We have a pack of Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGDs) who help us on the farmstead. I love training and working with the dogs. I would not want to farm, or even homestead, without the help of dogs. Their superior senses alert me to things I would otherwise miss. Their tireless patrolling keeps our herd, our children and us safe from predators and pests. Because of the dogs we never have problems with deer, crows or woodchucks in the garden. People see our dogs here on these pages so I get a lot of questions about how to train, requests for puppies and various other aspects of the dogs.
Is it necessary to get a purebred for herding and guarding?
No. In fact, some purebreds are problematic as they’ve had the working stuff bred out of them and hip or other problems bred in. Ideally get a dog from parents that are doing the work you want your dog to do. It’s not pure bred that matters. It’s inclination, exposure and training that is key.
Can you just take any mutt from the pound?
Picking a random dog at the pound probably won’t work because they haven’t grown up around livestock and had any selection for the work. Even picking a purebred dog at the pound, on the assumption that the instinct is there, is probably iffy since the dog probably wasn’t raised with livestock and may really be a show dog or a family pet rather than a working dog.
We got lucky on that score with our original dog Coy. He simply showed up and started doing the job. We have had many unsuitable dogs that we rejected so maybe it was selection rather than luck. People dump a lot of dogs on our road – People see a farm and toss out their dog thinking we’ll take it in and it will have a nice home. It doesn’t work that way. 99.9% of the dogs go to the dog catcher, the cops, the coyotes, get hit by a car, etc.
What criteria would one use to pick a dog from the pound?
Look for the usual, good health, active, alert, not spastic, intelligent, etc. The few good dogs that have been dumped here at our farm that we kept showed a talent for the tasks right away. In a pound situation there wouldn’t have been a way to see that. Those dogs are in cages in a very artificial environment. The real test is going to be taking the dog home and working with it around your livestock. Take your time picking. Be ready to fail and get lucky. The younger the better for training and exposure to the livestock but the younger they are the less you see of their behaviors.
There are groups that try to place farm working dogs who have gotten old and that may be a good way to start. An older trained dog that has lived a life of working with livestock. That dog will get you started and help train a pup later. Dogs learn a lot from each other. Watching an experience dog work will teach both the pup and you.
The best way to get a good working dog is to look around your area for other small farms and homesteads that have working dogs. Better yet would be to look in the farm classified ads for dogs born on farms. You want to get a pup that was raised with livestock, ideally similar livestock to what it will guard. The parents should be healthy and on the farm working. These things are far more important than being purebred or papers.
Realize that when you get a puppy, it may be 18 months before it is big enough to really work and even train. Some start training much younger but some aren’t ready to train until they’re that old. I start training when they are just a few months old with the basics. A few dogs will herd when they’re just puppies themselves. They aren’t ready to take on big predators until their full grown and really need a pack of their own to handle a cougar or a coyote pack. I find that our dogs typically reach adult muscle and weight when they’re two or three years old.
The quick alternative to a pup is a dog that is partially or fully trained working dog but expect to pay a lot because someone has put months or years into training the dog. Ideally the dog should have been exposed to the type of animals you are planning to have it work or something similar. A good working dog can cross over from guarding one thing to another. If it was exposed to many species then this will be easier.
Can you give me details on how to you train?
Sometime I’ll write about it in depth. Basic ideas in a nutshell:
- Get their attention – if you don’t have their attention you can’t train them – seems to be true of people too. Name, Good, No, Treat, etc.
- Establish communications both ways – teach them the basic commands. Observe them to learn how they communicate. Get down the basic obedience training.
- Positive reinforcement in the form of words (GOOD!), pets, attention and food are all powerful training tools. I hardly ever have to use punishment and usually it is simply NO! or rejection – dogs are very sensitive to being ostrazation so it is a very powerful tool.
- As we have older working dogs they act as role models and actively teach younger dogs. This helps immensely.
- Raise the dogs with the target livestock – it makes a big difference.
- Everything else is details, daily work with the dogs, etc. Time wisely spent and a great investment. Fun too.
It does help to start with a dog with potential – that will speed up the learning curve. Intelligence, health, vigor and a desire to herd, guard and do the work. They must want to do what you say be it working with you or independently. Expect the dog to be capable but have plenty of patience.
Only certain breeds are LGDs. False. It’s not the breed, its the function that matters. Some breeds that are traditionally used for LGD like the German Shepherd and Great Pyrenees now mostly consist of dogs that do shows or are house pets. These dogs are not LGD dogs – they’re from LGD stock but they are really show dogs and house pets. Nothing wrong with that. Other dogs that are mutts are out in the fields working hard to herd and protect real livestock. These are LGDs – it is the function and ability, not the breed that matters. Generally speaking LGDs are typically of larger frame, longer coats and rugged physique so that they can withstand the rigors of being outdoors all the time. That is not universal though and it can vary greatly with climate. Our dogs have long, thick double fur coats and are adapted for our cold climate. They probably would be less than happy in Texas. So would I. :) Evolution and selective breeding are wonderful.
LGDs work totally on instinct – you can’t train them. False! The best LGDs are intelligent so that they are able to work independently and make their own judgements. Ours are highly trainable and interested in learning. They like both the routine of their jobs and also learning new tasks which keeps life interesting. Not doing any training wastes some of their potential. There are all sorts of schools about training from do nothing and rely totally on instinct to clicker training. I train as above and use words, hand signs, tongue clicks, whistles and the occasional growl or howl. Some dogs come out of the womb like their ready to work and seem to just pick up everything by watching their elders. Others need a more shaping but are wonderful working dogs. Some just don’t take yet still make good companion dogs – keep them off the farm if they are actively dangerous to the livestock.
A LGD can only guard one species of animal. False. Ours guard and herd pigs, chickens, sheep, ducks, geese and kids – the human kind. I could easily add new species. It is my responsibility to teach the dogs that a new species is to be guarded and the process is simple – Show them the new animal and say “No Touch”, “Guard” and they understand. One might say that comes from training. Yes, but what it really shows is that we have established communications, a common language. That is the key. Do that and dogs can do amazing things.
LGDs will kill chickens. False – sort of Chickens are the hardest animal to train some dogs to because the chickens natural fluttering motion make it such a tempting target and their fragile health make it so easy to even accidentally kill. However, even Killer Kita learned to guard, herd and protect chickens and chicks although she still dines on wild birds. Ducks are similarly difficult for training although a little hardier. LGDs can learn to do both and some dogs just understand.
You can’t interact with a LGD – socializing will ruin it. False! Some people will tell you that you can’t interact with a LGD, you can’t play with them, they can’t ever come in the house, they can’t come in the car, etc. Those are all myths. Over the years I have observed a number of people who follow this rule and fail despite their claims. I have trained many LGDs – Ours interact with our family. I cross train ours to work in the field, the house, the car, on a leash, on voice command, with people, etc. There is instinct but there’s a lot more intelligence. Possibly this myth came about because people wanted to just dump the dog in the field and expected it to do its work without any training. The dog has a lot more potential if your willing to put in the effort. By cross training the dog for many functions you will extend it’s working life. When a puppy it isn’t ready to go out into the field and tackle bear but it can still work closer in with smaller animals. When old and arthritic a working dog can no longer handle the fast herding or fence jumping yet it can still easily herd and guard a flock of chickens or ducks relying on it’s skills rather that fleetness of foot and power moves.
Once a killer, always a killer. False! There is a myth that if a dog kills livestock then it is untrainable. Put down that shotgun! It is just a myth – Dogs can be retrained and they may make mistakes. Unfortunately, people can ruin a dog by miscuing it to the wrong behaviors, spoiling it or simply never training it to begin with – I have retrained several of these ‘ruined’ dogs who had become livestock killers. After retraining they went on to become wonderful working LGDs. Witness “Killer Kita for one beautiful example of how a dog that was ruined by people leaving her chained and untrained. When they moved to an apartment they returned her to us. Later she killed a sheep, ducks and chickens here. The other dogs, including her look-alike twin sister didn’t trust Kita with the animals. She was a livestock killer. Yet, now she is a wonderful, dedicated, trusted, free-roaming livestock guardian dog. I’ll readily admit she was challenging to retrain – she was my most problematic of the one’s I’ve retrained. It was worth the work and the myth is false – Killers can be retrained.
Don’t feed raw meat to LGDs. False. Some people will say that a dog that has tasted blood or eaten raw meat is ruined and will kill livestock. That is false. Alternatively I’ve heard people say that eating pork, chicken or raw food will hurt the dogs’ health, the bones will puncture it internally, etc. Our dogs have eaten raw and cooked pork, lamb, chicken, ducks, mice, wild birds and even crow. I have to wonder where these myths were created. Is it the commercial dog food companies trying to improve sales? Well, BARF – Bones and Raw Food – on them. Wild canines eat a healthy diet of raw food. Traditionally shepherds fed their LGDs raw meat, culls from the herd, just as the shepherds ate from the herd. We feed our dogs raw meat that comes from our livestock. This may gross you out so stop reading – I warned you – but one of the favorite things for a canine is guts. It is the first thing they want given the chance. Yet this doesn’t make them into livestock killers. They don’t kill the livestock – I do. They share in the harvest as they rightfully should being part of our team. Additionally, part of a dogs’ job – another gross out warning – is to clean up any dead born lambs and piglets so that the carcasses do not attract predators. Our dogs hunt, kill and eat pests (mice, rabbits, chucks, coon, coyotes, etc) daily. That doesn’t turn them into livestock killers. They’re intelligent. They know the difference between a domestic chicken from their flock and a wild bird, between their herd of pigs and a coon, etc. They care about and protect their livestock. Dogs are natural farmers and share in the rewards.
You can’t chain a LGD. False. Some people claim that chaining or tying will ruin a LGD. Runs and chains on pins are a useful tool for training when the dog is not up to par as well as for when you have visitors whom you don’t want to interact with your dogs. One trick is put a long overhead cable out in the pasture for a dog. This lets the dog move over a large area and works great. Such a cable run also works for sheep and would probably be great for goats who need training or restricting. We found that putting the lead ewe on a chain on a long cable run or a pin worked great – the flock sticks around on a pasture even without fencing.
LGDs must be spayed/neutered or they will roam. False! The reality is spaying/neutering doesn’t change roaming – out of a great many dogs I’ve worked with I have seen zero difference in roaming or other behaviors in spayed/neutered vs intact LGDs. It’s not real – how did the myth get started? I suspect that this myth was came about in several parts:
- People who feel all animals must be spayed/neutered and are looking for any excuse made this up. They push this propaganda to take away our right to own and breed our own animals. Beware of spay/neuter legislation – watch MyDogVotes.com.
- People spay/neuter the dog when it starts roaming and the roaming phase passes – thus they get a false correlation. It wasn’t that the dog was spayed, it simply matured and does not roam as much. Age is the single largest indicator of roaming – adolescent dogs go for walk-abouts because it is time for them to leave their pack and form a new pack – you’re asking them to form a pack with you and behave more human and less dog.
- People get LGDs to do a job and then are upset when the dog tries to do the job – cruise the territorial boundaries look for signs of predators, intimidate them, mark the edges of the territory with sign posts (scent, hair, piss and poop), know who’s around the area, check for farrowing or lambing going on out in the brush, etc. Then the owner gets upset that the dog can’t read the human maps and know where the human owner’s territory ends. Well, did you piss on the edges?!? Get with the program! The reality is LGD’s roam a bit – they’re cruising the boundaries of their territory and marking it. You need to come to an understanding with them about where that boundary is – that is your responsibility. It is doable. Start by walking the boundary on a daily basis. It is weeks to months before you should let a new dog free roaming so you have plenty of time.
Castration isn’t the answer at all and worse yet, not o
nly does castration not solve roaming but there are health problems that I have seen in spayed/neutered dogs such a weight gain, cancer, sex change and faster aging. This is very sad to see in an otherwise excellent working dog. I would only spay/neuter if the dog is one I do not want to breed due to some genetic fault and there is no other way to control the breeding issue. There is a reason we have those hormones in our bodies. Remove them and you are messing up the entire system.
How do you get maximum performance from your dogs?
Send them to a Dale Carnegie course. Well, maybe that is too expensive. Have great expectations, learn to communicate, set good routines, firm boundaries and train patiently. It does take time and commitment to train dogs, children, spouses, etc to their maximum ability. Ask yourself, what have you done to day to improve yourself and your team? Hmm… Too ethereal?
I’ve read of many people getting excellent work from their dogs so I don’t think our results are unique much as I like our dogs and think highly of them. There are a great many high performing dogs out there and they make wonderful partners on the farmstead. I suspect that the number one reasons people don’t get the maximum potential from their dogs is they don’t have high expectations and patience. The various myths make people think the dogs are less capable than they really are. This lowering of expectations results in a lowering of performance. It does take time and training to establish routines and communications. You are a team with the dog and you need to be the leader. You need to spend time working with them – a couple of times every day is ideal. You wouldn’t expect a person to be born and six months later drop into a full work situation requiring an advanced training and degree. Same for the dog. Train, expect, communicate and be patient.
Can you recommend a dog training book.
Nope. There are many dog training books where people talk about dogs being able to do this sort of thing. I’ve not actually read much about dog training although my wife likes the book by the monks of New Skete. I think they have several books. Start with that or you could try Amazon and look at the reviews if you wanted to pickup a good book.
I’ve got problems with coyote, bobcat and cougars.
Oh joy – the last one’s a killer. If you have a single dog it will primarily operate by alerting you and deterrence of territorial marking. If you have serious big predator problems then you will need two, three or more LGDs. A single dog can easily get killed by large predators or a pack of coyotes so don’t expect a dog to tackle them alone.
Cougar are the toughest in that group. They have vast big territories, are impolite, rude, self-centered, violate territorial boundaries, leap tall fences in a single bound (even with a lamb in their jaws), kill even what they don’t take and are main predator to which we’ve lost livestock in addition to a few owl kills. I’ve read that it takes three dogs to tackle a cougar, known as a catamount in these parts, and you’ll probably lose one and the other two will be injured. Cougar, no matter what you call them, don’t exist in Vermont, according to the Department of Wildlife officials. My wife and I have seen these ghosts several times – in broad daylight. I’ve found their prints (the cougar’s not the game warden’s). We’ve run into them in the dark in the woods – thankfully we had dogs with us. With our full pack of LGDs the cougar seems to generally follow the other side of the valley staying well clear of our main farm area. But as I said, we’ve lost sheep to them on one occasion – I had the fence off in the evening to work on it (dumb of me), the sheep had spread out over the entire south field, the dogs had come to check out what I was doing, the mountain lion took advantage of dinner at the far end of the south field. Rather than taking just one ewe it also tore apart another before leaping back over a high electrified fence with dinner in it’s jaws leaving no sign on the fence. Just a ghost of course that left those claw marks. I guess our sheep just have a mighty powerful imagination… I would never want to contradict the Vermont Department of Fish. Although, if we don’t have cougar why are they putting it on the new license plates?
Black bear seem to be very observant of our dog’s territorial markings. Since we put up a perimeter fence (High Tensile 3 smooth wire electric) they have not come into the fields. We stay out of their dens areas too. The dogs and they seem to have an understanding. Polite neighbors but I wouldn’t trust them with children. We always have dogs with us. The rule is it takes two dogs to tackle a bear. We don’t have grizzly bears so if you’re out west the rules may be different. My understanding is they are worse than black bear by far.
Bob cats are something I’ve only occasionally seen or tracked. We’ve never had trouble with them and probably they stay back due to the dogs. They seem more timid than…
Fisher cats are a serious issue around here for chickens if one doesn’t have dogs. One dog seems to be enough to keep them away, based on our neighbor’s experience, but when her dog died of old age, the local fisher cat came in and immediately killed all her chickens. Easy pickings and a very wasteful diner.
Weasels, skunks, possum and coon are minor predators that can be a big problem with chickens but our dogs seem to have eaten up the local population so I’ve not seen any signs of them in maybe 15 years. One dog should be enough to keep them back. House the dog in the hoop house if necessary.
Rats are a problem with chickens. For two periods we had trash pickup. The garbage trucks delivered rats. Yuck. The rats killed chicks, ate eggs and were up to 16 ounces – I weighed one. Each time the dogs cleared them out after I stopped the trash delivery and that was that. Again, the dog in the coop works wonders. I gave up and now we just go to the dump – hopefully not bringing back any passengers. So far no rats after all these years.
Owls are big problems for poultry – they glide in at night and eat chicken heads, off the still living chickens. Headless the chickens are not very functional. The best protection is a coop with a small chicken door. I don’t find it has to be closed, just small.
Hawks are a danger for small animals. Kita almost got the hawk that attacked that chicken above and that is why the hawk didn’t kill the chicken. Normally the hawks don’t come down because the dogs are actively pacing them from the ground. A hawk can’t get airborne again with much of a load so hunting here is dangerous for them.
Kita seems to think that ravens are a threat although I’ve never seen them harm anything. We’ve always had ravens, long before we had livestock. I like them. The dogs do too but in a different way. They track the ravens from the ground and make sure they don’t land in our fields.
Foxes are easy for LGD to deal with and
crunchy according to Coy Dog who long ago cleaned out the local population.
Coyotes are the worst problem around here. They are smaller, about 45 lbs, than our LGDs but they work on the gang principle. Our gang’s bigger than your gang. They can kill a lone dog and are smart hunters. This is the reason we have so many dogs. Our dogs work on the gang principle too. Generally the coyotes are smart enough to stay out of our fields and even stay on the other side of the valley. When they come into the valley our dogs howl to warn them off – it is quite the chorus and it works. This week we started hearing the young pups so we’ve had singing a few nights – train your dogs not to bark or howl continuously as it doesn’t take much to verbally mark their territory and just annoys the neighbors even if they are a mile away. Every once in a while a foolish coyote or two will try to sneak in to our pastures. I’ve watch our dogs tag team and three-way work the coyotes. It’s not like a dog fight where one dog goes up against another. Two of ours will distract the coyote, the third dog comes in from behind to kill it. In a flash all three on top of it. Very fast and efficient. Then they dine – the dogs have no objection to eating cousin coyote or cousin fox.
Stray dogs can be an issue just like coyotes from our LGDs point of view. Around here we have a problem with bear hunters running their dogs across our land without permission. I call the game warden and hopefully he gets here before the hunting dogs get into our fields.
Rabies patrol is one of the most important things the dogs do. I can’t vaccinate all the animals but I can vaccinate the LGDs who are the first line of defense.
One other detail about good LGDs of any breed or mix, they’re often territorial, roamers and many are loud. They use their voices to communicate (learn their calls) and to deter predators. If you have close neighbors they may not appreciate this. As I mentioned above, you can train dogs to be quieter – it takes time and patience. Barking and howling is part of their tool set for doing their work. They are marking their territory with sound. They also use the barking al a call for reinforcements.
I train them to be specific – not to bark for hours like some dogs I hear. That’s not useful. In time you can learn their language – they will say what they are barking at by category (uncertain threat, known threat, predator, deer, bear, cougar, ATV/Snowmobile/Dirtbikes, etc) and even by specific (Mail call!). Pay attention – it’s just like learning any other language through immersion. You can teach the dogs to bark at specific things that are important to you and they may even give specific barks. Want to be alerted when the mailman is coming and about half a mile away? Teach the dogs to tell you – then you can get out to the mail box in time.
Thursday Outdoors: 81°F/61°F Sunny
Farm House: 76°F/70°F
Tiny Cottage: 73°F/69°F Parging tests on colosseum
Wednesday Outdoors: 81°F/60°F Sunny
Farm House: 77°F/68°F
Tiny Cottage: 73°F/69°F Peeled concrete forms, parged test foam wall
Another great post Walter. The best dog trainer I ever saw was another dog. My old dog Woody(yes, that’s my dogs name..not mine) was the best. He was a natural herder, would do what ever I asked of him and was a big part of our family. He was protector of livestock, home and his loved ones. To be missed, but he lived a very long and happy life. By the way he was a pound puppy from the Gwinnett County shelter in Georgia. Mutts rule.
You’re awesome, and obviously enjoy working with your dogs very much. I’ve never had any working animals, just outside pets and house pets. If you pay attention, even house pets will alert you to strange people or animals about the house. Our cockatiel hollered loudly when a vehicle pulled into the drive. His call was different when it was a vehicle he knew (like mama coming home:). Being aware of my outdoor cat’s behaviors, I would be alerted to nearby foxes and deer long before I would have ever know they were there. And what is it about the mailman? Every animal seems to take special notice of them, and though they come almost everyday, no animal particularly likes them. Yes, animals are very perceptive.
Hi ya. Great learning about your dogs and philosophies! How do you grind up the bones when you feed your dogs? I’m curious what machines you use to do that. I work for BARF World and we have customers all the time looking for an inexpensive bone grinder but we don’t know of one to recommend. Let me know if you have a cool solution…Cheers!
Fantastic post. I’m a city gal (at least for the time being) with a couple of dogs — one of whom would have made a fantastic LDG had he had the luck to live on a farm. It is funny how the instinct is there — at the end of the day we find all the dog toys herded together. He used to do this with our guests as well, until we figured out why everyone would end up standing in a bunch in the middle of the room.
I’m glad you emphasize the importance of good communication and positive reinforcement with your dogs. I’ve met too many folks who think the trick to dog training is all wrapped up in dominance and corrections. But I look at what your dogs do, and it seems like you have succeeded by building great relationships with your dogs and never losing their trust. That and what sounds like a lot of consistency and hard work.
Really enjoying your blog!
Chris, We have a very inexpensive bone grinder – the dogs. I don’t grind bones. The dogs do it. They have jaws that will snap through a large cow or pig thigh bone – sounds like a gunshot. They’ll reduce an entire skeleton of bones to nothing but a tooth or two that fell in the grass. It would be too much like work for me to do it and they enjoy it. Additionally I suspect that chewing all those bones helps to keep their teeth so white. Cheers, -WalterJ
Excellent post, Walter. I especially like the ‘only certain breeds can be LGDs’, mostly because a shih tsu/eskimo cross pup we got from the pound a few years ago seems to adore that job! He’s even chased off something big out of the woods in the middle of the night; the next two days had several cougar sightings in the valley and I’m pretty certain that’s what was out there!
This was great. We’ve very lately found ourselves owning a little chocolate lab puppy. I’ve NEVER had a dog, though hubby did when he was young. We’re training-handicapped (still working on getting the kids to sit! stay!), and want to do right by our dog. I wish you had more resources to recommend; we don’t have as much livestock as you, but we certainly want her protecting the chickens (mostly from stray dogs and the occasional bird of prey), not eating them. I appreciate the ‘myth’ section; having not been expecting to have a dog, I didn’t even know of those myths. Thanks!
Excellent…Our husky-shepherd and red heeler our trained similar to yours…not show dogs, but obedient, and they know the boundaries of the farm, and don’t take lightly to trespass.
I do have to correct you on the Raven thing, though….when we were doing Broilers, and the dogs weren’t as keyed in on things, we lost large numbers of 3-4 week old chicks to Ravens…never knew it until they got too big to scarf completely, and the Ravens started leaving the legs. Bummer
Ah! So Kita knows something I don’t. Perhaps she’s seen those ravens doing something naughty. There is one raven who I think she almost got. It has a bit taken out of its wing feathers exactly the size and shape of Kita’s mouth… Coincidence?
we wont stop by for a visit unannounced after seeing Kita’s photo in the snow :)
Here’s where I say “Oh, Kita’s a real sweet heart (which she is) who wouldn’t hurt a fly…” Except she would. :) She snaps them out of the air on hot days.
But seriously, she and others are quite clear to visitors to wait at the farm gate. They call me and I come to bring visitors through. I give the signal and they all quiet down. We joke about putting a sign up that says “Bark dog for service.” :)
On ‘just dropping by’ it does help greatly to call ahead to schedule time, in all seriousness, as we may be out in the woods or fields in the middle of a project. Sunday afternoons are ideal and children are invited for play but no dogs.
We’re working a plan to leave the city and get out into a bit more country (a very small piece of it – maybe 1 or 2 acres.) Even though I love dogs, I was lothe to think about getting even a small one because I thought the required training couldn’t be done by a layman. You’ve inspired me that it is possible. I suspect a small dog could be useful on a very small homestead.
Thanks. You’ve got a great site.
Walter, did the chicken in the photo above survive? Did you do anything to help it heal? Yesterday we lost all but 2 of our hens and all our turkeys to a pair of dogs while I was running errands. We have 2 injured hens who have gashes in their back and under their wing, and aren’t sure if we should give them a chance to heal, do something for them (neosporin??), or put them down. We’re heartbroken, of course, and are now on the hunt for the dogs (or their owner), but if we can save these layers we will. Thanks..
Ellajac, yes, it healed up. It was amazing. It might have done better with bacitracin or something but we just let it do its thing, but separated from other chickens. Sorry to hear of your losses. :(
Ellajac, I use Bag Balm and/or iodine for all chicken related injuries. We have had Roosters gang up on a favorite hen, or hens decide they like the taste of blood.
I usually clean the wound with hydrogen peroxide and then pack it with some Bag Balm. The HP is mainly to flush out dirt and crap. The Bag Balm seals things off–especially if skin is missing. The gooyness of it also seems to prevent fly strike. If the hen is traumatized or badly injured it helps to put it into a “hospital” pen for a few days and feed it a richer mixture of food, and perhaps some raw liver.
Despite their small size chickens can be amazingly hearty and I have seen them recover from broken bones and dislocated hips–wings work like amazing crutches. On the flip side, have you ever seen a large, heavy rooster which has lost a fight? Flattened to next to nothing. . . .
Walter, Great post again! I don’t know where I’d be without our English Shepherd farm collies.
livestock. I was given a beautiful German Shepherd who had been chasing deer. she has been fine and get along with my smaller pomeranians, but yesterday she broke down the goat pen gate and killed one of my goats and today we just barely stopped her from killing one of the llamas I really think she is a smart dog and has the potential to be a great guard and family dog how can I retrain her?
Anon, it is likely possible but a lot of work. Be patient. I don’t have a formula I can hand you aside from start with the basics and work up. The key is getting her attention and her desire to please you.
We are getting a Pyr. from our daughter-in-law who has the pup working with her mother in pens of goats. We will get the pup around 3 to 4 months old. I have access to a pen about 20′ by 75′. Should I put the pup with a few goats in the small pen, or leave her in the yard until she gets accustomed to our goats?
I’m not an expert on Great Pyrenees dogs. I know that people leave them alone with the animals and often don’t interact with them. This contrasts with the way that we work with our livestock guardian herding dogs. They work up to doing the animals over time and get a lot of training both from us and from the adults. If your future dog has already been trained by her mother then this may be somewhat similar. I would hesitate to just put her in with the unfamiliar animals though. There is some risk to both her and them. I would also want to give her a safe place she could retreat to incase they overwhelm her. In any case, I would ask your daughter-in-law since she is experienced with the breed and with that particular dog.
I have been looking into getting a lgd for our chickens, we have a huge hawk problem. Is there an age limit to getting a pound dog? I have heard they need to “imprint” within the first few months, before 3months old. There are two Pry/Anatonlian mixed that are three months old at a local shelter, but i am not sure if this is too old…what are your thoughts on choosing a pound pup, without knowing its parents, and how old is too old?
I don’t recommend getting a pound dog. There is both imprinting, which happens at puppy age, and there is genetics. Add to that training. Maybe you will get lucky with a pound dog. More likely you’ll be hiring yourself a chicken killer that you need to then train at the cost of losing a lot of your flock. If you are looking for guardian ability the best thing to do is get a dog from someone who has dogs already doing that type of work. As to the breeds you mention being at the pound, have they ever worked around livestock? If not then they are likely chicken killers. Chickens are the hardest livestock to train dogs too work with because chickens push dogs’ hunter reflexes so well.
But, you might get lucky. It does happen. Ask what the dogs did before.
Fascinating post! I’m so glad I read it because I’ve learned some things for training our 5 month old Pyr. She is going to guard our chickens when she’s old enough to be alone with them, but after reading your post, we will ignore the advice we’ve heard to always leave her in the barnyard and never bring her to the house. She’s such a delightful dog, it would have been a shame to lose the close relationship we have now.
For the first few months, we kept her in the house at night and let her go out on or under the back porch during the day. Now we put her in a kennel in the barn at night with our rescue dog, Hero, loose in case the fox comes back. Misty still tries to play with the chickens, so I never leave her unsupervised with them. She’s okay with the Muscovy ducks since one of the drakes took her to task and sent her packing!
Hero is an illustration of what you said about chicken killers. He never killed one, but he’s gnawed the feathers off one and chased a couple, and he was “on probation.” We watched him like a hawk and didn’t give him a chance to get started after another chicken. It took vigilance for many months, but he is now trustworthy with the chickens and actually seems proud to be sleeping in the barnyard at night to guard them. Of course, they get shut in their coop and the male ducks get shut in the chicken tractor, but the two female ducks won’t go up at night because they’re scared of the “Gang of Five” (drakes)! So the girls need guarding, and Hero’s our man until Misty is ready.
I have a Central Asian Shepherd and My buddy has a Kangal, they are best buddies. This was a really great article. We have about 80 acres in Maine and we are sure abundant with wild life. One thing we have done to take special precautions for our guys is gotten them orange kevlar hog collars. Even though they are well equipt to handle themselves(both stand 30″+ and are 160lbs+), we have taken this measure for added protection, plus we don’t want hunters mistaken them for a wolf or coyote. each collar only cost about $40 dollars.
Interesting. I had not heard of “Hog Dog Collars” before but Googled it. These are much like the dayglo wide band collars we make for our dogs to wear during hunting season for the same reason – to increase visibility to hunters and let them know this is a working dog and not a wild wolf or coyote.
We have a shepherd cross that we got from the pound who they think is around 3, two months ago. She barks at our cats a little when she wants to play (but not at us) and now and then barks at our two Tamworths when she seems excited (not often)who are behind a fence but they sniff each other and she will run at the chicken run once a day which doesn’t phase the chickens. After reading your article (to decipher her behavior) I’m wondering if she wants to play with the pigs and chickens?
Also, we have coyotes in the area (have heard them howling a few times) so long term it sounds like it would be good to get a second dog? (we moved to our 17 acre farm 3.5 months ago) After reading a lot of your pig info, both pigs will be in the freezer by July so if we get a second dog we will have time to train them both to be around animals (we’re going to start with ducks and guinea chicks in the spring). Does that sound like a reasonable timeline?
Almost lastly, she gets good (commercial) dog food and homemade treats and the occasional bone but we can’t stop her hunting cat poo (we don’t mind all the other things she finds). Thankfully she doesn’t lick us. Any thoughts on dealing with this?
Finally/Lastly, you mention ‘Then the owner gets upset that the dog can’t read the human maps and know where the human owner’s territory ends. Well, did you piss on the edges?!?’
So we should spread some of our urine at our property’s borders? Just the urine of one of us?
Thanks for all the time you put into your posts and comments. It’s addictive to read in the best way! We are just 20 min from the Vermont border on the Canadian side. So wish we could buy piglets from you!
Yes, it sounds like she would like to play with them. One issue is her play might be too rough. She may need to learn that they’re fragile. Dogs will grab each other and bite pretty hard, pickup another dog and shake it all as part of play. These things can kill something more fragile than them. They do understand about puppies being fragile and how to moderate their play – reinforce that. We use the word Baby for small fragile things they need to be gentle with.
To handle concerted coyote encroachment you need two or more dogs. One dog might be able to setup a boundary and if you pee on the line that will help too. Male pee is better and male dogs are better for this purpose. The scent line is well understood by predators – that is how they post their land.
On the cat poo I would work on first training her “No Touch!” Then you can apply that to things like the cat manure. Work on basic obedience before that though. You first need to have her attention.
I have two australian shepherds they definately chase off preditors when they notice them, air and land, but they tend to stay near the house (expecially when someone is home) rather than following my chicken which free range. what are your thoughts on how to get them to stay closer to my flock? – also loving your website and posts.
Have them walk out with you during chores, walk the perimeters with them and realize that they may not need to actually be out with the flock to be doing their job. Their presence probably drives off predators for a very large radius. The dogs also have far better hearing and sense of smell so it may well be that they’re keeping track of things over a bigger area than you think. The real question is are you losing livestock to predators? If yes then they need to be out there more. If not and you do have predators then they may be having the desired effect.
I had a couple questions and concerns, my wife and I are buying 11 acres and she has mentioned wanting a couple of mini donkeys. Sounds pretty simple, right? Here’s the twist, I have a 4 year old Central Asian Shepherd(LGD), never been around any sort of livestock, except to walk by the occasional goat at the parks petting zoo and to completely ignore them. Donkeys on the other hand have a natural dislike of anything wolf-like or resemblance of a dog. Is he to old to train as use as a live stock guardian and will it be very tough for the donkeys to gain his trust? I thought about muzzling him during introduction and monitoring him and gradually taking the muzzle off, the mini’s would be youngsters not adults, so I’m pretty optimistic. What’s your take?
I have no experience with donkeys so I can’t speak for them. Four years old is not very old. I have trained much older dogs. They are perhaps a little harder to train but mostly it is the untraining that is at issue if they have problem behaviors, not the training for new behaviors. That said, training for livestock guarding and herding is a many year process with continuing education so the biggest problem is that an older dog does not have a long lifespan ahead of it in which to learn and then exercise it’s abilities.
Your thought of muzzling makes me think that you may want to start with basic training on this dog so that it is on voice command prior to working it with the livestock. One key command is “Drop” which is to release anything it might have either in its mouth or in its gaze hold.
What a great source of information! You’ve written a short book here.
I thought I might add that a livestock guardian dog (or any territorial dog, for that matter) is useful in preventing garden predators. Deer, who love the tender, “all you can eat salad bar” in the garden, will always shy away from gardens with vigilant dogs nearby.
Walter, you’ve shared a very keen observation by telling folks about how the male LGDs mark their territory – they do it more frequently and appropriately. Good males know how to mark a perimeter and their scent is different to predators than the females. I’m always amazed at how many people come to my wife and I for pups, (for livestock protection) and are disappointed if we only have males left from the litter.
I need to get better at explaining the more subtle nuances of these dogs to folks, and this post is going to get bookmarked to help me!
Ravens kill many many newborn lambs in our area, and dogs are the only feasable line of defense.
Turned out Kita was right: ravens and crows kill piglets. I caught some at it. Kita and the dogs have a solution though.
I’ll start my question by admitting my ignorance, I haven’t spent very much time around dogs so far in my life. I was wondering how you control your dogs’ breeding. You don’t spay or neuter and you have male and female dogs living together, but you often say that your puppy litters are few and far between. I think I remember you writing once that they aren’t ‘allowed’ to breed at the moment, or something like that. What does that mean, practically?
Also, when you do choose to breed, do you try to bring in outside genetics? When your pack was first becoming established you must have out of necessity, correct? As the generations proceed, has the breeding become more insular? I know that you say inbreeding isn’t much of a problem in the pigs and I can’t think of a good argument for why that wouldn’t be the case with your dogs, that is how pure lines are established after all. Finally, you are extremely selective in your pig breeding. Do you have a similar ideology with your dogs? Do you only allow the very best in your pack to breed? It’s different with the lower population and longer (chosen) generation time, I would think it would be much easier to be discerning with the large numbers and relatively quick generation time of pigs.
Second finally, how actively to you selectively breed your other livestock? Sheep, chickens, ducks?
Within a pack there is a very strong hierarchy which centers around the alpha pair who are mates. This is different than single dogs which are not part of a pack. The result is it is fairly easy to control breeding. Additionally, they don’t come into heat very often so the issue simply doesn’t come up much. Yes, there have been outside genetics that have joined our pack over the decades.
With the livestock we do selective breeding by culling those who we don’t want to breed. Each week some go to market which means we cull 52 times a year. Market age is around six months for pigs. Breeding age is around eight months. The result is that only the best get up to breeding age and have a chance to breed. In the gilts it is only about 5%. In the boars it is only about 0.5% who become breeders. We then cull sows and breeder boars based on their performance and who’s coming up behind them. Boars are kept in breeding herds which the sows and gilts are crossed between.
Good Stuff in here, Walter!
I did notice where an extra carriage return found it’s way into the text.
“Ours guard and herd pigs, chickens, sheep, ducks, geese and ki
ds – the human kind.”
Another thing though – during the section about marking territory, you seem to be joking when you mention LGD’s not knowing where the edge of the territory is because farmers don’t mark their territory. I can’t help but wonder if it would help LGD’s know where the boundaries of a farm are, if the farmer takes a direct hand in marking the territory. This would clearly be easier for pointers than setters… I’m not sure if that would just confuse things though. The farmer is the alpha, would the farmer marking the territory make the LGDs less likely to do so, reducing the benefits of the LGD pack’s presence in some way?
First, thank you for all the time you put into being involved in the online community, both here and elsewhere. Your willingness to freely share your experience has helped me immensely.
I agree with you that removing the entire reproductive system of any animal carries with it serious long term health risks. I have three LGDs – two males and one female – all intact. I do not want to breed them, and I would rather not deal with locking up my female every time she goes into heat, so I am looking into alternatives to the traditional spay/neuter that will spare their hormone producing organs, while still rendering them infertile. Basically the dog equivalent of a tubal ligation or vasectomy.
With this procedure (probably only done on the female), my dogs will still behave as though they are intact – my female will still have her heat cycles and my males will still have their testosterone and “drive”. The social hierarchy amongst my three dogs is stable at the moment. I have a two year old female; a one and a half year old male; and their son, a seven month old male that has lived with them since birth. As the younger male gets older, what is the likelihood that he and his dad will fight over my female, seeing as we won’t be locking her up while she is in heat because she will be sterile? I just don’t want them killing each other.
In your experience, do these things work themselves out without serious injury? Or are we setting ourselves up for disaster here (as some people suggest), if we keep their hormones in play, but don’t separate them during heats? I realize you may not be knowledgeable about the “ovary sparing spay” procedure, but you do have experience running a pack of intact LGDs of varying ages – which is basically what I would have. Thank you for any insight you can give me.
It depends on their personalities. For example, within our pack Cinnamon and Kavi are not natural leaders but they ended up in the leadership positions by outliving and being larger. Kavi, who is currently the pack alpha, only holds that position barely, perhaps reluctantly and mostly I think out of habit. All of the other males, his sons, are now younger than him and they definitely think about challenging him. Mostly they joust with each other. Occasionally they come to fang with Kavi. So far Kavi maintains his edge but I think he would just as soon step aside rather than deal with it.
On the other hand, Kita and Kia were both very dominant sisters and their mother was very dominant. All three had a strong drive to lead and to challenge. It was in their nature.
Again back on the other side of the coin, Romula appears to have no drive to lead and she is omega. Her mother Lili was also omega until she ended up being the sole female and becoming alpha by circumstance. Once alpha, she held that position until her death of old age. Nobody challenged her as the female alpha although I think Kimsa and Katya might have someday. Mostly they challenged each other and Lili ignored their behavior. Miss Manners was she.
I think your idea of a tubal ligation or vasectomy is a good one for dogs you are sure you want to never breed. I don’t know anything about it though. What I can say is that an all intact pack does work. This is how they live in nature too – there is only one breeding pair.
Thank you! We just rescued and Great Pyrenees and she’s a love. She is adapting to her new home in the field well but we do enjoy her company closer to the house. She is still learning her new role and I didn’t want to “spoil” her by bringing her down here too often. I was also wondering how well LGDs do with pigs, so thanks for the info! So far, they have had some contentious encounters over food but otherwise, they seem okay together. It’s not clear that she is actually guarding them. There are a few chickens (left over from the many we lost due to foxes), and she seems okay with them too. We are cautiously optimistic!
Food will be a contention. Setup the dog’s food in an area it can jump into but which keeps pigs out. A high spot is good.
Walter, just what i was lookimg for, Awesome information thanks very much for the insight.
We are just starting out, my Dad raised pigs in highschool, but joined the Navy so growing up we were never in a position to have animals. Now he is retiring and my parents, my husband and I have bought a farm together. My parents both had experience with farm life growing up, my husband and I did not, but we are so excited to raise our own food and have a business we can manage together while raising our family. I just found your blog a couple weeks ago and I have been slightly obsessed!
We’ve only been on our farm for a couple weeks now and haven’t bought animals yet, we have roughly 40 acres. The plan is to start with guineas and chickens because we have a major tick and chigger problem in our area. Then maybe next spring add in a couple milk goats, pigs for ourselves and to sell, and later down the road maybe a cow for ourselves. I had thought a few times about LGD’s but after reading your site I don’t want to do this much without them! And I have about a million questions!
You often say that to train your dogs it’s important to start with basic obedience first then introduce them to the livestock, but you also say to raise them around the animals they’ll be herding. With that mind does should we get birds now? Or after the dogs are trained enough to be around them? with the dogs breaking up bird fights can you keep chickens and guineas together? I’ve heard guineas are very aggressive, and will beat up on the chickens a lot. With the dogs there to monitor things is it doable having them in together? I’ve also heard you really can’t keep guineas in a specific area given that they fly and tend to roam. Do the dogs keep them on your farm? Do you still shut your chickens in at night or can the dogs take over that responsibility?
:) I’m sure I’ll be posting more, thank you so much for all the incredible information you put out there for everyone, and thank you for taking the time to answer questions, I’ve learned so much from all the comments as well as your posts!
PS: FYI I left another comment a couple days ago and forgot to add the numbers to my email address! 🙄 New e-mail. Sorry about that.
I find that chickens do just as well as guineas at hunting ticks and the chickens lay more larger eggs, are better eating and are quieter.
Chickens are a peak training animal for a working dog. If you can train the dog to chickens you can train it to anything I find.
I have a small rescue mutt that I have come to realize maybe a working dog, not sure. She goes into our different pastures and visits all animals, chickens,cows, sheep ect. I have noticed when I’m moving my sheep in at night and a couple of them stray off and don’t follow she will run around them and then if the don’t mind she will nip at the back of a leg. She doesn’t bite them or harm them at all but she does seem to make them come. She will also round up a chicken when they seem to go out to far in the pasture or come out of the pasture. She is not afraid of the cows either as she often joins them in the field and will stand head to head with them. She is just a little thing 7 months and 32 pounds. I have never trained a dog to be anything but potty trained and not leave the yard, they roam freely around our home we have 100 acres but do have a private road we keep them off of. So I’m wondering if this girl is trying to tell me she wants to work the farm ? Our other rescue doesn’t act this way at all. She act like a regular house dog very laid back. And yes She also alerts us when deer come in the yard or other things we don’t necessarily see, although she’s really not a barker any other time!! Thanks for your help in advance!!! If you know of any guardian dogs available we are in search of a couple, we have coyotes and bobcats here but have been very lucky so far. Our daughter saw a coyote in the driveway 2 nights in a row but nothing was harmed!!(she actually swears it was a wolf not a coyote, much larger she said) but nh fish wildlife don’t believe wolves are back in N.H. Yet!!!
Sounds like she has the right instincts.
Enjoyed your article. Struggling to find advice on keeping female siblings for family hobby farm. Some say they will fight, some say it’ll be fine. Am I foolish in taking in two female siblings? Thanks for any insight you can offer!
They are fine, just as non-siblings. Being a sibling has no issue to them.
We are seriously considering a Maremma for our small farm (12 acres). We have chickens and pigs. We are very small scale but coyotes are coming right up to the house. Do you think 1 dog would be ok? I’m not really keen on getting 2 pups. As someone who is very inexperienced with dogs, what is the best way not to screw up? I don’t want to train the dog wrong. If we go ahead with our plan we will be getting a pup from friends who are breeding their guardian dogs.
Good fences plus one dog is a deterrence but may not stop coyotes. Add a second dog and it will pretty much stop coyotes. If you’re dealing with large coyote packs or large areas then three or more dogs should do it. Male dogs not neutered are more of a deterrence than neutered males or females. A puppy is not a deterrence. Training is important to get the most out of the dog’s abilities.
I do realize that a pup won’t solve our problems right now, I think we will still do the puppy route so that I will be able to train it with our flock of chickens. Would you train 2 pups out of the same litter? Or would you recommend us finding a mature dog instead?
I was also happy to read that your dogs interact with people/family as this is what I would really like for our family.
Excellent that you understand. As long as you understand that the pup is the long term solution. For the immediate I would suggest bringing the livestock in at night and having a hot wire around where they stay. Next level is having a very good perimeter fence. See this article Pig Proof Fence. With a little more height and a low outer hot wire that is a good coyote deterrence fence as well.
To have the interaction with family and such the dogs need training and taming to that. They become how you mold them to a large degree. If you just keep the dogs always out in the field with the livestock then they bond most with the livestock and may not bond with the family. Ours are generalized working dogs that do herding, guarding and more and for that the interaction with people is important.
We currently lock everything up at night. Chickens in a coop and the pigs currently are in a wood fence corral with hot wire. The goal is this spring to get the hogs on pasture, so I will read your article. We know we have fencing issues right now, but with the ground still frozen we have to wait till spring thaw.
I was most concerned with the human interaction part as I had heard (there’s that myth!) that guardian dogs don’t do well with family. You have set me at ease a bit. It’ll all be up to me to train. Thank you again for all the advice!
Some people choose to treat the livestock guardian dogs as a fixture out in the paddock and not interact with the dogs. They actively discourage human-dog interaction. This is one way to do things. I don’t do it that way. I personally believe from both theory and real world observation that doing it that way will lead to problems. Instead what I do is lots of interaction with our dogs, training and the results have worked well for us. I strongly believe that to get the most out of the dog’s we need to train them and that also makes them happier.
Great info. Thank you for sharing! We are considering a Great Pry. Currently we have horses, chickens and barn cats. We have a terrible problem with predators ripping the chicken wire on the outdoor run if the horses aren’t in that pen
So the poor birds have been locked up for a week until I can fix it. Eventually they will be in a tractor with electric netting, but that is under construction. We will also add goats down the road. My questions are, 1) We would like a male and the breeder is urging us to get two dogs but they only have one male. Will a sibling pair become a mated pair? I can’t see how they wouldn’t. 2) The breeder has chickens and sheep, no goats. Will that be a problem when we add the goats? 3) Lastly, we are on a property that shares a lake with neighbors. These neighbors toy poodle harasses the chickens as well…will the dogs kill It or just run it off? And the cats that live here?—I realize this is all down the road as the dogs are pups now. Much training will happen before anyone is turned loose, but I’m trying to decide if we are at a good point to get the dogs or if locking everybody up is a better solution for now.
Many thanks again for sharing your knowledge!
First realize I have no experience with Great Pyrenees dogs. I would get a male first but better yet a pair. Yes, siblings may well mate. It is ideal if the dogs are raised with the target livestock but you can cross train later. It is simply more work. Toy poodles chasing your dog’s charges may end up in disrepair, to put it mildly. If you have close neighbors the GP may not be a good choice. Either way you want to have very good fencing.