Animals

These Are the Best Guard Dog Breeds, According to Science

They say not to judge a book by its cover, and that same wisdom should be applied to dog breeds. While you probably consider the looks of a Doberman, German shepherd, or pit bull to mean they're strong guard dogs, some surprisingly unassuming breeds may be better suited for the job. According to scientific research, the top three guard dog breeds are big and fluffy, and you've probably never heard of them.

Bulgarian shepherd

Sheep Saviors

We're not saying your Rottweiler is a bad guard dog, but research suggests there are better options — at least for protecting livestock. Researchers from the U.S. Agriculture Department's National Wildlife Research Center set out to find the perfect dog breeds for keeping coyotes and wolves away from herds of sheep, while also being gentle with those sheep and with children. As of March 2018, they were still analyzing the data, but they've found three winners: Portugal's Cão de Gado Transmontano, Bulgaria's Karakachan, and Turkey's Kangal. Spoiler: They're fluffy and cute too.

They're all very large dogs (each can weigh up to 140 pounds or 64 kilograms) and look super pettable. Cao de Gado Transmontanos' are large but agile dogs developed in the mountains of Portugal, Karakachans were bred by nomadic sheepherders in the mountains of Bulgaria, and Kangals are powerful dogs from Turkey with a natural instinct for herding. For the study, 120 dogs were sent to guard 65 herds in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, and Oregon. After a few years, these three breeds did well keeping away wolves and did better than traditional guard dogs at keeping coyotes at bay.

Kangal dog herding livestock

Workin' Like a Dog

For years, sheep producers in the American West have used big white dogs like the Great Pyrenees, the Akbash, and the Maremma Sheepdog, along with light-brown Anatolian shepherds to guard their herds. But since wolves made a comeback in the West in the 1990s, those traditional choices were — sadly — falling victim to the wolves. And when the dogs are killed by wolves, livestock is killed by wolves, and wolves are killed by federal officials. All bad news.

This research suggests these three European and Asian breeds could be an answer. According to Julie Young, a Utah-based research biologist with the U.S. Agriculture Department's National Wildlife Research Center, the Karakachans tended to be more vigilant, the Kangals were inclined to investigate, and the Cao de Gado Transmontanos were better at assessing threats. Young suggested that sheep producers would get the biggest benefit from having a mix of dog breeds: some that hang out by the sheep and others that patrol the borders. Who can say no to more fluffy dogs?

What about for your dog at home? Check out "Dog Training: 20 Smart Dog Tricks You Can Teach Your Dog." The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Joanie Faletto June 13, 2018

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