Introducing Puppies To New Livestock
Updated: May 28
Managing the environment for young LGDs as they learn their job is the safest, most effective way to be sure the pups get off to a confident start.
I use great care when introducing puppies to any new livestock. Because I place only adolescent pups who have quite a bit of experience with livestock it usually takes the animals the new owner wants my dogs to protect longer to make the transition than it does the pups. This is important to recognize! Don’t assume that your sweet little sheep will welcome a canine guardian, because their interactions with canines to this point was with ones with prey drive.
When I introduce pups of any age to new livestock I let them share a fence line for a day or so. Typically, in what seems like no time at all, I’ll go out to do my chores and find pups and livestock snuggled up to each other against the fence. That is a good indication they are ready to share the same ground.
Dependent on the age of the pups and the type of livestock and their disposition, I often keep the livestock and young dogs together through the daytime hours only initially because I can easily monitor the situation. These dogs love their jobs. Working builds confidence so I strive to keep them together with their livestock full time as early as I feel is safe for everyone, but it is far easier to prevent a behavior from being learned in the first place than it is to try to fix it later!
I know how the dogs are doing with the sheep because the behavior of the sheep tells me so. If the dogs can meander through the flock while the sheep are grazing, or down on the ground chewing their cuds, and the sheep never stop chewing, there is no anxiety in their posture. When I see this kind of behavior I begin to allow the pups and their livestock to stay together through the night as well.
Maremmas own the ground they stand on, as defined for them by the fence line surrounding them. LGDs feel responsibility for the management of this ground from very early in their lives. But remember, in the case of puppies, even though they see themselves as capable and exhibit clear working behaviors when they are relatively young care must be taken to support their early confidence.
I watch the body language of the pups very carefully. A pup who carries himself with confidence is in an area of an appropriate size for him to learn in at his age and skill level. However, a pup who is overwhelmed shows body language that is quite different. A frightened pup will carry himself low to the ground and hang to the edges of the field. His back will be rounded and his tail curled somewhat under him. He’ll almost look as if he’s trying to be invisible. That pup needs support, now.
The selection of the first livestock for the pups to work with is very important. No, baby lambs do not belong with baby puppies! Cute? Yes. A responsible choice, no. Think of the first livestock as mentors for your pups. One of the ways to use early livestock is to pattern for the pups behaviors you want to see more of. Pups will play off of the energy of their livestock during this impressionable time. If you want your pups, as adults, to be effervescent fools give them lambs! Nothing is as simple as black and white, and some pups can handle this, but it wouldn’t be my choice. If you want predictable, slow and steady, gentle LGDs give them slow and steady and gentle livestock, right from the start.