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Estonian Journal of Ecology, 2009

The first experience of livestock guarding dogs

preventing large carnivore damages

in Finland

Teet Otstavel

  a,b!, Kristiina A. Vuoric, David E. Simsd, Anna Valrosa,

Outi Vainio

e, and Hannu Saloniemia


Department of Production Animal Medicine, University of Helsinki, Agnes Sjöberginkatu 2,
00014 Helsinki, Finland
Estonian Research Institute of Agriculture, Teaduse 13, 75501 Saku, Estonia
Department of Biology, University of Turku, 20014 Turku, Finland

University of Prince Edward Island, 550 University Avenue, Charlottetown, PE, Canada C1A4P3


Department of Equine and Small Animal Medicine, University of Helsinki, Agnes Sjöberginkatu 2, 00014 Helsinki, Finland


Corresponding author, [email protected]
Received 17 December 2008, revised 22 May 2009


Key words:


In recent decades the populations of wolves ( Canis lupus), bears (Ursus arctos
and lynx (
Lynx lynx
) have increased and expanded towards more inhabited areas throughout Europe (Boitani, 2000). Large carnivore populations estimated by the end of 2005 in Finland included 205.215 wolves, 810.860 bears, 1100.1200 lynxes, and 145.150 wolverines (
Gulo gulo
). Compared to 2004, the numbers
represent increases of 11% for wolves, 22% for bears, 24% for lynxes, and 16%
for wolverines (Kojola et al., 2006). Return of the carnivores to their original
cattle, hunting-dogs, reindeer, and other domestic animals has increased in recent
years. Finnish State covered €190 000 in 2005 as compensation for damages by
Experience of LGDs in Finland
large carnivores (Nylander & Ahvonen, 2007). Return of the large carnivores has
also caused lots of fear among people, especially towards wolves (Bisi & Kurki,
Damages caused by large carnivores can not be stopped by the elimination of
predators as the management of wolves and other large carnivores (except in the
reindeer herding area in northern Finland) is regulated by the EU Nature
Directive, Annex IV. Developing and distributing information about damage
preventive methods can be a solution to reduce losses and compensation costs.
In seeking sustainable coexistence of humans and large carnivores in Finland
this far fencing, wolf phone service, and the removal of problematic individuals
have been used (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, 2005).
Livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) have been for millennia an effective means
of protecting rangeland, i.e. cattle or sheep, from predators in Central and
Southern Europe as well as in Asia (Rigg, 2001). In the United States, LGDs
were introduced as a new method of guarding flocks in the 1970s (Linhart et al.,
1979; McGrew & Blakesley, 1982; Coppinger et al., 1983; Green & Woodruff,
1983a, 1983b; Black & Green, 1985). LGDs work by staying with the livestock
and driving away intruders with rarely any need for physical conflict because of
their impressive size and protective behaviour. Often more than one dog is
needed to keep up the necessary level of protection (Rigg, 2004). LGDs should
be kept with, brought up with, socialized with, and bonded with the stock they are
going to protect (Coppinger, 1992).
There is no LGD tradition or local breeds of LGD in the Nordic countries.
In Sweden the testing of LGDs in electric fenced areas has started recently
(Levin, 2005). The use of LGDs to protect sheep was evaluated in Norway
(Hansen & Smith, 1999; Hansen, 2005). The sheep in Norway tend to graze
widely dispersed in small family groups, which makes the use of traditional LGD
methods in Norway difficult (Hansen, 2005). A total of four different LGD methods
have been evaluated in Norway: LGDs used in combination with herding and
night corrals, LGDs on fenced pastures, LGDs alone with sheep on open range,
and LGDs loose on patrol together with a range inspector (Hansen & Smith,
1999; Hansen, 2005). LGDs on fenced pastures are the least expensive method
and show the second best preventive effect (Nilsen et al., 2003). The use of LGDs
has not been a great success in Norway with high costs, widely dispersing sheep,
and also strict laws for dog keeping (Hansen, 2005). Finland differs from the areas
with long traditions of LGD use in having relatively small rangelands and forest
surrounding pastures. In addition, the long winter period with shorter pasturing
times and everyman.s right to use rangelands and forests are also factors that
need to be considered. There would surely be a need for LGDs in Finland if
knowledge of the use of dogs and their possibilities were to reach the people who
need a trustable guard for their livestock or property (Koljonen, 2002). Thus, it
is important to explore the suitability of this method for large carnivore damage
A few Finnish farms had spontaneously started to acquire LGDs. Therefore,
in this study descriptive information about the experiences of the use of LGDs
T. Otstavel et al.
acquired by these early adopters in Finland was collected. The aim of the study
was also to identify the suitability and functionality of LGDs in Finnish conditions
with the law of everyman.s right, fairly small pastures, half-year grazing period,
and several species of livestock to be guarded.
The study included a semi-structured questionnaire, interviews, collection of
narratives, and on-site visits to farms in the summer of 2006. Farms were recruited
to the study via newspaper and web-site announcements. The research populations
were by their nature statistically close to total populations as the sample included
all known farms using LGDs at the time. Thus the prominent method for
gathering information on the phenomenon was through farmers. descriptions
and narratives.
The semi-structured interviews included the following question topics: habitats
at the farm, children, visitors, neighbours, trespassers; farm size, geographical
position, production, pastures; livestock species, numbers, breeds, production,
pasturing; and LGDs numbers, breeds, ages, qualities, bonding, behaviour, costs.
A total of 12 farms were found via announcements and responded to the
questionnaire: 8 of these were included in the study. The selection criteria
required that the farms were actually using or having acquired their LGDs as
working livestock guarding dogs, although exclusively full-time working was
not necessary. Four farms from 12 kept their LGDs chained or in a dog yard
with no access to livestock, and so did not fulfill the selection criteria of the
A starting base for collecting descriptive information about the experiences of the
LGDs in Finland was the information about reasons for acquiring the LGDs. The
main reasons for acquiring the LGDs were to prevent continuing large carnivore
damages (three farms) and to conduct continuous daily or weekly large carnivore
observations (five farms). Thus, on all farms the residents had perceived the danger
of meeting large carnivores in their yard or in the neighbourhood (Table 1).
The total farm area of the eight farms accepted to the study varied between 2
and 77 ha (median 48.5 ha). Geographically, four farms were located in traditional
large carnivore areas in the eastern and four in the central parts of Finland. One of
the farms was located in the middle of a village, five farther from other inhabitants,
and two in isolation in the middle of forest. Distances from the farms to neighbours
varied between 0.02 and 6 km (median 0.3 km).
The total number of LGDs in the eight farms was 19, of which 18 were
working dogs: 1 to 4 LGDs per farm (median 2). Differently from Norway, where
Experience of LGDs in Finland
Table 1.
in 2006 (RKTL, 2007).
the number of LGD breeds used was three (Hansen, 2005), the number of LGD
breeds in Finland was eight (a different LGD breed in each farm). They included
Caucasian Ovcharka (farm No. 1, one LGD), Central-Asian Ovcharka (farm No. 2,
two LGDs), Maremma Sheepdog (farm No. 3, two LGDs), Komondor (farm No. 4,
two LGDs), Great Pyrenees (farm No. 5, two LGDs), Tibetan Mastiff (farm No. 6,
four LGDs), Polish Tatra Sheepdog (farm No. 7, one LGD), and Slovak Cuvac
(farm No. 8, four LGDs) (Table 1).
Two LGDs only had been imported from abroad: one Komondor from Hungary
and one Tibetan Mastiff from the USA, while the rest had been bought from
Finnish breeders. None of the LGDs had working dogs as parents. People on all
the farms had earlier experience of dogs and four had long-term dog owner
experience. At farm No. 8 the first LGD was acquired in 1978 and at farm No. 6,
in 1989. Everybody had acquired LGDs on their own initiative with no support
from authorities or any subvention. The individual LGDs were chosen on the
basis of gender or the recommendation of the breeder, appearance, and estimated
character. However, only two puppies had been aptitude tested. The gender
distribution of the working LGDs was nine females, eight males, and one sterilized
Seven out of the eight farms kept sheep (all except No. 7), four poultry
(farms Nos 1, 5, 6, and 7), one dairy cattle (farm No. 8), one beef cattle (farm
T. Otstavel et al.
No. 2), four horses (farms Nos 1, 2, 5, and 7), and one bees (farm No. 1). The
sample also included one horticulture farm, which was only starting to rear
alpacas (farm No. 7). Differently from Norwegian experience, where LGDs were
mainly used to protect sheep (Hansen & Smith, 1999; Hansen 2005), in Finland
early adopters used LGDs to protect various kinds of domestic animals (Table 1).
The total number of residents on the farms was 29, including 14 females and
15 males. The age range was from one to 60 years (median 31). Ten of the
residents were children aged 1.12 years (median 4). Visitors or other people simply
passing the farm depending on the season were, among others, neighbours, cyclists,
mopedists, people driving cars and other vehicles passing via village roads.
According to the regulations of everyman.s right to pass through the surroundings
of the farms visitors could also include those going to pick berries as well as
joggers, skiers, snowmobilists, hunters, or tourists.
The areas LGDs were guarding had a variety of fence types (Table 2): electric
fences (one farm), a light electric fence combined with a wooden fence (one farm),
sheep net (one farm), wolf fences (two farms), and a strong net with wooden
frames (one farm). Two farms had no fence at all. The fences did not restrict
the free trespassing of LGDs in the surroundings at five farms (Nos 1, 3, 4, 5,
and 8).
Minor problems occurred at farms Nos 3 and 5 with one LGD at each
wandering too much in the surroundings. This was presumably caused by the
need of the LGD to control a larger territory around the pastures and it could
possibly have been avoided by better fencing and bonding in the puppyhood.
Wandering did not cause any serious problems to the surroundings but was a
safety risk for LGDs themselves creating a possibility of being run over by a car.
None of the LGDs could be considered as a safety risk for trespassers. All the
LGDs were human tolerant except those at farm No. 6, where they guarded a
smaller enclosure and because of the strong fence (Table 2) had no possibility of
contacting trespassers. Other problems mentioned were chasing and playing
with guarded animals (one LGD at farm No. 3 and one LGD at farm No. 7).
Table 2.
Experience of LGDs in Finland
Differently from Norwegian experience (Hansen & Smith, 1999; Hansen,
2005), Finnish early adopted LGDs did not cause any lethal threat to the
domestic animals guarded or in the neighbourhood.
According to the owners. estimations, the guarding abilities of the dogs first
appeared at the age of 4 to 20 months (median 12 months), depending on the
breed and on the dog.s personality. Bonding the LGDs to the livestock was
carried out in all seasons: spring (five LGDs), summer (six LGDs), autumn (one
LGD), and winter (six LGDs). The age for starting the bonding process varied
from birth to 32 weeks (median eight weeks). Bonding occurred mainly on
pastures and partly in the sheep house with four LGDs. The owners reported
they wanted to gain further improvements in the behaviour of the dogs in
relation to the amount of time or other effort they invested in the socialization
process or in human tolerance training. The interviews indicated that the best time
for bonding was winter when the guarded animals were kept inside. This helped
to keep control over the bonding process more frequently. The descriptions of
farmers did not reveal variation of guarding qualities between different breeds
(attentiveness, trustworthiness, protectiveness) in this sample. Guarding qualities
were influenced by LGDs. individual characteristic traits, working conditions, and
bonding to guarded animals. It was previously stressed that successful bonding
with the stock the dog is going to protect is needed for successful guarding
(Dawydiak & Sims, 2004).
The experiences of early LGD adopters were encouraging: all the farms that
responded to the questionnaire had gained from having LGDs and none reported
livestock losses (0%) in the areas guarded by LGDs. The dogs had prevented
some attacks or other damage. At farms Nos 2 and 5 LGDs were witnessed to
prevent wolf attacks, at farm No. 3 to prevent a lynx attack, and at farm No. 6 to
prevent a bear attack (Table 1).
Other benefits mentioned were the termination of elk (
Alces alces
) damage
to pasture fences at farms Nos 1 and 3 and the termination of white-tailed deer
Odocoileus virginianus
) damages to horticultural plants at farm No. 1. In addition,
the presence of LGDs had a more multifunctional character by increasing personal
feelings of security in a comprehensive way. These included issues such as how
freely children could be permitted to be outdoors and feelings of companionship.
The price for a LGD pup bred in Finland is approximately €1000 and for
an imported one approximately €1500. Taking into consideration all costs for
food, vaccinations, maintenance, and for possible insurance and healthcare,
yearly costs are approximately €500.1000, depending on the health status of the
dog (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, 2005).
Unlike in Norway (Hansen & Smith, 1999; Hansen, 2005), the farmers in
Finland did not describe high costs or serious difficulties in relationships with
guarded animals, other animals, or village neighbourhoods. The descriptive results
of suitability and functionality of LGDs in Finnish conditions with fairly small
pastures, half-year grazing period, and several species of livestock to be guarded
were thus promising.
T. Otstavel et al.
The aim of this study, based on a semi-structured questionnaire, interviews, and
on-site visits, was to identify possibilities and problems associated with the use of
LGDs in Finnish conditions. These preliminary findings showed no direct disadvantages
of LGDs. On the contrary, various advantages were mentioned. The
experiences of early LGD adopters were encouraging: all farms reported having
gained from the dogs. The results of this study indicated that the need for
additional fencing does not seem to be essential; various LGD breeds appear
suitable, and no obvious constraints seem to exist depending on the species of
livestock or other domestic animals to be guarded. The guarding abilities of LGDs
could be used in various ways combined with children.s and hunting-dogs. safety
at farmyards in addition to the traditional full-time guarding on pastures in open
landscapes. Using LGDs could also be integrated with wolf fences.
However, the study indicated some possible difficulties: two LGDs were
wandering and two LGDs had a suboptimal relationship with guarded animals
(playing and chasing); still not on the scale described by Hansen (2005). In the
cases of wandering the reasons could be that one LGD was moved from one farm
to another at the age of five months and the other LGD to the farm at the age of
one year. In the cases of playing and chasing both LGDs were bonded to guarded
animals alone with no possibility of playing with other dogs. As noted earlier,
successful bonding with the stock the dog is going to protect is vital to successful
guarding. It also points out the possible benefit of more than one LGD per farm
to create an opportunity to play with the animals from the same species, especially
in the puppyhood.
As the number of farms willing to use LGDs in Finland is growing, the
necessity of studying the methods of predicting the working abilities of LGD
pups is increasing. Minimizing carnivore damage or equally importantly the fears
of people is a multidisciplinary study topic. In summary, the themes or factors
that emerged from this study were: the welfare of dogs in their guarding job,
people on and outside the farms, public opinion on nature relations, costeffectiveness,
and cultural, socio-economic, and stakeholder relations in general. A
multifunctional dimension with better understanding of the values, beliefs, and
demands of those who are involved or affected seems to be an important and
ultimately necessary aspect of preventing carnivore damages (Breitenmoser, 1998;
Woodroffe, 2000; Bowman et al., 2004; Mattson et al., 2006).
The authors wish to acknowledge all the farmers who participated in this study.
We would also like to acknowledge the organizational support of kennels, private
persons, and breeding organizations. The Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and
Forestry, the Finnish Research School of Animal Welfare, the Mercedes
Zachariassen Foundation, and the Juliana von Wendt Foundation are acknowledged
for the financial support.
Experience of LGDs in Finland

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Esimene kogemus karjavalvekoerte kasutusest kaitseks
suurkiskjate eest Soomes
Teet Otstavel, Kristiina A. Vuori, David E. Sims, Anna Valros,
Outi Vainio ja Hannu Saloniemi
Karjavalvekoeri on Euraasias kasutatud aastasadu, et kaitsta kariloomi ja lambaid
suurkiskjate eest. Põhjamaades ei ole karjavalvekoerte kasutamise traditsiooni
ega ka kohalikke tõuge. Uurimuse eesmärgiks oli koguda infot Soomes
kaitseks suurkiskjate eest kasutatud esimestest karjavalvekoertest. Uurimismeetoditeks
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Variety of fence types at farms
Farm Breed of LGD Fence types
1 Caucasian Ovcharka No fence at all
2 Central-Asian Ovcharka Wolf fences
3 Maremma Sheepdog Sheep net; partly no fence at all
4 Komondor No fence at all
5 Great Pyrenees Light electric fence combined with wooden fence; partly no
fence at all
6 Tibetan Mastiff Strong net with wooden frames
7 Polish Tatra Sheepdog Wolf fences
8 Slovak Cuvac Electric fences; partly no fence at all

Experiences of large carnivores and associated damage among the participating farms

Number of


Density of carnivores

in surroundings*

Farm Breed

of LGD






at place
Wolves Bears Lynxes
Animals under
1 Caucasian
1 0 0 0.2 2.1.4 4.1.6 Sheep, poultry,
horses, bees
2 Central-Asian
2 1 0 Wolf 2.1.4 0.2 4.1.6 Beef cattle,
3 Maremma
2 1 0 Lynx 0.2 2.1.4 4.1.6 Sheep
4 Komondor 2 0 0 0.2 2.1.4 6.1< Goats, sheep,
5 Great Pyrenees 2 1 0 Wolf 4.1.6 4.1.6 4.1.6 Sheep, horses,
6 Tibetan
4 0 0 Bear 4.1.6 6.1< 0.2 Sheep, poultry
7 Polish Tatra
1 0 0 2.1.4 6.1< 2.1.4 Alpacas,
8 Slovak Cuvac 4 0 0 0.2 0.2 4.1.6 Dairy cattle,
* Density of carnivores per 1000 km
livestock guarding dogs, LGD, predation, wolf, lynx, bear.
Livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) have been for millennia an effective means of protecting
rangeland, i.e. cattle or sheep, from predators in Central and Southern Europe and Asia. In
contrast, there is no LGD tradition or local breeds in the Nordic countries. The objective of this
study was to collect descriptive information about the experiences of LGDs in Finland acquired
by early farm adopters through semi-structured interviews, narratives, and on-site visits to farms.
The experiences were encouraging: no predation was observed since LGD(s) presence. The
presence of LGDs had multifunctional character by increasing the feeling of security. Unlike in
Norway the farmers in Finland did not describe high costs or serious difficulties in relationships
with guarded animals, herding dogs, other animals, or village neighbourhoods.

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