Rearing and Training
Treat your dog like
a working partner from Day One. Most troubles occur because the owners forget
that the dogs are workers, not pets. Do not let the dogs play with children or
herd dogs or hang around the house.
Put the dog with
sheep and leave it there. The best companions for a small pup are a few head of
bum lambs in a small pen, preferably in a barn or isolated away from the flock.
Place the pup with lambs at 7 to 8 weeks old, when pups develop a strong bond
If the pup is very young put a chicken-wire
fence between it and the lambs. This gives it regular contact with the lambs
but protects it from being trampled. Even when the pup is old enough to be with
the lambs, it is a good idea to provide a place where it can get away to rest,
eat and be alone. A low fence or a creep with a few extra slats works fine.
During this early exposure, check the pup regularly to ensure that it adjusts
to being with the lambs.
Problems that can be expected
with a LGD pup are all those of any young pup: chasing, getting out of the
fence, and playing too rough with lambs. All of these are to be expected,
CORRECTED as they happen, and the pup watched to prevent recurrence. To force
bonding you can let them drink from the same water source as the sheep.
As the pup gets older, integrate it into the working
operation. Introduce it to equipment, machinery, other livestock (horses,
cattle, chickens) and herding dog(s) so later it will not guard the sheep from
them. It is important to spend time with the pup so it is not afraid of you and
will allow you to catch it later. However, always return it to the lambs after
a short time and praise it when it goes into the pen and greets the lambs. Do
not pet or reward the dog when it wanders away from the sheep.
Begin the dog in obedience training ("come," "no") during
its early exposure to sheep. Supervise the dog when it is first introduced to
newborn lambs and reprimand it if it chases sheep. Remember that the dog is a
working partner and cannot perform this role if it does not understand its job.
As the dog gets older, give it more opportunities to make
decisions and take responsibilities. Move it from a small pen to a larger pen
to a pasture, and from a few head of lambs to the flock it will eventually
guard. Observe the dog carefully, especially after each move or change in
routine. Make sure it adjusts properly, and correct any undesirable behaviors
early. It is especially important that the dog remains with the sheep. Return
the dog to the flock any time it tries to leave. Always praise the dog when it
stays with the flock.
Raise the pup with lambs that you
intend to incorporate into the main flock. Once one group of sheep accepts the
dog, other sheep unaccustomed to guard dogs tend to accept it more quickly. If
your sheep are spooky of a new dog, it may be best to introduce them in a small
Routine worming, vaccination and examination of
your dog are essential for good health and performance. Regularly check ear
canals, eyes, mouth and feet. Keep nails and hair on feet and under tail
clipped, if needed. Look for cuts and scratches that can become infected or
abscessed. You may need to brush the dog's coat during hot weather. Provide
high-quality dog food in a self-feeder near the sheep at all times. Put a
barrier around the feeder to exclude the sheep, or the dog may remain near the
feeder, guarding it from the sheep.
How Do Livestock Guard Dogs Work?
guardian dogs with sheep creates an attachment or bond between the dog and the
sheep. As the dog matures, it spends much of its time near the sheep and repels
other animals that enter its personal space. This aggressiveness is limited by
a decreased tendency to chase, a product of generations of selection for dogs
that do not chase sheep. Even if the dog chases an intruding coyote away, it
soon stops the chase and returns to the flock.
Signs of a Working Dog
When your dog
matures and begins to work, it will stay with the sheep willingly, and its
barking and scent marking with urine will increase. These behaviors notify
coyotes that a dog is present and help deter them from approaching the sheep.
Coyotes usually remain in the area but are prevented from killing sheep. Some
Great Pyrenees begin working at 6 moths of age, whereas some other breeds start
later. Most dogs become more effective as they age. Once they learn their job
is to guard the sheep, they usually work out the details without training. This
may even mean coming back to the barn or farmyard during the day if the sheep
are kept close to the house. The important thing is that they are with the
sheep when the danger from predators is highest.
How Many Working Dogs Are Needed?
Most producers who
have less than 200 sheep, or graze sheep in less than 200-acre fields, usually
use one or two livestock guardian dogs. Producers who graze 1,000 ewes and
their lambs on open range often use two to five dogs. The number of dogs used
depends on the extent of the predation, dispersion of sheep and amount of
brushy cover on the range. We feel that Pyrs work best in pairs, HOWEVER, the
first Pyr should be trained alone - both trainer and dog are learning here -
then that one can HELP train the others. If you don't have patience, don't get
a LGD pup.
The principal causes of premature death are
accidents (dogs hit on the road), poisoning (toxicants to control predators)
and shooting. Contact neighbors and tell them about the dog and post a notice
about the dog near public roadways or ATV trails.
Should Working Dogs Be Spayed/Neutered?
To be fully
reliable, a livestock guardian dog must be spayed or neutered. An intact male
will leave the stock to follow the scent of a bitch in heat - even a coyote -
and an intact female will have to be withdrawn from the flock for three weeks,
twice a year to prevent accidental breeding. Studies have shown that the
success rate in protecting livestock did not differ between males and females
nor did the protection instinct vary between intact or spayed/neutered dogs.