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Are German Shepherds Good Livestock Guardians & Farm Dogs? Facts & FAQs

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Working dog breeds have been around for thousands of years, and this likely was one of the initial reasons that dogs were domesticated. Working breeds have long been used for protection, as guardians of livestock, and for various other duties on farms, and German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs) are just one of these working breeds. German Shepherds can be effective livestock guardians and farm dogs due to their intelligence, versatility, and protective instincts, although specific training and socialization are important for success in this role.

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German Shepherds As Livestock Guardians and Farm Dogs

With the right training, German Shepherds can make good livestock guardians, and with their incredible versatility, they can make amazing farm dogs too. There are a few caveats, however, as these dogs have powerful prey drives and can be a bit hard on livestock. While German Shepherds are amazing herd dogs, guarding livestock has different requirements, and other breeds will excel at the job and be far better suited to it than German Shepherds.

In this article, we look at why German Shepherds can, with the right training, make good livestock guardians and farm dogs, but also why they are probably best used in other areas. Let’s get started!

one year old German Shepherd female
Image Credit: Lurin, Shutterstock

What Makes a Good Livestock Guardian Dog?

Before we examine the GSD, let’s look at the factors that make a good livestock guardian dog. Livestock dogs are bred with these traits in mind, and as such, they are perfectly suited for the job.

These traits include:
  • Low prey drive. First and foremost, a livestock guardian should have a low prey drive. Herding dogs like Border Collies or German Shepherds typically see livestock as prey but will not attack them due to their training. Instead, they will keep them together and herd them toward where they need to be. Guardian dogs are typically raised together with their flock from a young age and see the livestock as a part of their pack and will protect them by any means necessary.
  • Size and strength. Guardian dogs are typically large, muscular, and powerful animals, typically weighing over 100 pounds.
  • They are hardy. Guardian dogs spend most of their time outdoors, no matter the weather, and need to be hardy to endure harsh environments. They typically have tough coats, often thick and long, but this also depends on the areas where they are used and were developed.
  • Independent. Guardian dogs will spend countless hours alone without the direction of their owner, so they need an independent and even stubborn nature. These dogs need to be able to make decisions on their own and are trusted by farmers to do just that.
  • Strong work ethic. Guardian dogs love to work and are happiest when given a job to do, so they need to stay occupied at almost all times.
  • Peaceful and gentle temperament. While these dogs are bred to protect, they need to be gentle and calm animals and only attack when provoked by predators.
german shepherd with chickens in the yard
Image Credit: volodimir bazyuk, Shutterstock

Are German Shepherds Good Guardian Dogs?

If you look at the desired traits of working dogs, German Shepherds are missing all but two: they have a strong work ethic and a hardy coat. German Shepherds are, first and foremost, herding dogs and don’t have the low prey drive required to be a good guardian animal. They are known to be quite hard on livestock, even with herding, and their high prey drive could take over at any time.

German Shepherds are powerful dogs but do not have the sheer power and muscle needed for protecting livestock. While GSDs are intelligent and easy to train, they do not have the independent nature required to look after livestock all day long with little direction. GSDs are excellent at following orders but less so at fending for themselves. Even well-trained GSDs can be aggressive to potential threats and are easily angered and provoked, so they are not good at keeping their cool under pressure.

It’s true that with intensive training, GSDs can learn some of the things needed for guarding livestock, but certain characteristics of livestock guardians cannot be taught, and there are other breeds far better suited to the task. If you have a GSD from a breeder who specializes in working dogs as opposed to show dogs, this will help, but it still depends on training and what the dog is needed to do and what environment they’ll be doing it in.

Unfortunately, there is no concrete “yes or no” answer to the question of using German Shepherds as livestock guardians. GSDs are adaptable, versatile, and highly intelligent dogs that can be taught various jobs, but there are other breeds far better suited to the task.

German Shepherds are excellent at a variety of jobs, including military and police work, as service and search-and-rescue dogs. They also make wonderful family animals. They are best used for what they do best.

What Dogs Are Best for Guarding Livestock?

There are a handful of breeds bred expressly for protecting livestock, so they are far better suited to the work than German Shepherds.

The best livestock guardian breeds include:

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Final Thoughts

While German Shepherds are among the most versatile dog breeds in the world and can be trained to do almost any job, they are not well-suited as livestock guardians and are best used where they excel. There are many other breeds more suited to the job, and German Shepherds should be used to do what they do best!

Featured Image Credit: vz maze, Shutterstock

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