With winter finally showing up with our first snow of the season expected tomorrow I wanted to discuss shelters for livestock guardian dogs. Now LGDs mostly originated from colder climates and like to be outside in the cold. Most of us with LGDs keep our dogs outside twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Because what use is the LGD going to be if they’re inside with the family instead of outside protecting the animals?
Just because our dogs like colder weather does not mean they should not have access to shelter. Young dogs, sick or injured dogs, and even the elderly working dogs are all particularly vulnerable to the elements. Heat is often more fatal and than cold to these dogs, but either way they need access to some form of shelter and water every minute that they are outside. It’s no different than our livestock and our poultry, they all have round the clock access to shelter and water.
Shelter does not have to be complicated. Chances are, if you already have livestock or poultry you already have some form of shelter in place. Barns, windbreaks, and livestock igloos are all types of shelter that your LGD can use. If you want to use something specifically made for dogs, you can do that too. You can buy or make dog houses and igloos often for under $100. Below I will go over some of the different types of shelters we use and that the dogs have access to.
Above is an example of a dog house that we are in the process of making. All of our dog houses are off the ground by a few inches, have a dog door, and will eventually have something on the roof to keep the water out and sliding down. We hand-paint our dog houses (we tried spray-painting, it failed miserably) in fun colors to protect the wood and make it last longer. The dog door is a good option for keeping poultry, fowl, and the elements out, but it won’t stop goats and sheep and will need to be replaced as it wears down. If you start with a puppy that will probably be sooner rather than later. The pros to a dog house is that it gives your LGD their own space and it keeps them protected from the weather. We also sometimes feed our LGDs in their dog house to give them peace from the pushy goats. The downside is that they can range anywhere from $100 – $500+ and can be bulky to move around if you rotate pastures.
In this photo you can see a livestock igloo in the background, as well as Calypso’s dog house (the one we tried to spray paint), and a sideways C-shaped shelter made from flexible panels, tarp, and t-posts. All three of these shelters are used by Calypso and the livestock, but of these three shelters one is the most versatile.
The livestock igloo is a favorite of ours. They are easy to move between pastures (you simply roll them), they’re inexpensive, commonly found, and every single one of our animals likes them. We even use them to protect hay from the elements at times. If you have large livestock or many livestock you’ll undoubtedly need many of them or a combination of shelters, like in this photo. The only real downside to the igloos, is they get hot and humid in the summer and they have a large opening that can let in wind.
The last shelter in this photo is the tarp-covered panels. This is a good shelter that all of the animals use, the materials are all inexpensive and can be found easily at your local Tractor Supply. The con to this type of shelter is it does have two wide openings and the pain protection is made out of tarp. Tarp is not durable, especially if you have horned animals. Our goats have started stripping the tarp and poking holes in it with their horns. So it’s something to keep in mind if you are looking at using a shelter like this.
Now an obvious choice for many will be to use their barn. We have two barns, a larger metal one with multiple stalls and our small purple barn with two stalls. When Calypso was a young dog she spent a while using this small barn as her shelter. At night she would be locked up on one half and the other animals would have access to the other half. The pros in this situation were we didn’t have to create a whole new shelter, we used an existing one. The downside for us was that Calypso was a young dog that chewed up her half of the barn. When the chickens would lay eggs in this barn she would also eat them all. Its that reason that I don’t recommend allowing your LGD to share your chicken coop, hen house, or poultry run unless you are fine with them eating all of your eggs. Now that Calypso is matured she can use this barn as a shelter easily and without so much drama. But as a puppy she was a pain in the butt, and she got into everything! You can modify a barn stall for your LGD as well. In our larger barn Calypso has her own stall that was made with a dog in mind. You can also crate untrustworthy dogs in the barn for a few hours at night while training.
I will try to go outside an take a better photo of this structure later, but on your left the gray, unpainted shelter is a lean-to or windbreak shelter. This shelter is better suited towards larger livestock than dogs, but if you don’t have anything else to work with this can work in a pinch. This structure is three sided and has an open front side. Ideally you want the front side facing away from the direction of the wind. As this structure is on an incline, we have it facing towards the top of our little hill because wind will push from the bottom of the incline towards the top. I definitely would not recommend this for a puppy or really young dog because there is no way to keep them contained or totally out of the elements. But if you have nothing else it will work.
Hopefully this will give you a basic idea of shelters and which might be best for your situation. Remember, all animals (livestock, dogs, poultry, etc.) should have access to shelter and water at all times. And don’t forget that in winter water will freeze if you don’t have a heater of some sort.
As always, let me know if you have any questions.