Raising an Armenian Gampr Livestock Guardian (LGD)
Raising an Armenian Gampr as a livestock guardian can be either easy or adventurous, but their basic nature is to do well and guard their charges. It takes two years to become a mature, level-headed adult LGD. Learning is not automatic, it is a developed partnership between the gampr and it's owner.
Ideally, for the purpose of creating the best LGD, it is ideal to get your pup(s) from working LGD parents, and have an older LGD on site to help provide guidance for the youngster. However, it is not always possible to do this, so this page will assume that you are rearing a pup from non-working parents and without any older LGD to help out.
In the video at right by Armen Khechoyan, one of his pups is getting the opportunity to clean a newborn calf. This is a great method for creating a bonding experience between guardian and livestock. The allure of a newborn calf/lamb/kid creates intense interest in an LGD pup, while also bringing out the inherent urge to take care. The instinct is strong in this pup, and he is calm enough that he is not over-excited - if he were not able to control his excitement, there is a chance he could get too fascinated, too excited and actually bite the calf. Supervision is necessary at this age.
Starting off Carefully
Set your pup up to win; LGD pups and particularly gamprs respond best to positive affirmation of appropriate behavior, and slight correction when needed. If the amount of correction outweighs the positive feedback, your pup will likely resist further training, and be 'set up for failure.'
The more positive, relevant response from you about your pups behavior, the easier it will be for your pup to learn.
Puppies are most active between 5am and 9am, then again in early afternoon, and later in the evening. During times of activity, restrict access to livestock. Give them something positive to do, such as patrol or wrestle with another dog.
After 9am, and after ensuring your pup has a full belly, use this sleepy calm time to foster positive time with your livestock. A barn stall full of sheep and goats who understand what an LGD is for is ideal, but a pen or other intimate place is also good. Do not let your aggressive livestock alarm your pup with unwarranted punishment: at this stage, the punishment MUST fit the situation.
Photo: Pups are relaxing in the late morning with a couple lambs who accept their presence. This area is my back patio, which is surrounded by lawn and easily visible from the kitchen, which makes it ideal for monitoring behavior.
Some pups adjust more quickly than others. A few do not appear to learn anything about caring for livestock until they are 'adult' - after two years old. But we like to see the correct instinct emerge before that.
Photo at right: a 5 months old gampr pup is letting her maternal instinct show, by allowing a baby goat to search for milk - and the gampr is gentle, kind, and nurturing, regardless of lactation.
With Newborn Stock/Very Young Animals
In the video at the top of this page, there is a young pup licking a newborn calf. Very young animals inspire the maternal instinct in a LGD. Cleaning of newborns is often irresistible, compulsive. It is an excellent method of bringing out the correct response in a young dog, but can also go wrong.
- If a pup gets excited, it might grab at the livestock, and eventually the excitement turns to chewing - this can 'reward' the pup with a tasty treat, which then inspires prey drive.
- If a pup becomes very possessive, maybe it will want to keep the baby for itself, and prevent the mother from accessing her newborn - or possibly, get a beating from an angry mother while trying to 'own' a newborn. This can result in injury to all involved, mistrust of livestock toward the pup, and mutual dislike between the gampr and the livestock.
To prevent the above problems from occurring, all activity with newborn animals must be brief and supervised.
Chickens can be more difficult for a young pup to adjust to than hooved animals. Gamprs also hunt for small prey in the mountains of Armenia, and their prey drive is intact- but they will be able to discriminate among their own animals if taught correctly.
In Armenia, young gamprs are made to live with chickens at all times, and they are constantly monitored. Owners watch for an opportunity to scold the pup for being too rough with the chickens, and make it very clear that the chickens are not to be harmed.
In USA, we are not usually able to monitor young dogs constantly, all day long. So it is more convenient to restrict access to poultry to times when they can be fully supervised, preferably on leash. It is very recommended to begin with adult poultry, ideally geese. Geese are most likely to aggressively defend their flock. Some larger rooster will fight off a pup, but chickens flutter and squawk more than other poultry, so are more tempting than waterfowl.
The fluffy feathers and squawking of chickens is a temptation for pups - to set them up for positive feedback, keep them controlled when near chickens. If you observe that your pup does not get 'frisky' or overly interested with the chickens, you may let the pup off leash during mellow moments, but always be ready to intervene.
And most importantly - a pup who has made mistakes with chickens, usually overcomes the experience and straightens out later. Don't give up on your pup!
At left, a small pup is being chased by a large goose and a duck. Ducks and geese are good for starting pups. They are less exciting, because they do not flutter about as much. And in most cases, geese (as seen here) will be very dominant toward smaller pups.
This is a good way to start a young pup with poultry.
In the photo below, a sleepy pup has been put in with a goat kid and a hen for a late-morning nap. Ideally, pups who are sleepy and have full bellies will be less reactive toward all livestock
At times, it will become apparent that you must correct your pup. But, over-correction can be just as damaging as no correction. So, start small and figure out your needed level of response and what that will take.
Some dogs are more submissive than others, some more persistent once they set their mind to a course of action - there is no exact answer that fits all gamprs, much less all LGDs.
For submissive dogs, small amounts of scolding are usually best. Sometimes even just saying the dog's name firmly is enough to deflect imminent bad behavior.
Next level of correction is pulling the pup's head aside, or pushing the muzzle down - these actions prevent the assumption that the pup can follow up an intent with action.
For serious problems, such as pinning down a hen and licking off the feathers (like a child undressing a doll - but can have serious consequences) a more firm scolding is necessary. Loud voice, running toward the pup, eyes wide and staring - all give the message that you mean business. This is followed up by physically stopping the action - maybe the pup releases the chicken immediately, and you only need to stand over the dog and give it an evil glare for a full minute.
But maybe the pup wants to run after the chicken, or bite down harder - that's when a pup needs more restrictive methods, such as being held down until it is clear their intention has changed/become submissive, or restricting all access to poultry for several weeks.
Situations between owners and dogs are full of nuances, there is not only one answer for all possibilities.
- the more closely you monitor your gampr, the more clear your expectations of the dog will be
- The more time you spend with your dog, the more you'll know what to expect from your dog
- The more you watch your gampr, the easier it will be to predict their behavior before anything bad happens.
Effective small corrections:
- redirect attention
- turn head/mush down muzzle
- push off balance and change course of action
- Speak firmly, scoldingly - ONCE. Follow up immediately if ignored.
- only allow appropriate contact, at times when a positive outcome can generally be expected. In this way, you can give small corrections that become an interactive conversation between you and the gampr.
- Initially, use a leash when the pup goes into livestock areas with you.
Effective strong corrections:
- Loud voice with
- pinning down the pup until pup accepts redirection of intent.
- remove pup from area or
- put pup in with more aggressive animals that will teach the pup not to be so pushy
Expected Time to Learn
Again, there is no definite answer - all gamprs, owners and farms have so much variability that the only way to answer, when is your gampr ready, is by you. Observe your dog, understand its instincts, understand how much the dog has learned self-control and how well it understands what is normal and abnormal on your farm. If you put it all together and you feel your dog is trustworthy, then maybe it is - but always understand that things can go wrong, can be upsetting and nobody is perfect.
One interesting facet of LGD behavior is that they are 'order nerds' and want a schedule, want regularity and their guarding depends on a thorough understanding of how all activities happen and creatures interact on the farm. They will naturally look for what does not fit, and sound the alarm when there is something new. So, to help you gampr learn, usually it is necessary to help them gain a full understanding of how be your main support staff, and what to expect from you.
Some example of body language are below:
In this barn stall, the sheep and chickens have been eating already. The pups were fed, and put inside here in the late morning.
If you look closely, you will see that all three pups have one foot lifted slightly, on the side opposite the lambs. This is a clearly submissive posture. They do not stand like this for long, but sort of shuffle around, showing this lifted-opposite-foot gesture repeatedly.
This posture is soft - clearly, they can be easily pushed backward. They are telling the lambs that they mean no harm, and are submissive - that the lambs could easily push them over if they want.
Also, the ears are pushed back and down.
The body is turned sideways to the lambs - this is clearly not 'squared up for business' as they would be if facing down an aggressor.
Reyna in 'LGD School', while her owner helps her adjust. This is her first day at her new farm. She had previously been living with sheep, but had a pack of pups and does not yet know her owner very well.
Reyna's posture shows tension in the curve of her spine, and also in the way she has her ears pushed back a little. Leaning back, she is showing she has no intent of aggressively moving forward.
The ewe is suspicious, but not frightened. She will not let Reyna approach her lambs yet. She and Reyna feel pretty much the same way about each other, except the ewe is more likely to follow up with aggression; the ewe is looking straight at the pup and owner, but the pup is leaning back and looking away.
Now, Reyna is on her own, The owner has moved away to watch her behavior without his presence.
Reyna still looks away, and has soft posture. The doe is watchful, but not really frightened.
Pups are 'bonding' with the lamb - or, the lamb is bonding with the pups.
Everyone here is showing calm posture.
Especially good is the number of pups compared to one lamb, and the lamb is still comfortable - if he were frightened, it would indicate that the posture/intention of the pups was not as benign as we would like.
This video shows a mild correction by a small goat, and the pup keeps a submissive posture - falls down, face soft, looks guilty and backs off. As do the rest of the pups.
What you don't want to see:
This is a Border Collie - NOT a gampr, showing intense prey drive.
The eyes are staring and focused.
The lips drawn back,
The muscles along the neck and back are tensed,
The body is aimed like an arrow toward its prey.
If you see your gampr in this posture, you have problems!
Remove him from the livestock area immediately, and only allow him to see them while on leash.
If he responds like this on leash, you must use your body to put physical pressure on him to soften his body language - against the shoulder, on the back, pressure to the side, redirecting the gaze - the dog MUST submit, stay submissive, and maintain a soft body posture for a VERY long time before being allowed near livestock.