Why your Labrador isn’t going to be a good livestock guardian

A recent discussion popped up on Facebook this morning in which a member of a homesteading group bragged about what a good livestock guardian and hunting dog his Labrador was. This post got posted in a livestock guardian breed group, which resulted in much, much eye-rolling.

It is certainly true that there are dogs that make excellent livestock guardian dogs that aren’t of the typical breeds. Mark Derr has written extensively about the mongrel dogs of the Navajo that guard their sheep, but within those dogs, there is quite a bit of variance about which ones are good at the task and which ones would rather go roaming and hunting.

The breeds that have undergone selection for this work are much more likely to be successful. All these breeds have been selected for high defense drive and low prey drive. Little lambs can go jumping around these dogs, and their instinct to hunt and kill prey will not be stimulated.

Most dogs bred in the West are bred for the opposite behaviors.  The most popular breeds are usually from the gun dog and herding groups, and those breeds tend to have been selected for relatively high prey drive. Those dogs are much more likely to engage in predatory behavior towards them.

Further, breeds like Labradors are bred to have low defense drive. Labradors are very rarely good guard dogs. They have been bred to fit in the British shooting scene where they would regularly be exposed to other dogs and strangers, and these dogs have had much of their territorial and status-based aggression bred out of them. If the coyote shows up to a farm guarded by a Labrador, chances are very high that the Labrador will try to play with the coyote. It might bark at the coyote and intimidate the predator as well, but there aren’t many Labradors that are going to fight a coyote that comes menacing the flock.

The poster with the LGD Labrador claimed that Labradors were great herding dogs. When pressed on this point, he posted a photo of some yellow dogs moving a herd of beef cattle. These dogs weren’t Labradors. They were blackmouth curs, a breed that can superficially look like a Labrador, but it is a hunting and herding breed that is quite common parts of the South and Texas.  You could in theory train a Labrador to herd sheep, but I doubt you could ever train one to herd cattle. And the herding behavior would be far substandard to a breed actually bred for it.

The poster claimed that Labradors were “bred down from Newfoundlands,” and Newfoundlands are livestock guardians. The problem with this statement is that it is totally false. As I’ve noted many times on the blog, the big Newfoundland dog was actually bred up from the St. John’s water dog. Every genetic study on breed evolution, clearly puts this breed with the retrievers. This dog was mostly created for the British and American pet market, but it is a very large type of retriever.

And contrary to what I have written on this blog, it is now clear that retrievers and Newfoundlands are not an offshoot of the livestock guardian breeds.  A limited genetic study that also found Middle Eastern origins for all dogs had this finding, but a more complete genetic study found that retrievers and the Newfoundlad are actually a divergent form of gundog.

dog breed wheel newfoundland

I have not written much about this study, but it does change some of my retriever history posts. It turns out that Irish water spaniels are also retrievers and are very closely related to the curly-coated retrievers. It has been suggested that curly-coated retrievers are actually older than the St. John’s water dog imports, but conventional breed history holds that they are crosses between St. John’s water dogs and some form of water spaniel. It may actually be that something like a curly-coated retriever is the ancestor of the St. John’s water dog, and this dog would have been called a “water spaniel.”  I have not worked this one out yet. The dogs we call Newfoundland dogs, though, are much more closely related to the Labrador, flat-coated, and golden retrievers than to the curly-coated retriever and the Irish water spaniel. Thus, the Labrador and the Newfoundland dog are cousins, but the Labrador is not “bred down from the Newfoundland.”

The other clue that Newfoundland dogs and their kin aren’t good LGDs is that in Newfoundland, the sheep industry was actually severely retarded by the dogs. Fishermen let their dogs roam the countryside, and any time someone set out a flock of sheep, the water dogs, which I would call St. John’s water dogs, would descend upon the flocks and savage them.

So the natural history of the Labrador totally conflicts with its likely ability to be a good livestock guardian. The British bred these dogs to be extremely social, and their prey drive has been selected for.  They also have this entire history in which their ancestors went out hunting for their own food, which means they do have the capacity to become sheep hunting dogs.

The poster didn’t appreciate when these facts were pointed out. The response was that the other people were racist for saying that Labrador isn’t likely to be a good LGD, especially a Labrador that has been used for hunting.

This is problematic because dog breeds are not equivalent to human races. Human races are just naturally occurring variations that have evolved in our species as we have spread across the globe. Most of these differences are superficial, and none are such that it would justify any racial discrimination in law or policy.

Dog breeds, however, have been selectively bred for characteristics. The eugenics movement, the Nazis, and the slaveholders who selectively bred slaves are the only people who have engaged in the selective breeding of people. And all these periods in history have lasted only a very short time before they were deemed to be gross violations of human rights.

For some reason, people have a hard time accepting these facts about dogs, but the very same people often have no problem with an analogy with livestock.

If I want high milk yields, I will not buy Angus cattle. If I want marbled beef, I won’t buy Holsteins. If I want ducks to lay lots of eggs, I wouldn’t get Pekins, which will lay about 75 eggs a year. I would get Welsh harlequins, which might lay 280 a year. But they don’t get very big, and their meat yields are very low.

Angus cattle and Holsteins are the same species. Welsh harlequins and Pekins are too. But they have been selected for different traits.

Dogs have undergone similar selection. A Labrador retriever has its own history. So does a Central Asian shepherd.

Accepting that these dogs have different traits does not make one a racist. It merely means that one respects the truth of selective breeding.

And that’s why a Labrador isn’t really a good LGD.

Natural History

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Dogs With OCD

Dogs with OCD (or Osteochondrosis) suffer a great deal of pain and mobility issues.
When a dog has OCD, fragments of bone and cartilage become detached from larger bones and end up floating around the area encompassing a dog’s joints. The result is that any movement in the joint where those fragments are located will cause a dog to suffer …
Dog’sHealth.com Blog

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Micky, a 4 month old Shiba Inu, safely tethered whilst his owners enjoy lunch at Le Petit Port in Menton.

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Living with a Blind Dog

Living with a blind dog can be a challenging undertaking, both for the dog and for its owner who now must be the eyes for both of them.

A dog who suddenly develops blindness is usually able to adjust to living life without its vision which has been an important and indispensable sense all its life.
More than likely your …
Dog’sHealth.com Blog

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A Self-Care Care Package, The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever, + A Giveaway

How To Put Together A Self Care Package
How To Put Together A Self Care Package

Thank you Bob’s Red Mill for sponsoring this post. Create a care package for a loved one today and don’t forget to include some baked goods made with Bob’s Red Mill products!

Those of you who have been reading here for a long time have probably heard me mention my little sister Morgan now and then. Morgan lives in Indianapolis, about 3.5 hours from us here in Chicagoland. I don’t get to see her that often, but she has been here for me in more ways than I can explain. She dropped everything to come act as my unofficial doula with my first baby, and stayed with me for 30 hours of labor and complications, and for days after. (That baby’s middle name happens to be Morgan, because of her.) She did the same with my second babe too. When our son Emmett was diagnosed with a serious, dangerous form of epilepsy last year, she was one of our rocks, and went above and beyond to make sure we knew we weren’t alone. She doesn’t have human kids of her own (although she does have a dog name Laika though, to whom she is as caring a mother as anyone I’ve ever known), but she has truly been a second mom to my children, even from a different state. Morgan is also a high school psychology and sociology teacher who pours herself into her students, and also volunteers as a leader of a peer mentorship program for students at her school. She is constantly caring for others – so I decided that it’s time for her to be cared for as well. While brainstorming ideas for how I could thank her for everything she has done in a way that would allow her to feel pampered, I starting thinking about how my parents would send me care packages of goodies while I was in college, and how much I appreciated them. So, together with my little ones, I put together a package of self care goodies, handmade art work, and delicious Bob’s Red Mill homemade chocolate chip cookies (because really, what edible gift shows love and care more than chocolate chip cookies?) to send to her. And today I’m showing you how I did it, in case you want to do the same for someone you’d like to show gratitude!

The first step of a great self care package is to bake some cookies, which are the star of the show, because duh, homemade chocolate chip cookies! Truly though, I genuinely believe nothing says comfort like good old fashioned cookies, especially when they contain pure, natural ingredients. And did you know psychologists have found that baking for others makes the baker feel as good as the recipients? True story. This is my family chocolate chip cookie recipe (it’s basically just a combination of favorite classic cookies recipes from over the years), and I just know that you (and/or your care package recipient!) will love it as much as we do. (Makes about 4 dozen cookies.)

How To Put Together A Self Care Package


1 cup (2 sticks) organic butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup sugar
2 large organic eggs
1-1/4 tsp organic vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2-1/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Organic Unbleached All Purpose White Flour*
2  cups organic semi-sweet chocolate chips

(*We always use Bob’s Red Mill flours in our recipes, because they’re milled from premium quality ingredients, which gives that extra touch of quality to baked goods. If you prefer, you can also use Bob’s Red Mill Organic Almond Meal/Flour or Gluten Free Flour in place of white flour in this recipe. We use all three regularly! And pssst, if you click here you can get some fantastic coupons for their products.)

Preheat over to 375 degrees.  Beat the butter, sugars, and vanilla in a medium to large mixing bowl until creamy. Then beat in the eggs one at a time until completely combined. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add this mixture to the wet mixture and combine well. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Drop rounded tablespoons of batter onto ungreased baking sheets, about two inches apart from one another. Bake for 10-12 minutes (we like ours well done, so I usually leave them in for 12) or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

One the cookies were well cooled (and we sampled our fair share), it was time to put together the care package. First we got a big basket where we could put together a pretty arrangement of goodies. Then it was time to add all of Morgan’s “treasures” (as Essley called them).

Essley loves creating art, and Emmett just starting to get into coloring, so the two of them chose pictures from their favorite coloring book and colored them just for their Auntie Morgan. We rolled each piece of art up and tied with a pretty piece of baker’s twin to make them feel a little more special.

How To Put Together A Self Care Package
How To Put Together A Self Care Package
How To Put Together A Self Care Package

Over the previous week, we’d gathered all sorts of goodies we knew Morgan would love that would also allow her to pamper and care for herself. One of her greatest pleasures is relaxing with a cup of tea, so we grabbed a couple of high quality, natural teas. She also loves playing around with different skincare products, and we got her a bunch of different face mask samples so could have a mini spa day at home. We also included a yummy scented hand poured candle and a loofah for her to use at bath time (she loves taking baths). Another of Morgan’s favorite “me time” activities is to do her nails, so we put in a couple of nail polishes, a nail buffer, and a cool all-in-one pedicure tool. Essley thought it would be fun to get her a “book to write in,” so we found a beautiful little blank notebook/journal and pencils. We also included some other small goodies, like lip balm, a pretty quartz crystal, and a thank you card from my handmade card shop on Etsy. Last but certainly not least was the prize of the care package – the chocolate chip cookies that we baked with love.

We arranged everything together in the basket, along with the card that explained why we put it together and how grateful I am for everything Morgan has done for me. Then we packed it up and shipped it off. At the time of me writing this, it’s on the way to her. I can’t wait to hear what she thinks.

How To Put Together A Self Care Package
How To Put Together A Self Care Package
How To Put Together A Self Care Package

It felt really great to put together this care package for someone who means so much to me. And just like I appreciate my sister and everything she’s done, I appreciate my readers and the support you show as well. So, along with our friends at Bob’s Red Mill, we’re going to give a care package to one of you! One lucky winner will receive a care package of Bob’s Red Mill products that includes organic all purpose flour (3 lb), almond flour, gluten free 1-1 flour (3 lb), baking powder, baking soda, active dry yeast, cane sugar, brown sugar, and a cool Bob’s Red Mill Flour sack towel.

Enter right here:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway will run through September 20, 2017, and winner will be randomly selected and notified by CLEVER by Thursday, September 21. This giveaway is open to US residents age 18 and over. Only one entry per household, please. Good luck!

Have you ever put together a care package for a loved one? What type of things have you added? I had so much fun putting this together and would love to make it a regular thing!

Thank you for supporting the brands that help make Bubby and Bean possible. I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.


Bubby and Bean ::: Living Creatively

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