We have finally did it! On February 27th, 2010, we got our LGD (Livestock Guardian Dog). We have been researching and contemplating what sort of "protection animal" we would employ to keep our sheep safer. The options are a) Donkey b) Llama c) LGD (Akbash, Maremma, Great Pyrenees, etc). Our property is surrounded by about 400 acres of bush, and in that 400 acres are numerous coyotes. While nothing will guarantee that our sheep will be 100% safe while out in the paddock overnight, we knew we had to invest in good fencing, and a guard animal.
LIVESTOCK GUARD DOGS
Mid-April, 2010, Taylor and I took Bruce to the Vet's office for his check-up and vaccinations. I was so proud of him - you would have thought we have had this puppy at obedience school his whole life! He sat calmly on the floor while the 2 house cats were getting their check-ups, was a true gentleman while Dr. Tanya did his exam. He got his shots without complaints, and sat on the scale so we could get an accurate weight for him. At 12 weeks, he weighed in at 29lb! At 7 weeks, we brought home a 9lb baby, and then at this appointment we had a 12 weeks old baby who weighs almost as much as his human sister, Taylor, did at the time. And Dr. Tanya said she could feel some hip bones, and said he is a little under weight! Much to Bruce's pleasure, he would get more food at mealtime!
Both Matt and I were cautious and doubtful that we could succeed as "parents" of a puppy. Not to mention, as I have never had an outdoor dog (my family had a Husky growing up, and she lived inside), I was not convinced that we could have a Livestock Guard Dog that would live in the barn with the sheep, and still have manners and obedience to interact with humans. So far - so GREAT! He is a huge puppy already - so sometimes it is easy to forget that he is still just a baby! I am super glad I spent a bit more money to get a purebred puppy that had been raised in the breeder's home, surrounded by 4 children who held the puppies regularly, instead of saving a few bucks to get a purebred puppy from a breeder who has her dogs exclusively in the barn, which is where the puppies were born and raised. Yes, the later puppies were born to working LGDs, though I felt they would have been less socialized than puppy raised in a house with children. And since we have Taylor, and she is little, I felt we would all benefit from a puppy who has been socialized from Day 1. I feel this decision has paid off. Just something for you to think about should you be contemplating getting a LGD for your property.
Beginning of July 2010, I counted on my fingers, and realized Bruce was just 3 days shy of being 6 months old. We had been telling people he was 7 or 8 months old. Judging solely on his size and behaviour, you would have assumed he was a full-grown dog. For a dog that, honestly, has had minimal training and obedience lessons, he is such a sweet, well-behaved boy. He spends 90% of his time out in the paddock with the sheep, and this is where he prefers to be. For the last few weeks, he has been spending all night outside with the sheep as well. I think in the last 4 months since we brought him home, I have heard him bark once. We love our Bruce!
My mom & I went and picked up "Bruce". He was a 7-week-old Great Pyrenees puppy, weighing in at 9lb 4oz. He has paws the size of a bear cub, and full-grown, should weigh in at about 120lb and about 36" tall. His "job" and inherent desire is to protect something - a flock of sheep, herd of goats, or a family. From Day 1, we have had Bruce sharing the pen with our seven, 30lb ewe lambs. He had a crate in the pen, where he could escape if the sheep were being bothersome. He was fed in his crate, and shares the water pail with the sheep. He stayed in the ewe lamb pen for a couple months. The purpose was to imprint the sheep on him, so his desire would become pleasing and protecting the sheep, rather than wanting to please us humans. Great Pyrenees are independent thinkers and calm by nature, so as Bruce may decide what he thinks is acceptable, we may never be able to teach him tricks that he thinks are ridiculous!
Donkeys are said to be great livestock guard animals. Though I just don't envision myself trimming hooves of a donkey. Miniature donkeys are said not to be as effective guardian animals as standard size donkeys. In my mind, a full-size animal means full-size meals, when I am used to serving mini sized meals. Plus, that is a stall in the barn dedicated to a donkey. I looked into Llamas too, though Matt wouldn't agree to any animal that would spit on him. So much for getting a camel! And that leaves us with a LGD.
I am going to admit publicly that neither Matt nor I are "dog people". We don't wish to dedicate our time to a house dog. We have 2 rather lazy, relaxed house cats, who are low maintenance, and that suits us just fine. We would rather be outside playing and working than chasing a dog who refuses to stay on our property. We have tried before to be dog owners, and failed miserably each time. This time, it is going to be different.
We would let him out of the pen, and tell Bruce it is "time to play". We'd leave the barn, and get exercise, and chat with each other. When the little bugger got tired, we'd tell him it's "time to work" and put him back in the barn with his sheep. The ewe lambs, with the exception of Josie (who seems to have a little attitude) took quite well to him. And certainly the hope was that, in a couple months, when the snow was gone and the sun was warm, all the sheep and Bruce could go out to the paddock and spend their days in the fresh air. While Bruce won't be "working" until he is about 18 months old, this time is crucial for training and imprinting the sheep on him.
It seems my stubborn ways have created a Livestock Guard Dog that is a working dog AND a loveable family dog as well. I was initially told by some dog owners that I could either have a dog that works well with the sheep and protects them as he is trained to do, or we could have a dog that is friendly and social, though we could not have both. I purchased Bruce from a breeder who had the parents and puppies in the house - not from the breeder who had 2 working Pyrs that had a litter out in the barn. The house dogs were raised with 3 children and already socialized. The barn dogs - not so much. My thinking was that the Great Pyr had this built-in desire to protect, and should be able to do so whether or not ever having "worked" before. We have people over to visit, we have friends over with children, these children like to go into the paddocks and play with the animals. I didn't want these people being attacked or intimidated by our dog.
Bruce has proven to be a loveable dog that loves children, animals, and cats (our cats anyway!) When not in his paddock, and out in the yard with us working in the bush or playing in the yard, he is a funny, gentle goof. When in the paddocks with his animals, he is quite calm, most of the time, although we have to give some correction at times. If we are home, and someone comes over, he barks to let us know someone is here - unless he recognizes their vehicle! When we are not home - you may not want to get out of the vehicle. Bruce makes it known this is his house and his family (human and 4-legged).