When our Akbash/ Maremma-cross livestock guardian dog Buffy died in June it left us very worried about the summer pasture season. We managed to get through the season with no death losses due to predators but we could hear/see the coyotes getting closer. When my daughter’s friend’s guardian dog, another Akbash/Maremma cross, had puppies, we jumped at the chance to bring home a new dog.
Due to the number of people across Canada experiencing increased predation pressure, guardian dogs are growing in popularity, but they are not effective if they aren’t started properly. The hardest part of the process is to remember that although it is important for humans to be able to feed and handle the dog they must not be bonded to humans. Essentially this means that the owner is the alpha of the dog pack as far as handling of the guardian dog but that for emotional/social needs the dog looks to their livestock wards as their “friends” as well as responsibility to protect.
Although we are not experts, we were successful with Buffy and have a clear perspective of where to start. A very good website for many topics on raising guardian dogs is http://www.lgd.org/library.htm.
START WITH THE RIGHT PUP
The most important and first step is choosing the right puppy. We were thinking about a pair this time (one works a bit too hard here) but decided to wait until next fall and only start one puppy at a time. We just aren’t experienced enough to feel confident starting two puppies together and stopping them from bonding to one another and not the livestock.
When the children went to pick up our new puppy, Ellen, they stood back and observed them. We didn’t want one that wanted to be in close social contact with humans but we also didn’t want one afraid of humans. I wanted a female because I didn’t want to deal with the psychology of the male dog. There are issues with females, such as heat cycles, but we have experience to help us know what to do.
Ellen was off on her own happily chewing on bones. She was, at the time, ten weeks old and was not overly concerned about where her mother was. This is another signal that the pup is ready for a new home. There were pups that wanted to lick the human’s hands and jump on their legs for attention. From our experience these personality traits make it harder to bond the pup to livestock. To be an effective guardian of their stock, the dog must identify their human as food source and alpha over them but not need them for affection. Their emotional needs have to be met by their herd. Our Buffy made it easy.
When we brought Buffy home she came with her brother. The breeder had us keep them together from six weeks to about twelve weeks, then her brother moved to his new home. Buffy was the classic guardian puppy. She came into the barn, wandered over to a goat and cuddled up next to her. She never wanted us to pat her, just feed her. Then there was her brother. He would hang off my jacket while I milked our goats. He would beg for our attention. When he went to live with his new family they had a lot of trouble keeping him with their sheep. He wanted to be in the yard with their children. This is the reason, when we were shopping for a new puppy, we were very careful to choose the one that was happy over on her own, chewing on bones.
ESTABLISH AND MAINTAIN BOUNDARIES
Since Ellen came home we have encountered some new puppy issues we never had with Buffy. One problem is that our slightly antisocial puppy has decided that the men in our yard should be played with. Ellen’s owner was a female and she is very respectful, even at ten weeks, of the fact that females are not toys and we want her with her herd. But the men, well they’re for trying to jump on, apparently. This is being dealt with by repeatedly commanding her to “Get back”, which is her command to return to her flock. If she doesn’t return then we must firmly take her back to the herd and leave her there. Ellen has a parka which is her own and that is where she is taken to when she needs to be returned to the herd.
Because it is vital that the pup is bonded to the stock before she is in the outdoor pens we are starting Ellen in the barn. She has a bottle calf and several goats along with cats and chickens as her charges. She will be allowed into the outside pens when she is grown enough she cannot get through the panels. The biggest challenge we have at present is to keep her entertained so she doesn’t find herself things to do, such as chewing on our chickens.
When she arrived we gifted her with an old winter coat that she uses as a bed. It is hers and she takes it from location to location. She also has a steady supply of bones. This is to keep her from chewing on objects that are not allowed. She has started to catch chickens though and try and pull out their tail feathers. When we catch her she is immediately sent back to her parka. Since the cats just don’t want to play I have introduced an old basketball for her to play with around the barn and attack. This is behavior we never experienced with Buffy. I remember her skiing behind sheep by holding onto their tails and them running, but once we caught her and reprimanded her it stopped. Since chickens will always be a part of her life her being trained to respect them is important.
Displaying guardian instincts at a young age is encouraging. Ellen hasn’t been properly introduced to the herding dogs yet, we want her bonded to the livestock first, and one of them just happened to come to the barn. It was apparent she was quite intimidated but was willing to stand up to the dog and defend her territory. We didn’t allow the herding dog to engage so the puppy left victorious that she had chased off the intruder and was very pleased. These exercises will be important for her to gain confidence and we will slowly socialize the dogs over the next few months. Our guardian dogs must allow the herding dogs to work.
There are many methods for starting puppies but the main idea is that the puppy needs to be bonded to livestock, the puppy needs a very clear training of what is right and wrong with its interactions with both livestock and people and the people need to keep the goals in the front of their thoughts at every interaction with the puppy.
DebbieChikouskyfarmswithherfamilyat Narcisse,Man.Visitorsarealwayswelcome. ContactDebbieat [email protected]