The training of our Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD), Anya, has been full of ups and downs, steps forward and steps backward. We are learning a lot, and really love this sweet girl, who is such an integral part of our farm. It has been hard this year, with the loss of our lead LGD, Tundra, this summer. But Anya is doing a good job of stepping up to the plate and taking over the protection of the barnyard.
Living in the Rockies means predators…lots of them. It seems not a week goes by without some sort of predator-near-the-barnyard-incident. We have coyotes, bears, bobcats, and mountain lions that are all anxious for some lamb, or chicken. Plus foxes, raccoons, and birds of prey that would enjoy an easy chicken dinner. Our first defense against all predators is properly built fencing and livestock housing, and closing all animals indoors at night. The way we have built our housing and fences pretty much takes care of the threat of coyotes, foxes, and raccoons. We are still left with bears, bobcats, mountain lions, and aerial predators – and that is where having an LGD becomes a necessity.
We got Anya at 10 months of age last April. She is an Anatolian Shepherd and had a good foundation with livestock before she came to us. We started her living in her own pen, sharing a fence with all the livestock and watching Tundra as he did his work with the sheep, goats, and chickens. We worked with her at least 5 days a week, for an hour or so each time, teaching her to not wrestle and play with the livestock.
We made quick progress and in May she was able to live full-time with our grumpy old nanny goat because the goat wouldn’t let her get away with roughhousing her. That went really well. Then we butchered that goat and didn’t really have anyone for her to live with safely yet, so she went back to living in her own pen sharing a fence with the livestock, and having her daily training sessions with the livestock. Then in July Tundra died, and we tried to accelerate her training as much as we safely could, knowing she was now the only LGD. We had a really good two-day time period where we were out in the barnyard almost all day long and she was with the sheep the entire time and did fine. So we let her start living with the sheep, but not with the chickens. The weanling lambs were about half size by then (much bigger than in this picture) so we figured she could handle them.
It all was going fine until a couple of days later we caught her holding down one of the weanling sheep, licking her like crazy. She was not trying to kill, her, she just wanted to play, but the lamb was super stressed and went into shock. Thankfully, the lamb pulled through fine, and doesn’t even show fear of the dog. But after that we had to move her back to her own pen again to be safe. A day later we had the chicken incident, where a chicken squeezed into her pen and she killed it. We again took a step back and re-doubled our efforts at her training with chickens.
That was all back in July, and since then she has been living in her own pen, sharing fence, and we have continued daily training sessions where she goes in with the sheep and chickens and we keep an eye on her and reprimand her if she does anything wrong. But for the last couple of months, she hasn’t done anything wrong at all during those times. I usually just sit there reading or knitting while she hangs out with the flocks. So we felt it was time to take another step forward. She is about 16 months old now, so we still are not ready to trust her with chickens or young sheep (most people say not to until after 2 years old and plenty of training). But in preparation for breeding season we put the ram in the back pen, along with the young ewe lambs who wont breed this year. Come November we will put the ram in with the breeding ewes for breeding – we don’t want earlier breeding because it will land us lambing in Feb/March, which is too cold here for lambing. We like to lamb April/May. So that left the 3 older breeding ewes in the main barnyard. We decided this was an excellent chance to try to get Anya living with livestock again in a situation that she could be successful in.
So she has been living with the three older ewes for over a week now. At night she is separated from them, but all day she is with them. We have been checking on them all often, to be sure she is doing well, and so far everything has gone great. She has not been trying to wrestle them or play with them. She has not been chasing them. She has just been doing her thing, being the LGD. I love seeing a dog living with the flock again (or part of it at least). It is cool how they kind of just mesh in and become part of the flock, even though they are not sheep.
We plan to continue with this situation even after we put the ram in for breeding, of course keeping a close eye on things when we add him in. Then if all goes well, at the end of the year we will decide if we think she can handle having the younger ewes (who by then will be 9 months old and about 3/4 to full size) added into the mix or not.
It has been a bumpy road, but we know that the time and effort we are putting in now to train Anya will pay off with years of an excellent LGD watching over everything for us. It will definitely be worth it!