Preparing for Your LGD
The first step in preparing for your LGD is your own mental preparation. You are not getting a pet puppy. Yes, LGDs are dogs, but they’re not like any dog you’ve ever met. Decide now that the day you bring your puppy home it will go directly to the barn without making a stop at the house. It definitely shouldn’t spend its first night in the house, no matter how cute, cuddly and forlorn it looks. Your pup most likely was born in a barn and has spent its whole short life in the company of livestock of some kind. You won’t be doing it any favors by taking it into a strange place like your house where there is absolutely nothing familiar. By introducing it immediately into the environment where it will spend all its time, you’ll be doing it a big favor
The next mental step is to understand that, just because the pup is small, it doesn’t need to go in with baby livestock just yet. Puppies need to grow into their situation. Without their dam to teach them, they very probably will make some missteps along the way. When a pup is in its litter, it learns to play with its littermates in a rough and tumble process that teaches it some elementary things about fighting, how to relate to other dogs, and helps develop its growing muscles. When a pup is moved from a litter to other babies, like kids or lambs, it will tend to interact with them just like it did with its littermates. The results can be disastrous for the kids and the pups. Playing with kids like that will probably kill them if it goes on very long at all. You’ll lose the value of the stock and probably of the pup when you decide it’s unfit to be an LGD and kill it or put it in rescue.
Normally, the dam will teach her pups how to act around the stock, but since you’ve just removed the pup from its dam’s influence, you’ll need to find a new teacher. Your best bet is to select a few of your older does. You’ll need to select carefully; these does shouldn’t be dog aggressive but should be assertive enough that they won’t put up with any “garbage behavior from a stupid little puppy”. These does will eventually teach your pup its manners around stock. They won’t hurt the pup but will certainly let it know the results of inappropriate behavior. Remember, the pup’s dam often looks and sounds like she’s about to kill her pups when disciplining them, so a little light bashing from a gentle goat will just be par for the course as far as the pup is concerned.
If you don’t own at least one goat or sheep that will teach the pup manners, buy one; it’s worth it if you can find one. If you’re not able to do that, guess who wins big in the motherly discipline department. The time to learn about disciplining a pup is before it arrives. Prepare yourself to spend some time with the pup and teach yourself about a puppy’s concept of discipline. If you can manage to visit a newly whelped litter of about four weeks or older, watch what happens when a pup runs afoul of its mother. The pup screams and cries like death itself is about to visit. Momma growls, snarls, and puts her pup on its back and her mouth on its throat. It doesn’t last long but it is a very effective method to teach pups not to do certain behaviors. You really don’t need to act like you’re going to rip the pup’s throat out with your teeth but the growling and snarling is good. Putting the pup on its back affirms that you’re the boss and putting your hand lightly on its throat will serve that same purpose as teeth. Make sure this only lasts a few seconds, until the pup acknowledges the correction. Please understand we’re talking about young pups only. Most pups will submit easily but any dog, even a young pup, has the potential to contest a claim of the alpha position. If you claim it with an older dog, you’d better be prepared to prove it in no uncertain terms or you may very well have an uncontrollable dog that will need to find an alpha human if it is to lead a productive life around humans.
Now here’s the tricky part, you can only do this when you catch the pup in the act of “bad” behavior and interrupt it. This is where using the goat as a teacher has the big advantage because if you don’t use her, then YOU have to be there when the behavior happens if you want to stop it. Learning this fact when the pup is already at your farm can be quite disheartening. If you work all day and no one is available to be a “mom” to your pup, don’t despair, you can do it in your spare time. It will just take longer.
Another aspect of mental preparation is to decide now that your house-dogs and pets will remain just that. They will need to stay out of the goat yard and segregated from your LGD. Allowing your Non-LGD dogs access to the goat yard will provide the potential for a variety of tragedies. The results of not segregating your other dogs can be that of teaching your LGD that dogs are allowed into the goat yard and, consequently, that whatever they do is allowed to happen in the goat yard. It can also teach your LGD that playing with others dogs is acceptable, as is either leaving with them to play or inviting others in to play. Either of these unacceptable behaviors may eventually litter your goat yard with bodies. Most problems with LGDs are problems that we have created by inadvertently training the LGD in ways we never intended.
We even had a situation where two of our dogs arrived at their new home at about the same time as a neighbor had a litter of Pyr/Chow cross pups. The fences were leaky and, consequently, the LGDs were around these puppies almost from birth until the pups were big enough to come over and play with the goats. When the goats started to not survive the pups’ games, we received a call about the problem and that brings us to the greatest mental preparation of all: YOU are still responsible for the safety of your goats!
LGDs were developed over thousands of years. The shepherds also lived with the flocks during most of that time and helped fight the bears, wolves and brigands that preyed upon the flocks. These dogs were not bred to be automatons; they were bred to make their own decisions about when and where to fight and to do a great job of it. Mostly, the shepherds didn’t have neighbors because they worked communally in large family units or villages. The dogs had no problems telling friend from foe. Today, in some areas, it gets a little complicated.
Not recognizing the subtle shadings of relationships in the modern world, LGDs accept others as threat or non-threat. It is or it isn’t; there’s no middle ground. We still have the responsibility to insure that our dogs understand our point of view on predators. When you kill a goat, it’s ok; when a dog that goats have been allowed to accept kills a goat it isn’t ok. When there is any confusion like this on the part of your LGD, sometimes a rifle is the best way to remove it. When your LGD sees you kill the killer-dog, it will learn and you will have solved that particular problem. While wild predators pose no problems for the LGDs, the intricacies of neighborly interaction and the unaccountable teachings of their owners sometimes can cause seemingly inexplicable behavior. Some farmers, today, want dogs that will not hesitate to attack any intruder, no matter how many legs it has, while others prefer a somewhat less aggressive dog. One reason why there are so many gradations of aggressiveness in the different breeds of LGDs available today is that the shepherds in the various isolated areas of the world where these dogs developed had slightly different problems. In some, brigands and bands of thieves were commonplace; in others, they were not. Just as it was then, so it is now in the sense that some of us want or need more aggressive LGDs than others.
Now let’s take a look the physical preparations you’ll need to make before the arrival of your LGD to insure that both you and the pup have the easiest transition possible.
First, and perhaps most importantly, your pup will need a “safe place”. If this is your first LGD and the first one for your stock also, your pup is going to need a haven where it can get away if the stock gets too rough with it. Remember, your pup is eight to ten weeks old and is too small for you to count on it taking care of itself totally. If it came from a farm, the dog is used to staying out of the way but probably not used to stock being dog aggressive and actively trying to injure it. Even if you properly introduce the pup to your stock, there’s no guarantee they’ll take your word that the new dog is their friend; you may have to give them some time to adjust. In the meantime, your pup may need to escape in a hurry. We recommend something built along the lines of a creep feeder pen (meaning a pen with a small entry hole to allow the pup in and out while denying access to the larger goats) stout enough to withstand a determined goat’s bashing but not overly large. The pen should be arranged so it is convenient for you to get to as it will be where you initially feed your pup. It should also be where the pup will be among the goats, even when it’s in its safety zone.
When making the pen, it would be advisable to build it with a top and bottom also, as well as a way to close the entryway and latch it. This will make it dog-proof and enable you to use it for a “jail” later if necessary. The potential for “jail time” arises from the fact that adolescent dogs often have no more sense than do adolescents of any other species. After your dog has bonded to its goats, separation from them for short periods can be an effective punishment for rough play and can often cure undesirable behavior with only one application. This option is easy and quick; IF you have the jail available at the time you need it. You can trust that somewhere along the line you’ll want a dog proof pen, even if it’s just to keep the dog out of the way when you’re working goats.
Your next item will be to check your fences. If you have goats, they’re probably already in pretty good shape but LGDs can make it through fencing that will stop a goat. Some LGDs tend to roam, while others want to make sure their borders are safe beyond the perimeter of their enclosure. Fixing your fences before the dog finds out it can get out is well worth the effort. In some cases, you may feel that it doesn’t really matter if the dog is in or out as long as it stays attentive to the goats. If you hold your goats with barbed wire, you might as well accept that it will leak dogs any time they want it to. The problems that may arise from leaky fences have more to do with protecting your investment in the dog than with keeping the dog with the goats. After bonding, the dog will not be too far away from them. LGDs, however, are not generally familiar with traffic and cars are a pretty common cause of death for LGDs. Other potential trouble for escaping LGDs can come from unfriendly landowners, law enforcement, or thieves. All in all, you’ll probably sleep easier if you make sure your LGD will remain on your property.
You’ll also need to check with the breeder to see what kind of food your pup is being fed. We recommend that you continue whatever it is and then make the transition to the food you’ve chosen on a gradual basis. We really have only one hard and fast rule about feeding: Watch your animal and if it shows indications (extreme weight gain or loss, bowel movement not healthy, personality and temperament swings, condition of coat) that something may be wrong, consider diet a prime suspect after you’ve looked at and discarded the more obvious things. There are a tremendous number of theories about feeding LGDs and we’ll try to cover some of them here.
- You don’t need to feed it anything; it can live off the land. This is actually true if you want your LGDs to eat your goats. They can’t live off the land without feeding somewhere and your herd will be their only choice. It’s either that or have them gone, off hunting instead of guarding, and since they have an extremely low prey drive, that concept would be a total failure. Historically, some LGDs were used to cull the herd and nourish themselves at the same time. If you don’t feed your dogs intentionally, please don’t shoot your dogs when they feed themselves on the only food available to them, your stock.
- There is a position that since dogs are carnivores, they should be fed a RAW diet. The idea is to feed entire animals, not just meat so that the dogs get the entrails, organs, skin, and bones. This is supposed to give them a balanced diet and keep them healthy. We kind of like the idea but it is terribly expensive unless you have a cheap source of animals to feed. Even our wethers are worth too much to use for dog food.
- Some people cook a mixture of meat and vegetables and, essentially make a “home designed” dog food they feel is healthier than commercial foods.
- Commercial dry dog food, called kibble, is the most common form of dog food for LGDs. You can find many different theories about how much protein and fat is enough or too much to feed your dog. With large or giant breeds, over feeding young pups may cause them to grow faster than their frame will develop and, consequently, they’ll have joint problems. Since the dogs are extremely active, not feeding enough will cause slow growth, weight loss, or malnutrition. In cold weather, these dogs need a higher protein/fat intake to provide the energy to survive and work in cold temperatures. We currently feed our dogs free choice with a 26% protein and 14% fat dog food. It works for us but it may not work for everyone. Start with what your breeder says works for them and go from there.
Another concern about commercial dog food is the ingredients. Some foods use a filler that has no nutrition but provides soft stools for the dogs. Other use “animal by-products” which could mean the food is largely composed of ground up feathers. Still others are mainly corn and vegetable products. All we can tell you is to read the labels and do a little research. Beyond that we go back to our first rule, “Watch the dog and see how it’s doing. If it’s obviously in radiant good health, don’t fix it. If it has problems, and you can’t see an obvious cause, try changing the diet.”
Once you’ve made all these arrangements, you’re ready for your pup.