If you encounter a large, off-leash dog while hiking, biking or camping, you may be in danger of getting bit. These dogs may be protecting a herd of nearby livestock and could treat you as a threat. Aggressive or territorial dogs can be frightening but there are steps you can take to stay safe.

What is a livestock guardian dog (LGD)?

Not all LGDs are alike, but they all serve a mutual purpose. These canines protect a herd of sheep, cows, horses, goats or other prey animals within a specific territory. Their presence deters predators such as coyotes, wolves, bears and large cats. Sometimes, a livestock owner employs LGDs of multiple skills and breeds to protect their investment.

Some LGDs stay close to the herd at all times. They are bred to be sociable and friendly towards their owners and their pack mates (which includes the livestock). However, even if their owner invites you onto their property, you should respect the potentially vicious nature of these dogs.

Other LGDs roam further from the herd and might even be prepared to fight a predator. These dogs survey the perimeter of a property and as a result are less friendly towards non-pack members. Unfortunately, these might be the dogs you find while hiking or camping.

What should you do if you encounter an unattended, territorial dog?

LGDs behave differently than feral, stray, or rabid dogs and will behave differently to your presence. They cannot be chased away and will respond aggressively if threatened. If an unleashed, unattended dog approaches you, and it appears to be sick or particularly dangerous, the following guidelines might not apply to you.

These guidelines include:

  • Stay calm.
  • Speak in a low voice and do not make sudden movements towards the dog.
  • If you are riding a bike, dismount.
  • Avoid eye contact and turn to walk back in the direction you came.
  • If the dog calms down, you might be able to pass slowly.
  • Do not approach or touch the livestock if you need to pass through the herd.
  • Remount your bicycle 50 yards away from the dog.
  • If you have a pet with you, leash them and keep them away from the LGD and the herd.

These dogs are an essential tool farmers and ranchers use to protect their investments. They can be wonderful pets as well as guardians. However, these animals have potentially aggressive natures and deserve respect.