Context. Wild predators are a serious threat to livestock in Australia. Livestock guardian dogs (LGDs) may be able to reduce or eliminate predation, but their effectiveness in Australian grazing systems has not been systematically evaluated. In particular, little is known about the effectiveness of LGDs in situations where they range freely over large areas in company with large numbers of livestock.
Aims. We aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of LGDs as currently used in Australia and determine the factors influencing effectiveness, in particular in relation to scale of management. We also documented how LGDs are managed in Australia, evaluated their cost effectiveness, and identified factors that influence the number of dogs required in different property situations.
Methods. We conducted a telephone survey of 150 livestock producers with LGDs in Australia, including all livestock types and property situations, in all States. Ten producers were visited, of which one is detailed as a case study.
Key results. Effectiveness was apparently high: 65.7% of respondents reported that predation ceased after obtaining LGDs, and a further 30.2% reported a decrease of predation. When the number of stock per dog exceeds 100, LGDs might not be able to eliminate all predation. Dogs are often kept free-ranging on large properties where wild dogs are the main predator, but are usually restricted in their movements on smaller properties or with smaller predators. The cost of obtaining a LGD is returned within 1–3 years after the dog starts working. The number of dogs required for a property mainly depends on the number of livestock needing protection, and the main type of predator in the area.
Conclusions. Provided a sufficient number of LGDs are used, they can be as effective in protecting livestock from predators in Australia when ranging freely on large properties with large numbers of livestock as they are in small-scale farming systems.
Implications. LGDs can provide a cost-effective alternative to conventional predator control methods in Australia’s extensive grazing enterprises, potentially reducing or eliminating the need for other forms of control. LGDs could play a major role in securing the viability of livestock businesses and reconciling people–predator conflict in Australia.