Using livestock guardian dogs for dingo management and biodiversity conservation in Australia

A project undertaken at the School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, and supervised by Prof Chris Johnson, with PhD student Linda van Bommel

This project is examining the use and effectiveness of guardian dogs to protect livestock from attacks by wild predators in Australia.  Such attacks have evidently increased in recent years, and in some areas predation by wild dogs is now the major threat to the viability of grazing businesses. Conventional approaches to this problem – that is, destructive control by poisoning, trapping and shooting – are often ineffective, and they are also in conflict with the conservation of remaining wild populations of dingoes.

Livestock guardian dogs have been bred in Europe for more than 2000 years to protect livestock from predators such as wolves and bears. Their use declined when those predators were eradicated from most of western and southern Europe, but they are making a comeback as conservation results in increased populations of large predators across Europe. Some breeds (especially the maremma) are now established in Australia, but their use by livestock producers here is still relatively rare.

The goals of the project are to establish how guardian dogs behave when protecting stock over the large areas (thousands of hectares) typically of Australian grazing industries; to clarify how the behaviour of the dogs leads to reduced predation; and understand their interactions with other species of Australian wildlife. The information provided by this project will be valuable to livestock producers considering whether to use guardian dogs, and should lead to their wider implementation in Australia. To that end a ‘best-practice manual’ on management of guardian dogs has already been produced as one outcome of the project (Figure 4). This manual is available as a free download from the Invasive Animal Cooperative Research Centre website, at http://www.feral.org.au/guardian-dogs/

The project will also provide a non-lethal alternative to control of dingoes where they threaten livestock, and thus lay the groundwork for reconciliation of the goals of livestock protection and dingo conservation.

Publications

van Brommel, L and Johnson. CN. (2014. Where do Livestock guardians dogs go? Movement patterns of free-rangingh Maremma sheepdogs. PLOS One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111444

van Bommel, L. & Johnson, C. N. (2012) Good dog! Using guardian dogs to protect livestock from predators in Australia’s extensive grazing systems. Wildlife Research 39, 220-229

van Bommel, L. & Johnson, C. N. (2014) How guardian dogs protect livestock from predators: territorial enforcement by Maremma sheepdogs. Wildlife Research 41, 662-672

Van Bommel, L. & Johnson, C. N. (2014) Protecting livestock while conserving ecosystem function: non-lethal management of wild predators. Pages 331-362 in Glen, A. & Dickman, C. (eds) Carnivores of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood

Van Bommel, L. & Johnson C. N. (2016) Livestock guardian dogs as surrogate top predators? How Maremma sheepdogs affect a wildlife community. Ecology and Evolution 0: 1–11. doi: 10.1002/ece3.2412

Van Bommel, L. & Johnson C. N. (2017) Olfactory communication to protect livestock; dingo response to urine marks of livestock guardian dogs. Australian Mammalogy published online Feb 3rd

 

Figure1. A maremma fited with a GPS tracking collar to monitor its behaviour while working with livestock.

Figure 2. Maremma with goats in the Victorian High Country.

Figure 3.  Maremma with a flock of sheep on the Mitchell Grass plains of northwest Queensland.

 

Figure 4. Front cover of Guardian Dogs best practice manual.