Any true professional with experience and working knowledge of Livestock Guarding Dogs (LGDs) will bluntly tell you (if you so inquire) that raising the “perfect livestock guardian dog” hinges more on early socialization and training than any inherent genetic attributes. Which brings us to the thread of this discussion; can a Pit bull be used as a livestock protecting dog (in other words can you imagine a Pit bull lovingly looking after sheep?).To answer this sufficiently one has to consider what a livestock guardian dog is, what it does, and how it became the champion at what it does.
Livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) are a select group of dog breeds that have been bred over several generations to accentuate the most desirable traits best suited for the activity of protection. These dogs are expected to watch over the livestock quite often unattended by the shepherd; in other words they were bred to be independent which explains their apparent aloofness to human overtures in comparison to the other breeds.
This all tends to suggest that those dog breeds which have been bred over several generations (in some cases spanning thousand of years) for selective traits best suited to the protection of livestock should naturally exhibit such qualities. Unfortunately this is not the case! Remember earlier I mentioned that the true Pros found in this field maintain that timely socialization and optimized training play a far greater role in the development of a good protector dog than genetics; well it is true! This is not to say that genetics plays no part whatsoever, because the fact remains it most certainly does!
Breed Inherent Behavior
Most purebred breeds of dog typically exhibit stereotypical behavior inherent to that particular breed for the simple fact those characteristics have been accentuated over time through selective breeding. Gundogs for instance are inherently inclined to retrieve because they’ve been bred to accentuate such a trait (practical application of this trait is: retrieval of hunted game). This genetic inheritance also explains why certain dog breeds (Labrador, Golden Retriever, to name but a few) find the game of “fetch” so engaging. However, were you to attempt the game of “fetch” with a canine from one of the livestock guardian dog breeds you would in all likelihood be very disappointed! The dog would probably stare at you with an expression that says “what’s up with this moron” before indignantly sauntering off to more productive activities.
It shouldn’t be unreasonable to presume that a gundog would be naturally tolerant and unafraid of the sound of gunshot but to make such an assumption would be quite incorrect! If such a dog were not introduced to the sound of gunfire as a puppy (within the critical period of learning and before the onset of fear) then that dog would thereafter forever perceive the sound of gunfire as something to avoid; in other words the dog will be gun shy. This is a classic example of nurture at play; behavior being influenced by external factors such as socialization and training rather than genetics. In the same vein, a livestock guardian dog from so-called excellent stock that has never been introduced or socialized with livestock whilst a puppy (within the critical period of learning), cannot, nor will it ever be, able to properly perform livestock protection duties. Why? Because its puppy brain never developed the necessary neuronal connections.
The Pit Bull And The Sheep
Thus the question of which livestock guardian dog breed makes the best shepherd protection dog is moot if the influence of nurture (socialization and training) is not factored in! Which brings us full circle to that nagging question of whether a Pit Bull can actually make the cut as a livestock protection dog?
Keep in mind that there are two important factors at play here: nature (genetics) and nurture (socialization/training). So if a Pit Bull pup is raised with sheep early on (from 4-16 weeks of age) it is conceivable that it could perform the role as protector. The early association with sheep will ensure that the Pit Bull regards sheep as its primary companions. However that Pit Bull still has to overcome one major hurdle…the role of its genetic heritage!
Pit Bulls are a dog breed that were originally bred and developed to fight. In other words they possess an innate aggressive streak as a result of multiple-generation selective trait breeding encouraging and accentuating such characteristics. (I know I’m going to get a lot of flak for this from Pit Bull owners and fans but the fact remains folks… Pit Bulls were originally bred for fighting!)
Verdict: A Pit Bull could, in the face of timely socialization, act as a livestock guardian dog but the legacy of its heritage would greatly increase the probability of such a protector attacking the animals it was entrusted to take care of!
Article on pitbull written by Kayye Nynne