Biosecurity Research Articles

Livestock guardian dog protection of free-range poultry from the red fox

Document Type


Publication Date


Journal Title

Animal Production Science




animal welfare, behaviour, GPS, guardian dog, livestock predation, Maremma, poultry, predator


Agriculture | Biosecurity | Poultry or Avian Science


Context: Predation of layer chickens is a major issue for free-range egg producers. Using livestock guardian dogs (LGD) to protect free-ranging poultry is a possible option for producers, although there is little published literature regarding how the dogs protect chickens.

Aims: This case study was conducted at a free-range egg production farm in Western Australia, where red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) were a common predator of chickens prior to introducing Maremma LGD. We investigated LGD responses to experimental cues that might indicate fox incursion (fox urine and calls).

Methods: Four dogs were GPS tracked and monitored using camera traps. Over the first week, experimental fox cues were set out around the paddock boundaries, alternating with ‘non-cue’ experimental control nights. We recorded whether the LGD altered (1) their space use, (2) activity patterns (movement speed), or (3) behaviour in response to these cues. We also recorded (4) distances between LGD from known sightings of foxes.

Key results: The Maremmas appeared to work independently of each other, covering separate areas. There was no significant difference in overnight home range area by experimental fox cue treatment, but there was a significant (P < 0.001) treatment × dog interaction term for distance moved. Three dogs spent most of their time at night around the chicken shelters and generally increased distances moved on experimental fox cue nights. The fourth dog was more bonded to people and did not alter its movements. Paradoxically, dogs rested more and barked less on experimental fox cue nights; however, we recorded foxes on camera traps placed around the chicken shelters on 17 of the 23 nights of monitoring, and the high background activity level of foxes on this property compromised our experimental control (nights without experimental fox cues). The dogs did not move towards known fox sightings.

Conclusions: The Maremmas in this trial closely guarded the chicken shelters rather than maintaining the entire paddock as a predator-exclusion zone.

Implications: Understanding how guardian dogs behave when challenged by potential predators will help increase producers’ confidence in the efficacy of these dogs as a viable method to protect livestock from predation threat.