolians, Maremmas) is $400-700.  Rare LGD breeds, registered (i.e. AKC papered), or those out of verifiable imported stock typically bring more, $900-1800.