It’s been previously shown that certain canine personality traits, such as protectiveness, attentiveness, and trustworthiness, are considered favorable in livestock guarding dogs. However, just like their human handlers, each individual dog has their own unique personality, and some dogs are better at their job than others. CCF scientists considered if there might be a way to consistently measure these personality traits, while at the same time identifying undesirable guarding dog traits such as chasing wildlife and being overly playful. This sort of personality data would be invaluable in helping influence training and behavior management strategies used to ensure each dog reaches its full potential as a Livestock Guarding Dog.
Fourteen CCF Anatolian Shepherds were evaluated via a series of behavioral analyses over 20 days. Over these 20 days, the dogs met unfamiliar people, roamed unfamiliar rooms, were asked to sit, were introduced to new objects, learned a new task, chased a string, and were asked to play with and without a toy. A performance questionnaire was also given to a CCF handler who was very familiar with all the dogs.
Personality data showed that the three traits, playfulness, trainability, and independence, remained consistent over time, while sociability and reactivity did not remain constant. Both males and females scored similarly; however, trainability and playfulness scores tended to decrease with age. Scores also showed that a tendency to play with stock animals correlated strongly with dogs that scored highly on playing with a person and dogs that unnecessarily chased predator wildlife.
The dogs that were rated as more effective livestock guarding dogs had higher trainability scores and lower reactivity scores. These dogs tended to be calmer around livestock and more responsive to their handlers. Additionally, dogs that scored higher on the string chase test were found to have a higher tendency to chase predators.
Success as a guard dog is fundamental to the herder-dog relationship and is also critical to the survival of the herds which they protect and ultimately the predators they chase away. The behavioral insights gathered in this study into the personalities of successful livestock guard dogs suggests that key behaviors can be identified and remain constant over time. Their repeatability and strong correlation to ideal guard dog traits suggest that these assessments may be a valuable tool in managing common undesirable livestock guarding dog behaviors. Tools such as these have great potential to refine and improve livestock guarding dog behavior and, therefore, livestock guarding dog programs that are being used to protect vulnerable species such as the cheetah.
The paper is published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, entitled Preliminary Investigations into Personality and Effectiveness of Livestock Guarding Dogs in Namibia, by Isaballa McConnell, Laurie Marker, Nicola Rooney.