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  This is flawed, outdated and often results in bad outcomes.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.