Preliminary investigation into personality and effectiveness of livestock guarding dogs in Namibia

  • December 13, 2021
  • by McConnell I., Marker L. L., Rooney N.


Livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) are used all over the world to help in carnivore conservation by mitigating human-wildlife conflict. In Namibia, LGDs are used in cheetah conservation to prevent depredation of stock and reduce retaliatory killings. However, behavioral problems in the dogs, such as chasing wildlife and harassing livestock, exist leading to poor dog performance and farmer dissatisfaction. In most other types of working dogs, behavior tests for suitability are reported and/or validated within the scientific literature. To date this has not been done for LGDs. In this paper, we design a composite behavioral test and a questionnaire to rate the dogs’ effectiveness as an LGD. This test was used on 14 LGDs, 7 of which were operational and 7 of which were being used as breeding stock. In total, 16 behavioral variables were measured. A Principal Components Analysis reduced these to 5 underlying personality traits: “Playfulness,” “Trainability,” “Independence,” “Sociability with people” and “Reactivity.” When 14 dogs were tested 3 times, 20 days apart, the traits “Playfulness,” “Trainability” and “Independence” were found to be consistent. “Trainability” was negatively correlated to dog age. Dogs with a higher “Trainability” and lower “Reactivity” showed a tendency to be rated as more effective by their herdsman. Dogs scoring higher for “Playfulness” were more likely to be reported to harass stock, and dogs that chased a moving object under experimental conditions were generally rated higher for tendency to chase predator wildlife when working. This study suggests that there are personality attributes which can be measured and are consistent across time in LGDs. Several of these are linked to better performance in trained dogs. Whether these are predictive of later performance in untrained dogs, is yet to be ascertained.

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