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Service Animals - Guard Duty

dogs sheep people llamas

Animals have been used to guard people and property from various threats for tens of thousands of years. Prehistoric humans were the first to figure out that dogs could warn them of the approach of wild animals. The ancient Greeks and Romans used dogs to guard their towns and military fortresses.

Guard duty encompasses several tasks performed by animals. One is to alert humans to danger. Another is to provide physical protection from danger. Many animals can provide alerts but not protection. For example, canaries were once used in mines to warn miners that dangerous gases were present. Because canaries are sensitive to very small dosages of these gases, their deaths gave the miners time to leave dangerous areas before they too were overcome. This was not a trained or voluntary response by the canaries. By contrast, dogs can alert people to an approaching predator and defend them against it.

Today dogs are still the most popular type of guarding animals. Besides their traditional guard duties, dogs are increasingly used to warn humans about impending natural phenomena, such as earthquakes. For years, researchers have been studying claims that dogs can somehow sense when an earthquake is about to happen. The speculation is that dogs may hear rumbling noises or sense vibrations occurring deep within the earth that precede actual ground movement.

Guarding Livestock

Historically the best guards for livestock (cows, sheep, goats, etc.) have been dogs. Guard dogs protect livestock from common predators, such as coyotes, mountain lions, bears, and wild dogs. This is one job that dogs continue to do on a regular basis.

Livestock guard dogs do not herd the animals and have been bred not to chase or harm them. The most common breeds used in the United States are Great Pyrenees, Komondors, Akbash, Kangal, Kuvasz, Anatolian shepherds, and Maremma. These are large dogs when fully grown, weighing at least seventy-five pounds. The dogs live with the herds and are generally calm and peaceful unless a predator is detected. Then the dogs will chase the predator away.

Llamas and donkeys are also used as guard animals by some sheep producers in the western United States. In 2003 National Geographic reported that llamas have natural aggressive tendencies toward canines, such as coyotes. Llamas that spot a predator near their sheep will strike defensive postures, sound alarm cries, and run toward the predator while kicking at the air. Sheep farmers in western states have found that llamas are even more effective guards than dogs. Llamas and donkeys are both naturally protective of sheep and aggressive toward coyotes and wild dogs. But they are afraid of mountain lions and bears. Their main advantages are that they live longer and are less prone to accidents than guard dogs. In the Alps, donkeys are also used to guard sheep.

Guarding Territory and People

Dogs are also the most popular animal used for guarding territory and people. This job requires large breeds that are strong, protective, and very territorial. The breeds most often used for this work are Doberman pinschers, Rottweilers, Komondors, German shepherds, and Chows.

Guard dogs are not the same as watchdogs. Watch-dogs bark when a stranger approaches them or their territory. Even small dogs, like Chihuahuas, make good watchdogs. Guard dogs are intended to scare away and even attack intruders. Many guard dogs are employed by security companies. They work with handlers and human guards to patrol sites or protect individuals. Other guard dogs work without human accompaniment. They are placed on commercial and industrial properties, such as junkyards, at night.

Animal welfarists are highly critical of the use of unaccompanied guard dogs at commercial and industrial sites. They claim that these working dogs are given a minimum amount of food, water, and veterinary care, are kept in isolation in very dangerous environments, and are treated cruelly to instill aggressive behavior.

Friends of Animals is a nonprofit animal welfare group headquartered in Darien, Connecticut. The winter 2002–03 issue of the group's newsletter, ActionLine, describes the hardships endured by some New Jersey guard dogs (Megan Metzelaar, "Guard Dog Update"). According to the article, many guard dogs are leased from security companies. They are rotated around to different properties so that the dogs will not become accustomed to and possibly friendly with people in that area. The constant uncertainty makes the dogs feel vulnerable and insecure, which makes them even more aggressive. Critics say that the constant movement also makes it difficult for concerned people to monitor the condition of the dogs and report abuse and neglect to authorities.

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