GPCA Breeders and the Family Farm Dog


People shopping for a Great Pyrenees for a LivestockGuardian dog often report difficulty persuading a reputable,GPCA-affiliated member to sell them a dog for that purpose.

The reasons for this are many, but most of them come down to a fear of the unknown. Where will my pup live? Will it getenough to eat? Will it be loved? What will happen if it can't, or won't, work? Can it be happy with only sheep/goats/llamas for company? Among GPCA members can be found the best, the most caring Great Pyrenees breeders in the world. Some of these members have been able to create a presence in the livestock guardian market, but the majority of members who breed don't know how to enter this market and still ensure the health and safety of their pups.

['Luciano' with pup]

Needs of the LGD

The needs of a Livestock Guardian Dog are the same as that of well-cared for livestock: good fencing, shelter from the elements, fresh water at all times, adequate feed and good veterinary care. We won't consider the range dog here -the ones that care for hundreds of animals over thousands of acres - but focus instead of the needs of the family farm for a dog to protect sheep, goats or llamas, and probably a few chickens, kittens and children as well.

In the 1970's, it was believed that petting a Livestock Guardian Dog spoiled it for work; today, we know that a dog that receives regular human interaction within its own territory is a happy, well-adjusted guardian. Today, a pup that is raised "in the barn" still receives regular attention and training - it's just that the attention andtraining have a different focus than for the house-raised pup.

Choosing the right pup


How does a breeder who has never placed a Livestock Guardian Dog know which pup is most likely to work out on a farm? Watch the interaction of the pups within the litter. Is there one that is more independent than the others, that tends to explore earlier and, when petted, breaks off a bit earlier than the others to go about its own business? A pup that constantly solicits petting won't be happy without humans around all the time; the one that says "Hi, you can pet me", then goes about its own business is the one you are looking for. The self-confident, independent pup has the best chance of living a full, happy life on the farm where visits by neighbors, workers and children are a way of life. Don't choose a pup with high "prey drive" - the one that always chases the ball, or the cat, or its littermates. This translates poorly to the farm where animals are to be protected, not chased.

Check for sensitivity to sound. When you drop the feedpan on the floor, the prospective farm dog notices the sound and goes to investigate; it doesn't run away or cower in fear. Observe how they react to being disciplined by their mother or mauled by littermates. You don't want to pick a pup that is so bodily sensitive that it sulks after being nipped - look for the one that ignores the bumps and scrapes of puppyhood; that pup isn't likely to retaliate if hurt by the livestock.

Starting the new pup


When the 9-12 week old pup arrives at its new home, it should have a pen, approximately the size of an exercise pen (4 x 4 ft) already set up in the barn. A companion - either a lamb or a kid - just about the same weight as the pup should have already been selected and placed in the pen."Bummers" - lambs or kids that have to be bottle-fed several times a day - are the best companions because the schedule for their feeding coincides with that of the young pup. The frequent visits allow the caregiver to supervise the interaction of the two animals, being certain neither is injuring the other. The companion both substututes for the pup's littermates, and teaches appropriate inter-species interaction. Training of the pup - leash breaking, learning "sit", "wait" (at the gate),"come" - are all done in the area that the pup will eventually inhabit with the adult animals. This gives the older livestock and pup time to get used to each other.

As the pup gets older, it and its companion are moved to a small training area (a half-acre or less) with electric-fence wire at the top and bottom of the 4-ft high woven-wire fence. Farm electric fencing is designed to givesharp, short, intermittent shocks when touched; people and animals cannot be electrocuted by them; no burns are inflicted - a single contact with an electric fence is enough to teach all but the most hard-headed adult Pyr that fences are not to be climbed nor dug under. Once the pup has learned to respect the electric-wire on the fence and no longer checks to see if it's on, she's ready to be moved out with the older animals. This can occur anytime from four to eight months of age, depending on the dog, the livestock and the terrain.

Learning to bark appropriately


At about six months, the pup will begin to bark at strange sounds. The period from six to nine months is the time during which the dog's barking habits are established.The caregiver must check on every incidence of barking and either praise the pup for barking appropriately, or scold - and shake if necessary - for inappropriate barking. If the caregiver is certain the pup is barking inappropriately, and it won't quit, then a "time out" period in its pen in the barn is in order. If close attention is paid to the pup's barking during this period, and consistent reactions are forthcoming from the caregiver, the pup will develop into a reliable dog that can trusted when it barks.

Chasing stock


If the pup is still chasing livestock at six months, extra attention needs to be paid to stopping this behavior right away. A pup that is still chasing at nine months may have too high a prey drive to be trustworthy with stock. If the pup hasn't been neutered yet, six to nine months is the time to do it, before it has to focus full-time on the stock

Neutering


To be fully reliable, a Livestock Guardian Dog must be neutered; an intact male will leave the stock to follow the scent of a bitch in heat - even a coyote - and an intact female will have to be withdrawn from the flock for three weeks, twice a year to prevent accidental breeding. Also,having neutered working dogs removes the temptation for the owner to consider the livestock dogs just another "cash crop". There are enough poorly-bred dogs out there already without our contributing to their numbers. Many GPCA breeders of Livestock Guardian Dogs have taken advantage of early (6-8 wk) spaying or neutering and report excellent results.

Finally, take advantage of the knowledge accumulated by other GPCA members who place livestock dogs. When your puppy-owner has a question you can't answer, get on the phone or computer, and contact a more knowledgeable member. That way, both your puppy-buyer and you learn the answer and you will be able to help the next one with the same question.Even though you yourself don't have livestock, you can learn enough from your puppy-people who do to confidently place part of your next litter on a Family Farm. No dog is happier than one that has a real job to do - and the Livestock Guardian Dogs know their jobs are important.

Sources of further information

Contact these GPCA members for additional information about Great Pyrenees as Livestock Guardians:

Linda Weisser
Kerry Kern Woods
Catherine de la Cruz - Chair, GPCA Livestock Guardian Committee
Or see one of these pages for further information:
Livestock Guardian Dog Ass'n

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