Thursday, July 20, 2017

Raising Trustworthy Goat Guardians: Starting Right with Young Livestock Guardian Dogs

Raising Trustworthy Goat Guardians:
Starting Right with Young Livestock Guardian Dogs

Brenda M. Negri
© 2017
Published in Dairy Goat Journal
July/August 2017 Vol. 95 No. 4

Livestock Guardian Dog (“LGD”) breeds have been bred for centuries in “The Old Country” to guard flocks of sheep, goats and cattle from predators.  It is an instinct they are born with, and quality bred LGDs will naturally show a deep affection and gentle way with livestock.

But even with this inherent nurturing instinct, as youngsters they need guidance, correction, support and praise from their human owner. Raising a Livestock Guardian Dog up to be a stable, trustworthy guardian of your goats can been successfully done with an owner who is committed to doing their best to understand and respect these incredible dogs.

Starting Off Right

Begin by choosing a quality LGD pup or pups that are legitimate LGD breeds or a combination of LGD breeds.  Always buy from a reputable breeder raising healthy working dogs, with good references, and who offers health guarantees and breeder support.  Pups should have been handled by the breeder and socialized.  They should have several puppy vaccinations and de-wormings and a veterinarian check up before leaving their mother at the age of at least 8 weeks or older.

Here is a partial list of recognized LGD breeds:

LGD Breeds
Great Pyrenees
Anatolian Shepherd
Spanish Mastiff
Tibetan Mastiff
Pyrenean Mastiff
Turkish Kangal
Polish Tatra Sheepdog

The Owner as Parent and Partner

LGDs need to form a bond with their owners – not just their owner’s goats.  The owner becomes the new parent for an LGD pup once it leaves it’s mother and littermates.  Noted European dog behaviorist and trainer Turid Rugaas says in her book, On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals:

“Remember that wolves bringing up wolf cubs get perfect wolves out of them, and dogs bringing up puppies get perfect dogs out of them.  When we humans bring up puppies, we get problems.  It is about time we looked at leadership as a myth we do not need.  We need to be parents, good parents, the way dogs are good parents.”

By being a good parent to their LGD the owner also forms a partnership with their LGD.  Good parenting and a good partnership with an LGD is built on the following:

Patience do not expect too much, too soon and give the pup time to mature
Compassiondo not use harsh or cruel training methods or gadgets
Respect respect shown to your dog will be returned
Trustallow the pup to show you what he is capable of doing
Consistencydogs, like people, appreciate a routine and a level of predictability

In the Old Country where LGDs originated they worked side by side with their shepherds and flocks.  In America, many hobby farmers work a job in town and are often gone during the day.  Their time in their livestock is often minimal.  This often is the root of many problems because the LGD is alone, and he knows it.  He sees that the owner is not participating as much as he should.  As much time as possible should be spent with your LGD pup in the stock.  This sets the tone and the pup realizes you are not only his parent, but his partner as well.  This gives the pup added confidence and a sense of purpose and mission, and that can mean the difference between a mediocre LGD and a great one.


LGD pups mature slowly, some breeds more so than others.  It can take a pup over up to two years to fully outgrow his adolescent puppy stage where he has ups and downs with his progress as a guardian.  Too many owners do not give the pup the time he needs to develop and mature, and often give up when the pup is still in a stage of physical and psychological growth.  Understand that this is a process that takes months, not days.  Do not expect a three or five month old puppy to be doing an adult’s job.  Don’t put it out alone in high predator load country, because a young puppy is incapable of protecting himself at that tender age.  Likewise, when the pup is young expect that there will be good days and bad days.  What matters most is that you are consistently giving the pup praise when deserved and correction when needed. 

Example of Patience: 

John has successfully gotten his two sibling Maremma pups through the stages of over-playing with his Nubian goat kids by using proactive measures.  First, he bought a sibling pair of pups.  Instead of taking out their energy and normal puppy curiosity and playfulness on his goat kids, his pups have each other to tussle and play with.  Second, he does not pen them up in a tiny lot permanently, but takes them out of his goat pen several times a day for perimeter walks and time with his family because he understands they need the physical and mental stimulation in order to progress and grow.  Third, he allows them time to play, romp, explore and be puppies.  Finally, John spends time seated on a bench inside the kidding area each day, while the pups chew on soup bones.  His presence tells them he is invested in this process.  The soup bones positively reinforce his pup’s good behavior.  His pups feel appreciated and know they are not alone and their focus is where it should be.


By understanding a dog’s body language and using calming signals and body language of your own facilitates better communication with your dog.  By this you can avoid having to use cruel or harsh methods to correct or train your LGD.  Never resort to shock or electric collars or cumbersome gadget type “yokes” around a dog’s neck.  These only hurt and confuse the dog and the undesired behavior will only happen again later. 

Positive feedback is a must with LGD pups.  When the pup is quietly lying with goats, praise him.  Give him a soup bone to chew on in the goats to give positive reinforcement for what he is doing.  Grooming and brushing is a way to calm and show your LGD affection, and lets him know he is needed, loved and safe.  This in turn develops his confidence, and a confident LGD is always a better guardian than a shy, confused and mistreated LGD.  When you pet your LGD pup, do not pat him hard on the head.  Patting a dog on his head can send conflicting signals and many dogs consider it an act of aggression instead of kindness.  Instead use slow, soft massaging strokes on the side of the dog’s face and ears and neck.  Speak calmly in low tones and avoid making sudden or exaggerated gestures. 

Example of Compassion:  Sue’s Akbash adolescent pup has been scaling her fence and escaping her 30’ x 30’ goat pen.  The pup has water, shade and yet still wants to escape.  Sue does not resort to using a cruel and ridiculous contraption placed around the dog’s neck that would hinder it.  Instead she realizes the dog is expressing frustration because she is not being given enough room to stretch out her legs, and is bored.  Sue also discovers the goats have been eating the pup’s food.  Instead of punishing the pup for escaping, Sue enlarges the area by opening a gate, giving the goats and the pup access to three acres.  She also constructs a feeding station for her pup’s food bowl that enables the pup to access her kibble, safely and sheltered, yet keeps the goats out.  The pup immediately stops escaping and is content to remain with the goats.


Too many Americans use LGDs merely as tools to get a job done and treat them as if they were a disposable hammer or saw.  Dogs are thinking, feeling creatures, capable of many emotions, capable of grace, of forgiveness, of pity and so many more emotions.  Dogs know when they are loved, and they know when they are bing ignored, disrespected and taken for granted.  To understand the depth of intelligence animals have, and their emotions, Carl Safina’s book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel is a book I recommend reading.

Example of Respect:  Over the hot Labor Day weekend Dan has family and friends over to his registered Alpine goat farm for barbecue.  Dan’s three Great Pyrenees have been up all night in the back acreage fending off a coyote pack that’s been pressing on the fence line.  The dogs are tired and resting under a tree.  Dan’s visitors want to see the dogs.  He instructs them to each bring a lawn chair and sit down inside the pasture under the tree where the dogs rest a few yards away.  Because Dan respects the fact that his dogs are tired, and need to sleep in the heat of the day, he instructs guests to not approach the dogs but instead let them come to the guests.  Because the people are seated, the LGDs see this as a calming signal.  They see Dan is calm and relaxed which says to them that the visitors pose no threat.  The Great Pyrenees get up, casually sniff everyone, let themselves be stroked – because Dan wisely bought socialized, handled pups who were not afraid of people – and then go back to rest.  A win – win situation: the guests got to meet the dogs and the dogs were shown respect and not stressed or overly disturbed.


One of the most common errors LGD owners make is not trusting their LGD.  They attempt to control or micromanage every move of the dog, not trusting them to think and act on their own.  LGDs are highly intelligent and independent.  Often, their reaction to a situation is appropriate and the human does not understand it until after the dog’s action.  Learn to trust your LGD’s instincts.  A dog can hear and see far better than his owner.  Allow the dog to show you what they can do on their own before you hastily intervene or try to stop them.  You may be pleasantly surprised at what they can show you.

Example of Trust:  Sitting in my office yesterday I heard my yearling Spanish Mastiff Yessi begin to bark aggressively.  She came out of the trees and headed towards my fenced acre front yard where my ewes were grazing.  I went outside to see what the commotion was about.  Yessi had heard my ewe’s bells ringing on their collars and knew they were on the move.  Sure enough, when I stepped outside the ewes were about to go through the open gate and out of the yard.  Yessi had stopped them and turned them back into the front yard where they belonged.  She knew they were not supposed to leave the area and took care of the problem on her own. So Yessi knew that I was pleased with her reaction, I praised her profusely and stood there for a few minutes as she checked the ewes and licked them to show affection.  By trusting her, I allowed her to do the right thing on her own.


Just like humans, dogs enjoy and appreciate predictability in their lives and a routine.  Examples of consistency in a dog’s life can be as simple as feeding the dog at or around the same time each day, taking a pup out to the goats at the same times each day, light grooming every day, etc.  The pup will grow to expect these at the prescribed time.  When they happen, this gives the pup confidence and a feeling of security, similar to the consistency he enjoyed at his mother’s side when he knew he could count on her being there for his needed sustenance, grooming and love.  A good owner steps in as a pup’s parent and fills those requirements in many ways.

Example of Consistency:

Elayne runs a large herd of goats that graze many acres.  When her new Spanish Mastiff pup Hercules arrives from Spain, she begins working on consistency.  She allows him time in her house to bond with her and the family, then begins a daily routine that includes feeding and goat checks and perimeter walks.  Hercules bonds to her quickly and soon follows her around.  Elayne has become his new mentor and parent figure.  Because she consistently performs the same chores each day, Hercules knows he can count on certain things happening at certain times and this gives him confidence in the security of his new home.  He matures into an infallible guardian who can barely stand to leave his goats.


With desire to better understand and work with young LGDs, an owner can have an incredible, satisfying relationship with a magnificent dog that is worth its weight in gold who matures into a great guardian of their goat herd.

Recommended Reading

On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas, Dogwise Publications
Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina, Henry Holt
The Truth About Wolves and Dogs by Toni Shelbourne, Hubble & Hattie

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