How to Train a Great Pyrenees to Guard Sheep

How to Train a Great Pyrenees to Guard Sheep
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Time icon2-4 Months
Work training category iconWork

Introduction

The Great Pyrenees is a very old breed, thought to originate about 10,000 years ago.  They were used as guard dogs during wartime and to protect livestock in peacetime. They are a very popular livestock guarding dog and family pet, and despite the Great Pyrenees’ size and their protective instincts, they are generally gentle giants that are good around children and small animals. They are one of the few livestock guarding dogs that thrive in either role, as a pet or guard dog, being able to bond with sheep or with people.  They will instinctively guard whatever they bond with. For this reason, many people feel they should only be allowed to bond with the livestock they will be guarding and not humans. This is not very practical when you need to handle your dog, and the good news is, Great Pyranese can be trained to bond with and protect sheep, and also bond with and obey their human handlers.

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Defining Tasks

The Great Pyrenees' personality is a bit of an enigma. They naturally exhibit strong guarding behavior for whatever or whomever they are bonded to and also submissive gentle behavior with what they are guarding. They will be aggressive with predators or threats to the sheep they are guarding, rushing at, growling, barking and intimidating, wolves, coyotes or other dogs. However, trained with adult sheep, Pyrenees will behave submissively, gaining the sheep's trust and eventually living with and protecting the sheep. They generally are gentle and get along well with children and small animals, such as cats, ducks, and chickens, which is important on a farm where family and livestock need to be able to move about unthreatened, while still being protected. The Pyrenees’ unique ability to combine aggression towards threats, generally other canines, and submissiveness towards livestock makes their behavior ideal for working on a farm and protecting sheep.

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Getting Started

Many young Pyrenees dogs are trained to guard sheep by association with other mature livestock dogs. It is best to train a Pyrenees with another Pyrenees, as their guarding behavior and bonding instincts are different from most other dog breeds, and an appropriate model for behavior is another Pyrenees that has already become established in a flock. To bond with sheep, several mature sheep that are not easily intimidated are generally used in controlled environments, such as smaller pens with the young Pyrenees, to allow bonding to take place.

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The Protect an Area Method

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1

Provide boundary

Have the area you want your Pyrenees to protect clearly defined. The area should be fenced. Where sheep are being contained, a relatively solid fence with sheep wire usually provides a clear boundary.

2

Contain

Introduce your young Pyrenees to the area. Initially keep your Pyrenees on a leash and walk the boundaries of the property or contain him in a smaller enclosure within the area such as a dog run or smaller yard. You will need to start with a dog that has limited experience of the outside world, so a rescue, or mature dog, being transferred from another home is not appropriate for this method.

3

Limit experience

Avoid taking your Pyrenees anywhere else. Do not leave the property with him, except for veterinary care when necessary. Do not go for walks or car rides. If possible, have veterinary care provided on site.

4

Correct any chasing

Start allowing your Pyrenees off leash around the property. Supervise your Pyrenees around sheep and other small animals present in the area. Although these dogs are naturally gentle with smaller animals, an excited pup may chase a small animal that runs, in play. Discourage chasing if it occurs. Distract your dog and say “no”. As Pyrenees do not have a strong prey drive, chasing behavior is usually easily corrected.

5

Increase responsibility

Gradually extend off-leash time in his guarding area as your Pyrenees begins to bond and protect all animals within his territory, including sheep within his designated “home”.

The Bond with Sheep Method

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1

Put puppy with ewe

Put a weaned puppy , usually about 8-12 weeks of age, in a pen with a ewe and a 2-3 week old lamb.

2

Provide retreat

Make sure the pup has a shelter from the sheep, where he can get food and retreat when required, such as a dog house or kennel.

3

Ewe teaches manners

The ewe will protect her lamb from unwanted intrusions and ensure that the Pyrenees pup learns to respect her and her lamb by head butting the puppy if he gets too close or acts inappropriately.

4

Increase sheep socilization

Move the puppy to a pen with several ewes and lambs once he starts to understand ignoring the lambs and giving space. Allow him to socialize and bond with the sheep. Make sure your dog has a safe place he can get away from the sheep. Once comfortable, after several days, move your young dog to a pen with young sheep of the same size as him. Supervise to ensure he continues to respect boundaries, move to a previous step if necessary.

5

Expose to flock

Once your dog has learned not to harass sheep, he can be moved to the flock's regular enclosure and be allowed to cohabit with the entire flock and protect the sheep.

The Dog Role Model Method

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1

Introduce dogs

Introduce your young Pyrenees to an older Pyrenees that already guards a flock of sheep. Introduce dogs in a neutral location, not where the sheep are, as the older dog may see the younger dog as a threat.

2

Control situation

Keep you young pup out on a leash at first so he respects the older dog's space. Allow dogs to smell each other. Provide attention and praise to both. Repeat frequently over several days.

3

Socialize

Increase socialization with the older dog, allow them off leash together in a controlled environment, free from sheep to bond.

4

Familiarize with sheep

Start introducing the young dog to the sheep pen once the older dog has accepted the younger dog, keep the younger dog on a leash. Walk around sheep, discourage excited behavior and encourage submissive behavior. Introduce the younger dog to a few sheep in a small enclosure. Choose sheep that are not easily intimidated, such as a couple mature females or rams, and let the young dog learn to submit to the sheep.

5

Allow older dog to model guarding

Start allowing the young dog to accompany the older dog in the sheep pen once your new dog has learned appropriate submissive behavior around sheep and the older dog is comfortable with him. The older dog will “finish” the training, modeling appropriate behavior to guard and protect the flock.

By Laurie Haggart

Published: 03/16/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Xena

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Great Pyrenees

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10 months

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Question

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We have Xena as a LGD. She has started separating the ewes from the lambs. Are there any tips you have to help get her acclimated quickly to understand her complete role?

Jan. 22, 2023

Xena's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, Check out the articles I have linked below that address the lambing season. https://kathyannsfarm.com/2021/01/27/kidding-and-lambing-season-with-your-lgd/ https://www.farmanddairy.com/top-stories/learning-proper-lambing-behavior-key-for-young-lgds/708218.html Some people address the issue by separating young dogs from pregnant ewes during lambing season until the dog is more mature to learn more appropriate behavior. Other's will allow the dog to oversee the lambing but only when the shepherd is there to correct a young dog when they try to lick the baby, separate them, or generally get too close and too involved - which can disrupt the lamb and ewe bonding or agitate mom. Pup needs to be taught to give a respectful amount of space during this period and leave lamb alone to let mom take care of it for the most part, or be kept away entirely and introduced to the new lambs under supervision once they look more like a sheep and less like a small messy furball. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Jan. 23, 2023

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Kevin

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Great pyr/white lab

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6 Months

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Question

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My dog will chase my chickens and I think he accidentally killed my duck. How do I train him to protect the chickens and not chase them? I introduced them slowly. He is our only dog.

Jan. 28, 2022

Kevin's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello, Many livestock guarding dogs don't guard birds the same way they do larger livestock. In that case, often you need to teach pup to avoid the birds and guard the general territory, and often the birds will be guarded too to an extend as part of pup's territory, opposed to pup guarding because he has bonded with the birds. I would start by supervising pup around the birds, using a long training leash to have pup around the birds often and correcting any chase attempts. You may also want to consider fencing pup near the birds, but with the fence to separate them when you aren't there to correct any chase attempts, to help pup get used to them and desensitized to them, and view them as part of the territory. Finally, if the chasing is really persistent, I would consider remote collar training to teach pup to leave the birds alone. I would start with the use of the long leash and your leave it command, but then also practice while hiding with pup thinking they are alone with the birds, so pup is corrected for the chasing when they think you are not around as well. Check out James penrith from taketheleaddogtraining on youtube. He specializes in livestock chasing behavior. Day 1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgNbWCK9lFc Day 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kpf5Bn-MNko&t=14s Day 3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xj3nMvvHhwQ Day 4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxrGQ-AZylY I would join some livestock guarding forums as well, to connect with other owners who have experience in this area, as a resource while you train. https://www.chickenforum.com/threads/livestock-guardian-dogs.5267/ https://www.dogforum.com/threads/lgds-livestock-guardian-dogs-breeds-problematic-behaviors-temp.331882/ https://www.workingdogforum.com/threads/best-livestock-guardian-breed.11176/page-4 Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Jan. 28, 2022


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