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

ribbon-method-1
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

ribbon-method-3
Effective
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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.
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The Dog Role Model Method

ribbon-method-2
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?
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Written by Laurie Haggart

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

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Kevin
Great pyr/white lab
6 Months
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Question
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Kevin
Great pyr/white lab
6 Months

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.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1130 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

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Question
Edur
Great Pyrenees/Anatolian Shepherd/Irish Wolfhound
10 Months
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Edur
Great Pyrenees/Anatolian Shepherd/Irish Wolfhound
10 Months

Is he too old to be trained as a livestock guardians for sheep? He's part of a pack of 5 (parents & 2 siblings). They've been outside dogs & exposed to all ages of people,the neighbor's dogs, & chickens. He's the best behaved with the chickens but I don't trust him unsupervised because he still likes to chase them occasionally. Friends are looking for livestock guardians for sheep & I think he would adapt. He's also never been allowed outside a fenced yard except trips to vet because I wanted them to understand their boundaries. "Leave it" is a command he's familiar with & will respond to.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1130 Dog owners recommended

Hello Leisa, I wouldn't recommend it personally. Pup can probably be taught to generally guard the property, not chase the livestock if they aren't directly penned with them, through teaching boundaries of the property with a fence separating pup from the livestock, but in order for pup to guard the animals like a livestock guarding dog, penned with them, without treating them like play things or prey, pup needs to form a bond and see them as family; to develop this bond, a young puppy generally needs grow up living with another type of animal, so pup feels protective of that type of animal, instead of viewing them like prey or a play thing. Since pup is already chasing the animals, that doesn't show promise of pup adapting without risking harm to their animals. There can be the rare dog that will adapt late if they already have a calm disposition and show care toward the livestock, but it doesn't sound like your dog is that dog. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Riggs
Great Pyrenees
3 Years
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Question
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Riggs
Great Pyrenees
3 Years

We got Riggs when he was a puppy about 12 weeks old to guard our sheep. His father was a guard for goats but other than that he didn't have other dogs to train him to guard. He guards great and we don't have any coyote problems (just hawks that get baby lambs but I'm not sure any guard dog will prevent bird predators). However, he gets very playful and a little aggressive with baby lambs. He loves to bite off their ears. He has never killed one but injures them from what we believe he is trying to play with them. He will also separate the ewe with a baby sometimes and not let it back with the rest of the herd and sometimes not back with the baby. Riggs will also occasionally protect the waterer and not let the sheep drink. Is it too late to train him properly? If not, what are the steps we should take to train him. Thanks!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1130 Dog owners recommended

Hello April, It sounds like pup may not have been supervised and corrected for the behaviors toward the lambs during lambing season early on. Some young dogs will "protect" the lambs from the ewes and chewing of ears can be part of that behavior. I would consider a combination of separating pup from the ewes with lambs during lambing season when you cannot supervise, letting the dog be with those sheep too when you can supervise, then correcting when you see unwanted "protecting the lambs from the ewes, including behaviors toward the lambs that are inappropriate". I would also check out a couple of livestock guarding forums, and ask the others there who have experienced the same issues what they found an effective solution if the dog was older. You might get some good insight and be able to give more details about your situation there. https://www.workingdogforum.com/threads/best-livestock-guardian-breed.11176/page-4 https://www.dogforum.com/threads/lgds-livestock-guardian-dogs-breeds-problematic-behaviors-temp.331882/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
June
Great Pyrenees
8 Months
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Question
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June
Great Pyrenees
8 Months

She is still hyper and likes to play kind of rough with the sheep to the point she starts pulling out their wool in clumps not to hurt them but in a playful manner. Need advice on how to calm here down while doing her job. Thanks.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1130 Dog owners recommended

Hello Doug, First, check out Livestock guarding dog forums like this one. They can be a great resource as issues come up along the way. https://www.backyardherds.com/threads/great-pyrenees-rough-with-sheep.39105/ How is pup's Leave It and Come type commands? If those are not excellent, I recommend teaching pup those commands, then practicing them around the sheep with pup on a long training leash. What are the Sheep doing when she nips at them? Are they running, ranging too far, simply standing there? There may be something in the sheep's behavior that is causing pup to interact that way. If not, pup may simply be trying to play like you said. I would pen pup in an adjacent pen where she can be near the sheep but not able to physically bit them for a while. I would allow pup to interact with the sheep several times a day while on a long training leash and interrupt pup anytime she tries to be rough with the sheep while in the same pen as them, using the long training leash and verbal commands to call her away from them. If she is completely reliable with commands like Leave It and Come even in a scenario like that, you can forgo the training leash potentially, and just use your verbal commands to teach her whenever she starts getting too rough or looks like she is trying to engage the sheep in a way she shouldn't and needs to give the sheep more space. Expect this to take some time and practice right now. She is young and will need your guidance, the behavior to be prevented when you can't train, and a bit of time to mature most likely. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Ruger
Great Pyrenees
6 Years
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Question
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Ruger
Great Pyrenees
6 Years

I have two foster Pyrenees. I also have sheep and pigs and chickens. The people that surrendered them said that they had been LGD. I don't believe anything I do not see with my own eyes. Initially they chased my chickens. They don't any more. It has been about 8 months that they have been in my home.
Last year, the female killed a goat kid. It was my fault. I did not introduce them properly and I left them alone. This last February, one of them killed a lamb. They were in their yard and the lamb got out of her pasture. Again, my fault. I had not yet introduced anyone. I have taken both dogs around the sheep on leash -- the female, off leash because she is better at minding me. She will wonder among the sheep and only approached them if they sniff her and then she returns the sniff. I do not leave her alone with them.
The male was on leash with me out in the sheep pasture today and puppy pounced at a ewe. He immediately stopped when I "EH"ed at him and said "no".
Both dogs will protect the chickens, pigs and cows. They have chased off coyote, raccoons and a Florida bear. I just haven' let them protect the sheep because I know I have not trained them well enough and I don't know if they can be trained. They are 6 years old.
My question is, "Is there a way to train them to guard the sheep?"

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1130 Dog owners recommended

Hello, Honestly, I would not ever trust them to guard the sheep. You could likely train them to avoid the sheep to stop future killings at pets who do not live with the sheep, and even to potentially guard with a barrier between them and the sheep - like a secondary fence outside of the original sheep enclosure, so that predators have to go through pup's fence before they could get to the sheep fence within the other fence, but your dog's still have a boundary between them and the sheep fence. Imagine a square within a square - sheep in the inner square, dogs on the outer square, with fencing between the dogs and sheep and between the dogs and rest of the yard. I would also ask your question on some livestock dog forums to see if anyone has done so successfully. There are exceptions to things certainly, and someone there might be able to offer some insight. Personally, the risk to your sheep seems to great, even though the dogs could likely improve enough that they did okay most of the time - it only takes once though, and since they have already killed livestock, the usual route for training is to treat the dog's to avoid the livestock to stop the killing - which isn't very compatible with being able to guard them at the same time. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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