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Puppies Are Born Perfect - Owners Have Some Skill-Building to Do - How To Become a Great LGD Owner

I do not use, or promote, training methods that dogs fear or will work to avoid.

Puppies are born perfect. And yet, in the case of LGD puppies, thirty percent of them fail due to learned behaviors mostly due to the choices the humans around them make, and most will pay with their lives. People are not as perfect as puppies.

Certainly not perfect myself I am right there. Twice, in my years (2014-2024 onward) with these incredible dogs, I have failed them in a big enough way that euthanasia became what I thought was the most compassionate choice. Both dogs were less than two years old. Both were successful here, and happy, and if I had kept them with me, rather than allowing them to go to a new home, I believe they would still be alive today. But if I were to keep all the epic LGDs that I have shared my life with, how would that serve anyone but me? Paying it forward, sharing the dogs that I have raised or trained that I am so proud of with others who need trustworthy guardian dogs, is how I stand as an example of what is possible with LGDs. I hope that the level of training dogs leave me with will inspire others.

Historically, LGDs were expendable. Dogs that failed were shot, or humanely euthanized, and a “good” dog came in its place. Keep in mind that the first LGD was perfect upon arrival and failed over time in the hands of the owner. I really have been told that a person was sold a “bad” Maremma and that he was going to get rid of it and get a good one.

When I bought my first Maremmas it was very difficult, if not impossible, to become well-educated and well-prepared to step into the role of LGD ownership before the arrival of the dogs, but that just isn’t true anymore. My combination of extensive coursework in learning about behavioral science, my extensive personal experience with over 300 Maremmas, and my propensity to sit at my computer and “tell white dog stories,” as I think of it, means that it is easy for others to take advantage of what I have learned.

  • There are 200+ blog posts on my website, free for the taking, 24/7; many of them include videos of the actual training I have done. Please subscribe to my website to receive notice of newly published blog posts.

  • My YouTube channel has 400+ videos about training livestock guardian dogs. Please subscribe to be notified when new videos are posted.

  • My online livestock guardian dog training courses; published on Christmas Eve, 2023.

My husband states that it is easy to be a big fish if you play in a small enough puddle. He believes I have found my puddle. Works for me. I may be the first to combine science and LGD training, but I will not be the last. People are listening, and dogs confirm that the kind of training I do makes sense to them. I hope to be changing the terrible statistic of failure one dog at a time.

Completion of my online course

"From Novice to Expert: Nurture and Train Livestock Guardian Dogs"

is the BEST way to become a great LGD owner.

This is the link to the course above:

This is the link to the FREE LGD mini course "What Is a Livestock Guardian Dog?"

This is an online, science-based course about how dogs learn and how to change the behavior of dogs using positive reinforcement tools. Among these are capturing, targeting, and shaping; I use these tools every single day of my life with my dogs.

The course is very well designed and presented.

Years ago, when I began requiring the completion of the KPA Foundations course to own any of my pups, I was told by a fellow breeder that no prospective buyer would work that hard. Why would they?! They can go buy from a breeder who doesn’t make ownership so tough instead. But you know what? Prospective buyers were indeed willing to work that hard because they felt it increased their odds of success with their dogs – and they were right! Almost all of the pups that were produced on my ranch are out there living the kind of life they are owed and are valuable to their owners.

As a trainer, I am contacted by owners who would like to change the behavior of their dogs. Generally, they want to stop a behavior. Let’s build something instead! It is possible to substitute a behavior that isn’t a safe choice for a dog by teaching one that is. Often, that is so very easy to do. Change can happen quickly; dogs begin to relax and be steady workers, and owners begin to smile. But this success is earned. It has nothing at all to do with being born a dog person. The skills necessary for an LGD owner to communicate well with dogs – ARE LEARNED – preferably before the dog arrives at this new home.

And yet, many owners want it to be easy. Living with LGDs is an inherently dynamic situation. In my life with my Maremmas, even after all the dogs I have had experience with, I learn from my dogs every – single – day. The opportunity for the lesson of humility exists every single day. The information new owners need to know to be successful as LGD owners exist, now, but it isn’t going to fall from the sky.

Owners of LGDs need to make an effort to learn this stuff – and not on a Facebook page! Oh, the crazy and irresponsible advice that shows up out there on most LGD Facebook pages is astounding. Reach out to science-based methodology and to people who use their dogs (well) in situations similar to how you hope to use your dogs. How many dogs old are you? Some of these people who so freely dispense advice have not had hands-on experience with very many dogs, so their advice is theory, not tested facts.

I’ve put together a list of the most common reasons people give me for not seeking a solid behavioral science education about LGDs. All of them are valid, real-world reasons, but the stakes are way too high for these reasons to be more important than the welfare of the dog. Most LGDs don’t get second chances, as companion dogs often do, because re-training an LGD is a very difficult, if not impossible, task. Let’s get it right the first time.

#1 – I don’t want to be a dog trainer.

The number one reason I am given by people is that they don’t want to be a dog trainer, they just want to have an LGD to guard their animals. Well, if you own a dog, that ship has sailed – you are indeed a dog trainer because dogs learn continually from the people in their lives. So, you may not be a very skillful trainer. You may be a reluctant or unenthusiastic trainer. But if you own a dog, you are indeed a trainer. You might have the potential to become a very good, skillful, enthusiastic trainer. What a deal! Let’s find out.

#2 – I am too busy.

Humm. Puppies learn on speed-dial; so fast. Adult dogs learn more slowly. As a broad statement, I believe that it takes ten times the effort to modify the behavior of an adult dog than it does to train a puppy. No training is better than bad training, because at least there is a blank slate rather than trying to change the dog’s mind about something that he has learned works. But that isn’t actually real, because dogs learn all their lives.

Most of what dogs learn from the people around them isn’t taught with intention by the people. So, while you are busy doing other things, the dog is learning. It is far preferable to intentionally, and skillfully, train a dog than it is to have to attempt to retain a dog. Making the effort to do training well the first time is an efficient use of an owner’s time as well as protecting the welfare of the dog.

#3 – I can’t afford it.

Humm, again. What did you pay for your dog? Do you have enough money to replace him if things don’t work out? Do you have enough money to replace him and feed him for the next twelve years, as well as feed the new dog? What is your livestock worth? Can you afford livestock losses due to your failed dog? Most of my livestock is valued at far more than the current price ($200) of my course. Failed LGDs are very expensive, much more so than the price of the course.

#4 -I already know how to train dogs.

OK, let’s assume that is true, that there will be no new information for you in this course. Do you also know how to apply all that is presented in the course to life with an LGD? How do you know that? When I took the KPA course, I had been training animals all my life, as a business. I had raised over fifty Maremmas at that point. And yet, there were many, many “lightbulb moments” for me throughout this course. I was comforted to find that I did indeed know some things. I learned that some of the training tools in my toolbox had names. I learned why some of what I had done in training my animals over the years worked – as well as why it didn’t. I wrote the training manual as a guide for how to use what is presented in the course to advantage with LGDs, specifically, based on my years of experience with many LGS.

That is the value here; a well-presented, science-based course with the specialized application of these methods to what is valuable to LGDs. What a gift this is to dogs and their owners.

#5 - I tried clicker training once, and it didn’t work with my dog.

Well, clicker training and training with a clicker are not the same thing. A clicker is just a piece of plastic; it holds no magic, but the methodology does. If you aren’t using the science of clicker training accurately, the piece of plastic will do you no good at all. This happens A LOT!

Clicker training is more accurately termed marker training. The dog does a behavior, a sound or signal happens (the behavior is marked), and the dog is reinforced for the behavior, which makes it more likely that the behavior will occur again.

There are a couple of secrets about clicker training. One is that the dog can’t know anything serious is going on. The other, very critical aspect, is that the dog must be completely unaware that it is possible, in life, to make a mistake. With my dogs, that is a secret I will take to my grave. I certainly do interrupt and redirect my dogs from behavior that doesn’t serve us to one that does, but in my life, dogs are never wrong.

Can you imagine “correcting” a fish? Or expecting a fish to care about what you think it should do? It is possible to clicker-train a fish, a butterfly, a tiger, an elephant, a bird, and yes, a dog. But true clicker training means that if the dog gets the answer wrong, he is simply given another chance to get it right, another opportunity for reinforcement.

If you ever “correct” a dog, even if you are sweet and trying to be fair, you aren’t using the training as it is presented in the course, you aren’t “clicker training.” No animal likes to feel like they have made a mistake, including humans. For a minimally biddable dog, such as LGDs, why would they take that chance? Why not just go to work in their field with their livestock, which does make absolute sense to them, rather than trying to interact with a human? LGDs are stubborn, independent, and difficult to train? Ah, not so, not in my world. The problem is in the training language, not in the dog.

In summary

The fastest, most economical, least stressful, and safest way to train LGDs is to get it right the first time. Honestly. There are no shortcuts, only risks, and gambling with a dog’s life. Please believe me. In almost every case, every learned behavior that gets an LGD killed was preventable. These dogs die needlessly.

Do you think you would never euthanize a dog?

I think of my Maremmas as 100 lb loaded guns because they are very large dogs who would not hesitate to take on a mountain lion, or a bear, or whatever. If a dog like that becomes aggressive, to humans or livestock, how am I to safely live with that animal? A dog that reaches to aggression as a means to communicate his needs is not happy. Do I have the right to keep an unhappy dog alive? I don’t think so. I think I am responsible to that animal to give it the best possible life.

I strongly feel that being with a dog at the end of his life is even more important than being there at the beginning of that life because this is where humans very often fail dogs. An owner’s emotional needs cannot be more important than the quality of life of the dog. You cannot un-ring that bell. But it is possible to skip all this! Get an education!

Become well-prepared to be responsible for that new LGD in your life and then settle in for the ride. Watching an LGD do their job is an amazing experience. It has truly changed the course of my life. Many dogs are successful despite their owners, not because of them. Maybe most of them. Break with tradition. Be that owner who comes alongside their dog as a partner. This is so very possible.

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