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Pets

(BPT) - When you raise animals, from poultry to cattle, hard work and dedication come with the territory. So how do you reward one of the toughest and most valuable members of your ranch or country home when he's of the four-legged variety? Give him more work to do.

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Working dogs easily earn their keep on a farm or homestead. Not only do some save man-hours by helping with herding and corralling, a special group called livestock guardian dogs utilize their unique dispositions to protect a family's animals - a task that's often easier said than done.

For thousands of years, certain dog breeds have been raised for the purpose of being livestock guardians to poultry, sheep, goats and cattle. Livestock guardians are typically large dogs, such as the Great Pyrenees, Komondor or Anatolian Shepherd. Despite their massive size, these breeds' nurturing dispositions allow them to bond with all types of animals, combined with a powerful instinct to aggressively fend off predators that pose a threat to their herd or flock.

"From the time they are puppies, livestock guardians are trained to bond with the livestock they are going to protect and, from that point on, they will eat, sleep and travel with the herd or flock in order to protect them," says Seth Estep, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of the animal division at Tractor Supply Company, a rural lifestyle retailer that is hosting Purina Days 2016 at its stores June 8-19.

"Because these dogs are raised differently than standard house dogs, owners need different tools and resources to raise them right," Estep says. Tractor Supply's Purina Days celebrates the unique partnership between people, their pets and their livestock. The retailer and its animal experts urge people to consider the following factors before introducing a guardian dog into the family:

Space to work and roam

Guardian dogs are known for their size and tireless work ethic. As a result, they need room to roam and plenty to keep them busy. Do you live in a rural area with significant acreage or in a suburban area with a small yard and a handful of chickens? To employ a happy, effective guardian dog, at least an acre of ample space is key.

What do you want to protect?

There are many breeds of guardian dogs, each with specific traits that are advantageous to the livestock they're protecting.

For instance, the Great Pyrenees is an agile dog that has been used for hundreds of years as a defender of fast-moving herd animals like sheep and goats. By contrast, the Akbash, an intelligent breed that is powerful against predators, has a calm temperament perfect for getting along with chickens and ducks.

The watchful and alert Anatolian Shepherd is another breed for protecting flocks. It can be cautious with strangers, but will be loving with friends and family. Similarly, the Bernese Mountain Dog, an all-purpose farm dog bred for driving and guarding cattle in rough terrain, is easygoing, confident and gentle - even with children and other animals.

Narrowing down which breed is best suited for your family's livestock generally comes down to researching the types of animals you're hoping to protect.

What predators are you dealing with?

Before investing in a livestock guardian dog, it's important to think about the predators that live near your home. A livestock guardian dog will exhibit protective behavior against anything that doesn't belong in its territory, including other dogs, coyotes, wild cats, bears, and most other aerial and ground predators. Remember, this typically includes loud barking - even at night!

What type of fencing do you have or are you willing to install?

Guardian dogs won't often back down from a fight, even one they're likely to lose; thus, when protecting livestock with a guardian dog, fencing is the perfect partner for keeping your animals safe. Fencing creates an obstacle course for climbing cougars and burrowing coyotes. Exclusionary devices such as field fencing and gates can be purchased in-store and online at Tractor Supply Company. However, visiting a local store will give you an up-close look at your containment options, from wire and wood to electric fencing.

It's important to note, though, that while fencing is a great tool for helping to keep your guardian dog on your property, the only way to ensure your dog will respect its boundaries is to train him early on.

Isolated feeding

Usually these dogs consider themselves to be one of the herd and, as a result, might attempt to eat the same food as the stock. Break this habit early by feeding your guardian dog in an established location that will allow them to eat undisturbed and feeding a high-quality, high-protein food for active dogs, such as 4health Large Breed Formula, Purina ONE Large Breed, Purina Dog Chow Large Dog, or Purina ProPlan. This will help ensure good nutritional health and prevent your dog from roaming in search of food.

Training time

While livestock guardian breeds rely largely on instinct, training is always necessary; the initial period of socialization alone should last several months at least. Once properly trained, livestock guardian dogs play an enormous role on the farm; however, it can take anywhere from 18 to 36 months for guardian dogs to reach maturity and, in that time, their success will rely on patience, correction and instruction.

With a little bit of research, your family and livestock can soon have a trusted, hardworking partner on your farm or ranch.

Visit Tractor Supply's Know How Central online or visit a store during June's Purina Days event to find more information about caring for pets and livestock. Both online and in-store, Tractor Supply offers a comprehensive selection of products for equine, livestock, pet and small animals, including items necessary for their health, care, growth and containment.

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