Anya, our Anatolian Shepherd, came to us at about 10 months of age. We were blessed that her previous owners had given her a good foundation of socialization with both people, and livestock, and had started her well on her way towards becoming an excellent Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD).
Almost all LGDs go through a stage between about 6 months and 1 year of age where they want to play with the livestock like they would play with another puppy or dog. At this point most Anatolians are about 75-100 lbs, and this behavior is not only inappropriate for any size dog, but at that size it is also dangerous for the livestock. During this stage it is really important that an LGD pup get consistent training to learn not to do this. This is the stage Anya was at when we got her.
Phase 1 of training her through this stage was for her to live in a pen adjacent to the livestock pen. She shared a fence with them, and could interact with them through the fence, but couldn’t play with them or hurt them. It also gave her a chance to watch our experienced LGD, Tundra, as he cared for the livestock and learn from his behavior. During this time we would go out and spend 1-2 hours each day training with her. It is very important that they get regular and consistent training with humans during this stage.
For our daily training sessions, we would put the other LGD away, let her into the pen with us and the livestock and then give her a chance to interact with the livestock. If she began to get playful with the sheep and goats I would give her the command to stop (“Anya, No!” – note the exclamation point means a firmness and seriousness in my voice and tone, it does not mean yelling.). I was very happy to see that thanks to her previous owners’ work with her, most of the time she would stop immediately and come right and sit next to me. I would then praise her and pet her and then let her go back to exploring and interacting. If she hadn’t stopped when I asked her to then I would have put her on a long line leash so I could physically show her what I wanted her to do by pulling her away from the livestock. All dogs are different, and other dogs will not necessarily react how Anya does.
We continued with her living adjacent to the livestock and we continued letting her be with them 1-2 hours a day BUT ONLY with Mtn Man or I present and watching. She did great, and with more and more lambs being added it was fun to see her interact with them and be gentle.
Despite her good behavior with them, we would still never leave her with them alone at this age and stage in her life. It would be setting her up for failure.
After about a month of phase 1 we felt she was ready for phase 2. Phase 2 is to let her live with a grouchy/bossy/alpha sheep or goat that wont bully her, but also that wont put up with her playing with them or roughing them up. At our farm the perfect choice was our old nanny goat, Gretchen.
We put Gretchen into the back barnyard with Anya during training time a few days in a row, while we stayed outside the fence and watched. We were able to see a few interactions where Anya tried to play with Gretchen and wrestle her, and Gretchen did not tolerate it and went right in to head butting her. Anya immediately backed off and stopped. After seeing that a few times in a few days without us having to say or do anything we felt she was ready to live with Gretchen without humans present. They did very well together, and Gretchen continues to put Anya in her place when she starts getting rough, and Anya continues to back down when Gretchen does that.
That is where we are at this point in the training. Anya lives in the back barnyard with Gretchen the grouchy goat, which is adjacent to the main barnyard and shares a fence with it. So she can still see the sheep, lambs, and the other LGD, but she still isn’t allowed to live alone with them. And we continue to have our daily training time, where she gets to come into the main barnyard with the sheep and lambs and interact with them with Mtn Man or I present. Sometimes we are in the barnyard with her and pet her and interact with her. Other times I will sit in a chair just outside the barnyard and knit so that she can get the feeling of being alone with them in there, but I am still right there to correct her if she starts getting riled up. Her need for verbal corrections has gotten fewer and farther between and she hasn’t really needed any verbal corrections for over a week now and is doing really well.
We plan to continue this same set-up through summer. At some point we will add our grouchy older sheep, Fiona, in with her and Gretchen to get her living with a sheep, and with more than one livestock. Then, this fall, when the lambs are at least 3/4 the size of the adult sheep, we will start letting her have longer and longer times living with the entire flock each day, and with less and less human help. Our goal for her is that by early winter (December) – at which point she will be 18 months old – she will be able to safely live with the entire flock of adults and young adults all the time without humans. Then, come next lambing season, we will need to go back to her only interacting with lambs with Mtn Man or I there until she proves that she can be completely trusted with them no matter what. By then she will be about to turn 2 years old. Most LGDs fully mature by about 2, and it isn’t until then, along with appropriate training, that they can be trusted with lambs and goat kids.
We are so blessed to have found Anya, and we are enjoying helping her become the excellent LGD that we know she can be. It is a lot of work to properly train an LGD through puppyhood, but once they are mature and properly trained they become a priceless addition to the farm.