Alpacas and the Family Farm Dog

Catherine de la Cruz

First published in the GPCA Bulletin


Alpaca owners – now totaling over 5,000 in the US alone – are rapidly discovering what sheep owners have known for years: their best protection against predators is a good dog. But although they will pay from $10,000 to $30,000 – and more – for a good registered female alpaca, they haven’t realized that there are few bargains in dogs. As chair of the GPCA’s Livestock Guardian Dog Committee, I frequently hear from people who have bought a dog to protect their investment, and find the dog isn’t working out. They call when they find that their dogs chase or injure their valuable alpacas, or that the dog is so unsound as to be unable to do its job. Almost always, I find they have purchased the dog from the farmer “down the road”; they received no instruction in caring for or training the dog and were usually told to “toss ‘em out with the livestock and instinct will take over”. And when they have a problem, the seller is nowhere to be found.

When I ask why they didn’t purchase from a reputable breeder, they frequently tell me that they contacted breeders who refused to sell to them, saying they didn’t raise “livestock guardian dogs”, but wanted their dogs to be loved as family pets. It seems that both alpaca and Pyr breeders could stand to rethink their situations.

To many Pyr breeders, the phrase “Livestock Guardian Dog” conjures a picture of a lonely, unkempt dog, with only the sheep for company, living out in all kinds of weather, never petted or loved. While this is only sometimes the case, I propose we begin thinking in terms of a dog that lives on a farm with room to run, people who love him, who shelter, groom and train him, and give him a satisfying job to do. We call this dog the “Family Farm Dog”.

On many family farms, the Pyr is free to come to the house, or to wiggle through the gate to get to the fields. The family’s chickens and rabbits, children and livestock are all safe from predators with this arrangement. Strangers are “announced” with a deep bark, but friends come and go unmolested. The Pyr is often found on the porch during the day, but can be heard patrolling the fields at night. He has a dog house, or warm place in the barn, to use in bad weather, but – being a Pyr – often prefers to play in the rain and mud and burrow in the snow.

Alpaca breeders already have many of the things a Pyr needs to be safe and comfortable. Many use 5-ft high no-climb fencing to contain the animals. Because they have to keep the alpaca fleece clean for maximum value, they are accustomed to grooming a critter with a lot of hair and often use the same tools we use in grooming our Pyrs. Unlike sheep and cattle, alpacas tend to concentrate their manure in “stud piles”, which makes it easy to pick up and keep the area and animals clean. To allow the Pyr to get between the house, yard and alpaca pen, a variety of methods can be used: a stock gate with bars wide enough a Pyr can slip through; a port-hole cut into the lower part of the fence and covered with a wire flap (like a doggie-door); or just a slight hollow under the fence in a spot where the Pyr (who probably made the hollow himself) can slip back and forth.

Even a pup that is raised in the house can be introduced to the alpacas, on leash, and taught that he is not to chase. Sometimes, a specific cria (baby alpaca) and dog will decide that they can play “tag”. This should be discouraged by putting the dog back on a leash around the stock and not allowing unsupervised visits until both pup and cria outgrow the behavior.

During the time the pup is learning about alpacas, he can also get his basic obedience training. Walking quietly on a leash, learning “sit”, “wait” “down” and “come” are all necessary to the family dog – and to the family dog that lives on a farm as well. Generic commands such as “leave it” (stop whatever you are doing) and “off” (don’t jump on people/animals/the table) are also taught at this time. It doesn’t hurt the pup’s eventual guarding ability to be taken to obedience class and will in fact give owner and dog a better means of communication.

If you, the breeder, have a vet who will spay or neuter the pup before leaving you, so much the better – you don’t have to depend on the good intentions of the buyer. If you don’t have such a vet, be sure to have a contract that specifies such neutering by six months of age. It is a proven fact that spayed/neutered dogs are more likely to remain around the farm and you can be assured you won’t have “grandpups” that wind up in unsuitable circumstances.

What do you do about questions from your buyer you can’t answer: how to introduce the pup to the alpacas, what to do about pups that chase – anything that may come up with any dog raised around other animals? There’s a good on-line resource at This contains over a hundred articles and links about Pyrs and other livestock guardian breeds of dog and many questions can be answered there. Members of the GPCA or Affiliated Clubs can call on the resources of the GPCA’s Livestock Guardian Dog Committee.