The following are steps we recommend to our clients that are bringing a pup to their farm to serve as a livestock guardian.
These steps assume that your Great Pyrenees was bred as a working dog, comes from working parents and was imprinted and lived with livestock for his first 8 weeks of life.
- Establish home base (Before pup arrives.)
Home base is our term for where the dog will eat, rest and consider his home. For a successful bonding, home base should be as close to the livestock as possible, preferably with direct access to the animals (with the exception of poultry).
We recommend setting up a small crate that the pup can be housed in at night for the first few evenings at home. The crate will provide additional security as well as direction on where home base is. Working pups will take great comfort being with their livestock - it’s where they were made to be.
The most common mistake people make when bringing home their pup is thinking the puppy is too small to be left at his home base. Instead, they bring the pup to the house or garage. This makes it difficult to transition the pup to where he belongs and impedes the bonding process.
- Make arrangements for food and water. (Before pup arrives.)
A working dog must always have access to food and water away from where the livestock can get to it. If stock smell dog food, they will try to eat it. Once a puppy thinks he has to protect his food from the livestock, he will no longer view them as part of his flock and instead will view them as a threat. A timid pup can be scared off by this and never bond correctly. An aggressive pup can start down the road of aggression towards livestock and also will not bond correctly.
We have self feeders in the walkways of our barns. Our dogs have access to dog food 24 hours a day, but never where sheep can get to it.
- Allow the bonding process to happen. (Upon arrival.)
Working dogs will have spent their entire lives up to this point with livestock. They will have been imprinted from birth with the scents and sounds of their animals. Once your pup arrives home, an important process is starting - the critical bonding period. The pup, having been pulled from his litter mates, is now searching for his flock to bond with. The first weeks at his farm are the most crucial to establishing his bond.
If you expect your pup to be a working dog and truly bond to the livestock, he needs to be placed in his home base and spend nearly all of his time in the first few weeks with the animals. His human social time should always happen at home base but kept to a minimal during the first five days or so.
A dog who spends his time with his human family will bond with them, and view his humans as his flock. This is a great way to create a loyal family guardian and pet - but it is not a great way to create an loyal livestock dog.
A Pyrenees who bonds to his human family first will be less likely to engage in evening guarding of stock and more likely to wander during the day. Wandering often starts when a dog bonded to his human family goes off looking for them when they have left for the day.
- Introduce more human socialization. (After the first week home, with socialization time slowly increasing over the next month.)
This step will be done to different degrees at each farm, depending on expectations of the dog. At a minimum, most of us want to be able to catch our working dogs for health checks and routine vet care, although some of the best working dogs in the country are near impossible to catch.
After a week or so of minimal contact, it’s time to start introducing human interaction to your pup. You should have already been socializing some, but now you can increase the time spent and even have some play time. If your farm needs dogs to stay strictly with livestock, your human socialization will be minimal. If you’re wanting to enjoy companionship with your dog as well, you can gradually increase the time you spend with him.
Socialization time should still always occur at or near home base.
Some other quick tips to think about:
- Do not attempt to use these tips with a Pyrenees that was not bred as a working dog and started as a working dog. It’s unfair to expect a puppy bred as a pet to understand such a dramatic change in environment and the dog likely does not have the instincts needed to understand what is going on.
- Otherwise, remember your pup was bred for this. He feels more comfortable, safe and secure outside with livestock than he will in the house - trust us!
- Keep an eye out for overly aggressive livestock, especially if your stock aren’t used to having a dog. Keep an eye on overprotective and new mammas as well. Aggressive stock can intimidate a pup and negatively impact the bonding process.
- Developing a poultry dog requires more guidance on your part. Discuss that process with your breeder. Eventually, we will write a piece on that as well.
- Get your dog spayed or neutered. It’s an old MYTH that an in-tact dog will work better. A neutered or spayed dog will focus on woyrking 365 days a year and is less likely to start roaming.
Good luck and enjoy your new security system! A good LGD is quite literally worth their weight in gold.