Buster,bred by Sandra Niedrauer, owned by Angie Underwood

Farmcollie Guardian Character

While a guard dog will sometimes guard the livestock because they are within his territory and/or recognized as belonging to his master, a guardian dog will guard them because he is bonded to them as part of his "pack." A farm collie guardian is different from most LGD's, though, in that he will behave like a bossy pack leader toward the stock--making them keep the "rules," whether they are his own rules or his master's.

"His herding of the animals is aimed at dominance and control and has nothing to do with the typical "prey drive" motivation of the standard herding dog."

The result of these characteristics is a dog who will work to keep the stock where they belong, replacing them when they escape and/or keeping them from escaping. This he does on his own if his master is not there.

These differences are obvious in the way the dog relates to the stock. A farm collie guardian loves the baby animals and will treat them with great care and protection, treating them almost as if they were puppies (cleaning them, giving special attention to their safety, constantly listening for them, etc.) He recognizes "his" animals as different from all others and will chase strange animals out of his territory, making it important for his master to deliberately introduce him to all new livestock so that he understands they are his.

This guardian character can also be exhibited toward humans within the dog's family, and it is important to teach the dog that he is not expected (or allowed) to enforce the rules on the humans, no matter how small the humans are. A farm collie guardian will never be aggressive toward a child, showing unbelieveable tolerance and patience, but they will sometimes attempt to "train" or "herd" a child unless they are not allowed to do so. A dog so trained will still guard the children, but will either ignore a child's breaking of the rules or else "tattle" to the master.

In relation to other dogs in the family, a farm collie guardian will attempt to enforce the rules on all dogs that are under him. As a result, an older farm collie will almost always train new pups in the rules that him himself has learned.

From Sandra Niedrauer, September 2000

I would say that even a livestock guardian can injure small livestock in the process of establishing or maintaining dominance. Jacob has done this once or twice and had to be severely corrected. In the reading I have done, I notice that most livestock guardian breeds do not insist on dominance over their charges--most will avoid confrontation if at all possible (averting their eyes, etc.) and only use force when the stock is in a perceived position of danger. Our dogs are not like this. Jacob will always insist on a dominant position, and will correct any stock that does not respect him. I don't know why the difference, or what it implies though.

Will the calf rule?

Turning the calf

Getting the calf to move

Working gently

Illustrating the gentle dominance of the Farmcollie herding and guarding combination are
Sheryl Chesney's Lilly and Kala.

I think that the protective instinct toward the humans (young humans in particular) can be the extention of a guardian instinct, although as you pointed out, not necessarily (the GS I owned in high school would have killed to protect me, but she never gave a second thought to slaughtering hens!). Running off predators is the same--maybe yes and maybe no. I think one way to tell the difference is if the dog responds to the livestock when doing this. In other words, does the dog listen for distress noises in the stock and run to investigate? Or does he simply chase off stray dogs like he would threaten any intruder? A guardian will show a concern for the stock, while a guard doesn't really care as long as his territory isn't threatened.

Lilly, enforcing her territorial boundary on the
neighbor's dog- a territorial guarding behavior
that is seen in many other breeds of dogs.

Mom goat is in foreground.
Lilly and mom alert at cry from baby.
Sandra continues:

Here is an example of what I mean: Jacob will respect visitors who come up the driveway properly and does not behave threateningly at all. When they leave, he ignores them. However, when a "visitor" purchases a baby goat (or any goat for that matter), we normally must reassure Jacob that it is okay, and even restrain him, or he will chase after the car. As far as he is concerned, that goat belongs here, and in responding to the situation like this, he is demonstrating a primary concern for the animal itself, not just his territory.

Our dogs regularly chased off hawks, owls, etc. that threatened our poultry. However, most of this was simply guard dog behavior (Lady was one of the dogs who did this, and she loved nothing more than a baby duck dinner!). However, after working to get Jacob to recognize the birds as pack when they would come in the mail as babies, he finally did. We knew the difference immediately--he would include the brooder in his rounds, checking on the baby birds (almost looked like he was counting them!), licking them off, etc. He began guarding them from the other dogs as well (especially Lady), growling at them if they got too close. It is really a very distinct difference.

Here is a letter from Sheryl Chesney:

Sat Feb 2, 2002 11:04 pm
Subject: Goat Kids

Hi all,

It's late and I am tired, but (vbg) we now have 2 new bucklings kids from a first time doe. Both doing great. the dam was a bit confused but Lilly tried to take care of the situation. I could hardly believe this. Lilly and Kala were in the stall with me and were helping clean the new kids. They were crying out and Lilly laid down and tried to get them to nurse and when the dam came up Lilly tried to make her leave. (guess she figured the goat gave up parental rights, haha). I did grab Lilly's mouth and told her no and she relented and let the doe have her kids. I hope the next kids don't decide to arrive tonight.


In Sheryl's letter above we see another distinct difference between the farmcollie guardian nature and that of Livestock guardian dogs that are not also herding dogs. This intense maternal instinct of Lilly's could have actually endangered the baby, had this happened without human intervention. It is the farmcollies need to follow his master around that prevents this from becoming a problem in this breed.

This intense maternal instinct- and not merely an intense territorial guarding is what characterizes the farmcollie guardian nature.

Lilly, trying to help a duckling lost from the rest of the
flock. She is being so gentle and getting it to go in the
direction of the rest.

With a neighbor's child.

April 6, 2003

This morning we had a weird thing happen. In the middle of a thunder storm we heard a lot of barking going on and when we got to the door the neighbors 3 horses were coming across our driveway headed for our barn.

We got them to go in the paddock beside the back yard and the neighbors came up. I told Lilly and Pawpaw to wait near the gate, which they were doing beautifully. We helped them get halters and lead lines on the horses and were getting them one at a time out of the paddock. Our horses and theirs were screaming at each other (not unusual, except one of their horses was a stud who was calling to our mare). The dogs stayed during all of this rukus. We were ready to walk the horses back to their farm. The neighbor lady got into a pulling match with the stud, he reared and got loose and looked like he was going to run over me. Lilly broke command and came over the fence and got between us before he could get close enough to hit me and the other horse. She ended up cornering him and I was scared to death that he would kill her (actually I felt physically sick). The horse was just scared enough of her that he stopped and we were able to gain control again. (these horses are used to being "caught" by their owners GSD, thank goodness).

If she hadn't broken command I may well have been run over between the 2 horses, but the price I would have had to pay for me being safe... I don't think would have been worth it.

Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. James 3:3

Other pages about this instinct:

Introducing new livestock to the dogs
Babe, A wonderful Guardian
Austin, an English Shepherd
Bossy Dogs!

Other aspects of the farmcollie working character:


American Working Farmcollie Association

Erin Hischke, Registrar