Livestock protection dogs are critical on many ranches for protection against grizzly bears, wolves, coyotes and other predators. But in some cases, the rising number of predators on western ranches is overcoming the talents of the protection dog, USDA says.
Livestock protection dogs grow up and live with their herd, patrolling the perimeters of grazing areas to ward of potential predators. Without them, thousands of sheep, lambs, and calves would be killed or injured each year.
But current breeds of livestock protection dogs— like the Great Pyrenees, Komondors, and Akbash— are losing many of the fights. They are no match for these larger predators, USDA says.
To help producers in western States control the issue, USDA's Wildlife Services program and its research arm the National Wildlife Research Center are leading an effort to identify more suitable breeds of livestock protection dogs.
In 2013, NWRC researchers began a multi- year study to determine the effectiveness of larger, more assertive European dog breeds at protecting livestock from grizzly bears and wolves in Idaho and Montana. Wildlife Services Deputy Administrator William Clay recently directed that this project be expanded to Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.
"Finding suitable dog breeds for use as lives tock protection dogs against wolves and bears not only helps us safeguard livestock and the livelihoods of ranchers, but also enhances and encourages coexistence between people and large predators," Clay explains.
In trial studies, researchers and their partners are importing young Kangal, Karakachan, and Cão de Gado Transmontano dogs from Europe and placing them with producers to acclimate and bond to sheep.
The dogs' movements and behaviors are monitored using global position system collars and direct observations.
Care is taken to monitor for negative behaviors in the dogs, such as aggression towards other dogs, livestock, or humans or an inability to bond to livestock. Data is also being gathered on wolf and grizzly bear activities and movements in the study areas. Researchers hope to learn whether the European breeds can protect livestock from wolves and bears while also exhibiting appropriate temperaments for living with livestock in pens and on open lands.