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