While we are talking about canine communication, it would be a good time to go over some of what we’re looking for in terms of body language in the Livestock Guardian Dog.
As we’ve talked about before, LGDs are one of the only types of dogs developed to live with prey animals, namely livestock. Livestock generally live in groups and are very sensitive to threatening behavior. They respond to bodies (people and animals) that are carried with a lot of forward motion or threatening intent by running away or less commonly and/or if trapped, by threatening them back. This is, of course, a survival mechanism common to all kinds of prey species, domestic or otherwise. LGDs have to fit a dual job description in terms of body language requirements. They must be threatening enough to would-be predators to drive them off (at the least) and they have to display body language that makes the livestock feel safe and secure enough to stay close to them.
As a part of fulfilling the job of driving predators away from their charges, LGDs are bred to be large or extra large in size, with deep, booming voices. This signals to predators that they can not only be a match for any predator contemplating a meal of lamb or veal, but also that they are constantly on alert and won’t miss any such attempt. They are, however, selected to have drop ears, “rounder” edges to their body, soft expressions and to move in a calming, slow manner around vulnerable beings. It is not uncommon to see a LGD trot away from the stock a ways to assess and warn off a threat, head high, tail up and carrying themselves with extreme forward motion; only to return and reverse the process: slow in pace, lowering their tail and body profile as they approach the stock. It takes a highly intelligent, thinking dog to constantly evaluate the environment/context and respond appropriately.
What follows is a series of photographs that illustrate the appropriate body language around stock. I’ve included a picture of our 8 month old (at the time) Maremma/Great Pyr girl greeting my daughter, who came to visit in the barn in her wheelchair. It’s important to note that since our LGD pup had not been taught not to jump up at her previous home, she was still struggling with it here these three months later. She automatically adjusted her behavior to suit the situation with my daughter, however – a good sign of a properly maturing LGD.