Training the Sarplaninac to be a LGD (Livestock Guardian dog)
Your pup has had an initial start in become a LGD. The pups have been raised and socialized with sheep from 5 weeks old. The pups have been allowed to interact with the sheep and have been housed in a pen adjacent to the sheep corral. Here are a number of tips and advice to help you raise your pup to be a successful guardian. I will assume that you will have taught the pup his name, to walk on a lead, accept being tied up and to come when called as these are basic commands every dog should respond to.
When you bring you pup home I would make sure you have made a puppy proof kennel or run within the barn/corral/pen of the livestock that it is going to guard as an adult dog. This kennel needs to be very well fenced so that the pup cannot escape and does not learn to find holes to escape from! We use cattle panels with hog panels cut to the size of each panel. The hog panels are about 85 cm tall with the mesh starting small at the bottom and getting bigger to the top. The pup needs to be protected from bad weather and needs a warm and safe place to live. In this pen is a warm, dry and shaded place for the pup to sleep and eat. The pen should be big enough also to house the adult dog in times of need. The pup must be able to see, smell and hear the livestock at all times and also if you have an older dog to see how that dog interacts with the stock. The stock also needs to see and smell the pup to become accustomed to the new pup. When you are feeding or doing chores around the stock let the pup run free to directly interact with the animals. Supervise what he is doing and correct all unwanted behavior, even if this behavior is play full towards the livestock. I would reprimand the pup for chasing stock, pulling wool, rough playing, chewing on legs/ears etc. I would be very strict and very direct with the pup that this is not acceptable behavior. In a young pup appropriate behavior is butt smelling and submissive behavior to the stock (rolling on back, small squinty eyes, no direct eye contact, moving away). It is your job to protect the pup from stock that will hurt it or bully it around. The pup needs to feel safe and confident with the stock to be able to bond with the animals. A pup that is hurt will become fearful and would either want to run away from the stock or might react aggressively back, injuring the stock. The pup needs to learn to respect the stock and not just barge through and bump the stock aside. Often an older well trained guardian dog will teach the pup manners but if you do not have such a dog YOU need to teach it the rules of interaction! Most problems with LGD are that they are not supervised enough and bad traits are allowed to develop. As the pup grows allow it more space and interaction with the stock, but remember that it is not a guardian dog until it is at least 2 years old. When you want to compare the maturity of your pup, compare each month in age of the pup to one year in a child. You would also not expect a 9 year old (9 month old pup) child to have to protect your home from intruders. You cannot expect that from your pup either!!I believe in interaction with your LGD to help create a bond with you, the dog and the livestock. I don’t believe in half feral guardian dogs that cannot be handled! However, all the interaction with the dog has to take place at the sheep.
Do not bring the pup to the house for playtime as this will encourage the pup to leave the sheep and go and look for a good time AWAY from the stock. His play time with you, his feeding and living is at the stock. When you take him for walks, the walks must be in the sheep and stock pastures so that he knows what the boundaries are. I would never walk him outside these areas. All these tips will help teach your dog to stay with the stock and stay within the pastures. Don’t let him make mistakes, make the right thing easy to do for the young dog.
If you have reliable stock and can pen the young dog with a few ewes/goats this would greatly stimulate the bonding process. The stock must be non aggressive to the young pup, even so the pup will need supervision to prevent the pup “playing’’ with the stock. I don’t believe that a guardian dog should be raised with young lambs/bummers or bottle animals as the pup outgrows these lambs very quickly and the pup can become too strong and rough in its interactions with the lambs. I prefer older and larger animals that treat the pup kindly but do not accept any rough behavior. Use your own judgment as to when you feel the pup can be left unsupervised with the stock, normally around 6-8 months. A good sign is when the pup follows or stays with the sheep when you leave. It is not wise to leave a 4-6 month old pup in a distant pasture as it can easily become a target for the predators and is defenseless against them at this stage. The pup could also feel abandoned and encourage it to look for a way to escape back to the farm, yard or even other dogs. When he is about 6 months old it is a good time to teach him to respect (electric) fencing. I usually place the sheep and dog in a small pasture surrounded by electric sheep fencing. I then walk away and leave the pup to learn that the fence is no good. After a day, I will then let the pup loose and just let it figure out that it should not go near the fence. I will also teach the pup that gate ways are also hot by running a few stands of electric wire in front of the gate. It is really vitally important that your dog stays on your farm so respecting fences are important to learn. The dog must never figure out that he can escape! Your neighbor will also appreciate it if you keep your dog in your pastures warn people that you have a guardian dog on patrol. Sign post your property so that people know you have a guardian dog at your stock and on the property.
THE YOUNG DOG:
The pup will go through various stages in its development. As with human children it will also go through a puberty stage. This can be anywhere from 9 months old until 2 years! During this phase you can expect a whole range of (unwanted) behaviors from previously being a reliable dog to now being rough with the stock. You can expect things such as wool pulling, chasing, chewing ears escaping etc. Go back to placing the teenager under supervision and kenneling him when you are not around to correct unwanted behavior. He may need a drag for a while until this phase passes. Try to be understanding of this puberty behavior however you need to stay firm, resolute and consequent towards the dog.
The Sarplaninac does not show any different behavior patterns as many other livestock guardian dog breeds.
Always feed the pup in its own area AWAY from the stock. Sheep and goats seem to love dog food and will bully the pup away from his feed. This will only result in unwanted food aggression behavior. The pup needs its own space to be able to rest and eat without the sheep pushing it around. I like to feed my dog a large portion of its diet in the form of raw meaty bones and offal. I do supplement with commercial dog food a number of days in the week.
Your young guardian dog is not ready to be around newborn, baby lambs and kids. He should only be allowed to interact with these babies once he is reliable with the stock and has matured. This is normally after two years, the sight and smell of blood and afterbirths could encourage inappropriate behavior. Only mature and trustworthy dogs should be around birthing, always supervise the young dog. Here is a film of our male dog Beli in the lambing barn, this was his first time experiencing lambing and was under supervision. Click here to watch this film.
Wrong behavior Patterns
Here is a list of behaviors that need to be watched for and some possible solutions. These behaviors are not age related and can occur at any stage. Do realize that if the dog shows these behaviors you need to take direct action to curb them before it becomes a habit. Habits are really hard to break. Consider also if you have given the young dog enough supervision.
Injury or killing stock is most often is caused during rough play, stalking, injury to a sick or old animal, to newborn or young stock. This is correctable behavior but does need working on.Play/chase: often in pups between 5 and 12 months old. They see the sheep as litter mates and try to engage them in play. The will also tend to want to play chase and pull wool during these games. They do outgrow this behavior however need to be removed from the stock when they do this. Placing the pup with older stock that doesn’t run away will also discourage this game. Throw something at the pup and seriously reprimand it for this behavior. Sometimes the pup picks on a specific animal and keeps bothering it, remove the animal so that the pup cannot have access to it. Reprimand it. Sometimes a dangle stick or chaining to tire temporarily can prevent this chase behavior.
Newborn lambs: make sure your dog kennel is secure enough that a lamb does not wander into the pen with the dog. A young dog is not trustworthy with newborn livestock and can easily damage them. A protective ewe can also easily injure the young dog.
Wandering is a big problem with many LGD. Secure fencing and respect for fences are vital. Intact dogs could go wandering, neutering or spaying is definitely encouraged as the animals will have less desire to wonder and will be a better guardian as they can concentrate at the job at hand. By spaying and neutering you also prevent unwanted litters! Don’t encourage the dog to go and look for human interaction away from the stock, don’t feed and play with the dog on the porch. All is attention must be at the sheep.
Pulling wool and chewing ears: are most often play behavior.
Food aggression: feed separately from stock.
On the following web site is some interesting reading: www.lgd.org
Follow the link to the LIBRARY. In the library are articles from raising and training the LGD, to medical issues, behavior etc. Please do feel free to contact us if you are any questions about raising your pup or issues that develop. We have raised our pups with a lot of love and care and we would like them to continue to grow and become good guardian dogs.