A little over a year ago, we took a leap and acquired our farm’s first ever livestock guardian dogs. Yes, I said dogs as in more than one! We purchased TWO Great Pyrénées puppies within a couple months of each other. We’re sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly about our experiences with our LGDs thus far. To be clear, we do not advise raising more than one pup at a time! Not only is it twice the work, but it puts the dogs at risk of experiencing littermate syndrome, among other issues. It was a calculated risk on our part, and although it seems to have paid off, we don’t plan to do it again in the future.
Our chosen breed of LGD, the Great Pyrénées, has been bred for thousands of years to work with livestock, and it shows. Their protective behaviors and gentleness towards the goats are instinctual. Because of this, we’ve done relatively little training with our dogs, other than basic obedience and correcting a few energetic puppy behaviors. We were careful to select purebred Great Pyrénées whose parents were also working dogs to ensure the greatest chance of success within our farming operation.
Not only are our dogs excellent with the goats, they have proven themselves to be gentle with our ducks, our chickens, and even our new barn cat. They are incredibly affectionate towards everyone they have met, although they put up an intimidating front with strangers and delivery drivers.
They’re HUGE! While their size may give them an advantage over coyotes and other predators, it also means that they are apt to knock over small children, elderly people, and anyone who’s unsteady on their feet. Because they are large, they also consume large quantities of food, which means that we spend a considerable amount each month at the feed store.
Although the dogs took to the goats readily, the goats weren’t keen on the dogs at first. Our goats had never been exposed to friendly dogs before, so of course they perceived the new canines as a threat. We had to carefully supervise their interactions while the puppies were young, in order to prevent the goats from injuring or terrorizing the puppies. Placing a young dog with aggressive stock can quickly ruin the dog’s working career by making them fearful or resentful. Puppies must be protected at all costs!
Food aggression is real with these guys! “Resource guarding” is a common behavior in livestock guardian dogs. To avoid dog on dog and dog on goat violence, we ended up feeding the dogs in crates. Although this may not be feasible when the dogs are moving from pasture to pasture, it works for us right now. Each dog has a safe space where they can eat in peace.
Sanitary trims… Our male, Thor, needs to have a sanitary trim approximately once every month, to avoid having dog poop stuck to his fur and a potential intestinal blockage. He is fairly cooperative about allowing us to trim the long hair around his rear end with clippers, but he certainly doesn’t enjoy it, and neither do we.
Although our dogs have had few behavioral issues to date, we are not out of the woods yet. Livestock guardian dogs can’t be considered fully trained until they reach 2.5 to 3 years of age. Until then, we’re keeping our fingers crossed!
If you’re considering adding a livestock guardian dog to your farm, I highly recommend reading Livestock Protection Dogs: Selection, Care and Training by Orysia Dawydiak & David Sims. This book has proven to be an invaluable resource for us throughout this process.