For those who raise livestock in the presence of predators a livestock guardian dog (better, two or more) is an invaluable asset, but for some, getting a good one and adapting it to the homestead can be a challenge. This kind of dog is unique in its “wiring” and has a unique role and function which other breeds of dog can only somewhat approximate. “Training,” too, is different than for other kinds of canines.
Five principles for training a livestock guardian puppy
Livestock Guardians are different than other kinds of dogs.
Normally, when one trains a dog, they actually teach it to perform a task. One doesn’t teach the LGD (Livestock Guardian Dog) to do the specific tasks it’s supposed to do. Instead, one builds relationship with the dog, guides in regard to exactly what to protect, and give guidance in regard to appropriate behavior. The rest… the dog will pretty much do naturally. It is said that the livestock guardian dog is “hard wired” for its task. I agree. Yet they do still require guidance.
Never leave a “trainee” unsupervised.
Puppies are, well… they’re puppies. Just like children they require supervision. Without it they will most certainly get in trouble, and sometimes that trouble can be really serious. An unsupervised puppy can easily get hurt or killed. Additionally, unsupervised, a LGD puppy can hurt or kill the very livestock its supposed to protect. This is especially true in regard to poultry. To the uninitiated puppy, fluffy, squawky birds appear to be amazing chew toys. The first step for training a livestock guardian puppy is to keep it kenneled until it can be supervised. Then, at chore time, take the pup with you. Make this a fun and special time for the pup, and use every opportunity to show it how to relate to the animals as well as do’s and don’ts of the homestead.
It’s very important to cultivate a strong relationship with the pup.
One of the most essential facets of “training” a livestock guardian puppy is to build a relationship of love and trust. Every time we take that pup out for chores we spend time “loving on him.” We pet and rub the pup. We tell them what a wonderful dog they are, and we express our happiness about being able to spend time together! I frequently “reel in” a pup just to lavish him with more praise and attention. I want them to know that I love having them with me. Relationship is “the balance” in your “dog training bank account,” which provides the “funds” for loyalty and correction. My dogs don’t do what they know I don’t like and are more motivated to protect the livestock, myself and my family because of relationship and just like a child, the dog knows if you genuinely care and connect with it.
Spend time with your dog.
It takes time to train a livestock guardian puppy! Raising a puppy is much like raising a child. Love/relationship is spelled T.I.M.E. There is no substitute for time with your dog. Some of the most challenging behavioral issues can be resolved before they become serious simply by spending time together and showing the dog what you do and what you want. Pups innately want their owner’s approval. By supervising a pup while we do chores we show them what we like and what we expect. They naturally seek to please. Time with the dog is, in itself, is one of the rewards of having one. My dogs are my eyes and ears in the dark, my friends and the source of great pleasure. It’s hard to imagine life without them.
Here, Sensei, our newest LGD takes a class on butchering rabbits.
Homesteading Edu Link: Always Trust the Dog
You cannot Rush Training a Livestock Guardian Puppy.
These dogs mature at differing rates but all of them mature slowly compared to the smaller breeds and dependability and consistency come with maturity. A really good, albeit immature dog cannot be trusted. It will get into trouble at some point. That doesn’t make it a bad dog. It makes it an immature dog. I have actually rescued adolescent LGDs which were on the verge of being put down for being “misbehaved.” So far, in every case they only lacked relationship, guidance and time. Every one turned out to be a good, dependable guardian. Some dogs may take four years to reach maturity. Most can start to be allowed out overnight at around 10 months. They’ll do their job, but maybe with a few mistakes. Just as with children, allow for mistakes. They’re worth it and they’ll grow up soon enough!