Dogs have been living and working with people for centuries. One of the earliest jobs that our ancestors trained and used their canine friends to do was to work as livestock guardians.
Protecting and watching over domestic livestock to ensure that they don’t become an easy meal for wild predators was, and still is, an important task. While technological advances have changed and modernized many aspects of farming, the role of the livestock guardian dog (LGD) has remained largely unchanged.
While the task carried out by LGDs may not be as complex as that of some other working dogs, it’s not something that just any dog can do. There are several specific traits that LGDs need to have. For starters, LGDs are typically large or giant breeds, as this isn’t a task for a small dog. They usually have thick all-weather coats that make it possible for them to spend most of their working lives outdoors. They also need to get on with or at least tolerate the constant presence of the livestock, and they need a calm, patient, and alert manner and exceptionally strong guarding instinct.
With such a long list of required traits, you might think that there would only be a few breeds that could make the grade as an LGD. In fact, the opposite is true, and there are a significant number of dog breeds that have made names for themselves as LGDs. Here are our picks for the top 25.
The Akbash is a large and exceptionally old purebred breed that hails from Turkey and has, over the centuries, proven themselves as an excellent LGD. Known for their striking white coat, these dogs have a naturally calm personality and are always alert to potential threats.
Although not aggressive, the Akbash is an extremely protective breed. They’re always aware of their environment and suspicious of any strangers entering into their territory. Despite their disposition for this type of work, the breed is rarely seen outside their native country.
2. Anatolian Shepherd
The Anatolian Shepherd is another excellent LGD breed with Turkish origins. The Anatolian Shepherd is an extremely old dog breed, and they are believed to have originally been developed by ancient Turkish shepherds, who deliberately crossbred the Akbash and Kangal Dog.
The Anatolian Shepherd was first imported into the United States in the 1930s as part of a secret government program conducted by the Department of Agriculture to determine the best sheepdog. However, the program was scrapped, and the dogs sold off to members of the public. Yet, the Anatolian Shepherd did not gain popularity in the U.S. until 1973, when the Endangered Species Act was introduced. With it suddenly becoming an offense to kill many native predators, farmers scrambled to find new ways to protect their livestock and the popularity of the Anatolian Shepherd significantly increased.
3. Armenian Gampr
The Armenian Gampr is an extremely large and powerful LGD that is native to the Armenian Highlands. The breed is a natural guardian, ticking all the boxes when it comes to the traits required for the role, and unlike many LGD breeds, they require no training whatsoever to do their job. Independent, strong-minded, and possessing a strong self-preservation instinct, the Armenian Gampr is a highly capable and trustworthy LGD that also gets along extremely well with their human handlers and their families.
4. Bucovina Shepherd
The Bucovina Shepherd is an exceptionally large LGD that can grow to a height of 31 inches and weigh as much as 200 pounds. They have their origins in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania and are still used in this region as LGDs watching over flocks of sheep and as guard dogs watching over family homes.
Despite their size, Bucovina Shepherds love children and make excellent family pets, but be warned, these dogs don’t take well to strangers, and they won’t hold back when it comes to aggressively protecting their charges from any perceived threat.
5. Cão de Gado Transmontano
The Cão de Gado Transmontano is a Portuguese working dog that is primarily used as a livestock guardian. This giant breed has an excellent reputation as an LGD, having proven itself extremely effective at guarding flocks of sheep from wolves.
Until 1995, the Cão de Gado Transmontano was exclusively found in Portugal. However, since then, they have been exported in limited numbers to other parts of the world. In the United States, the breed is currently being used in Oregon as part of an effort to introduce several large dog breeds to help prevent livestock being attacked by wolves that were reintroduced to northeastern areas of the state by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
6. Caucasian Shepherd Dog
The Caucasian Shepherd Dog is a giant breed of LGD that has its origins in the Caucasus region of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Dagestan. Another extremely old breed, the Caucasian Shepherd Dog has served shepherds as an LGD in the Caucasian Mountains for centuries, where they were used to defend flocks of sheep from wolves, jackals, and bears and earned a reputation as being a wolf killer.
These massive dogs are known for their extremely protective character and the fact that they’ll aggressively protect their territory from any threat. Intelligent dogs, they can be quite stubborn and extraordinarily strong-willed, which can make them a little difficult to train. The Caucasian Shepherd Dog is not a dog suited to a first-time owner, yet in the right hands, with consistent and appropriate training, they can make excellent family dogs and household guardians.
7. Central Asian Shepherd Dog
The Central Asian Shepherd Dog is another extremely old breed that is believed to have originally come from the geographical region between the Ural River, the Caspian Sea, Asia Minor, and Northeast China.
Traditionally, the Central Asian Shepherd Dog was bred as an LGD and used to protect flocks of sheep and goats from a range of predators. Today, the breed is still used extensively for this purpose in some parts of Russia. They can also be found in Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and several other countries in Central Asia.
8. Great Pyrenees
The Great Pyrenees, also known as the Pyrenees Mountain Dog, is a popular LGD that was first developed sometime in the 1500s to work as shepherds and herding dogs in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France.
The breed was first imported into the United States in 1931 and formally recognized by the American Kennel Club just two years later in 1933. These large confident and gentle dogs make great family pets and are excellent with children. However, it is as an LGD that the Great Pyrenees really excels and is known for their attentive, territorial, and protective nature, as well as their fearless devotion to duty.
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9. Kangal Shepherd Dog
The Kangal Shepherd Dog is a large and formidable LGD that hails from Sivas, Turkey. An ancient and primitive breed, they have been used extensively throughout Sivas for hundreds of years, yet until the 1980s, they were essentially unheard of outside the region. In recent years, the breed has been exported to other countries and is starting to make a name for themselves as an LDG, protecting flocks of sheep around the world.
The Kangal Shepherd Dog is an intelligent, independent, and courageous breed that needs little or no training to do their job. Often working in pairs, they are extremely alert dogs that will notice the slightest sound or scent of danger and immediately react to defend their charges.
The Karakachan, also known as the Bulgarian Shepherd, is a large breed that evolved in Bulgaria. While the breed was once extensively used by the Bulgarian military in a border patrol role, they now almost exclusively work as LGDs. The breed is common throughout Bulgaria and can also be found in Romania, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia.
The Karakachan has a reputation for being affectionate around their family but wary and aggressive toward strangers. They can also be quite stubborn dogs, and this trait can make them difficult to train. As an LGD, the Karakachan is renowned for their courage and will aggressively defend their flock from bears, wolves, and other wild dogs.
11. Karst Shepherd
The Karst Shepherd is an LGD that originally comes from Slovenia and closely resembles a Caucasian Shepherd, only with a darker coat. The breed is the national dog of Slovenia and is known to have been in existence for several centuries.
Karst Shepherds were originally used as herding dogs, but over the years, they have also made quite a name for themselves as brave and dependable LGDs, and more recently, they’ve become popular in Slovenia as family pets. The breed is not at all well known outside their native country, and it is estimated that there are no more than a handful of Karst Shepherds in the United States.
The Komondor, also known as the Hungarian Shepherd, is a large white dog with a distinct, long, matted style of hair that gives them the appearance of a shaggy mop. Despite their unusual look, the Komondor has a reputation for being an excellent LGD that will act independently to fearlessly defend their charges from any danger.
The Komondor is an intelligent dog that can also be an excellent family pet and household guard dog. They are known to love children and will get on with and be protective of any other pets in the family. As guard dogs, they are extremely protective of their territory. While they may allow a stranger to enter their yard, the Komondor will attack and knock down any intruder, pinning them in place until their owners return.
The Kuchi is a rare LGD breed that was developed by the nomadic Kuchi people of Afghanistan as a working dog to protect their livestock from both wolves and thieves.
Due to the nomadic lifestyle of their owners and the varieties of other dog breeds that the Kuchi were crossed with, the breed developed into three different dog types: mountain-type dogs that are big-boned, heavily coated, and ideal for life in the mountains; steppe-type that have a lighter build and medium to long hair and are known for their agility; and desert-type dogs that have short to medium-length coats and are best suited to life in the desert flatlands.
Regardless of their specific type, Kuchi dogs have a fearsome reputation as an LGD and were highly regarded by the Kuchi people, who not only relied upon them to protect their livestock but also used them to guard their camps and caravans.
Even today, the Kuchi is quite a rare breed and rarely seen outside Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, small numbers of these dogs were known to also exist in Russia. In many countries, including the United States, the Kuchi is not considered to be an individual breed, but rather a variant of the Central Asian Shepherd Dog.
The Kuvasz is an ancient dog breed of Hungarian origin. Historically used as both an LGD and for personal protection, the Kuvasz has also been employed as a Royal Guard Dog and in recent times, has also become an increasingly popular family pet.
The Kuvasz is an intelligent breed with a friendly, almost clown-like personality. They get on well with children but are not the best breed to have in a household with small pets. Bred for centuries to think and act independently, they have a mind of their own and can be quite aloof and a little cunning.
15. Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdog
The Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdog, also known simply as the Maremmano Sheepdog, is an extremely old breed of Italian dog that has been used as an LGD for thousands of years.
Bred and used specifically to protect flocks of sheep from wolves, the Maremmano Sheepdog is not by nature an aggressive dog and will protect their charges by placing themselves between the predator and the flock and barking at the oncoming threat. They are typically employed in groups of three or four dogs, and their presence with the flock is usually enough to dissuade a predator. However, they will stand their ground and physically defend when required.
16. Polish Tatra Sheepdog
The Polish Tatra Sheepdog is a rare breed of LGD that was introduced into the mountainous Tatra region of Poland sometime during the middle ages. The breed has been popular with Polish shepherds for centuries, and even today, most Polish Tatras are employed as livestock guardians. Unlike some LGD breeds, the Polish Tatra Sheepdog is not an aggressive breed and defends its flock through its sheer presence and a loud bark.
Following the Second World War, the Polish Tatra Sheepdog was on the verge of extinction. However, efforts made within Poland to save the breed resulted in several breeding programs being set up, and today, while still quite rare outside of Poland, the breed is no longer considered endangered.
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17. Portuguese Cattle Dog
The Portuguese Cattle Dog, also known as the Portuguese Watchdog, is an ancient and rare LGD breed from the northern mountainous regions of Portugal. The breed was originally developed to work as a livestock guardian and herding dog, defending livestock from wolves.
However, since the eradication of wolves and other large predators in Portugal, the breed lost its original LGD role and is now more commonly found as a companion dog and general guard dog. The breed is recognized by many of the large kennel clubs around the world, including the American Kennel Club. It is estimated that there are only about 500 specimens of the breed still in existence.
18. Pyrenean Mastiff
The Pyrenean Mastiff is an old and extremely large dog that was for many centuries, employed to guard herds of sheep in the Pyrenees Mountains from wolves, bears, and thieves.
During the nationwide economic difficulties in Spain that followed the Spanish Civil War, the large and expensive-to-feed Pyrenean Mastiff fell out of favor and was largely replaced by other breeds. Right up until the 1970s, the breed was teetering on the edge of extinction. However, several breeding programs were implemented to save them. While they are still quite rare, they are no longer endangered.
In recent years, the breed has been exported to several other countries, including the United States, where they again are used in their traditional role as an LGD.
19. Rafeiro do Alentejo
The Rafeiro do Alentejo is a Portuguese working dog that was for many years, used in packs as hunting dogs. Over time, this changed, and the breed started being used as an LGD — a role in which these large, powerful dogs excelled. It was a role that was made easier for the Rafeiro do Alentejo, as they are a naturally nocturnal dog, meaning they are most active during the night, which is the time when livestock is most vulnerable to attacks from predators.
Like many of the older LGD breeds, the Rafeiro do Alentejo is quite a rare dog. While not yet close to extinction, the breed is officially considered to be vulnerable.
20. Romanian Mioritic Shepherd Dog
Originally developed as an LGD breed in and around the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, the Romanian Mioritic Shepherd is a large breed that is known for their calm demeanor, the fact they form a close and protective bond with their owner, and their disciplined approach to their work.
While it is usual for male dogs of most breeds to be larger and heavier than females, the difference between the two sexes is quite pronounced with this breed, with males being considerably larger than females.
21. Sarabi Dog
The Sarabi Dog, also known as the Iranian Shepherd or the Iranian Mastiff, is a giant LGD breed that comes from the East Azerbaijan Province of northern Iran. The Sarabi Dog is another ancient breed that is known to have been in existence for centuries. Throughout that time, they have been employed to guard flocks of sheep and goats from bears, jackals, wolves, and other predators.
The bread is tough and dependable and capable of living outdoors in all weather and in harsh, unforgiving environments. In addition to their role as livestock guardians, Sarabi Dogs were traditionally also used for hunting and in staged doh fights.
Considered to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, Molosser type dogs alive today, the Šarplaninac comes from the Šar Mountains region of Kosovo, Albania, and North Macedonia. Exceptional livestock guardians, these dogs love to work and usually do so in pairs or small groups. They have a calm and alert personality but are extremely wary of strangers and will aggressively defend their flock of sheep or goats from almost any predator.
The Šarplaninac is friendly and loyal toward their owners. Yet, they don’t make great family pets and won’t be happy lazing about all day. These dogs have been bred for centuries to be LGDs, and that is really what they most enjoy doing.
23. Slovensky Cuvac
The Slovensky Cuvac is another large white LGD that is always full of energy and ready to jump into action to defend their charges from any predator. Strong, loyal, and even-tempered, the Slovensky Cuvac is closely related to the Hungarian Kuvasz and is originally from the area known today as Slovakia.
Over the years, the Slovensky Cuvac has made a name for themselves as an excellent livestock guardian and as a companion dog, family pet, and guard dog. The breed has been documented as far back as the 17th century. However, they are thought to have been in existence well before that time.
24. Spanish Mastiff
The Spanish Mastiff is an enormous and intelligent dog that can weigh up to 200 pounds. As their name suggests, the Spanish Mastiff is originally from Spain and since medieval times, has been used as an LGD to accompany and protect sheep or cattle as they were herded from northern to southern Spain.
Aloof and exceptionally wary, the Spanish Mastiff is an almost perfect guardian, capable of defending their charges from bears, wolves, and thieves. While there is no longer a need to herd livestock over long distances, the Spanish Mastiff remains a popular dog throughout Spain and can still be found working as LGDs on rural properties throughout the country.
The Tornjak is a large, friendly, and intelligent LGD that originally comes from the Balkans, in the areas now known as Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Croatia. Another incredibly old breed, the Tornjak has been mentioned in texts dating as far as the 11th century.
Like many LGDs, the Tornjak is a calm and at times, aloof dog that is highly intelligent and capable of aggressively defending their charges when necessary. The breed is sometimes also kept as a family pet, and provided that they are well-socialized from a young age, Tornjaks can make good pets and companion dogs. However, in recent years, the Tornjak has earned a reputation as an aggressive and dangerous dog and is currently one of 13 breeds that are banned in Denmark.
Featured Image Credit: Ingrid Curry, Shutterstock
- 1. Akbash
- 2. Anatolian Shepherd
- 3. Armenian Gampr
- 4. Bucovina Shepherd
- 5. Cão de Gado Transmontano
- 6. Caucasian Shepherd Dog
- 7. Central Asian Shepherd Dog
- 8. Great Pyrenees
- 9. Kangal Shepherd Dog
- 10. Karakachan
- 11. Karst Shepherd
- 12. Komondor
- 13. Kuchi
- 14. Kuvasz
- 15. Maremmano-Abruzzese Sheepdog
- 16. Polish Tatra Sheepdog
- 17. Portuguese Cattle Dog
- 18. Pyrenean Mastiff
- 19. Rafeiro do Alentejo
- 20. Romanian Mioritic Shepherd Dog
- 21. Sarabi Dog
- 22. Šarplaninac
- 23. Slovensky Cuvac
- 24. Spanish Mastiff
- 25. Tornjak