Updated: Feb 5
Planning – Set-up – Be Ready!
The day you’ve waited for is finally here. You pull into the yard with those beautiful pups, take a deep breath and look around, and then….what…..? Making a smooth transition for the pups is incredibly important. These first minutes, hours, and days shape the future for your pups. The good news is that it is completely realistic for you to do a REALLY good job of this! Knowledge is power – participation is key – plan ahead!!!!
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 carefully cultivate in our pups a confident, enthusiastic, creative problem-solving mentality. They have never been faced with anything they couldn’t handle, and I have asked a lot of them. I don’t think they know failure is possible. How wonderful it would be for them to be able to take this attitude forward into adulthood. Take care! Don’t let them down.
I have raised so many of these dogs and live with a stack of them now (sixteen). Even with this base of experience to work from, I still learn from my dogs almost daily, so please know that there will be surprises along the way, even with your very best efforts. I love the dynamic nature of living with my dogs; these surprises can be mere speed bumps and opportunities for learning. Perfection is both elusive and overrated. When I make decisions about managing my dogs, I start with the plan I think will work best, but in my back pocket, I have Plan B and possibly Plan C on the ready.
It is amazing to me how readily these dogs learn. Behaviors can become seemingly habitual almost overnight, so watching and waiting a day or two before reaching out for mentoring is dangerous to both the livestock and your dogs.
I recently read that training dogs is like expecting them to learn English as a second language. Thinking of it that way reminds me of how patient I need to be with my dogs and how realistic my expectations of them must be. In truth, I think what is about to happen is that you now need to learn “Maremma” as a second language. I can tell you that behaviors that seem random and baffling to you make perfect sense to the dogs, and if you can learn to see the world as they do, a magical partnership can begin. Maremmas are inherently kind, sensitive, intelligent dogs. They offer their canine body language honestly; it’s there for you to learn from and understand. This is your responsibility and privilege. You have free will. You brought the dogs home and placed them in the circumstance they find themselves in. Now you get to watch and learn and participate and make sure everyone stays safe and happy.
Arrival Home – Where To Go
Please keep in mind that the pups should feel the safest in the area they are to guard with their new animals, and the more expedient you are in facilitating this for the pups, the more respectful it is to them. When you take them out of your vehicle on a leash with a front attachment to their harnesses, keep them close, softly near you, and take them directly to their new pasture. It’s fine to stop and then go forward again with them as they wish; you don’t need to be in a hurry. It is their job to size up all they see, but part of what they are doing is figuring out what belongs to them. You can help to clarify this for them by going right to their new piece of ground. All household pets should be confined and preferably out of sight. The field the pups are to live in initially should not have livestock in it, but at least a few hoofed creatures should share the fence line. At a minimum, they should be in sight.
I can appreciate that you are anxious to bond with your new pups, and that is as it should be, but please remember – it is not about you! You should not be the most important thing in the life of an LGD; you should not be the “safe” place, the port in a storm. Be careful. As pups, Maremmas will buy into a lot of this if given the opportunity. An adult raised this way is likely to be a noisy, emotionally fragile adult and may show separation anxiety. This is not a kind way to raise a pup!
Think about how traditional shepherds lived with their LGDs. They were seldom away from their dogs, but they were working partners with them. Their dogs were highly valued and nurtured as integral to the success of the shepherd’s livelihood and the safety of the livestock. I am sure bonding time often happened between man and dog, but life was mostly about working alongside each other. So, do feel free to spend time with your pups. I hope you will love them to distraction as I do every one of my dogs. But spend that time in the area you want them to guard. This point is very, very important. Please don’t bring them out to play on the lawn and then put them back in the pasture and expect them to be happy about it. This would be a confusing scenario for the pups. Make sure the most significant emotional payoff for the pups is in the pasture with their livestock. Go do chores in the field they are working in. Walk the fence line – not to show the dog where it is, as people often think they need to do, but because it shows the pups you work there too.
Throughout the day here on the ranch, I spend snuggle time with every one of my dogs as I move in and out of the fields taking care of the livestock and doing chores in general. They are always happy to see me and typically bounce up to me like puppies. I tell them how incredible they are, each and every one of them, every day, and then they just as happily go back to their livestock and responsibilities. That is life in balance with socially well-adjusted LGDs.
It’s nighttime; tomorrow is a new day… please don’t make the common mistake of thinking your pups see it that way! For the pups, their responsibility is just beginning as the sun goes down and you head off to bed. Yes, you need to house them in a way that protects their safety and that of the livestock, but if you think you have an “off” switch in your control, you are much mistaken. House the pups so that they can take in all the new sights and smells of their new home. The sooner they are allowed to do this, the sooner they will become participatory, calm, and confident. These dogs need a job. This is key to their sense of self-worth, or at least that is my human spin on it. What I can tell you is that the sooner the pups feel a sense of where they fit in their new home (their responsibilities), the calmer and more settled they become.