Expected Behavior


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Bountiful Farm - Great Pyrenees Livestock Guardian Dogs


This is a response to a posting on a list from someone who had heard a lot about what LGDs should not do but little about exactly what they should do.

Your 11 week old pups should already know how to stay out of trouble with the goats when they arrive.  They should know to stay out from underfoot or they'll be stepped on and butted; they should know to neither bark at nor chase the goats although you will want to keep a sharp eye out to make sure because, since they are puppies, they may want to engage in puppy play.  For this reason, we do not put young puppies with kids.  We keep them with mature does who accept our dogs but will put up with no inappropriate behavior.  We recommend penning your puppies for the first day and night after they arrive.  The pen should be in the middle of whatever place your goats gather.  The purpose of this is to give puppies time to acclimate to their new home and to the goats and your goats time to acclimate to the puppies.  The next morning we would recommend introducing them free of the pen as we talk about on the introduction page of our website and be sure to observe everyone's behavior during and after the introduction.   

At 11 weeks your puppies should have had some minimal experience of going out with the herd and staying with them.  You will want to verify that this is their behavior.  Since you are getting 2 puppies, there is no doubt the pups will want to play with each other at various times.  This is very normal and will involve chasing, mock fighting, growling and rolling on the ground.  Your concern here is not that they do not play, but that when they play they do not try to involve the goats and that they keep their play separated.  This is one reason we recommend mature does only as they will not be frightened and will, in fact, discipline the puppies if they interfere in the goats' busy day.  The puppies should have minimal human contact initially to insure they understand that goats are their companions.  After the first few days handling and petting them is fine as long as it is done only in the company of the goats.   

As far as appropriate behavior of an adult Pyr is concerned, we prefer to say that their behavior should be non-aggressive at all times rather than saying always submissive behavior.  The reason for this is that we feel there is no reason that a dog cannot have its head up and its tail up when it is among the goats as long as there is no dominance, threat or aggressiveness being communicated at all.  When moving with the goats our dogs will usually have lower tails and heads down, but often in secure areas or outside of the herd their tails and heads will rise.  Appropriate guarding behavior can vary.  Some dogs have preferences and others use all the different techniques and/or trade off among themselves, but a guardian should either lay quietly in among the goats, lay quietly at the edge of the goats, find themselves a small rise where they can overlook the entire herd and occasionally check the perimeter of the area to insure the goats' safety.  Our goats are used to hearing an alarm bark and dogs racing away to investigate a potential problem.  When the dogs do this, they do not race through the herd and scatter it.  They may move quickly to the outside of the herd without alarming the herd and run from there or if they have to run to the other side of the herd they will run around rather than race through dividing and scattering the goats.  In any one-on-one interaction with a goat, the dog should always be submissive with one exception - the dog has every right to protect its food from the goats including growling, snapping and lunging as long as it is careful never to touch the goat and does this behavior only at its feeding area.  Absolutely no physical contact is acceptable in this case!  You must also be aware that some dogs will not do this and will, in fact, be submissive to the goat and go hungry while the goats eat its food.  In these cases it is up to you to protect the dog from the goats so that it can eat. 

An adult dog will be aware when a doe is kidding and should understand that she is extremely vulnerable at this time.  With multiple dogs, one dog should stay in the area of the kidding doe but should not be intrusive especially with a doe kidding for its first time.  A young doe may not know what to do and often, if the doe does not clean the kid appropriately, the dog will do it for her.  If the mother does not eat the afterbirth, the dog will do that for her.  If the kid is stillborn, the dog will also eat the kid.  The apparent purpose of eating afterbirth and dead kids is to cut down on the attraction there would be for predators.  If the mother abandons the kid, a good dog will often lay with the kid, curled around it to provide warmth until the goatherd comes to take over.   Things an LGD should not do include:  becoming so involved in the birth so as to provide anxiety or stress in the doe, take over the process of cleaning the kid as this is one of the things that bond dam and kid, or to adopt the kid as its own and refuse to give the mother access to it.  All these behaviors are, unfortunately, fairly common and the goatherd must be aware of how the dogs are behaving during kidding before she can be comfortable trusting the dogs' behavior.  In larger herds, where individual attention is not possible, the dogs should oversee the entire area where there is kidding.  An adult dog will often insure the kidding mothers are left alone by curious pups and do it at a distance from the newborn so as not to cause anxiety.  

For instance, our goats had selected a corner of their goatyard as a birthing area, Cara, our female Pyr, laid down facing away about 15' away from the group looking for all intents and purposes like she was sound asleep.  When another dog would approach, she never moved but emitted a low growl as if to say, "Go Away!", warning everything else to keep its distance.   

Our Pyrs, with very few exceptions, bond to the goats rather than the area and have a very warm relationship with their goats. They often curl up to sleep together and the dogs provide a convenient climbing toy for new goat kids who need a hill to climb on.  

Dan & Paula Lane
Copyright 2006 [Bountiful Farm]. All rights reserved.

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