Training and Caring for Your Livestock Guardian Dog Puppy

Training and Caring for Your Livestock Guardian Dog Puppy

I could not resist introducing this topic with the above title, but in truth, for a genetically-predisposed, born-on-a-working-farm livestock guardian dog, describing their development progress as “training” is a bit over-stating it.  In my experience, with my dogs, it is very important not to introduce them to situations before they are ready.  Their affinity towards protecting their herd, family, and land comes naturally and does not need any work on our part.  What we contribute to their development is not allowing them to develop bad habits by putting them in situations they are not developmentally ready to handle.

Most crucial is avoiding the exposure of a puppy to any type of livestock

11-week old puppy with 6-week old doeling

that the puppy will want to play with.  Lambs and baby goats are fun and bouncy and may be way too tempting for puppy play.  Chickens will run and fly and squawk as an excited puppy runs to them, turning the chasing (and catching) into a super-fun game.  It may seem harmless when the puppy is small,but your strong, smart puppy is learning and growing every day…and learning to be rough with the farm animals as they get bigger is definitely not what you want!  Watch them carefully during their first year as keeping them safe from learning that behavior is much better than needing to correct it as it happens.

2017 kids living it up - Jasper Farm Nubians
Peaches at 15 months

The most challenging age period can vary a bit from dog to dog, and we’ve had dogs who have never been challenging, so it is possible you may get lucky on that front.  Being extra vigilant when your puppy is about 6 months to 12 months, possibly extending to 18 months, will pay off in years of ease.  While not physically mature at 12 months, we have observed a significant mellowing-out in the dogs as they reach that year-old mark.

Ideally, the livestock guardian dog puppy will have a mature dog as a role-model, and non-aggressive yet no-nonsense livestock to spend their developmental puppy-hood with.  The livestock should be non-aggressive so as not to cause the puppy to be afraid of the animals, but no-nonsense in not allowing puppy naughtiness or general hyper-activity around them.  With our goats, that usually means the herd queen giving the puppy a firm head butt and then carrying on with whatever she was doing (not stalking the puppy with more head-butting).  Our verbal correction and subsequent lavish praise when the puppy backs off strengthens this learning process, but of course we can’t be with them all the time, and the genetically strong livestock guardian dog really just needs appropriate correction in a herd environment that is appropriate to their age.

Raising the single livestock guardian dog puppy can be challenging, as the puppy will need to play, and needs to be allowed to play.  This is much easier if you have another puppy or an older dog who will tolerate the puppy play.  In a situation without another dog available to play with the puppy, it is necessary (and humane!) to be sure the puppy has a play outlet – puppy-safe toys and you or the rest of the human family and friends.

The puppy is ready, and should, sleep outside in the barn, near or with the herd, as soon as they come home.  If the weather is bitterly cold, be sure they are curling up with other animals for body heat or have a snug spot where they can be out of the weather directly.  It is ok, but not necessary, to provide them with a heat source as long as you can ensure they are not able to chew on it.  We do not advise removing the puppy from the barn and the herd to bring them in the house.  However, as you are the person closest to your puppy, trust your gut and the situation.

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