BONDING & OBEDIENCE
becoming a shepherd
Congrats on your new Gampr puppy... or adult! Owning a Gampr and experiencing the deep connection we share with them is immensely rewarding. Armenian Gamprs are not hard dogs to own but if the basic building blocks are not established there could be problems in the future.
Armenian Gamprs come from the Caucasus Region where they have been used as livestock guardian dogs for thousands of years. They live with their shepherd and dog pack in the mountainous areas, moving nomadically to allow their flocks to graze the beautiful countryside. There are typically 8 to 10 dogs to the pack who are not confined by fencing and free to explore at will, but choose to stay close to their tent and family, without roaming. The exception to this would be an aggressive troublemaking fighting dog or female in estrus who may be chained, but the aboriginal Gamprs are expected to work nicely with their pack mates and stay close to their flock and human family. Shepherds depend on their flock for income and food so pack protection is crucial or their lives and livelihood could be in grave danger.
There is no one correct way to train your new Gampr puppy but we recommend owners to mimic the practices of the shepherds by following what has worked for them for centuries, with a bit of modification to suit our individual lifestyles, as needed.
Shepherd's dogs in Armenia staying cool in the shade, near the main tent
The first step in understanding training and how to raise your Gampr is knowing what doesn't work and when not to worry. For example, a very antiquated idea of 'no touch' popped up in the 1980s and became wildly popular among some US farmers who had the idea, that in order to make the best LGD, they must never be handled so as to not bond with the humans but instead to the livestock. New pups arriving to a sheep camp are not thrown out with the sheep and never touched so this idea is in direct conflict with how shepherds have excellently raised their dogs over the centuries. This leads to feral dogs who are nervous, overreactive and unable to be handled or vetted when the time is needed. Thankfully, this idea has mostly disappeared as people realized that it is not ideal nor practical.
Another common myth is that to raise the best possible LGD you must never take them off property for activities like car rides, hiking, walking or general travel. Livestock owners needing protection will likely not have a great need for their Gampr to leave the property often but if they do, there's no harm in it. It's a good idea however to desensitize them to these activities at a young age for the best results. Gamprs love to hike! Taking a dog off property will not cause a Gampr to start roaming, suddenly dislike working the homestead or run away from their flock in protest.
6-Months old Tribble Hill Farm Vigo of Emerald View Ranch
Import pups Kura, Sose and Vatche
The same holds true for the notion that owners shouldn't bring their LGD inside the home. If you start with good genetics, your Gampr will have the intelligence to be a flexible member of the family and will not be confused by letting them inside. Our breed is incredibly intelligent and they want to work. The idea that we will ruin a dog by allowing him indoors, especially considering many people do so during puppy months, belittles their intelligence and this small action will not undo thousands upon thousands of years of instinct. Puppies need companionship, love and direction. Whether this is done inside or out makes no difference, they will continue to learn and seek work, growing into the job you need them to perform. Looking at this from a different perspective, a non-livestock home cannot take home a Gampr puppy to live indoors and expect the dog to lose their inherent need to work a job, whether it's livestock or something different.
The last myth worth mentioning is that we must train our LGDs until they develop and display their bond by snuggling, cleaning and sleeping curled up with their livestock or otherwise it indicates that they aren't fully trained or have failed. Gamprs are different but it does not mean one is better than another just because they have a different personality or working style. They are simply individualistic, so one may prefer to keep close, remaining amongst the stock, for example cleaning and spooning baby lambs, while another may choose to sit up high and watch for danger, to avoid being annoyed by playful, loving lambs. In both cases, these dogs are equally bonded to their charges and effective protectors but merely show it in different manners.
There are many other ways to determine if your Gampr is bonded with their stock: the herd is relaxed, the dog keeps calm behavior, being protective of their stock and pasture by barking or alerting to danger, the dog's movements are quiet when passing through, mindfulness of where they step, sharing water or bedding space, and the most important of all, they are simply trustworthy with their charges.
Additionally, no matter how hard one may try, you cannot train a dog to be a nurse maid nor is there a reason to. If we are fortunate enough that one of our pack members are the nurturing, hands on type, it's just a pleasant bonus.
Import Swinx, watching over his herd from a distance
A nurturing male in Armenia
Sheep Camp Pups
a basic start
Gamprs greatly value the relationship they have with their shepherd, thrive on that bond and aim to please. What is yours is theirs and they will protect it with their life, if needed. If they do not have that bond, or clear expectations, they will disregard the owner's needs.
Shepherds do not use our modernized methods or products to train their new pup but instead, a simple, no-fuss approach to bringing up a dog who will be a productive member of the pack. An experienced shepherd knows that first, the dog should come from a good line of true Armenian Gampr working dogs so the pup will have the correct intelligence and inherited mindset to succeed, then he will be capable of learning to respect and listen to the shepherd through normal, repetitive daily interactions.
When a shepherd adds a new puppy to the sheep camp or a litter is born, those puppies will live close to the the family, underfoot until they are older, braver and more confident. The puppy will spend his days playing and sleeping in the shade of the family tent and learning manners from the older dogs, children and the shepherd. Usually there's a temporary fence constructed to keep sheep out of the living quarters and in these situations, the puppies choose to stay close to or inside the the tent, where they feel the safest. Over time, they will become more confident and venture out further to explore new territory by taking advantage of gaps along the fencing.
At this age, there are no real expectations of puppies other than keeping out of trouble. If there's more than one, they will sleep, play and explore together and just be puppies. They will find bones or hides to chew on and children or other dogs to play with, occupying their time and using up energy, especially during peak energy hours in the early morning and early evening. When puppies look like they are about to get into trouble, the shepherd will redirect them to prevent the action. If the pup acts naughty otherwise, the shepherd, other dogs or sheep will correct them.
Besides playtime and practicing being puppies, the most important times of the day is when it's time to eat. Puppies look to their shepherd come mealtime, which typically consists of the day's stale bread, old cheese, extra sheep's milk, and on better days, meat or scraps. They know that their shepherd expects some manners and patience at feeding so they learn to sit and wait quietly for their portion of the food. During this time is when the shepherd-Gampr bond develops and the puppies fine tunes their listening skills. They are incredibly smart and understand that their shepherd treats them well by providing them safety and food, so in return they try to please and gain more affection by listening intently and proceeding with the appropriate action. In return, the shepherd rewards the pups with their meal and each day the routine is repeated.
This simple sheep camp routine naturally creates the essential shepherd-Gampr bond, builds trust and confidence, allows the puppy to mature at his own speed and prevents chaos since the puppy is being redirected during constant supervision. After a few months old they will be completely assimilated into the pack yet still watched closely by the shepherd.
Puppies living at a nomadic sheep camp in Armenia
Gabby, Aja and Aza in Artsakh, prior to moving to the US
Waiting patiently for their share of leftover sheep's milk
Obedience & Bonding
Shepherds might not use the terms bonding and obedience training like we do, but the principle is the same. We can mimic the shepherds and raise smart puppies who grow to be well mannered adults by spending time with our Gampr, watching over their actions and keeping them safe.
The most important thing your Gampr needs is bonding and supervision. For a Gampr to respect their owner and be willing to listen as they mature, we can also incorporate basic obedience into our daily routine so they will understand what we expect of them. Teaching them easy obedience like sit, stay and come when called (recall) will fine tune their listening skills and relay to them what makes us happy and in return they will later understand what doesn't.
It's extremely important to work on listening skills a few times every day. Having a 100-170# adult who won't stand down, recall, or stop jumping on you, just says they don't value your input, they can do what they want or they were inadvertently taught that this behavior was acceptable. Gamprs need to have good manners. Rude puppies can turn into obnoxious, incredibly large, uncontrollable adult dogs who get bad labels like 'untrainable for livestock', the 'bad one of a litter, or 'mentally unstable', Puppies also need immediate redirection, which means during the constant and consistent supervision, we must watch for subtle signs of inappropriate behavior and removing the puppy from a situation before there's a problem to correct. When you aren't quick enough, they need to know what's unacceptable, which they should quickly determine by our change of tone, mannerisms and lack of happiness at the moment of correction. If the bond is there they will not be happy they've upset you.
Sev and Cinder, learning basic obedience and listening intently
practice makes perfect
We will use Cinder as our example trainee. Use high value treats like dried liver or small pieces of meat with lots of happy, excited praise to reward your pup for listening during daily learning sessions. Be sure to say the pup's name and good girl! with lots of ear scratches. Make a big, happy deal every time your pup listens and does something correctly. Remember that your Gampr wants to please you and will respond to the praise. Practice, patience and love go a very long way in training your dog good listening skills.
Teaching Come AKA Recall
Call your puppy to you by name: "Cinder", "Come, Cinder". When she gets to you, immediately give her praise and a treat and tell her "Good girl, Cinder!!" After lots of happy attention. This should be repeated daily, several times a day. After a few sessions she will realize that listening to her name is a good experience that ends with a nice treat which will cause her to eagerly run to you in the future.
Call Cinder to you, or wait for her to come by, and stand there quietly until she sits down. As soon as she sits, immediately say "sit" and give her a treat and lots of excited, happy praises and be sure to tell her "good girl". Next time, call her to you and say "Sit". You may need to say it a few times but be patient. Again, wait for her to sit and repeat the treat and praise. Within a couple of sessions your Gampr should be well on her way to understanding but it still should be practiced daily as a puppy.
Call Cinder by name, reward her for listening with a nice treat and while sitting, hold up the palm of your hand and say "Stay". Wait a few seconds but continue to keep eye contact and say "Ok Cinder" and "Good girl!", with an immediate treat. After a few times of success, increase the waiting time or try stepping back.
Maverick, patiently waiting and focused on owner, Leah S., during basic obedience training