How to Train a Great Pyrenees to Guard Sheep

Medium
2-4 Months
Work

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.

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.

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.

The Protect an Area Method

Most Recommended
1 Vote
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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”.
Recommend training method?

The Bond with Sheep Method

Effective
1 Vote
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

The Dog Role Model Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
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.
Step
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.
Step
3
Socialize
Increase socialization with the older dog, allow them off leash together in a controlled environment, free from sheep to bond.
Step
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.
Step
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.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Smokey
Great Pyrenees
8 Weeks
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Question
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Smokey
Great Pyrenees
8 Weeks

We just recently bought a GP from a lady who lives close to us. Her GP's had puppies and so she was selling the puppies. Smokey, is little for 8 weeks-or so I think he is. I held him in my arms and walked him around the goat pen. The momma goat isn't a fan of him right now. I know that he's to young to be left alone with her. I also know that I need to have patience through this too. I was just wondering what you suggest I do with him? Do I need to leave him outside in his own fence during the day and night beside of them so that they can get used to each other? But also a place where the momma goat can't get to him? Do I need to leave him out there just during the night and take him out myself and let her get used to the puppy? I am new to this whole thing as well. I have never had a puppy around my goats. I am lost.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
424 Dog owners recommended

Hello Destiny, With livestock guarding dogs you have to be really careful to avoid a puppy bonding too much with you or other people at this age. Pup needs to bond with other animals he will be guarding later during this important developmental period. Are there any other, safer goats that can be separated from mom (who aren't nursing still) that puppy can be fenced with? Being penned near the animals is better than him bonding with you too much inside and away from them completely, but I would definitely look for a way for him to bond with the goats that are more accepting of him while having him close enough by that mom goat can adjust. This may look like taking the other goats away from the main group to pen with him one at a time. At night, keep safety in mind. If you have wild animals that can get into the fence where he is alone, that needs to be taken into consideration. Most puppies are locked in a barn or pen at night where the goats are kept to keep them safe while they are still small. Obviously you can't put him in the same stall as the other goats, but he needs somewhere safe to go at night - even if that means somewhere away from people and goats - somewhere near the livestock animals but safe from momma goat is most preferable. I suggest finding a couple of good livestock guarding forums online where you can talk with other shepherds along the way, and ask questions as they arise over the next year. https://www.workingdogforum.com/vBulletin/f33/best-livestock-guardian-breed-11176/index7.html https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/training-new-livestock-guardian-dog-zbcz1608 If you search "livestock guarding dog forum" on google a lot of additional forum options come up. Find a couple that look good to you, usually along the farming, homesteading, agriculture, dog training, shepherding, ect... type websites. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Millie
Great Pyrenee
1 Year
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Question
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Millie
Great Pyrenee
1 Year

Millie has been really amazing.
We tied her when we first got her at age 10 months with the 2 month old goats. She did great and is now off leash.
We will take them out of the fence during the day and stake them to graze our perimeter.
Lately we have noticed some aggressive behaviors with her to them. I am not 100% sure if it is only around her food. I am trying to watch. Should we re-tie her for an amount of time to control her interaction?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
424 Dog owners recommended

Hello Georgia, That depends largely on what type of aggression it is. If it's resource guarding, then that would be addressed the way you would address a dog resource guarding around another dog. In that case, I would recommend hiring a private professional trainer to help you in person. If the aggression is prey related, then that is a lot more serious. Tying her might help but you may need to use a soft silicone basket muzzle on her while doing it, to keep your goat safe. Either way closely monitor her reaction toward the goat. I suspect that she is responding to the goats the way she might would to other dogs. Now that she is older, her desire for dominance, and things like resource guarding, possessiveness, protectiveness, or fear aggression can all surface. Between one-to-two years is when I see the most temperament related behavior issues. Those things are often present in younger dogs but do not become obvious to owners until mental maturity and hormones change, even in fixed female. I would suggest hiring a very experienced trainer to come and evaluate her reactions to get an idea of what is going on, so that you will better know how to address it. If you want to include more details on the aggressive behaviors and exactly what she is doing and when, then I would be glad to help further. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bindi
Great Pyrenees
8 Months
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Question
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Bindi
Great Pyrenees
8 Months

Our pup has been running with the full flock for 3 months but has recently started chasing and bothering the lambs.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
424 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sandy, Look into high quality remote electric collar training. Check out the YouTube channel I have linked below. The trainer is James Penrith and he does a lot of work with electric collars, also known as e-collars, and livestock chasing. Since you want Bindi to still be able to be with the flock, you want to use what's called a "Working level" stimulation. A working level stimulation is a stimulation that is low enough to simply get your dog's attention and show your dog that you are extremely consistent even while not with her. You do not want to use a high level of correction to teach total avoidance. High levels of correction with chasing behaviors are only used for dogs who need to never go near animals. Use only a high quality e-collar brand for this. A collar with at least thirty to forty levels, and ideally at least sixty to one-hundred. Dogtra, Sportdog, Garmen, and E-collar Technologies are all reputable brands. Do not buy a cheap collar. They can be dangerous and ineffective. A good quality collar will let you set the collar to a very low stimulation level. E-collar technologies and Sportdog would be the two brands I would most recommend for your purpose. See if there is a trainer in your area who is very experienced with using e-collars on "working levels" and hire that person to teach you. You can learn some of what you need online but e-collars are best taught by a professional. Here is the link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrI7sJTnP64 Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Thank you so much for your response. Part of our problem is that she exhibits these behaviors when we’re not there to correct her. Today I actually put an e-collar on her and have watched from a distance. Any suggestions what to do for correction when I’m not there to push the button? She is a great dog and only exhibits this behavior from time to time, but she is hurting lambs with her play.

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Question
opal
grand pyrenne
18 Months
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Question
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opal
grand pyrenne
18 Months

We are thinking about getting this dog to live outside and protect our 4 miniature equine from coyotes or bark when a stranger comes unannounced. But this dog has essentially been a family pet that sleeps in the house at night.

Is it likely to take a lot of training to get her to live outside in the horse corral and protect them?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
424 Dog owners recommended

Hello Clenden, Opal might be able to adjust to life outside, but the main issue is whether she was raised with sheep or not. Many flock guarding dogs learn to protect and view the sheep as litter mates because they grow up with the sheep outside - as if they are a member of the sheep flock. Because the Sheep are all the dog knows as family, she believes they are her family and thus wants to protect them. A dog that has not been raised with sheep or at least exposed enough to them to be bonded to sheep will not necessary protect them while in a pen with them. Some will even chase and bother the sheep. As a regular outdoor dog, who will simply be on your property and not expected to stay with the sheep, she might be a good coyote deterrent because Pyrenees do have a natural territorial-ism and protection instincts, but if your property is large, she might be protecting one end of it from intruders while a predator is on the opposite end of your property attempting to kill a sheep. A true livestock guardian dog needs to stay with the animals, and that only happens if the dog is bonded to the animals - sheep. Since she is used to living with people, she may also experience anxiety when she is not given human interaction. She could likely adjust fine to sleeping outside at night, but if you expect her to be away from people the majority of the 24 hrs in a day, especially when she is awake, that might be difficult for her and cause anxiety for her...Essentially she views people as family - the way you want her to view sheep as family, unless she was also around sheep all the time, then she might view people and sheep as family. Ask the current owners what her exposure to sheep is. If she has no experience with sheep, then she might be better off in another pet home. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Blossom
Great Pyrenees
6 Weeks
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Question
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Blossom
Great Pyrenees
6 Weeks

We are having problems with predators killing our sheep and are considering getting a Great Pyrenees to be a flock guardian, the sheep are put in a barn at dark and ,therefore safe at night. We would like to bring the dog in at night so we and the neighbors can get a good night sleep and not be subjected to all night barkathons. Would this work?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
424 Dog owners recommended

Hello Paula, Typically it is recommended that a guardian dog sleep with its flock as part of the bonding process, but there might be individuals who have done what you are wanting to do successfully. If you do bring the dog inside at night I suggest crating him and not giving a lot of interaction or play, so that coming inside is primarily sleep time and not time to bond with humans - you want to limit bonding with humans to just training and basic care generally, so that the bond with flock is greater than a bond with people. Also, be aware that there is the chance that he may experience separation anxiety because many livestock guarding dogs get extremely attached to their flocks and worry when not with them. This is less likely to happen if you start out crating him inside instead of the barn, but those first few weeks are also the prime time for him to be bonding with sheep. I would ask other farmers what their experience with livestock guarding dogs and sleep arrangements are and what their opinion are on whether the dog can sleep inside would be. If some of them have done that before and had a successful livestock guarding dog still, then it would be worth learning from them. A good place to ask questions is a farmer, homestead, or livestock type forum online. https://www.homesteadingtoday.com/threads/guardian-animals.68514/ Here is a link to a blog also. It has some useful information about their experience with guarding dogs. I find when it comes to these matters it's great to talk to those who are actually working with and living with the livestock guarding dogs and have tried different things with varying measures of success, and learned what actually works for them. https://www.uptownsheep.com/pyrenees-faq.html Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Hank
Great Pyrenees
1 Year
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Question
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Hank
Great Pyrenees
1 Year

We had an incident today with my husband and GP. We recently got goats and my husband, daughter and dog were in the barn. The dog had knocked something over, my husband went over to pick it up and told the dog to "get out" My dog was backed against the wall when my husband walked over. The dog started barking, growling at him very aggressively. He did run outside as my husband kicked him while running past and.the dog continued to bark/growl.
My husband has never really cared for the dog. Yells at him for barking, throws rocks at him etc.

The dogs behavior is not ok! But he has never acted like this towards me or my kids. I cannot risk him ever doing so. Any advise appreciated.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
424 Dog owners recommended

Hello Christine, What you just described sounds like fear-aggression. It won't change unless your husband stops doing things like kicking, yelling and throwing rocks because you need to be able to address the underlying fear in your dog, on top of teaching better obedience for management. To improve the situation your husband would need to work on building the dog's trust and respect for him by practicing obedience with him, tossing him treats when he behaves calmly around him, and being calmer around your dog. When the dog does something he doesn't like, the dog needs to be proactively taught calmly what to do instead (such as a Quiet command for the barking) instead of yelling. I know that is much easier said than done, but the your husband's frustration is probably related to the dog's lack of training partially - Your husband doesn't have a way to tell the dog "Out", "Quiet", "Down', "Stay" and other commands that make living with a dog easier, so he yells. The dog working for your husband doing obedience while your husband is calm will help establish respect without increasing fear. This would likely need to happen with a long leash, a trainer, and possibly a muzzle because of the amount of distrust there is in their relationship right now. As the dog improves, your husband will need fewer of those things to continue the training. I also suggest teaching an e-collar Out command so that you can separate the dog from the goats or other areas as needed without your husband having to approach. Check out the article linked below on teaching Out. Because of your dog's fear aggression and lack of socialization around people I suggest hiring a trainer to help you teach this. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Great Pyrenees are naturally protective guard dogs, that's why they make good livestock guardian dogs. If your dog not only doesn't have a relationship of trust and respect with you guys, but also views your husband as a 'predator' due to bad encounters he has had with the dog, then the dog is likely going to naturally want to keep your husband away from those he views as his family (the flock and possibly you and the kids). It is never okay for a dog to guard family members from each other, but to change that your dog needs to view your husband as a trustworthy leader and member of the 'flock' and not a predator. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Tot
Great Pyrenees
14 Weeks
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Question
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Tot
Great Pyrenees
14 Weeks

I got a 6 mo old GP puppy out of a livestock auction over the winter and she would rather be with my goats than people or other dogs. She likes us just has very strong instincts and won’t go more than 50 feet from them. It was said that she was raised with goats and she is a super guardian.
I picked up some new baby goats a few weeks ago and a friend saw a GP puppy looking for a new home. He was 12 weeks old but raised in a home. I have him sleeping in the stall with the babies but he can’t wait to get out in the morning to me and my house dog and carries on when I lock him in for the night.
I have left him with the older GP and they love each other but when she goes back to work he squeezes under the fence and shows up at my door. If he’s out on his own he chooses not to be near the goats.
He’s just a baby but I worry I’m not going to have the same luck with Tot as I did with Tater. Any suggestions?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
424 Dog owners recommended

Hello Tracey, It sounds like the pups from that litter may have had too much interaction from people from birth - which is normally something you want for a pet dog, but something you have to be careful about with a livestock guardian dog. If you didn't bring pup home until 12 weeks that is also late to bring a pup home who needs to be introduced to goats if he was not being raised with them at the breeder's home. Since puppy is still young he may still be able to bond with the goats but you will need to limit interaction with people where you can and be firm about him not sleeping with people at night. Your other dog is a good role model for him. I would not despair just yet, bonding with goats is your main goal right now, the guarding instincts probably won't surface until after a year. I would reach out to others who have experience with raising livestock guardian dogs and ask if they have ever dealt with this and what ended up happening in their case and how they handled the situations. Knowing what others who have been in your same situation have done that has worked can give you great ideas for trouble shooting the situation, and knowing if additional things need to be done that you wouldn't normally have to do if he had bonded with the goats earlier. Forums are a good place to ask questions also if you don't have people in your community you can talk to in person about their experience: Forum 1: https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/training-new-livestock-guardian-dog-zbcz1608 Forum2 : https://www.workingdogforum.com/vBulletin/f33/best-livestock-guardian-breed-11176/index7.html Forum 3: http://www.greatpyr.com/forum/showthread.php?39445-Livestock-Guardian-Dog-as-Pets-(Ethical-Argument There are also bloggers out there with a lot of experience who share their experience for free: http://tiramarhomestead.com/2017/01/succeeding-with-a-livestock-guardian-dog-puppy/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Fraga and Penha
Pyrenean Mastiff
4 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Fraga and Penha
Pyrenean Mastiff
4 Months

Hi, I own these two Estrela Mountain Dogs, a Portuguese breed of mastiffs (basically cousins of the Pyrenees, mine are the less common short hair coat and colours are also less popular, specially the dark one but they are pure breed). These dogs have been used to guard - not herd - cattle since forever and I bought them to guard my sheep.

The dogs arrived at the age of 13 weeks and they've been with me for a month. The dogs sleep at the farm, with the sheep, and I live in the village. My main goal has been for the puppies to bond more with the sheep than with me. I show up in the morning and feed them, then disappear for a few hours and return at the end of the day. The problem is that they are not really bonding with the sheep, instead they are just bored and waiting for me to return. To make things worse, I already had two Irish Terriers that do live with us and are a great source of amusement for the puppies. They cannot keep the pace of the terriers but they certainly picked from them the chasing each other and fighting games, together with some attempts to tackle the sheep - nothing much so far. They also learned passages through hedges and manage to escape the strick perimeter intended for them. The terriers also need some action - boy they do need action! - and I must take them to the farm but I wonder if their presence is not spoiling the puppies' training for guarding...
I know they will not stay behind and guard the sheep unless they bond with them, my question at this point is if, at the age of 4 months, they are still well on time to develop this bonding by sleeping next to them or if I might have missed the critical period for that sort of "imprinting". I also would like to know how much of a problem is the presence of the terriers. The dogs have to know each other otherwise when the Estrelas grow up they might become aggressive towards them.
Many thanks for any advice!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
424 Dog owners recommended

Hello David, It sounds like the pups from that litter may have had too much interaction from people from birth - which is normally something you want for a pet dog, but something you have to be careful about with a livestock guardian dog. If you didn't bring pup home until 13 weeks that is also late to bring a pup home who needs to be introduced to livestock if he was not being raised with them at the breeder's home. Since the puppies are still young they may still be able to bond with the sheep given time. They probably will have to do a lot of catching up though, and there are no guarantees. Guarding instincts also probably won't become obvious until closer to a year - as you approach adulthood just watch for signs of aggression toward the sheep most of all if they have not obviously bonded. I would not despair just yet. I would limit interaction with your other dogs. You can still bring the dogs with you occasionally for socialization purposes but the interactions need to be more structured, with less play and free roaming that teaches the puppies bad things. I am most concerned about your terrier's behavior toward the sheep - that is definitely something you do not want to risk puppies learning from the other dogs. You may need to keep the terriers on leash while with you so that they are used to being in their presence but not directly playing with them or near the sheep. Bringing one dog at a time might also keep things calmer. I would reach out to others who have experience with raising livestock guardian dogs and ask if they have ever dealt with the late bonding and what ended up happening in their case and how they handled the situation. Knowing what others who have been in your same situation have done that has worked can give you great ideas for trouble shooting the situation, and knowing if additional things need to be done that you wouldn't normally have to do if they had bonded with the sheep earlier. Forums are a good place to ask questions also if you don't have people in your community you can talk to in person about their experience: Forum 1: https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/training-new-livestock-guardian-dog-zbcz1608 Forum2 : https://www.workingdogforum.com/vBulletin/f33/best-livestock-guardian-breed-11176/index7.html Forum 3: http://www.greatpyr.com/forum/showthread.php?39445-Livestock-Guardian-Dog-as-Pets-(Ethical-Argument There are also bloggers out there with a lot of experience who share their experience for free: http://tiramarhomestead.com/2017/01/succeeding-with-a-livestock-guardian-dog-puppy/ Continue to keep human interaction boring and not overly affectionate so as not to encourage further preference for people. You want the dogs to be tolerant of people and let you handle them when needed, but not overly social with people - as you know I am sure. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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