Raising

We believe in a middle-of-the-road approach to raising our puppies. Recognizing that these puppies will be sold as livestock guardians, we believe that early and continual exposure to livestock is vital. Puppies are therefore born and raised in the sheep barn. From the time they're born, they can hear, smell and see sheep. As they get older and begin venturing more, they are able to interact more and more with the sheep, eventually being allowed full access to them under the watchful eye of their mother and our other dogs. In addition to sheep, pups are also exposed early on to free-range poultry, cattle and horses.

As the pups grow, they are able to observe their adult pack members displaying appropriate behavior with the stock. The adults will quickly correct any overly rambunctious activity such as chasing or chewing the sheep.

While we strongly believe that continual exposure to stock is vital for proper bonding, socialization to humans is also important. At the very least, a dog should be able to be caught and handled for inspection, occasional restraint, and veterinary care. We have not found that even frequent handling while the dog is with the stock will interfere with the bonding process. Therefore, puppies are lightly handled from birth so that they will not fear humans. However, they are never removed from the stock or brought into the yard or home.

 

Training

How to train depends to some extent on how you will be using your dog. If you want a full-time livestock guardian, we believe that the most important aspect of proper training is early, continual exposure to the stock they will be expected to guard. We begin this process before the puppies are even weaned by having them born and raised in the sheep barn. After weaning, puppies are moved to a pen with a few very gentle sheep. In fact, we keep a few "puppy trainer" sheep just for this purpose. These special ewes are non-aggressive toward dogs of all ages and are especially tolerant of puppy antics, neither running away nor butting the dogs.

When you get your new puppy home, we recommend you use the "pen within a pen" approach for introducing the puppy to your stock. Construct a small, escape-proof pen for the puppy within your stock pen. Not only will your puppy need to get used to your stock, but the stock will need to get used to your puppy as well. If your stock is already accustomed to a livestock guardian dog, this will take little effort, but if not, they will likely be fearful of or aggressive toward your new puppy.

It's been our experience that young puppies are not content to stay in their small pen very long and are eager to be closer to their stock and explore. Supervise these visits early on, being very watchful that the stock is not aggressive toward the puppy. A couple very gentle ewes or bummer lambs are ideal for these first encounters. Always provide a "safe zone" where the puppy can escape from any stock that get aggressive or pushy. A creep pen is ideal for this. Continue to expose your stock to the puppy as well. If you cannot pen your entire flock/herd near the puppy, rotate them through so that eventually all or most have had a chance to get used to your new dog.

As the puppy gets bigger and faster, it can have more and more access to the stock. By the time it's four months old, it will be big enough (and quite eager) for short visits to pasture with your livestock. However, it is neither big nor mature enough to actually guard at this time. Continue to supervise to ensure that the puppy is staying with and behaving appropriately around your stock. If you already have a mature guardian for the puppy to follow, this will happen naturally. If not, it's up to you.

Even with proper breeding and upbringing, every puppy will inevitably make mistakes. We keep a close eye on our young dogs to quickly correct any undesirable behavior before it becomes a habit. Particularly during adolescence (6-18 months) some dogs can get overly rambunctious. Extra patience and supervision by the human owners are required during these months. It may be necessary to go back to the pen-with-in-a-pen at this time and only allow the dog access to the stock when it can be more closely supervised. A properly-timed, firm scolding is nearly always enough to stop a negative behavior before it becomes a habit. We have found that this, along with good breeding, adequate physical exercise and a stimulating environment, has proven to be very effective in preventing most of the chasing, chewing and wandering problems that are such common complaints among adolescent livestock guardian dog owners.

Many people wonder how much handling is appropriate when training your livestock guardian dog puppy. We have heard everything from "never touch the puppy" to "ours sleeps in the house and goes to town with us." As mentioned previously, we take a middle-of-the-road approach. We believe it is very important to at least be able to handle the dog enough to inspect it, restrain it from time to time, and allow veterinary care. Therefore, we do handle our dogs but restrict the handling to when the dogs are with their stock. Dogs are given plenty of pets and praise while with the stock but are never allowed to loiter near the house or leave our property. We have found this to create a well-balanced dog that is not afraid of or aggressive toward their human owner, yet still strongly bonded to their stock.

 

The General Farm Guardian

The above training recommendations apply to people who want their dog to be a full-time livestock guardian that stays with and protects their livestock at all times. However, some people prefer their dogs to be more general farm guardians, looking after an entire small farmstead rather than the stock specifically. Typically these people live on smaller acreage, perhaps 2 to 10 acres in size. The livestock will be protected by default simply due to their proximity to the home. In a situation like this, bonding to the stock is of lesser importance and it may be appropriate to allow the dog more access to human areas, such as the yard, porch and perhaps even inside the home. At the same time, the puppy still needs regular exposure to the livestock so it learns that the stock are to be protected and also so that it will be reliable with the stock as it matures. While it won't damage the dog's guarding instincts if it's brought into the house, it obviously won't be able to guard if it's not outside where the potential threats are. Therefore, you need to consider carefully the exact role you want the dog to assume. It would be unfair to allow a puppy to become accustomed to sleeping in the house with the family and then later require it to stay outside at all times to guard when it's mature.

 

Why Multiple Dogs?

Livestock guardian dogs are amazing, but they are not super dogs. In nearly every situation, we recommend that people run at least two dogs rather than just a single one. The reasons for this are many.

A single dog simply cannot be everywhere at once. Even on smaller acreage with a small number of livestock, a single dog can easily be outnumbered and outwitted by a pack of coyotes or stray dogs. Coyotes in particular are notorious for having one individual lure off a dog while the other goes in for the kill. You will quickly find that a pair of dogs works as a team, with one going out to confront the threat while the other stays back with the flock as backup. When larger predators, such as bear or mountain lions, are a threat, a single dog is simply no match. Either the dog realizes this and won't confront the predator, allowing it to kill your stock, or if it does attempt to defend against the predator, it can be seriously injured or killed itself.

Also, these dogs have a tremendous sense of duty and work very hard at their job. Whereas pair or pack of dogs will take turns guarding and resting, a single dog does not have that advantage and can end up becoming stress and overworked, compromising its own health and life span.

And finally, many of the issues involving playing and roughhousing with the livestock can be avoided if the dogs have a canine companion to meet that need. A young dog is going to have energy that it needs to burn. Being able to run and play with another dog is far more acceptable than the dog attempting to run and play with the goats or sheep.