As we prepare to bring home our third livestock guardian dog, I thought it would be fun to write a blog post about some of the things I do to prep our house/farm for bringing home an LGD and what I do differently now that we are on dog number three instead of number one. If you are new to my blog, you can check out my original post about how to train a livestock guardian dog here.
(*disclaimer, some links in this post are commissionable and I do receive a small payment for purchases made through them)
We don’t take the typical approach to training a livestock guardian, in fact I had dozens of people come out of the woodwork when we got our first LGD, Rhona, and tell me that livestock guardians can’t be both companions and guardians. Everyone has their own opinion and that’s all and well with me. Our experience has been that they absolutely can do both; it just takes a lot more work on your part as the trainer. While John and I love our farm animals and anticipate having them for a very long time, when we first got Rhona (our first guardian dog), we weren’t sure if farming was going to be for us long term and so I wanted to train her to guard the farm animals, but also take her on walks; teach her how to behave around chickens, but also how to behave around small children and just people in general. That way, if we ever decided the farm life wasn’t for us anymore, Rhona could transition seamlessly to being our companion dog full time.
I don’t want this blog post to be 20 pages long so let me leave it as this: it is a huge challenge training a livestock guardian dog to both guard livestock AND be man’s best friend. But you can do it! Here are some tips I have below and I am breaking them out by tips for training them to both and then just tips for bringing home your second or third LGD and what I do to prepare:
Tips for training an LGD to be a companion and a guardian:
- Make sure you give them ample time to learn and feel comfortable as both a guardian and a companion dog. For us this meant obedience training every day, on leash training, but also multiple hours among the goats and chickens every day or two.
- When you first bring your puppy home it is unlikely that they are large enough to do any damage to a goat or even a normal sized adult chicken. When our pups our really little we will let them run around in the pens with the animals and do corrections if they chase any of the farm animals. This is also nice because it allows your stock to get used to the dog when they are small and less intimidating.
- As the puppy gets a little bigger (I’d say like 16 weeks plus) we start putting a harness on them and putting them on a tie out in the goat pen/chicken pen. so that they can still spend time with those animals but aren’t able to chase them or “catch” them. Basically you just want your farm animals to be able to get away from the puppy if the puppy is doing an undesirable behavior. We have this tie out and it has been great because it still works when they are 100 lbs (and believe me, it is likely you will still have relapses when they are 100 lbs and need to use this tie out again)
- One of the things I get asked most frequently is when do we start putting the puppies with the stock full time. This answer is different depending on what YOU want. Our second LGD, Sitka, went out with Rhona the day we brought him home but that was because it was summer and we trusted her to train him around the stock. What worked really well for us with Rhona, and what I will be doing with Juniper when she comes home, is crate training her at night, and putting her with the dogs and stock to learn during the day. Whether you believe in crate training or not, I will tell you that it was been one of the most valuable things I have ever taught my dogs, and my opinion is that every dog should be crate trained. It gives you a lot of flexibility as an owner with travel etc. and gives your dog a “safe space” no matter where you are. This crate is my favorite out of the 5 we have because it has two doors so you can position it however you need to in a hotel room or at a friend’s house and it also comes with a divider so you can make the space smaller when your dog is just a puppy. Crate training at nighttime and spending time with the animals during the day allows your puppy to understand that they are both a member of your family and also a member of the herd (or flock!). We transition our dogs that do both to being outside full time once they are about 6 months old, but again you may have issues of them treating stock incorrectly and have to adjust using some of the methods I’m mentioning in this post.
- Once your puppy gets older (and bigger) they may begin to exhibit behaviors with the farm animals that are unacceptable. This is when utilizing the tie out again can be helpful or, if you believe in such things, you can try using a training collar. We used this one with Rhona and it was instrumental in us teaching her not to “chew” on the goats legs (I laugh now but she chewed one of our goat’s legs down to the tendons during her training-Rhona was about 10 months old at the time.) I used this training collar with her. I chose. this one because it has a beep, vibrate and shock option. The first time I put it on her I put her in with the goats and waited. When she went to chew on one of them I pressed the beep. It stopped her in her tracks for a second but she quickly went back to what she was doing. The second time she went after the goat I pressed the vibrate button. This time she stopped for a bit longer but still continued the behavior. The third time I shocked her and she ran into her doghouse and hid. That is the only time I ever used the shock feature on her. They are such smart dogs. from then on she knew that the vibrate was her last warning and would disengage when I did that to warn her that her behavior was wrong.
- Another thing to remember during training is that LGDs bark to alert predators to their presence. If you live in an area where frequent barking will be problem, you may want to choose a different type of protector animal for your farm. We encourage our dogs to bark anytime they are barking. They bark when there are deer on the the property, they bark when our neighbors walk up our driveway and they bark when predators are around (though this is a very different tone of bark). It is important to never discourage their barking as then they may not bark when you want them to. The fact of the matter is, barking is their way of alerting you about things going on, communicating with each other, AND communicating to predators. All are important parts of their responsibility as an LGD. If you socialize them well with people when they are a puppy they will learn that people are friends, but they will still bark at them when the arrive at your home to alert you to their presence.
- On that note, we spend a lot of time socializing our LGDs with people and other dogs. Your LGD is smart enough to know the difference between your friend bringing their dog over for a play date versus a coyote getting in the fence, trust me. They sort out friend and foe all on their own. Just encourage them to be friendly with people you know and dogs you know and the rest will follow.
*an important thing to remember when training and LGD is that most of them are not food motivated for training purposes. The key to training a dog like that is positive reinforcement. A lot of the above information is in regard to correcting misbehavior; I am addressing this because it can be very challenging to handle. However, the most important aspect of training and LGD is rewarding them with praise and pets when they are doing what you want them to do.
Tips for bringing home your second (third or fourth) guardian and things I do to prepare.
Bringing home a new pup does require a little preparation even if it is your second or third one. Here are some things I like to have on hand for our livestock guardian / companion dog combo training:
Large breed puppy food – we use Science Diet but there are a lot of great options out there
Dog nail trimmer – great pyrenees have double dew claws on all 4 feet. That means 4 dew claws that have the potential to grow in a full circle if you don’t trim them regularly. This is so important!
Baby gate if you are going to have them in your house! always good to limit the area they can free roam as a pup!
I’m sure I will think of something I missed after I publish this post, but this should give you the gist. As far as introducing your new pup to your current dog family, I always do dog introductions on leash in a neutral environment. We also feed our dogs in separate areas to avoid food possession issues at first. However, we are now to the point with Rhona and Sitka where we know they don’t have food issues with each other and we feed them right next to each other. For the first 10 months or so of Juniper’s life she will be fed separately from them with a fence between her and Rhona and Sitka. Once we feel confident that she is big enough to defend her own bowl and we watch them eat successfully across the fence line, we will start trying supervised feedings in the same pen. Lots of baby steps involved in all of this training!
I know these last few points will seem random but I want to make sure to address specific questions I received via Instagram as well:
- Any time you are bringing home a rescue dog whether it be from a shelter or another farm, I have found that it’s best to assume I know nothing about their upbringing (even if the previous owner was involved in the adoption). This way you aren’t setting yourself or the dog up to fail right away. Pyrenees (and all LGD breeds) are smart and very high energy. The best thing you can do with a new dog to set them up for success with your livestock is do activities with them that wear them out physically and mentally so they aren’t “wanting” for anything. This way they will be on their best behavior when you return them to their livestock. When we fostered Fargo (a 10 month old pyrenees) last month, I took him for a walk with me every morning, moved him out of the goat pen onto a tie out at lunch and gave him some type of puzzle slow release treat toy for a couple hours, and then returned him to the goats at night. This gave him both the physical and mental stimulation he needed to be more successful when he was with the goats.
- Remember that just because you are adopting an older dog, that does not necessarily mean they will know how to act around your livestock. We lost over 20 chickens to Sitka as a puppy before I finally realized that I was putting too much trust in him too early. LGD breeds get big fast and I think as people, we see them as full grown mentally when they look full grown physically and that just isn’t that case majority of the time.
As long as you do things in phases and take baby steps, you will absolutely be successful adding a livestock guardian to your farm. Just remember that like humans, dogs have good days and bad days and they can go weeks or even months doing a great job and then take a misstep or relapse back into a bad habit. It is your job as the alpha and trainer to remind them what is right and what is wrong, and above all else, remember that training by positive reinforcement when possible, is almost always more impactful than training through punishment – though both are needed at times!
The next post I’m going to do will be about “trainer” dogs, and how to know if your current LGD is a “trainer” before you put a brand new puppy with him or her.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this long post and if you found one thing useful here, then I have done my job.
Take care buddies and stay positive!