Do you want a livestock guardian dog or a herd dog as a work dog for your homestead? Didn't know there was a difference? There is, a huge on actually. In fact, in all likelihood, you need both types of traditional farm working dogs on your homestead or survival retreat.
Work Dog On The Homestead: The Best In What They Do
Livestock guard dogs (LGDs) protect your livestock and by extension, your homestead, from predators. These dogs are typically very large and very protective of just not the livestock, but the entire family – but do NOT live with the humans inside the home.
Herd dogs work the land and animals by day but tend to live with the family at night. These breeds are high energy and commonly have only two speeds – 100 MPH or zero – and snoozing, after putting in many hours doing necessary work around the homestead.
Best Herding Dog Breed
Blue or Red Heelers are the absolute best herding dog around. The number of hours of work we would have to put in on our 56-acre homestead without our brother/sister pair of blue heelers is staggering to even think about.
The epitome of the herd dog breeds is also commonly referred to as Australian Cattle Dogs, Australian Heelers, and Queensland Heelers. They were bred specifically for the task of herding and predator detection by Australian farmers in the Outback through a series of trial and error.
Australian sheep farmers who grew tired of losing valuable time herding their livestock and coming up shy on their herd count due to wanderers killed by predators or that strayed too far to find, mixed together various traditional domesticated and wild canine breeds until they came up with the perfect combination.
Modern red or blue heelers stem from an ancestry of dingo, collie, keplie, bull terrier, and even Dalmation heritage. The meidum size dogs are known for their excellent endurance and agility. They commonly live to reach 13 to 15 years old.
Heelers demand, and thrive, on both mental and physical stimulation. Folks who just love the beautiful look of the dogs and their affectionate and loyal nature will be so very sorely disappointed and frustrated with the breed if they think a daily walk around the block and suburban backyard will fulfill their needs.
They are very intelligent dogs and learn very quickly. During their first 12 months you simply must expect them to be hyper – there is just no other way to put it. Our vet told us if we could survive the first year Jovie and her brother, Ruger, would be the best dogs we ever welcomed into our family – and he was right.
The heelers got their familiar moniker due to the way they herd large livestock, by nipping them on the heel. They will never, ever, allow a horse, goat, sheep, cow, steer, calf – or even an ornery bull to stray from exactly where they belong.
They do not injure the livestock with their herding techniques but get their point across just the same. Do not be shocked if the heeler attempts to herd you as well. It took a few months to teach Jovie there was absolutely no need to imprint her teeth onto the heel of my cowboy boots to keep me moving!
It took me only about an hour to teach Jovie and Ruger (separately) that my chickens and ducks were not a snack but critters they were in charge of keeping nearby and protecting. If a hawk swoops within six feets of the ground to try to snatch a chicken or duck, the “majestic” bird of prey will wind up being the snack instead of having one.
In spite of their herding work dog nature, they are incredibly gentle with children and loyal – as in, they will often fall asleep on your feet to make sure you don't dare make a move which they are not aware.
Male blue and red heelers commonly weigh about 33 to 35 pounds. Female Australian Cattle Dogs commonly weight approximately 31 to 35 pounds. Jovie, my “spunky beast” was the giant of her liter and weighs about 60 pounds of pure muscle. The males of the breed routinely reach about 20 inches tall with females staning just an inche or two shorter.
Blue heelers (or red) will climb right into bed with you if you let them -telling them they are off duty for the day will not suffice. if not permitted to snuggle at night, they will prefer to sleep on the floor right next to their human so they are ready to roll once your feet hit the floor.
Heelers are a one-person dog. While they will love and protect the entire family with the every ounce of their being, they will claim only one soul as their human and listen to that person's commands with an absolute sense of duty and be their shadow until their dying day.
Best Livestock Guardian Dog Breed
Livestock guardian dogs are strictly outdoor animals who live with the herd or flock and protect it during the dangerous nighttime hours and throughout the day. These lovable beasts sleep in the barn or in a dog box next to the chicken coop or small livestock pens.
Multiple livestock guardian dogs are commonly found on farms and homesteads. They live and amicably work together while keeping a keen eye on the chickens, ducks, sheep, goats, cattle, and horses.
They quickly learn their territory and will fight to the death to protect it. The livestock guardian dogs form a tight bond with the animals they are tasked with protecting, even at an early age.
The Great Pyrenees is far and above the best of all great livestock guardian dogs. Some keepers of this breed even brag they have not had to coop-up their poultry anymore because their beloved Great Pyrs does such a great job of teaching deadly predators farm avoidance and patrols its territory with a ferocious sense of duty like a canine Marine.
There is little to no training involved when it comes to teaching a Great Pyrenees to protect the livestock and to learn its territory – such behavior simply comes natural to them. They are incredibly gentle giants who inherently know the difference between predators and pets and livestock commony found on the homestead.
These livestock guardian dogs will be sweet and tolerant of your little ones – and stand until their final breath between them and danger. They eagerly accept affection and remain patient when their humans and the pets which follow them around the farm, come into their domain.
The Great Pyrs just always seems to know how much force is necessary to thwart an unwanted visitor to the homestead. They simply cannot be tricked away from their herd by a clever predator that wants to double back and have a snack or pave the way for another pack member to do the same. And yes, they will also protect their herd/flock and human family from unwelcome two-legged predators as well.
While these dogs are quite active as puppies, their apparent demeanor changes substantially by adulthood. They do LOVE a good nap – but always keep one eye and both ears open so they are ready if dangers present itself.
The only downside to having a Great Pyrenees as a livestock guardian dog – other than their massive appetite, is frequent barking if not corrected from the annoying behavior by the time they are eight months to one year old.
Great Pyrenees dogs typically have a life span of 10 to 12 years. Males commonly grow to be about 32 inches tall and females reach a height of 29 inches. Male Grat Pyrs weigh approximately 110 to 120 pounds on average and females grow to be about 80 to 90 pounds.
Real Dog Supreme shows us a video on the Great Pyrenees as a great guardian family dog:
Having both a livestock guardian dog and a herding dog on your hometead is ideal, but if the budget allows only for one dog on the homestead, go with a blue heeler herding dog. While this would leave your herd or flock vulnerable at night, unless you could pull off training them to live with their protectees, and that will not be easy, you get the overall best of both worlds.
Do you own a Heeler or a great Pyrenees? Let us know in the comments below.