Whether you already have an LGD with a strong desire to wander, you have a puppy, or you are considering an LGD, one of the big conversations you need to have is fencing. All LGD breeds are known to wander, and historically this has been because farmers lived and moved with their sheep. Farmers either didn’t have fencing, or they were nomadic farmers (sometimes called nomadic pastoralism, or simply, pastoralism). This meant for livestock guardian dogs that their territory was as far as the eye could see.
Nowadays, this style of farming is not as popular, and most farmers and ranchers have property lines and fences they must adhere to. LGDs still see their territory as going beyond the fence line to wherever they can see. LGDs can easily cover hundreds of miles and claim it as their territory. LGDs can be very smart and stubborn, and will often try to go beyond the fence, by any means necessary. Some LGDs will dig, others will jump, and some will even climb a fence to get out. This is obviously problematic, because a) loose dogs are a hazard to themselves and others and b) they have just left their livestock charges unprotected.
Let’s talk about fencing, as not every fence is created equally. If you have livestock then you already have some type of fencing. Most LGDs will be able to get out of fences that are under six feet tall or that are invisible. A lot of us farmers don’t have six foot fences. At Kathy Ann’s Farm our fencing height varies in places, but on average is around four to four and a half feet tall. Our fencing is mostly for sheep and goats, with chicken wire around the area we keep our poultry. It’s unrealistic to expect to uproot existing fencing and build a whole new fence for your LGD, so if you don’t have six-foot no-climb fencing, don’t fret. Some LGDs will find a way to get over or under no-climb fencing too! Here are a couple of options you can use to dissuade them.
- Sport Dog System / Invisible Fence (requires electricity) – uses a collar on the dog and wire around the containment area
- Hotwire – uses an electric fence controller, wire, grounding rod, and insulators to attach the wire to the fence
- Panels for covering gaps (ex: on gates) – we use cattle panels, but there are multiple options out there, and you will need something like zipties to attach it
We do not recommend invisible-only fencing, and this is because LGDs will often go through the invisible fence if there is a threat on the other side. There have been cases of LGDs going outside the invisible fence and getting stuck out there because they’ll get shocked again when they return. This can also separate them from other LGDs if you have multiple, and if there is a threat such as a pack of coyotes, you have just made your lone LGD an easy target. Invisible fencing also doesn’t protect your livestock or poultry from predators, so by itself it’s not much use. That being said, if you combine it with an existing physical fence it can act as a reinforcer to your physical fence. Often times you don’t need to bury it, you can attach it to your physical fence and it will work the same. Many people have had success with this method of reinforcing their fences.
Another type of reinforcer is hot wire. We use this on some of our pastures. We love hot wire because we use a solar electric fence controller, which means we don’t need to worry if the power goes out. We use the American FarmWorks 5-Mile Solar Low Impedance Charger, which holds enough power to work for three weeks without sunlight. If you have more acreage you can get 10-15 mile fence chargers. Likewise, if you have a smaller acreage you can get 2-3 mile fence chargers. Even on cloudy days this thing will continue to charge itself. An additional advantage to this fence reinforcer is you can place it on top of the existing fence for jumpers/climbers, and you can put it on the bottom of the fence for diggers. You can even use multiple if you have a dog that does all three methods of escaping. If you move between pastures this charger can be moved as well, and it can fit on multiple fence types. It can also help keep out predators and pests (such as deer) if they touch the wire, and it works for and is safe for livestock. This is our go-to option for fence reinforcement.
Now hot wire can’t go across gates, but we have another solution. I’m not sure if there’s a name for this, but I personally think of it as a “gate topper.” It’s made from cattle panels and is bent and attached to the gate. Some people have done this around their entire fence to stop jumpers, but depending on how large your fence is that can be a very time consuming task. On some gates you might need multiple panels to cover the gaps. You want to bend the panel slightly inwards, towards the inside of the pasture. This can help stop jumpers and climbers from getting over. We have slight gaps in our one here, but Calypso has not tried to get over this way since we’ve installed it.
Some dogs are very determined escape artists, like our own Calypso. She will normally respect the fence line, but when she is in heat she will gladly jump the fence to find a mate. In this instance the only way to stop her is to crate her inside for the duration of her heat cycle. This brings up a good point, which is unless you are actively breeding your LGD or waiting for them to grow old enough to be fixed, they should be spayed or neutered. While it won’t stop them from roaming, it will stop them from roaming for the sole purpose of mating. A bitch in heat will draw males for miles, and she will want to leave if a male does not come to her. If you are waiting to spay/neuter until the dog is mature, or if you plan on breeding, you may need to lock the dog up during heat cycles. It’s frustrating and neither you nor the dog are particularly happy, but you don’t want an unwanted litter or the dog to get bred by an unwanted sire. Calypso has to be crated in the house when she is in heat because she has gotten out of every containment system we have tried. Sometimes a crate is your only option, but for most LGDs fence reinforcers will work.
A neat fencing thing you should be aware of is something called a jump gate. We do not currently have any at Kathy Ann’s Farm but we hope to install some in the future. A jump gate is a gate that can be used on fences between pastures or for areas you only want your LGD to go into. It can be very tricky to keep your livestock (read: goats) out of certain areas. If you want your LGD to guard multiple pastures, but you don’t want the rest of your animals going into the various pastures you need a jump gate. It’s a triangular hole in the fence that is off the ground by a few feet. You’ll have to train your dog to go through it but once they do they’ll be able to travel between pastures without letting the livestock do the same. Now this won’t work for some LGDs while they are puppies or if they are too old to jump. It also will not work if your pastures are not right next to one another. We have three pastures that share a fence line and we would love to have our LGDs go between the pastures. You can also add a closure/door to close the jump gate if you want to deny access at some point. I recommending searching images on Google to see the different kind of jump gates out there. Check out the video above to learn more about these handy gates!
A note about signage: while signs are not always necessary, depending on where you live they can be very helpful. We have no trespassing signs on every pasture fence. This is advice that we were given in case someone comes onto our property and harms or steals one of our animals. While we don’t have a large problem with this in our area, it does happen. If you do have a big problem with theft or harm of animals in your area it is recommended to put up cameras too. If you do this it’s a good idea to put signs up mentioning the cameras to help deter people in the first place. We have signs that say LIVESTOCK GUARDIAN DOG ON DUTY, DO NOT ENTER WITHOUT ESCORT as a deterrent as well. It’s important to know that some states are particular about signs like this and may take it as an admission that your dog is dangerous, so check out your state’s laws first. We have a sign that says PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS as well. Even though we are rural, we share a road with our neighbors and they like to come watch the animals at times. We also do farm tours and we don’t want people giving our livestock something potentially dangerous. Lastly, we have a sign that says ELECTRIC FENCE, DO NOT TOUCH for our hotwire fencing. This one we put up because we often get children on our farm tours and we don’t want them climbing the fence and touching the hot wire. Signs are not required for your fencing, and if you only get one type of sign I would recommend the NO TRESPASSING sign. It’s clear and succinct.
To sum things up: intact LGDs are more likely to wander, but all LGDs have the desire to roam. It is up to us to keep them safe by keeping them contained. We discussed fence reinforcers such as sport dog or invisible fence systems, hot wire, and “gate toppers” made from cattle panels. Your personal situation, your budget, your property and current fencing, and your LGD will determine the best solution for you. If you are an experienced trainer and have trained your dog with an e collar you can also try that, but it requires you to be vigilant while your LGD is trying to escape and if you miss them getting out it can take a while to train. As with all dog training, prevention is easier than correction. If you have fence reinforcers in place before your LGD tests the fence, they may try once and never again. If your LGD is already an escape artist it might take them a few times trying the fence reinforcers and getting shocked before they stop. I am very excited about jump gates because it was not something I knew about a year ago, so I hope you find them helpful. As always, let us know if you have any questions!
-The folks at Kathy Ann’s Farm