For millennia, humans have relied upon dogs to help them in the fields, on farms, on hunts, and in their homes. One of the most important roles a dog could perform for a farmer or shepherd was that of livestock guardian. Such a dog had to be reliable around livestock like sheep, pigs, goats, and even chickens; have the ability to discriminate between family and potential threats; and have the ability to follow through in deterring true threats to the livestock.
The following livestock guardian breeds are part of the AKC’s Working Group, and while they are not considered herding dogs, they can be invaluable to the farm that needs a steady, dependable guardian for both livestock and the humans who tend them.
The Anatolian Shepherd Dog
The Anatolian Shepherd Dog is a breed that can trace its origins back several thousand years to Asia Minor. The breed first served as a hunting dog, then as a livestock guardian for sheep and other animals. Sometimes the dogs would travel across Asia Minor with caravans of nomadic traders, such as the Assyrians or Sumerians. In fact, the British Museum in London houses an Assyrian bas-relief featuring Anatolian Shepherd Dogs.
Anatolians are large dogs that are still used today to guard sheep and other livestock, and the breed’s temperament reflects this function. The AKC breed standard states that an Anatolian Shepherd Dog should be “loyal, independent, and reserved.” As noted in the AKC’s 22nd edition of The New Complete Dog Book, these dogs “possess great endurance, speed, and agility,” and are “highly intelligent, courageous, adaptable, instinctively protective, and territorial.”
As territorial guardians, these dogs are not friendly to strangers when alone on their property, and unsocialized Anatolians have been known to become too protective and aggressive toward other dogs, so early socialization is key.
The Great Pyrenees
Recognizable to children everywhere due to the animated series Belle and Sebastian (based on the 1966 French novel by Cécile Aubry), the Great Pyrenees is a beloved livestock guardian breed that also is believed to have originated in Central Asia. The Romans called upon the precursors of the breed we know today to guard livestock throughout the Roman Empire. It was from the descendants of these dogs in the Pyrenees mountain range between France and Spain that today’s Great Pyrenees developed, and in the seventeenth century, Louis XIV declared it the “Royal Dog of France.”
Sometimes affectionately referred to as the “Pyr” or the “Great Pyr,” these large, white, fluffy dogs are defined not only by their great size and striking appearance, but also by their “smart, patient, calm” temperament, according to the AKC breed standard. Like many livestock guardians, the Great Pyrenees was bred to be an independent thinker, and is thus able to guard livestock without human supervision or direction.
Given this breed’s function as a livestock guardian, companion owners should keep in mind that this dog will naturally look for some guarding activity as a source of employment. However, they are known for their gentle nature, especially with their families, and it is not uncommon to see a Pyr working as a therapy dog.
This breed does have a unique anatomic feature: the presence of double dewclaws on the rear legs. The New Complete Dog Book notes that “they may have functioned in the past as a ‘snowshoe’ in the deep snows of the Pyrenees Mountains or possibly assisted the dogs as additional brakes when they raced downhill; today, they are a traditional symbol of breed purity.”
With one of the most striking appearances of all dogs, the Komondor is an ancient and relatively rare breed that traces its origins back to Hungary. According to Tamsin Pickeral’s The Spirit of the Dog, the Hungarians consider the Komondor a national treasure, and the breed has often been referred to as a “king” among livestock guardians.
The AKC breed standard describes the Komondor’s temperament as “loyal, dignified, and brave,” and these qualities serve the breed well in its function to protect flocks and herds (usually sheep) from predators. These dogs are known to be very territorial and form strong bonds with their flock—both animals and humans. They tend not to wander and instead stay close to the livestock and people they are guarding, making them ideal as livestock guardians.
The heavy white cords that make up the Komondor’s unusual coat help the dogs blend in with the sheep they guard and serve to protect against extremes of weather as well as predators.
The Kuvasz is a member of the 11,000-year-old group of sheep guardians that originated in northern Iraq, one of the places where sheep were first domesticated. Like the other livestock guardian breeds on this list, the Kuvasz is a large, powerful dog. The white coat, often seen among dogs that were developed to guard sheep and goats, helps them blend in with their flock.
According to its breed standard, the Kuvasz is “loyal, fearless, and courageous,” a natural guardian who will not hesitate to protect family, house, and property. Today, the Kuvasz serves primarily as a livestock guardian, family companion, and occasional therapy dog.