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Socialising Livestock Guardian Puppies

In the section on Socialising puppies the importance of lots of exposure to situations, environments, people and animals is discussed. This is not able to be done the same way if you have a puppy that is to be a full time livestock guardian, however it is still critical for guardian pups to receive socialisation to develop emotional maturity.

One of the major differences is that you can't just take your pup from it's livestock and go off on outings to socialise. At any rate, the idea of doing this with a pup is so that it becomes a dog you can take anywhere - and this is not the kind of dog you are raising as a livestock guardian - you are raising a dog that will stay with its herd or flock at all times!

What has happened however with some of the methods that are used to raise livestock guarding puppies is to pretty much exclude them from all socialisation and the result has been maladjusted dogs who become stressed at anything out of the normal, do not tolerate people well (sometimes do not really even tolerate their owners well) and can become aggressive. This can then become a dangerous situation when people need to be in the paddocks or the dog needs veterinary attention!

Socialising with people

From a young age you need to let your pup experience meeting and interacting with a variety of people including children. Obviously you want your dog to protect the stock from people intruding to steal or harm the stock, but don't confuse that with thinking this means your dog must not tolerate people at all.

Maremmas and other livestock guardians who do not live with stock and are highly socialised, they may attend shows, they may be therapy dogs, whatever the situation, can be outgoing, friendly dogs. But just watch someone appear threatening to their human flock and you see that protectiveness is a totally different thing to being well socialised. In fact, I would rather a well socialised dog become ready to protect than an unsocialised dog. Which one do you think will handle this better???

The main point is that you need to take the people to your dog to do this socialising.

If you bring your pup out of the paddock, to another area, and initiate a fun, social, playful time with visitors, what do you think will happen when the next visitors arrive? I'm sure you realise the answer is - the pup will turn it's attention to the likelihood of going out again for a social visit with these people, and may attempt to leave the paddock if you aren't coming to get him.

Follow this type of regime:

  • Take the people to the paddock, ask them to wait to be let in
  • Walk through the gate before the visitors and proceed to 'give an introduction' (you are letting the pup know that you are ok with these people coming in)
  • Allow the pup to investigate the people in his own time, and suggest they stay calm and fairly still so the pup can do this
  • Allow the people to pet and interact with your pup in a calm and friendly way
  • Allow the people to interact with the livestock if this is applicable and desired
  • When you leave, do not allow the visitors to pet the pup through the fence or gate, but simply calmly leave

Do NOT allow:

  • petting the pup through the fence or gate,
  • anyone, family or visitors, to play rough games with your pup
  • the pup to jump up on anyone, even you
  • chasing games with anyone

You do not want your dog to play rough with his flock, therefore remaining calm and not initiating rough and chase oriented play with him yourself (or allowing others to do so) is the most effective way of preventing your pup initiating this behaviour with his livestock.

Socialising with animals

From as early an age as possible you need to get your pup socialising with whatever animals are on your farm, and some will need more supervision and direction from you than others.

For example, you have to watch a young pup with chickens as they are frail and prone to flighty behaviour that could cause injury or death if the pup responds too enthusiastically. Similarly large livestock such as cattle could seriously injure a pup without meaning to.

If you have a mixed small farm, you will want to expose your pup to everything that goes on as early as possible - equipment running, all the animals and situations. This is where lead training can be so important as you can keep your pup on lead or long lead whilst the pup gets used to everything and learns boundaries and the differences between the types of animals you have. It's also important that the other animals are able to learn to socialise with your pup.

If you had a herd of goats for example that have only ever experienced dogs as predators, they will need to learn to accept your pup as no threat and a part of their family. Refer to the section on bonding puppies to livestock for further information.

Basic Training

Train your pup to walk on lead as early as possible. Even though you are not going to be walking your livestock guardian in public, you may need to put your dog on a lead for a variety of reasons at some point, and the dog should find this normal and comfortable. Often when bonding a young pup to livestock it is effective to put the pup on a long lead attached to your waist whilst you are doing chores in the paddocks. This allows easy control to pull the pup back for safety, or to disrupt undesirable behaviour. It is most amazing to a pup that from all the way over there you can seem to stop him racing after a chicken or young lamb, and they associate the lead stopping them with the behaviour more than with you.

Train your pup in basic commands such as sit, wait and come.

A livestock guardian was originally a companion to the shepherd who watched over the flock, and as such there was always an easy interaction between them. Your dog should enjoy to see you and others he knows approaching the paddock and be happy to interact with you there. Similarly your dog should then be happy that after a while you will leave again and he is happy to stay with his flock because he wants to be with them.

Lovely video of a working livestock guardian having some obedience training and general handling training in with their livestock.

A mature dog to help out

If you have a mature guardian dog already and introduce a new pup, so much of the work is done for you! Of course you had to do that work for the mature dog when it was a pup. This dog will handle social situations with the livestock, both from the perspective of the pup being safe and the livestock being safe. Maremmas are "manners police" and really demand that everyone plays nice, so a pup learns great boundaries with a mature dog overseeing, and you can relax a little.

More than one guardian

There are many people with smallholding farms that have multiple guardians on the property and successfully take some of their dogs out to shows or social outings.

This situation is being mentioned because many people who are new to the livestock guardian breeds and looking for advice find this confusing and contradictory, and in many ways it is! However, this type of situation is for an experienced owner, it is not the way you would start with your first pup and it will not work on large farms with heavy predator threat. The owner would never remove every guardian dog from the property and go out for the day, this would leave the stock at risk. However on a smaller property, if there were way 6 guarding dogs and the owner took a pair to a show for the day, and 4 dogs are enough to cover the property, then well socialised dogs handle this very well.


male maremma playing with his pups displaying the loving nature of these livestock guardian dogs

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