Well, here she is. Serendipitously, when I needed a livestock guardian dog (LGD), I was able to find one in a week’s time. My friends Sara Jo and John had a litter last fall, and this girl was the only one left. She is a four month old Maremma.
I know all the books say to get a “trained” adult, and only get pups when you can raise them with an already-trained dog. And I know all the books have advice on how to spend months training and acclimating the LGD to the sheep, lambing, etc. following very strict and gradual procedures. But, this advice ignores reality a little bit. It’s hard to find trained adult LGDs-I’ve been looking out for one since August. I did see one available all the way in Idaho- but it was an older dog, and I worry about buying from a person about which I know nothing. That’s not really the “dog show way.” And that’s an awful long way to drive (though I admit I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a good competition dog from anywhere in the world).
And, the training advice silently assumes that while you’re training the LGD, you don’t need the LGD to be working. This is only true once you already have one, and are training up a new one. So, there just aren’t a lot of options when you need you first guardian dog asap.
I discussed this with Sara Jo, who says she had the same problem. They were losing several sheep per week by the time they concluded they must get a dog. So, they bought an 8-week old pup in the fall, raised him in the barn with some ewes for a few months, and then put him out with the sheep and hoped for the best. And, it worked fine, and they have not had a single sheep lost to predators since then. Since then, they’ve acquired and raised several more LGDs.
Sara Jo reports it hasn’t always gone perfectly. A few times, the younger dogs have tried to play with the lambs and chase them around. This has resulted in bruised and scratched up lambs, but nothing worse than that. She finds that scolding the dog for this usually trains them not to do it. And, a few times she’s had the dog get possessive over newborn lambs, such that the dog doesn’t let the ewe near them. But, she’s just separated that ewe/lamb pair for a while, and then things were OK. I’ve read that young LGDs can sometimes be tempted to snack on newborn lambs, but SJ has never had this particular problem.
So, with this advice, and not having many other options, I decided to go for it and I picked up the dog today. Having her guard as a young dog is not without risk- though she is about 65 lbs already, she still has her puppy teeth, so she is somewhat vulnerable if she were to be attacked. And, there is risk that her immature behavior could result in some loss of lambs. But, this is better than losing pregnant ewes! She’s not going to be guarding yet, but I’m hoping with careful work, she’ll be ready to soon. I think I have figured out a decent plan for making it all work out, but it sure is a big change of plans!