I will freely admit, it was almost impossible for me to sit down on the computer just now. The past few days have been filled with all sorts of goodness, primarily, in the four-legged, furry form.
And actually, for once, I'm not talking about cows.
Or sheep. Man, there's a lot of four-legged, furry things runnin' around these parts.
…rather, I am talking about our new puppies. Yes, I said it. Puppies.
I know!!!! Puppies make me happier than Georgia in a pink-tutu themed chocolate store.
“Loch” and “Luna” are (for a short time anyway) the newest additions to our farm. The pups are an LDG cross – primarily Great Pyrenees.
One male and one female. It helps to keep the scales balanced out around here…
But in all seriousness, ahem, acquiring these puppies was not something we did lightly. Unlike many other dog-owning homes, we can't just ‘decide' to get a dog and have it be. When one lives on a farm, one must take many factors into account. Like children. And boundaries. And free range chickens. And stuff.
Things to Consider When Getting A Livestock Guardian Dog On Your Farm
1. How much land do you have?
Livestock guardian dogs are notoriously large dogs. They are bred for one purpose and one purpose only: guarding livestock. Because of this, they're constantly on the prowl for invaders. They need room to roam, baby. I've read conflicting reports as to how much land is ‘enough' land, but I would guesstimate the minimum should be around an acre. We sit on a 10 acres.
2. Will the dog have livestock to guard?
When we purchased our dogs from the breeder, one of the first questions that we were asked is if we had livestock. These dogs are not happy without a job and without a purpose. Guarding livestock is their purpose. Without livestock to guard, well, their life is pretty much purposeless (at least in their minds). Our dogs will be in charge of guarding the cow (and her calf), the herd of sheep, the pigs, and the chickens.
3. Have room for one more?
It's been noted (by most everyone who has had livestock guardian dogs before) that they tend to perform much better in a pack. The dogs will often trade off ‘watch' – while one rests another will stand guard until they switch. One dog will chase off invaders while the other will stand guard of the flock. They work better as a team – at least two (or more!). Even though we only intended to get one dog for the farm, we inevitably ended up with two new puppies for this reason. They can learn, grow, play, and protect together as a team.
(We do have a border collie already but his role on the farm is a bit different, though he does enjoy being a part of the puppies team already.)
4. Do you have the time to invest?
It can take anywhere from 18 months – 2 1/2 years for livestock guardian dogs to reach maturity. During this time, you're required to invest a lot of your time into them. Much like a healthy marriage, a good livestock guardian dog is not an overnight success. It takes hours and hours, weeks and weeks of patience, correction, and instruction.
It was for this reason that we thought now would be the good time to get our own pups. Even though we have three young kids and life can be a bit cray-cray around these parts, we knew that in two years, we'd really need mature dogs around (we dream of expanding our sheep herd even more…). I wasn't interested in starting to train a dog when I had a field full of valuable ewes and their lambs. I need a trained dog before all those animals (and all of their profits!) are put at risk.
In the next few months alone, we'll be welcoming two new ewe lambs, new lambs from Rosie, three new heritage (and extremely valuable) piglets, and a new calf from Sal. Each of those animals represents the future of our farm and an incredible value to our family. Cougars and coyotes pose a serious risk around these parts. I'm not interested in my animals becoming supper (at least for the predators, anyway).
All that to say, it was essential we start training pups as early as possible.
5. Do you have access to a good breeder?
I'm not so interested in any one specific breed of LGD. These are many noted breeds that do a great job. When we started looking for local breeders, we found a few… but most of them just bred the dogs for the sake of selling the puppies. We needed to find a breeder that bred and raised the dogs for work!
That is, after all, what these dogs are for.
There were a few basics we looked for, with regards to a breeder:
1. Did the pups have high quality nutrition? Did their mother? Just like with humans, a whole-foods based diet is great for dogs. And, as we all know, nutrition is the building blocks of life!
2. Are the parents around? Are they able to teach the pups basic skills? This is a great way to also see temperament/interactions/etc. Good parents will show their pups lots of skills from the very beginning. Our pups had parents and grandparents right on site. Such a fantastic learning tool.
3. Are the dogs well socialized? To animals? Kids? Noise? Farm life is a busy life and it's essential the dogs are acclimated to what that looks like – the earlier in their life the better! Our dogs were chosen specifically for their personality and their temperament with children.
We were blessed enough to find a local breeder, named Huckleberry, who helped, educated, and guided us along our first LGD purchase. He helped pair us with the best pups for our situation and drove out of his way to meet us and make it all possible.
Aww. It makes me want to love anyone named Huckleberry. For starters, it's a great name. And for two, it will now always be associated in my mind with puppies. What could be better.
The puppies were brought back to the farm, where they promptly met the livestock and took up lounging and romping around their new dog house (donated by a friend of ours who no longer needed it).
Each morning, they are taken around the perimeter of the property by our entire crew: Stu, with his walking stick and flat hat. Georgia, with her tutu and Daddy's coat she insisted on wearing. Owen, with his own miniature walking stick and snotty nose. Mama Shaye, with her un-makeuped face and incredible fashion sense. Toby, the border collie, with his wisdom and never ending energy. And now, Loch and Luna.
The morning walks are a time to teach them their boundary that they are in charge of protecting. We're still teaching them their names and some basic commands. We also continue to facilitate interaction (monitored interaction) between them and the livestock. The sheep don't pay too much mind yet (the pups are small and unthreatening). Sally licks and smells, just like a Mama (secretly, I think she's just getting desperate to get that calf out of her belly so she can be a free Mama again!).
Also, just a quick note: the puppies are almost impossible to photograph. For starters, they never sit still. And for second, one is white and one is black. It's a manual-exposure-setting nightmare.
Though the pups are still settling in, and though there was a lot to consider in bringing them to the farm, it's nice to be settling into a routine with them and be on the path of companionship and guardianship.
Man, these pups are smart. We need more of those smart animals around here. It makes up for the all the chickens. And Amen.