If you are considering a livestock guardian dog (LGD) to protect your livestock, one of the choices you will have to make is whether to bring home a male dog or a female dog.
As with most decisions you will face on your farm, there are advantages and disadvantages to both options.
Males tend to bond less closely with the flock itself and do more guarding of the perimeter. Their marking behavior acts as a deterrent to predators. However, by the same token, males are also more likely to wander, leaving the livestock unprotected.
When it comes to actually fighting off a predator, males have an advantage over females due to their larger size. On the other hand, males grow more slowly than females, so they will not be as quick to reach the required level of maturity in mind or body.
A disadvantage of male LGDs is that they are generally less tolerant of other dogs than females are (although a female with an established dislike toward another dog is nevertheless a force to be reckoned with). This competitive instinct will be most pronounced toward other males. It is somewhat curbed in neutered dogs.
The more aggressive edge of the intact male may enhance his ability to dispatch a predator if necessary. However, he will also be more distractible and prone to wandering. Some intact male LGDs can be unduly tolerant of the presence of female coyotes.
In keeping with their maternal instincts, female LGDs typically form a closer bond with the flock. They can be surprisingly assertive and will leap quickly to the defense of their charges. Females are especially protective of newborn lambs and kids, although male dogs with solid guarding instincts display this trait to some degree, as well.
When it comes to interacting with the human family, the female LGD is usually the more trainable and obedient of the two. While this presents no advantage in an extensive range situation where the dog must operate independently, it can be an advantage on smaller farms where the dog is treated more like a pet with the additional purpose of guarding both property and livestock.
An intact female LGD will come into season twice a year on average, each heat lasting about three weeks. During these times, stray dogs may be attracted and tolerated, potentially putting the flock at risk. Also keep in mind that the female LGD cannot reasonably be expected to both raise puppies and fight predators at the same time—the puppies will require a great deal of her attention and will draw down on her energy reserves considerably.
Which Is Better?
Keep in mind that the information above is very generalized, while each dog is an individual. Some females are more laid-back about protecting the flock, while many males are willing to adopt an abandoned lamb. Therefore, a far more pressing consideration is the unique personality of the dog you are considering.
Furthermore, the gender differences described above are most pronounced in intact dogs. Spaying and neutering tend to level the playing field, making the final choice largely a matter of personal preference.
That said, there are differences between even spayed or neutered LGDs (e.g., boundary marking). For this reason, a common solution, particularly on larger properties, is to keep a team of dogs, including both males and females, to take advantage of their complementary skills. The males will patrol the boundaries while the females will watch over the flock itself. In the event of an actual predator attack, usually the females will identify and respond to the threat first, while the males will come along behind to dispatch the predator. Of course, in this scenario spaying and neutering will be a must unless you are seriously dedicated to raising and placing puppies.
But for a smaller farm, where only one dog will be kept, either a male or a female can prove a valuable guardian. In this case, your best bet is to evaluate each puppy in the litter as an individual, making the final choice based on the puppy’s personality and your own personal preference.