How to Train Your Dog to Protect Livestock

Medium
4-6 Months
Work

Introduction

Whether you are running a large farm or a small hobby farm, when you have livestock, you need at least one dog who has been trained to protect them. As much as you might think you can keep a constant eye on your animals, there are times when this simply isn't going to be possible. This is where a well-trained livestock guard dog comes in. He can protect your herd from predators and poachers alike. Bear in mind that some breeds such as German or Australian shepherds, Great Pyrenees mountain dogs, Welsh Corgis and several others are naturally well-suited to this job, while others are not.

However, with the exception of a few breeds, you can train most dogs to protect your livestock. Though, depending on the size of your livestock, some smaller dogs may not be appropriate. You should also know that there is a potential for injury during training as your pup and animals get used to being around each other. 

Defining Tasks

So, the basic idea here is to teach your dog to protect your livestock from predators and poachers. Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? In reality, it is. You are essentially working with your pup to enhance what is, at least in most dog breeds, a natural instinct to protect their pack. In the wild, their ancestors travel in packs for protection with an Alpha male (in this case you are the Alpha). The adult dogs, especially the males, know that their role is to protect the weaker members of the pack, in this case, it will be your livestock.

The more time you let your pup spend around your livestock, the stronger his bond with them and his natural instinct to protect them will become. Your job is to make the most of this instinct, and the sooner you start, the better. One tip: this training is going to take months to complete, it requires a lot of time, effort, and patience, but keep working at it and your pup will soon become a valuable working member of your farm. 

Getting Started

The good news is that while your dog needs to have mastered basic commands before being expected to train for guard duty, you can at least get him used to being around your livestock starting around 6 to 8 weeks of age. However, at this stage of the game, you need to keep a close eye on your pup to ensure he doesn't end up getting hurt. It will help a lot if your pup has already learned the basic commands. Along with this, you will need:

  • Treats: As rewards.
  • Leash: A long leash is a good idea.
  • A working pen: You can make this yourself, just be sure there is a safe place for your pup to go anytime he feels threatened by the animals his supposed to protect.
  • Livestock: If you have more than one type, start with the smallest ones first as they are less likely to make your pup nervous.
  • Time and patience: Just like any other type of training, you are going to need plenty of both.

Keep in mind, the livestock could easily cause serious injury to your pup, so during the training phase, you need to keep your eyes on him. Be ready to rescue him if it looks like he is in trouble. If he gets hurt, he may shy away from your herd rather than learn to protect them. 

The It's a Social Thing Method

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Step
1
In the pen
Your dog needs to learn to be calm and relaxed around his new "pack". To do this, start putting him in a working pen with a small number of your smaller animals for short periods of time at around 8 weeks of age.
Step
2
Group play time
One of the best ways to let your pup get used to the livestock and vice-versa is to leave them alone with each other. Let them sniff each other, be around each other, and get to know each other. Do this over a period of several days, until they are calm and relaxed. The bond they form will be much the same as forming a "pack" which your pup will instinctively want to protect.
Step
3
After the bond
After everyone has had time to form a strong bond, move out to a larger enclosure with more animals. You can leave the gate open just enough for your pup to slip through. Let him get used to the bigger herd and if he should slip out, let him explore the area around the pen. This exploration of his boundaries is normal, he sees it as his territory, which he will protect.
Step
4
He will return
After several weeks of this, your pup may still wander out of the pen, but he will return to protect his pack. This is a good indication that he will now work to protect your herd within the boundaries of his territory.
Step
5
Bring on the strangers
As a final test of your dog's skills as protector, have a few people he does not know come out and attempt to move towards the herd. By now he should be more than happy to bark at them and scare them off. Each time he does so, be sure to give him lots of praise and treats to let him know he is doing a good job.
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The Big Brother Method

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Step
1
Get a big brother
One of the best ways for your dog to learn his role is from another experienced dog, kind of like learning from a big brother. If you don't have a dog that is already trained, see if you can borrow one from a friend.
Step
2
Lock 'em in the pen
Not literally, but put the two dogs into a training pen with a small number of your smallest livestock and leave them alone. The trained older dog will show your pup the ropes while at the same time keeping him safe. You should do this over the course of several weeks, in time your pup will bond with the livestock and begin to feel protective as he sees them as part of his pack.
Step
3
Hanging out together
While you are working with your pup and his new buddy in the pen, there is one more thing you can do. Take your pup everywhere you go on your property. This lets him get used to the sights and sounds of your farm. This will help him learn where the borders are and what are the normal in terms of sights, sounds, and smells.
Step
4
Encourage barking
Time to teach your dog to bark. Start by getting him excited enough that he can't help but bark. When does, be sure to praise him and give him treats. At the same time, you can teach him to obey the 'hush' command, when he does, more treats and praise.
Step
5
Say no to strangers
Now that your pup is used to the herd and considered them as part of his extended pack and is used to the normal activities around the house, time to test him out. Have several people he doesn’t know attempt to approach the herd. Your dog should advance on the stranger and sound the alarm. When he does, be sure to praise him and give him treats. Repeat this at different times of day over the course of several weeks or until you feel your dog is ready to become their guardian.
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The Bond, Puppy Bond Method

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Step
1
Clear a working pen
Clear out a small working pen or if you don't have one, create a temporary one that can be used over the course of several weeks of training and place 3 to 6 of your smaller animals inside of it. Give them time to relax and get used to their location.
Step
2
Time to bond
Place your pup in the pen with the livestock and let him take his time getting used to the movements, smells, sounds, and presence of them. Give them all the time they need to get used to each other.
Step
3
Playtime
Your turn. Take your pup in the pen and play with him while the livestock is still in there with you. This will help calm him down and make it easier to move to the next step.
Step
4
Altogether now
Now that your pup and herd are used to being around each other, start walking away and letting them hang out together unsupervised. But stay close enough that if there is a problem, you can quickly intervene. In fact, at this point, your pup is more likely to move to protect the animals than harm them.
Step
5
The final test
With the herd and your pup still in the pen, have a stranger come up to the fence and make noise. If your dog moves towards the "stranger" and barks to scare them off, have your friend make a frightened sound and run away. Give your dog tons of praise and treats to show him that he is doing his job. Keep repeating this over the course of several more weeks until you are sure your dog will protect your livestock.
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Success Stories and Training Questions

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