Realistic Expectations for Livestock Guardian Pups

I want to take a few minutes to address some common misconceptions about livestock guardian pups and what they can and cannot handle when they first come home.

Housing

There is an old school of thought that an 8-12 week pup should be immediately placed out with his stock to get to work.  Some folks go so far as to suggest these dogs should be minimally interacted with in order to preserve the bond between pup and the stock he’s guarding.  This is flawed, outdated and often results in bad outcomes.  Just don’t do it, please.

Instead, let’s take a look at what you can realistically expect when you bring your puppy home.

Spend any time with your puppy and you will realize that developmentally, he is on par with a young child, elementary school aged perhaps.  Would you send your son or daughter to work at that age?  Would you expect them to have the physical, mental or emotional maturity to handle a dangerous job?  What do you think the outcome would be if a pack of coyotes moved on a just weaned pup out alone in the pasture?  Could he handle it?  I’d suggest the odds are definitely not in his favor.

So why do we continue to perpetuate the myth that a pup is ready to work the day he leaves his home pack?  Sure, it can and does work out, but in the case of an active predator issue, you’re merely giving your predators one more meal.  What about the mental and emotional fallout?  I’ve seen the stress single adult dogs carry when they’re working solo.  An immature pup is going to have so much more of a burden out on his own.

If you’re bringing home your first livestock guardian pup and he has no adult dogs to mentor under and be protected by, make plans to keep him protected while he matures.  The ideal solution is to bring him inside with you while he is young and vulnerable.  This helps you with the number one most important factor in LGD success – the bond between handler and dog.  It also helps your pup start from a place of safety and expand his duties naturally as his confidence grows.  For more learning on this style of pup rearing, I can’t recommend the Facebook group Training Support for Livestock Guardian Dogs enough.

While raising them up indoors is the ideal, I understand it is also not an option for everyone.  If you are not able to bring your pup in to grow with you in the beginning, manage him the way you do the animals he’s there to protect when you don’t have a dog – lock him safely up at night in a predator proof area, be present with him when possible during the day to keep predators at bay and protect him securely as he comes of age.

For our own pups, we do offer training packages that allow them to stay here longer, learning from the pack and safely within the confines of a group of mature dogs.  I believe bringing them home at 12 weeks to begin the bonding process is the best way, but sometimes that just isn’t practical or feasible.

If you have mature livestock guardians already, you’re in a perfect situation to add a pup.  In those cases, your new pup can often merge into the existing pack to learn from them, but don’t forget to focus on your personal bond with your pup because it is the foundation on which a successful partnership is built.

Pups and Livestock

Will your pup be safe with stock when you bring him home?  This depends on a number of factors but to keep realistic expectations, the general answer is “no.”  Our pups are born and raised with the goats, but they have parents to teach them and a handler–me–out there a lot to work on corrections.  Some can stay their entire puppyhood with the more timid and young stock, but some go through phases where they want to play, chase and worry the young stock.

When planning how to manage your new puppy, expect that during the first year to year and a half, he may go through similar phases where he does boneheaded things and needs a time out of sorts.  For us, the buck pen is the time out because the bucks will not take the abuse.  You may need to have a smaller pen in the middle of your livestock area or on the perimeter.  While I advocate tether training to be used in emergency situations, I don’t advocate long term tying.  You have a livestock guardian to protect against predators and tying him will just leave him ultra vulnerable to those very same predators.

If house time is an option, those phases can be a good opportunity to come back in the house for a little more bonding time.  Like with a toddler, acting out is often a cue to engage more closely with the pup for a time.  More positive attention and quality time leads to more confident and loved dogs who are more responsive to correction.

Poultry

Training to poultry is one of the harder challenges with livestock guardian pups.  It is better to expect that your pup is not reliable with poultry for at least the first year and sometimes all the way through to maturity at 2-3 years.  Yes, you can work on correcting and training–and you should–but do it with the expectation that all that work might not pay off until maturity.

Plan on being able to consistently keep your pup away from your poultry in the beginning.  As he demonstrates responsiveness to your training and correction, he can have more access to poultry.

Do some dogs work well with poultry as pups?  Yes, absolutely.  But generally speaking, it’s better to plan on separate areas for now so you’re better able to handle any hurdles that may come up in the early months.

While all of this may paint a somewhat bleak picture of your envisioned time in the first year, many pups can and do work well from the beginning.  Prepare for the worst, expect for the best.

 

 

 

10 Steps to Livestock Guardian Dog Wildfire Preparedness

It’s wildfire season again.  Up here in eastern Washington, late summer brings us the perfect conditions for wildfires and this year seems to be even drier than normal.  A spark can turn into hundreds or even thousands of acres in heart stopping short time.  A fire several miles away can be at your back door before you’ve had time to make all the preparations necessary for evacuation.

As I write this, we have 15 sheep evacuees and their companion livestock guardian pups taking it easy in a pasture on our place.  While they’re resting comfortably, their home remains threatened and we await the news of the final outcome.  My heart goes out to the family while my mind goes to the steps we all can take to help make an evacuation of our livestock guardian dogs go as smoothly as possible.  These steps to livestock guardian wildfire preparedness can help you, your dogs and their foster home transition with less stress on everyone involved. Continue reading “10 Steps to Livestock Guardian Dog Wildfire Preparedness”

Creating a Feeding Station for Livestock Guardian Dogs

Before we got pigs, we just had a bowl of food out for the dogs free choice.  Those days were so innocent, so pure, so carefree.  Then came the pigs. <cue ominous music>

Now, I’ve had all kinds of livestock for most of my life, but nothing prepared me for life with pigs.  They are an entirely different animal altogether.  I remember the first time we were moving two of our little sweet adorable piglets out of one pen and into another.  Everything was going great, they were following a bucket of grain and we were thrilled with our success.  Then they quit coming.  I looked back to see those two sweet little angels ravenously devouring a whole chicken we’d fed the dogs, bones crunching in their mouths as they contentedly snorted and chewed.  Whoa. Continue reading “Creating a Feeding Station for Livestock Guardian Dogs”

Fencing for the Livestock Guardian Dog

My heart jolted out of my body for probably the 4,000th time in a month to the sound of a honking horn. In the weeks since moving to our new farm, situated right next to a paved road, it had seemed like one catastrophe after another and the honking horn was a sure clue that yet another disaster was unfolding right outside.

Blaze, our benevolent Great Pyrenees, had once again escaped the pasture where she lived and was out on the road stopping cars. This is a 50 MPH road, so you can imagine the chaos that ensued. She would refuse to move, barking at these evident trespassers and nothing we could do short of dragging her back off the road would make her stop. This was happening at the same time as the neighbor issue and I was over capacity for dog related stress. Continue reading “Fencing for the Livestock Guardian Dog”

When Your Neighbor Hates Your Livestock Guardian Dogs

Nearly two years ago, we packed up everything we owned, including 17 goats and their 2 livestock guardian dogs, and moved to our new home, a beautiful paradise you see in all the photos on this website.  It’s the place of dreams, a place I wake up every day and thank God for allowing us to buy.  Here, at last, we could fulfill our dream of becoming a sustainable farm, able to withstand life’s financial and social storms.  We were so eager to begin that we worked until midnight the day of closing to get our beds moved and sleep in our new home.

We’d lived in the house we moved from for our entire marriage and our entire goat owning career.  Nothing prepared me for the enormity of a move that involved both livestock and small children.  I’d say it took almost a full year to finally begin to feel settled in.  We were very blessed to have a fully fenced and cross fenced property to move to, but miniature goats and determined livestock guardian dogs will find ways to get out. Continue reading “When Your Neighbor Hates Your Livestock Guardian Dogs”

Cost of Making Homemade Dog Food

We’re still in the early stages of being 100% kibble free and making our own dog food, so I’ll continue to update this post as the details become clearer.

Prior to making the switch, we were spending $4.55 per day for dog food, which gives us quite a bit of cost to work with.  If we pay the same amount but feed them homemade food instead, I’d count it a win for the health benefits.

How Much To Feed Per Day?

Juliette de Bairacli Levy says a healthy collie adult should eat 2 pounds per day with this method.  Collies average 60 pounds full grown.  Our four dogs average 66 pounds, but LGDs eat less for their weight than other dogs their size.  We’ve been averaging about 6 pounds of kibble per day (fed free choice) before switching so I’m basing our current rations on that and will adjust both the ration and this article if things change considerably.  Levy also mentions dogs eat less on this diet than on an “unnatural diet.”
Continue reading “Cost of Making Homemade Dog Food”

Our Journey Begins: Ditching Dog Food

For years now I have wanted to get away from kibble in my dogs’ diets.  It is unnatural, laden with chemicals and filled with things we wouldn’t necessarily choose to feed ourselves.  I have a six year old German Shepherd who, after having mandatory vaccines to be boarded one year, has suffered off and on with skin conditions and nervous issues.  He is sensitive to foods and has never seemed to regain full health after his ordeal.  It is mainly for him that we are finally jumping into feeding dogs naturally, with no kibble.

The thing that has held me back from making this move is the many conflicting recommendations on how best to feed dogs homemade food.  On one end of the spectrum you have the raw camp saying that dogs must only eat raw meats, bones and offal and nothing else.  On the other end is a personal hero, Paul Gautschi of Back to Eden fame, who is feeding his dogs only fruits, vegetables and eggs all grown on his property.  His dogs are sleek, healthy and vibrant, a sure testament to the fact that dogs do not need meat to thrive.  With so many opinions, it’s easy to get caught up in indecision.
Continue reading “Our Journey Begins: Ditching Dog Food”