Biosecurity Research Articles

Chicken’s best friend? Livestock guardian dog bonding with free-ranging chickens

Document Type


Publication Date


Journal Title

Translational Animal Science




alpaca, behaviour, Maremma, predator, predation, poultry


Agriculture | Biosecurity | Other Animal Sciences | Poultry or Avian Science


Growth in the free-range and pastured egg industries has increased globally, necessitating improvements in predator control. Some egg producers are turning to the use of livestock guardian dogs (LGD; Canis familiaris) to protect hens from predation. We worked on a property where pastured layer hens were protected by two Maremma LGDs that were released from their chicken enclosure for 2–3 nights a week. GPS tracking showed that the dogs were more strongly bonded to people than the chickens, spending most of their time at night (96.1% of location data) close to the farmhouse and only 0.09% near their chicken paddock. Despite this lack of attendance, we found no change in the paddock space use by chickens with or without the dogs present (P = 0.999). Furthermore, camera trapping revealed 40 red fox (Vulpes vulpes) events over the 46-d monitoring period, with less fox activity on nights when the LGDs were allowed to roam the property and motion-activated spotlights were also deployed (P = 0.048). An online survey of 59 poultry producers found strong belief in the effectiveness of LGDs, although half the respondents (52%) indicated that they were still experiencing predation issues. There was no association with the reported degree of human bonding of their LGDs, but respondents were more likely to report current issues with predators if they owned 100 or more chickens (P = 0.031). The present case study as well as the farmer survey have identified that LGDs can be strongly bonded to people. Although there was no evidence of subsequently increased risk of predation, bonding with people could draw LGDs away from the animals they should be defending, with predation risk for poultry likely to depend on how far away LGDs move from their livestock.