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You are up early every day of the week, tending to your livestock. They are, after all, your source of income and what your family depends on to put food on the table. While you may look after them though, you can’t do it all on your own. Sheep are valuable commodities and high on the menu for many predators. That means you need an effective and reliable way of guarding them. One of the most economical and efficient ways, if done properly, is to employ the services of a guard dog. If you have a dog that has energy and an eagerness to learn, then you are already halfway there to training him to guard sheep.
This training could help you in more ways than one. Firstly, it could protect you from serious financial losses. But also, it’s a fantastic way to exercise and bond with your dog. It’s also great mental stimulation for him.
Training any dog to be a guard dog comes with challenges. Those challenges are heightened when you want him to protect something he probably wouldn’t mind chasing and hunting himself. However, with the right training, it is definitely achievable. You will need to use rigorous obedience commands to ensure he follows your instructions. You will also need to demonstrate that the sheep are now included in his territory. Finally, you will need to show him and train him how to react when anything approaches the sheep.
If he’s young he should be raring to go and eager to please. You could see results in just a few weeks. If he’s older and not quite as receptive as he once was, then you may need several months before you see consistent results. Succeed and you will be able to sleep easy at night knowing the sheep are secure.
Before your work can begin you will need to get your hands on a few things. As you can probably imagine, some sheep to protect will be the most important requirement. You will also need a generous supply of treats or small pieces of your dog's favorite food.
Set aside 15 minutes every day for training. The more consistently you practice, the sooner you will see results.
The only other things you need are patience and a positive attitude. Once you have all that, training can begin!
The Start Early Method
Choose a breed that has the attributes needed to be an effective guard dog. German Shepherds, for example, are often a sensible choice. There are plenty of other alternatives though, just do your homework first.
Secure your dog to a leash and walk him around the sheep and area you want him to guard. Do this twice a day. This will reinforce where his territory begins and ends. Once he considers the sheep to fall within that, he will naturally want to guard them from outsiders.
You need to make sure he doesn’t see the sheep as prey. So, spend time each day walking him around the sheep. Give him treats and words of encouragement whenever he remains calm. Pull him away if he turns aggressive. Do this regularly and he will soon learn to accept them.
You need to encourage any signs of defensive and guarding behavior from an early age. Any chasing and barking at strangers should be rewarded with treats and verbal praise. This will help him naturally develop into a guard dog.
Never punish him
It is important you do not punish him. Scaring him could make him aggressive and dangerous. He may then be even harder to control and you don’t want him biting you or anyone else, let alone any of the sheep.
The Bark Method
Spend a couple of days looking for situations that cause him to bark. You are going to use these to train him to bark on command. When he is waiting for meals or about to go out for a walk are common triggers.
Now put him in one of the bark inducing situations and give a ‘bark’ command just before or as he barks. Give it in a clear but playful voice. Dogs learn best when they think they are playing a game.
As soon as he starts barking, hand over a tasty reward. Give him some verbal praise too. The happier he feels afterwards, the more likely he will be to follow your instruction again. Now practice this for a few minutes each day. After a few days, start giving the command in an array of situations. By this point, he will associate the instruction with the command.
Head for the sheep
Once he understands the ‘bark’ command, it’s time to incorporate it into guarding the sheep. So, secure him to a leash and take him to the sheep. Now have a friend or stranger approach. Give the command and reward him as soon as he barks.
Change it up
Over the next few weeks, have different people approach him when he is around the sheep. Each time you need to instruct him to bark. After a while, it will become habit to bark at any person or animal that approaches. At this point, you can slowly phase out the treats.
The Territory Method
Feed near the sheep
To fully integrate him into working with and guarding the sheep, you also need to feed him near them. Having said that, make sure he has some privacy. He shouldn’t have sheep trying to eat his meals. This will all help the area feel more like his territory.
When he is just a puppy, really encourage play between him and the sheep. Secure him in a small pen and supervise him. As he gets older you can allow them into bigger, more open spaces. Again, this will help him feel like the sheep are his to protect.
Secure him to an extremely long leash or rope to start with. Make sure he has enough space that he can cover a lot of the sheep's area. This will help make the space and the sheep feel part of his territory.
You must encourage him to run up to and bark at strangers. To do that, have people approach, then point, shout and run towards them. Dogs mirror their owners' behavior, so if he sees you do this each time, he will soon follow suit. Then reward him with a treat when he displays the right behavior. Once he jumps up at anything that approaches, you can gradually cut out the treats.
It is important you are careful having him around when it is birthing season. The temptation to switch from guarding to hunting can be high when newborn lambs are around. So, wait until he has proved himself a reliable guard dog before you expose him to that.
By James Barra
Published: 01/10/2018, edited: 01/08/2021