General Characteristics of LGDs
Earlier we mentioned that your new LGD is not like any dog you’ve met. This is true enough that people with years of experience with dogs often, after acquiring their first LGD, find themselves facing situations they never imagined existed. We’d like to address some of these differences here. At this point we need to tell you that we raise Great Pyrenees and have never raised or owned any other breed of LGD. Rather than make the brash statement that all of the LGDs will conform to the behaviors we’re going to talk about, we’ll say right now that they won’t all fit into one neat mold. We will say that it is our opinion that the more common breeds of LGDs will generally fit the behaviors we’ll mention to a greater or lesser degree but we offer these to you so you’ll recognize what’s happening when you come across one of these behaviors, not to say that it is a “one size fits all” description of LGDs.
Independence is, perhaps, the single most obvious and sometimes irritating characteristic people notice with their first LGD. We’ve even had people tell us that LGDs should all be obedience trained so that the owner should have control of the dog instead of letting the dog do what it wants when it wants to do it. This is an idea we applaud when it’s aimed at pets and dogs that work in close concert with humans. With LGDs it is asking for total disaster.
Your LGD is the result of thousands of years of breeding to teach it to evaluate threat situations in an instant and to act in a way that best counters the perceived threat. Even if you, the dog’s owner, wanted to live with your goats on a 7/24 basis, you could neither see nor hear the threats as effectively as your dogs could. You couldn’t communicate directions to one dog fast enough to counter many of them, and you surely couldn’t be with several dogs simultaneously to guide each one through various behaviors. These dogs are there so you don’t have to live with your stock on a 7/24 basis.
Another result of this breeding is that LGDs just don’t fall all over themselves to please you when you give them commands. You can teach them basic obedience if you choose, but it will never be like watching a Border Collie drop to the ground the second you tell it to. Opinions vary among stockowners about just what kind of obedience their dogs should learn. However it’s phrased, usually the owners will have the dog come when they need it, be quiet long enough to administer medications like wormer when necessary, and not beat them through the gate every time it’s opened. More than that is frosting on the cake.
Your LGD should be bonded to the stock and be glad to see you in the pasture, not the other way around. Some dogs will be more willing to be pets than others, but all should bond to the stock if given the correct environment. This means that you can pet them and give them treats if you want to, but do it in the goat yard, where the goats are. DO NOT do it outside of the goat yard or even by the gate if the goats are not there too. We cannot say often enough that most LGD failures are the result of inadvertent training for failure by the owners and teaching your LGD to expect human attention when they leave their stock is definitely failure oriented training.
LGDs often have dominance issues with each other and sometimes with humans. You want to ensure that your LGDs understand that you are Alpha. If you raise them from pups it shouldn’t be too hard, but we make a practice of regularly standing over our dogs (meaning we stand astride their back-a superior position) of either gender, holding them, and for short times physically controlling their movements. We do this so that if the time ever comes when we must exert a physical superiority over any one of them, they have already given their consent to be treated that way. When you need to work with an injured dog, or in some other emergency, you may not have the time to assert dominance over them.
These dominance issues between dogs will often lead to fights, especially at feeding time, if you allow it. Pups and adolescents will fight and may even draw blood but it is seldom serious. On occasion (the occasion being they’re able to get to each other) adult dogs (strangers or dogs that are always separated, not necessarily those who have grown up together) of the same gender will fight and these altercations may be lethal. We would advise that you break these fights up if possible although your personal safety is critical here. The dogs will not be aware of you and, if you should place one of your body parts where teeth are being used, you could be injured. Here are some ways that have worked in the past to break up fights. If there are two people available, each of you grab a tail (preferably a different one for each of you) and hold the dogs apart until they calm down enough for you to assert physical control over them and take them to separate pens. We have heard of hitting the dogs over the head but don’t recommend it. If you are alone and are lucky enough to have a hose handy, spraying as high a pressure water as possible in their faces will sometimes cause them to stop long enough to get them separated. As a last resort, hitting and pushing them apart with a 2x4 can work although it can be difficult to do and maintain your personal safety. If the fight is truly lethal, almost any means your imagination can come up with, other than placing yourself in the middle of it, is better than losing a dog.