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Hi I'm Leslie

I'm a full-time farmer in Western Wisconsin where I raise meat goats and sheep on pasture using regenerative and rotational grazing practices.

I created this website because
I had so many people reaching out, both locally and beyond, wanting to know more about how I was raising and marketing goats.

I also recognized that it IS so hard to find information in this space. I wanted to share what I've learned along the way and reduce your time searching the depths of the internet.


How to train livestock guardian dogs

Livestock guardian dogs play an important role on goat and sheep farms. But, it takes some work to bring on a new puppy and go through the process of livestock guardian dog training. 

This article will cover how to raise, train, and socialize your livestock guardian dogs so they can do their “job” guarding your livestock, yet still be sociable with you and your family. 

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While there are many different approaches to training and working with livestock guardian dogs, I’ll be sharing the process we use on our farm, Cylon Rolling Acres, and what has worked for us over the last 10+ years working with six different puppies. We recently brought home a new Great Pyrenees puppy this spring and are working on getting her adjusted and trained to do her job.  

You may find that a process works better in your particular situation. Every dog and situation is different. However, this approach will give you some guidance as you work with training your livestock guardian dogs. 

Breeds and sourcing livestock guardian dogs

While the focus of this article is on training livestock guardian dogs, I wanted to briefly touch on dog breeds and tips for sourcing dogs and puppies for your farm, ranch, or homestead. 

Make sure you’re working with a dog from guardian breed lines, such as Great Pyrenees. You can learn more about some of the popular LGD breeds in this article here. The dogs do not need to be purebred, but they should be one of the breeds or a mix of those breeds. Using dogs that are a mix of guardian dog breeds and a different breed, especially a herding dog breed, should be avoided. This is to minimize any inherent traits that might cause confusion or issues in how the dog interacts (or doesn’t with the livestock). 

Additionally, when it comes to sourcing a dog to be your livestock guardian dog, an already working dog living with livestock, older than 2 years of age, can be viewed as ideal to have a dog that’s ready to work and not go through the puppy stage. 

However, this can be hard to find. And, if you do find a dog that meets this criteria, you’ll want to know specifically why the dog is for sale or being rehomed. While farmers may be retiring and not have a need for a guardian dog, many times LGDs or these breeds of dogs are being rehomed for behavior issues, roaming problems, or aggression. “Rescue dogs” may be bonded to humans over livestock. This doesn’t mean the dog might not work for your farm, but it’s something to think seriously about, especially if it’s your first livestock guardian dog.

So then where do you start? Buy livestock guardian dog puppies from a working farm, ranch or homestead. The puppies should be being raised with the livestock right from birth, in the barn or pasture. This way they are starting to bond with livestock and are beginning to take cues from their mom on how to interact with animals.

Research from Texas AgriLife Extension suggests that LGD puppies who are bonded with livestock after weaning (2 months of age) and trained on their “home farm” in the first year of life are more likely to stay with their bonded goats, sheep, or other livestock over a puppy that has been raised for a longer period with their breeder (2022).

Introducing to other dogs on the farm

If you already have other dogs on the farm, you’ll want to think about how you’ll introduce your new puppy to the other dogs, especially other livestock guardian dogs. 

These are not your typical dogs or pets, they work off instinct to protect and ward off threats to the goats, sheep, or whatever livestock they are protecting. Those threats are predators, which include unknown dogs. This means it is especially important to get the new dog acclimated with the existing dogs, especially other guardian dogs, over some time. 

You’ll want to get them very familiar and comfortable with each other before you ever let them loose together, and unsupervised. 

I’ll start with putting the new dog on a leash and walking them up by the gate or fence line where our other guardian dogs live. For the first few days (or more) the goal is to just get your other dogs familiar with the new dog and start to associate that dog with you regularly. 

You don’t need to (or should at this point) get up close to the gate or fence. Just be a few feet or more away. Spend 5-10 minutes or so there and then move on. Repeat this daily until the dogs are not showing their typical “warding off unwanted guests/predators” behavior, such as constant barking, growling, or any aggressive behavior. Start to watch for any curious behavior with both the new dog and old dogs. 

Once it seems like they are ready for the next step, keep the new dog on the leash and let them closer to the fence line or gate so they can sniff and get to know each other. Again, the goal this time is to let them get to know each other and continue to associate you, their owner, with this new dog. Repeat this for a few days until it seems like they are curious but no longer aggressive or view the new dog as a threat. 

During this process, you’ll want to make sure you’re not letting the new dog run free on their own along the fenceline where the other dogs live and work. 

Next, you can move into walking the new dog inside the pen/pasture on a leash with the livestock and the other dogs. You can use a regular leash or a horse lead line to allow the new dog to have a little more freedom, yet you still have control over where they’re going. 

You’ll do this process over a series of several days until you feel comfortable with how they’re interacting with the other dogs. 

If any time the dogs do get into it, for your safety do not get in between the dogs fighting. If possible use the leash to remove the puppy from the situation. Typically, if your older dogs know and trust you, you should be able to pull the puppy to you and remove the puppy from the pasture/pen. You can always drop the leash if need be to let the puppy get away on their own. 

In this whole process, always use your discretion based on the situation at hand and knowing how your dogs have behaved over time. It is always better to err on the side of caution and give more time to the introduction phase.

So what do you do with your puppy during the time they are getting introduced to your other dogs? We’ll get into the “training process” next, but if possible create a space where your puppy can live close to or near other livestock on the farm, even if it’s just a few animals, until they can move into the full herd with the other dogs full time. 

As the puppy continues with her introductions to other dogs and the “training” and is accepted by the guardian dogs, I’ll let the puppy interact with the other guardian dogs on her own off the leash. There will be a gradual supervision process (I’ll cover this in the training process later since it overlaps with this).

When it comes to other dogs on the farm that aren’t guardian dogs, such as herding dogs or just your pet dog, I will let them interact and be comfortable with each other, but I don’t let them play with each other or run free unattended with one another. It goes both ways with correcting this interaction. I want them to get along and not fight, but I don’t want the puppy to get confused (or distracted) about what her job is.

So for example, our guardian dogs don’t play with our herding dog, though they can be around each other. Our new puppy is interested in our herding dog, but our herding dog just ignores her interest in playing. 

Livestock guardian dog training concerns

Technically livestock guardian dogs don’t need training since they operate off their instincts. However, there are some initial introductions and processes to follow that will help make the beginning stages of raising and “training” a livestock guardian puppy easier. 

There are a few common concerns or trains of thought among online discussion groups related to young guardian dogs:

1. A guardian dog under the age of two should not be unsupervised or should not be working on their own until they’re out of the “puppy stage.” 

I recognize that two years is a long time to wait, especially when you have livestock like goats and sheep and no older guardian dogs. I’ve been there. You can’t wait. So what do you do? You do a training process and build up responsibility and trust with the dog over time. Texas AgriLife Extension Guardian Dog Program says at 9-10 months old a puppy should be able to work on its own or along with another experienced dog (2022). 

The process to get your dog ready may take a few months to get there, but eventually, you should be able to get to a point where you can let the dog be with the livestock full time even while they’re still under two age.

Of course, monitoring behavior and addressing issues is still a priority. We’ll get into that later, But I wanted to bring this train of thought up right away since it’s often a common concern on “what to do” for new LGD owners. 

2. A guardian dog puppy needs to be trained by an older experienced guardian dog. 

This is another ideal world example. On our farm, we are fortunate now to be in a situation, where our older dogs can mentor our new puppies. But, I recognize this isn’t the case for many new livestock guardian dog owners.

I was there too when we got our first LGD on our farm. Just in the situation listed in the first example, with a new puppy, you’ll take the same approach to get your dog “trained.” The good news is that if your dog is one of the guardian dog breeds or a mix of those specific breeds, and has lived with livestock since birth, odds are that your dog will have the drive and instinct to protect. You’ll be there to just correct behaviors. 

Living arrangements

When we get a new puppy on our farm, I like to make a pen for the dog inside the main pen where the livestock are housed. If the animals are out on pasture it would be a portable pen made out of cattle panels. 

The idea for the pen is for the puppy to have a safe space, but still be by the livestock 24/7 so they can continue to form a bond with them. When the puppy is new to the farm she can “kennel” in this pen, but then come out supervised (more on this process later).

As she progresses in how she interacts with the livestock (and other guardian dogs), she will eventually have free access to come and go from the pen. You can allow access to this pen for the puppy by creating a space at the bottom of the pen where the puppy can crawl under without letting the goats or sheep inside. We will also feed her inside this pen as well.

Even when the puppy is young, she will live in the barn with stock or out with the livestock 24/7. She will not come into the house or shop overnight.

Her duty is to learn to watch over the livestock full-time, if she’s in the house that’s not happening. Most predators are nocturnal. It’s important for her to also stay with the livestock right from the start full time so she builds a bond WITH THE LIVESTOCK, not her humans.

If she’s bonded to her humans, she will likely want to break out of the pen, pasture, electric fence, and so on to be with you and your family. It will lead to unintentional struggles in the future.

More tips about socializing your guardian dog are included later in this article.

The livestock guardian dog training process

Once the puppy is introduced and accepted to any existing livestock guardian dogs, we will start her “training” by bringing her out to do herd checks or chores so she can interact with the livestock. Then we will build up responsibility over time. 

Step 1: Lead line 

I’ll do this first by having her on a long lead line so she has more freedom to move where she desires and I can also tie it to my waste (only if you choose). I like to use lead lines for horses combined with a simple chain dog collar.  This stage is also a good time for her to get familiar with electric fence if you use it on your farm while she is with you. This way if you need to help her get back into a paddock or temporarily turn off the electric fence you’ll be there to do so.

I’ll do this stage daily for a few weeks until I feel she is ready to progress to the next step. 

This stage is also nice for the puppy to get accustomed to being on a leash. While your dog may not be on a leash very often in its entire lifetime, it is handy to have them comfortable with one so you can easily move them around the farm outside of fenced-in areas, need to bring them to the veterinarian, or if they decide to “get out and roam” you can bring them back to where they belong (it can happen, but hopefully not often!). 

During this time I’ll also work on recall (coming when called to her name) and name recognition. 

Step 2: Off the lead line, but supervised

In this step, the puppy is now free to move with the livestock on their own off the lead line, but they are supervised by you. This stage works well when you’re doing your farm chores, herd checks, or have work in a nearby area where you can keep a close eye on the puppy’s behavior. 

The main thing you want to watch for and correct is chasing any livestock, but especially lambs and kids. Sometimes the ewes or does will correct the negative action for you with a head butt to the puppy if she is chasing their baby. This is ok if it’s a quick action, but if the ewe or doe continues to retaliate, you’ll want to get your puppy of out of the situation.

If you have other livestock guardian dogs, also keep an eye on how they interact with the puppy. I’ve found sometimes our older dogs will occasionally growl at the puppy, like an older sibling who is annoyed with them, but not take any further action. But, in the early stages, it is always good to monitor the relationships among the dogs as they learn to interact with each other and the puppy learns its place in the hierarchy of the guardian dogs. 

I’ll do this stage daily for a few weeks until I feel the puppy is ready to progress into the next stage, which is unsupervised interaction. 

Step 3: Daily, unsupervised interaction/work with livestock

Now the puppy will move into being able to spend larger amounts of time or the “day” with the livestock without needing to be supervised for the entire time.

As you get started in this step, you’ll still want to check in and see how things are going. Additionally, it works well to start with a few hours unsupervised, then work the pup’s way up to more time. 

Again you’ll want to keep an eye out for any undesirable behavior, including chasing livestock and playing with livestock. 

This stage will progress over several weeks until you feel that you are comfortable with the puppy being with the herd of goats or sheep 24/7. You may feel the dog can move sooner to full-time with the herd if you have an older guardian dog living with them as well. 

The older dog will act as a mentor to help the younger guardian dog learn and act on their natural instincts. 

Step 4: Full-time work with the livestock

At this point, the dog can be with the livestock 24/7 unsupervised. From here out they’ll be acting on their natural instincts to guard and protect the livestock they are bonded with. 

You’ll want to continue to monitor their interactions to make sure they aren’t developing any undesirable behaviors or if corrections need to be made.

Socializing your guardian dog

I know there are many concerns about a hands-off approach and a potential lack of socialization with livestock guardian dogs. I have a family with young kids and this is a concern of mine as well. We wanted our dogs to be fully committed to our livestock, but also friendly with us, our kids, and close friends/family. 

Here’s what has worked for us and our farm to have both an effective guardian dog, and socialized with our family.

  1. Recognize these dogs are not pets. First, keep the mindset these dogs are not companion animals or your typical dogs that are pets. This will help with how you work with them and guide them. Also, remind other farm visitors this is the situation as well. The dogs may be standoffish to start and will not want to be pet, nor should be, especially with new interactions. 
  2. Socialize with the puppy and the dogs as they grow up in THEIR SPACE ONLY. We will pet them, hold them (when they are little!!), and play with them in the barn, the goat pens, and the pastures. But we never let them out in the yard or up to the house to play or interact with us. When our puppies were little and could sneak through the fence, we’d pick them up and bring them back to the barn where they’d belong and leave right away so they couldn’t follow us out. With time they don’t feel the need to leave to find us, they are content in their space with their livestock.

These two steps have helped us maintain a good and friendly relationship with our guardian dogs while letting them do their work 24/7.

Other training resources:

Other LGD tools and gear:

  • Dewclaw clip
  • Horse lead line and an anti-pull collar
  • Puppy food
  • Wondercide
  • Dishes


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