By Andrew Fischer

Can Labradors be used as livestock guardians?

Labradors are one of the most intelligent and adaptable working breeds and can be trained to do almost anything. However, if you have a large herd and  you are dealing with larger predators like coyotes and wolves, there are better choices for you like Australian Cattle Dogs, Border Collies, German Shepherds etc.

Do Labradors have a guardian instinct?

All dog breeds have a certain level of guardian instinct. However, Labradors were not bred for guarding but for retrieving. They were bred to be friendly and unaggressive.

If a thief comes to your house, it’s quite possible that an average trained Labrador will want to play with him instead of protecting your property.

The type of livestock matters

In theory Labradors could manage to herd smaller livestock such as sheep, chicken, goats, guinea pigs, rabbits etc. 

My Labrador was very good at keeping the cats and foxes away from the chickens.

It would be much harder to train a Labrador to herd larger animals such as cattle and horses.

Are Labradors LGD (Livestock Guardian Dogs)?

Although, as we discussed above, even Labradors can be used to keep small predators away from your farm, that doesn’t make them good LGDs. 

LGDs are dogs that were selectively bred for hundreds of years to be strong and aggressive towards predators. They have to be agile and have good stamina.

A Labrador doesn’t become a LGD just because it’s capable of keeping small predators away or because it barks on strangers. 

Labrador’s nature is to be affectionate and very gentle. They are friendly and outgoing. A good livestock guarding dog needs to be strong and aggressive when necessary. However, Labradors are not that way by nature. 

Does it all come down to training?

You can definitely train Labradors to protect you and your livestock. You can teach them to bark when strangers or predators are around.

If you keep your Labrador away (by closing them in a room or keeping them chained) and don’t let them meet strangers and other animals while they are in your premises, the Lab will associate strangers with unpleasant situations and will learn to bark to alert you in case a predator approaches. 

On the other hand, Labradors weren’t bred for the purpose of becoming livestock guardian dogs. They were bred to have low defence drive. They were bred to participate in hunting where they were surrounded by many other dogs, humans and wild animals. Therefore they lost their territorial based aggression. Labradors don’t have the concept of territory as other livestock guardian dogs. If a predator shows up near your farm, there is a chance that the Labrador will try to play with it. It’s not typical for a Labrador to fight a predator that comes menacing the herd. 

Labs don’t have the territorial aggression necessary to run predators off. They were bred to make friends with other animals and humans. Labradors with territorial aggression are disqualified in shows and competitions because this characteristic is not desirable for the breed. 

Labradors weren’t bred to be able to fight predators. They don’t have the stamina, power and build to fight wild animals.

Watchdogs vs Guard Dogs

While Labs are large and attentive they typically don’t make good guard dogs. They are even-tempered and love to interact with people. They aren’t easily provoked to aggressive behaviour. However, a good guard dog needs to become aggressive when necessary. 

On the other hand, Labs are very attentive, intelligent and alert. They are always aware if something is happening. They usually notice every new person or animal that comes near your farm. For this reason Labs are great watchdogs. They bark if there’s a stranger nearby and they will let you know if there is any form of danger. 

Labs are very loyal to their owners and will always try to keep you safe. With some training you can easily help your Lab to learn when it’s acceptable to bark when when it’s not.