The dog calls the shots in the pasture

  30.07.2021 Gstaad Living

They are big, mostly white, bark loudly and live amid livestock herds: livestock guardian dogs. Those who conscientiously follow the rules of conduct have nothing to fear from them – in theory.

While in Europe and Asia livestock herds have been successfully protected from large predators by dogs for thousands of years, this approach is still in its infancy in Switzerland. In this country, the use of livestock guardian dogs only began at the end of the last century, when the wolf, which had previously been eradicated, reappeared. According to the national information portal, about 250 livestock guardian dogs are currently in use on about 100 alps in Switzerland.

Soon more livestock guardian dogs in Saanenland
Peter Berger, who is in charge of livestock protection in the canton of Bern, says on request that livestock guardian dogs are not (yet) in use on alps in the Saanenland. There are livestock guardian dogs at work on the Sanetsch alp, but this is on Valais soil. So, there are no livestock guardian dogs in Saanenland?

“Yes, there are,” says Patrick Westemeier, a farmer from Lauenen, who keeps three livestock guardian dogs himself. According to him, five officially recognised livestock guardian dogs currently reside in the Saanenland but work in neighbouring districts over summer. However, these dogs spend the rest of the year in the Saanenland.

From this point of view, livestock guardian dogs do exist in our region. And according to Berger, there will be even more of them in the future. He knows of corresponding inquiries that are currently being made.

Two recognised breeds
The Federal Office for the Environment (Bafu) has only recognised two dog breeds as official livestock guardian dogs: the Pyrenean mountain dog and the Maremma-Abruzzo shepherd dog.

In contrast to other herding and working dogs, trained and certified livestock guardian dogs work largely independently, without the help and interference of humans, but in association with other dogs. And they live amid the herd they protect. They are trained for this and do their job very conscientiously.

They vigorously defend the farm animals entrusted to them against everything that appears to be a threat to them. Accordingly, livestock guardian dogs are often considered dangerous and aggressive. “But if hikers follow a few basic rules, any encounters between humans and animals should be peaceful,” says the website.



• Read and follow the signs.
• Keep your distance and avoid proximity to flocks of sheep and goats as far as the terrain allows.
• Remain calm when guard dogs bark and run towards you. Give the dogs time to assess the situation.
• Avoid eye contact with the dogs, move backwards and avoid the herd as far as possible.
• If the dogs do not calm down despite correct behaviour, increase the distance to the herd.
• Do not provoke dogs with sticks or fast movements.
• Bikers should get off their bikes and push them slowly past the herd.
• Joggers should slow down when passing the herd.
• Do not feed or stroke guard dogs, nor try to play with them.
• Ignore guard dogs that follow you as you continue walking.
• Keep your dog on a leash. If the guard dog nevertheless approaches, be sure to let go of the leash.
• Always behave calmly, do not startle the herd and do not surprise the guardian dogs.
• If you do not see any livestock guardian dogs from a distance in an appropriately marked pasture, make yourself heard by talking loudly.

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