Researchers at the U.S. Agriculture Department’s National Wildlife Research Center have looked into the best guard dogs against wolves and other predators, and have found that three breeds not to mess with.
In the 1990s, wolves were reintroduced to the western part of the United States. Ranchers have long defended their flocks of sheep with dogs that included Great Pyrenees and Maremma Sheepdogs, and wondered whether or not those dogs still had it in them to be the best guard dogs.
A new study conducted by researchers with the U.S. Agriculture Department’s National Wildlife Research Center has found that three European and Asian breeds specifically raised to guard against bears and wolves may instead be the better breed pick for U.S. ranchers.
They make this claim in a four-year, yet-to-be-published study that shows Portugal’s Cao de Gado Transmontano, Bulgaria’s Karakachan and Turkey’s Kengal were better than local U.S. dogs at protecting from wolves and coyotes that threatened the western U.S. ranches.
To come to that conclusion, almost 120 dogs of the three breeds were sent to the western U.S. as puppies, and there, they spent four years guarding sheep. The dogs’ breeds have been cultivated for hundreds of years throughout Asia and Europe so they’d be gentle around their flocks of sheep and children, but ferocious fighters when they were confronted with enemy wolves.
Biologist Julie Young said that a lot of ranchers wanted to know what the best guard dog for dealing with grizzly bears and wolves was, and so they embarked on the mission to find out.
The three breeds all turn out dogs that can weigh up to 140 pounds, which is nearly the size of the average wolf. The dogs were sent to protect 65 herds of sheep in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
Remote camera footage and GPS collars gave researchers information, which they are combining with the information from notes they are still in the process of analyzing. Within the next year, Young believes that four or five scientific papers will be released detailing their findings, but that overall, the dogs did well protecting the flocks, and better than the traditional dogs like Great Pyrenees, Akbash or Maremma Sheepdogs western ranchers currently use to protect their flocks. Sometimes they use Anatolian Shepherds as well. Since wolves have returned to the American West, though, they’ve killed about 50 guard dogs through 2017, and injured almost 40 others in the state of Idaho.
Jill Swannack is the president of the Washington State Sheep Producers and a veterinarian who said that some of the dogs, like three Karakachans she received, preferred the humans and didn’t bond to the sheep. That said, they were smaller, and after the study went off to local families, where she says they are doing better protecting against coyotes, but more, play with the children.
The imported dogs cost about $500 a piece, which is a small price when you consider that ranchers can call to have wolves that attack livestock killed. The sad thing about that is that it is expensive to send personnel, but more, environmentalists are concerned about the loss of the wolf. Good guard dogs can prevent unnecessary deaths.
The researchers do say that while the three breeds have their strengths when it comes to guarding, a combination of the dogs may be the ultimate protection for flocks.
Lori Ennis is a wife, mama and friend to all animals. A self-confessed “Hot Mess,” she lives wherever the Marine Corps takes her husband. Currently, that’s Maryland with her very spoiled Labrador Retriever-mix rescue pups and a ton of saltwater fish just tanking around. Lori’s family has fostered dogs for years, mostly Golden Retrievers, and knows no home is complete without an animal buddy (or seven)!