Introducing Puppies to Livestock
Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) are born with great instincts and are an excellent choice for guarding sheep, goats, pigs, cattle, chickens, ducks, and many other animals, from a wide variety of predators, including foxes, raccoons, coyotes, opossums, snakes, bears, bobcats, cougars, humans, etc!
But their great instincts do not mean they do not need training or guidance. In an ideal world, each puppy would be trained by an older working guardian dog, but the reality is most people start with puppies. So, how do you have success introducing your first puppy or puppies to your livestock and optimizing your chances at having a livelong guardian for your farm and family?
Here are some basic guidelines:
1. Understand that LGD puppies will bond the most with animals they are exposed to while they are young, so you want to give them as much exposure to their future charges as possible.
2. Understand that each LGD puppy is different; some will instantly know they need to guard their charges; others may require some guidance from you to help them understand that they need to guard their charges. In both cases, usually you will still result in a wonderful guardian, as long as you are consistent and patient working with them.
3. Always introduce the puppy to their charges. Never just throw a puppy into a flock of chickens or into a barn with lots of kids (baby goats) or lambs without introducing the puppy to their charges. We will always hold a puppy in our arms and carry them around introducing them to their charges. We will actually talk to the puppy, telling the puppy that this chicken is our chicken and we need him/her to guard this chicken for us. We try to introduce the puppy to all our animals. If you have a lot of animals, introduce the puppy to a lot of them, so he/she begins to understand that they belong to you and that those animals are supposed to be here. If he/she can differentiate between which animals are supposed to be on your property, and which are not, you are well on your way.
4. Once you have completed introductions, put the puppy on a leash and walk around the animals, allowing the puppy some freedom to interact with them. Talk to the puppy and praise gentle interactions and firmly correct any rough behavior. Chances are at this stage, the puppy will be fairly timid and unsure and is unlikely to be rough with any of the animals.
5. After you have allowed the puppy to interact with the animals, take the puppy on a walk with the leash around the perimeter of the guarding area he/she will be responsible for, giving him/her a chance to learn the boundary. Then show the puppy his/her accommodations, whether it is a dog house in the field or in a kennel or a corner in the barn. The puppy may be pretty tired and/or hungry or thirsty, so be sure to offer him/her some food and a chance to rest.
6. Next, if the time interacting with the animals went smoothly, you can try taking the puppy off the leash and give him/her some supervised time with the animals. This is where the rubber meets the road. Some puppies will show disinterest after meeting the animals and will act like they really don't care if the animals are there or not. That is actually a good sign, because they do know they are there, but if they are not super curious or fascinated, they are less likely to misbehave. Others may try to chase the animals or chew on them; this behavior needs to be nipped in the bud immediately with firm, consistent, verbal corrections. If a puppy is chasing or chewing their charges, that puppy should not be left alone with their charges, but should be housed nearby (like in a kennel or a field adjacent to the animals) and needs a good amount of supervised time with them every day. Puppies naturally chew, so even an LGD with excellent instincts may still go through a chewing and/or chasing stage. Think of them as children; they need guidance, direction, and some time to mature. But with consistency on your part, they will get there! And the good news is, even if the dog has to be housed adjacent to their charges for a time, his/her barking will still do a great deal to deter predators and protect their charges!
7. These dogs are not considered full-grown until they are 3 years old. Many people say they should not be trusted with their charges until they are at least 2 years old, but in our experience, ours have been able to be trusted with their charges much younger, and some even from birth. Get to know your puppy and spend a good amount of time supervising and you should get a feel for how they are doing and if you can trust them or not.
8. Lastly, have fun! This breed is amazing, smart, and oh so very loyal. They want to please you; they want to do their job and do it well. They just need you to be patient and let them know and understand what is expected and required of them. Once they get it, they are worth their weight in gold!
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