Welcoming a New Livestock Guardian Dog to the Farm

On Monday we were pleased to bring another Maremma livestock guardian dog to work on the farm.

It is fascinating to consider the centuries of careful breeding by shepherds in the mountains of Italy culminating in such a dog. Maremmas are large, imposing dogs capable of scrapping with bears, wolves, and mountain lions. But they are also intelligent, having excellent instincts to understand that, in most cases, they can accomplish more by deterrence with watchful patrolling and commanding barks.

A pleasant dog, but not one to be messed with if you have sinister designs against his chickens.

Raising poultry on pasture is great for the chickens, but it only works if we can coexist with the predators in the area. Dogs have been the ideal solution to this challenge. We are strongly opposed to the idea of trying to exterminate every potential predator on the farm. We believe that they each have their ecological value. But we also aren’t interested in feeding live chickens to the wild critters, so the dogs help to signal to all the would-be chicken eaters that they should do their hunting in a different field. It is fascinating to watch a red fox hunting mallards in the tall grass, as it takes a wide path around the pasture protected by the dogs.

The new guy is a two year-old. He’s named Sushi, which we all think is a strange name for a dog, but he doesn’t know any better. He’s already bigger than our four year old female Greta. And he’s more goofy and affectionate.

Getting to know his new charges.

We’ve been buying fully-trained two year-old dogs. This seems to work better for us. A prepared, competent guard dog is quite expensive, but neither Rachel nor I feel like we are especially good at training dogs, nor do we feel like the other demands of the farm leave us much time to give puppies the dedicated instruction and attention they require.

Livestock guardian dogs need constant training during their first two years to arrive at the point where their minds latch on to the idea that their whole purpose in life is to protect the animals around them. Before then, their puppy brains tend to become distracted by the fun of chasing, pestering, and occasionally eating the animals they are intended to be guarding. Reaching young adulthood, their priorities realign and they become dedicated to their work. I feel inclined to draw some analogies to experiences parenting teenagers, but I’ll resist the urge…

The dogs will spend the spring season together. These days their jobs are easy, as they are only guarding the small flock of laying hens we keep for our family’s eggs. In early May, when the first chickens of the season hit the pasture, they’ll get down to their serious work with 900 chickens spread out across the chicken shelters. Once the turkeys are ready for pasture, Greta will split off to guard them while Sushi will keep pulling chicken duty.

The dogs are beginning to understand each other. Soon enough they’ll be quite a team.

16 thoughts on “Welcoming a New Livestock Guardian Dog to the Farm”

  1. Andrea Merenyi

    How adorable! I wish I could convert the picture with the chickens into a screen saver. All the best to both Sushi and Greta (I grew up with a long haired Saint Bernard, so I’m very partial to foreign large breeds. Thanks for sharing and keep us posted on how he’s getting along with everything and everybody.

  2. It is great to hear that such and a simple and ecologically-sound solution works for you.

    I heard that, apart from eating their chargers, LGDs are also great escapers often requiring a predator-proof fence just to keep the guard in place.

    1. Thankfully we haven’t had too much trouble with escapes. I’ve heard from a number of people that Great Pyrenees dogs are especially prone to wandering off. So there may be predilections to roam in certain breeds. But I’m sure that individual temperament and training are just as important. Our dogs have figured out that they can sneak under a single strand of electric fence, but in places with three strands they stay in place.

  3. Bonnie L Klimcsak

    Fabulously informative with great pictures, too. Greta and Sushi are certainly magnificent. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I reading about these wonderful dogs. Affectionate and proper with people, and from what I hear they love small children. Yet the perfect guardians for livestock. The photo of Sushi sitting calmly watching the chickens brought a smile. I still have a freezer full of meat I ordered from Joshua before he closed his farm, but I am following you closely and will place an order when I need to! ?

  5. Our whole family loved this post! He’s adorable & we hope you’ll share more about him & his adventures on the farm in the future. Congrats!

    1. I don’t know of anywhere to get a well-trained livestock dog that won’t cost many thousands of dollars. The only lower-cost option might be buying an older dog from a farm that is closing.

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