INTRO TO TRAINING
Raising an 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. Learning is partly automatic, as the instinct is within our dogs, but very much depends on a developed partnership between the gampr and it’s owner.
It takes time to become a mature, level headed LGD but there is no definite answer on how long that should take. Each dog, owner and farm all are individualistic with much variability, so the only way to know that the dog is ready is for the owner to observe the dog, understand its instincts and decide if the dog has learned self control. Some dogs are trustworthy from very early on, and others are later to mature. Sometimes things can go wrong and set you back but, while it may be upsetting, just know that no one person or dog is perfect and a moment of bad behavior does not mean the dog is not LGD material.
Some pups will adjust more quickly than others. A few do not appear to learn anything about caring for livestock until they are older, but we like to see the correct instinct emerge before that. This instinct can be effectively nurtured by the owners and the more positive, relevant response from you about your pups behavior, the easier it will be for your pup to learn.
One big key piece for training your gampr is to predict bad behavior before it happens and that is done by redirecting the pup prior to any reaction. The more closely you monitor your gampr, the more you'll know what to expect from him. The more time you spend with him the more you will understand him, the reactions and any weaknesses. Use those predictions to create a safe and positive learning experience for him instead of leaving him in a situation where he is likely to fail. To prevent problems from occurring, all activity with new animals, especially very young ones, must be brief and supervised.
Second, 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.’
And finally, the time of day does make a difference. Puppies, and even adults, are more active around sunrise and sunset. At these times it is recommended to keep any untrustworthy young pups or dogs in neutral areas to work off energy safely to prevent any playing with livestock. It is a perfect time to let them play with other dogs, children or romp around the non livestock area of the farm. After the pup tires, they will be ready to eat and then ready to rest. Take that opportunity to take the dog along into the livestock area for a slow walk around or maybe even a nap.
Pups relaxing in the late morning with a couple lambs who accept their presence. This area is a back patio, which is surrounded by lawn and easily visible from the kitchen, which makes it ideal for monitoring behavior and giving instant verbal corrections. The pup could be quickly moved out of the goat area, prior to an incident, if the owner suspected he was getting restless or wanted to play.
A sleepy pup has been put in with lambs and chickens for a late-morning nap and "training". Ideally, pups who are sleepy with full bellies will be less reactive toward all livestock.
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 our guidance will assume that you are rearing a pup from non-working parents and without any older LGD to help out.
Some people say it isn't necessary for an LGDs to know any obedience training but if your dog knows the basics, such as sit, stay, wait, leave it, come here, it is indeed very handy for redirection or recalling your pup during livestock training. Read more about how to start your gampr with basic obedience training.
So, on with training, after 9am, and ensuring your pup has a full belly, use this sleepy, calm time to foster positive interactions with your livestock. A barn stall full of sheep and goats who understand what an LGD is for is ideal, but a livestock pen or other intimate place is also good. This small space will provide less room to run, chase or get too far away to be monitored closely. Do not let aggressive livestock alarm your pup with unwarranted punishment as to keep the visit positive and comfortable.
During a meeting with stock, if a pup gets excited, it may grab at the livestock and excitement may turn to chewing which can ‘reward’ the pup with a tasty treat. 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’ her 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 this, try to anticipate and redirect it before it happens.
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
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.
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.
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 the 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's a good time to mention, please please PLEASE do not use retractable leashes. When working with a dog, you are the leader and you can effectively lead with the pup close to you by using a 3 to 6ft leash. Retractable leashes not only defeat the purpose of keeping the pup close but can also send confusing or alarming signals to the dog. Paired with a regular collar or harness (no choke or pinch chain collars) and your leash, you will start out in a positive manner.
Young import, Koton, with a few members of her flock
A large goose and a duck, perfect for starting pups, running off a young pup
It is very recommended to begin with adult poultry, ideally geese or ducks, if they are available, since they are less exciting. Geese are most likely to defend their flock also. If there are no geese or ducks on the farm, you could start with larger sized chickens versus young chicks or smaller poultry, which flutter and squawk.
It may take several times, over many days, but walk your dog, on leash, through the poultry area and continue to do so several times a day, every day. Soon you'll notice, the dog is seemingly bored and unexcitable on the poultry walk throughs and the new will no longer be new, and it's just an old, boring routine walk. Once the pup is non reactive during the walks, he will be ready to try visiting off leash.
Start the off leash visit during a sleepy time of day with a full belly and your leash close by, tasty snacks in your pocket and the level of corrections in mind, that may be needed. Act quickly to redirect with a recall and treat for listening, or in a situation where you could not redirect quick enough, an immediate correction.
And most importantly, please remember, a pup who has made mistakes with chickens or stock usually overcomes the experience and will be a great LGD later. Don’t give up on your pup!
Dogs in general are very good at communicating so when training an LGD it's important to be watchful of body cues they may be giving, to prevent a incident or understand a reaction. If at any time you see unwanted body language from your gampr, it would be best to take a step back in his training.
In the photo above, in a barn stall, the sheep and chickens were already eating when the pups were brought in. The pups were previously fed, now tired, and put in the stall in 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 a soft, gentle posture. They do not stand like this for long, but sort of shuffle around, showing this lifted-opposite-foot gesture repeatedly. With their body language, they are telling the lambs that they mean no harm. The ears are pushed back and down, the bodies are turned sideways to the lambs. This language is clearly not ‘squared up for business’ as they would be if facing down an aggressor.
Another example, is Reyna, in ‘LGD School’, with her owner who is helping her adjust. This is her first day at her new farm. She had previously been living with sheep, but does not yet know her owner very well and just meeting the sheep.
Reyna’s posture above 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 or flight; the ewe is looking straight at the pup and owner, but the pup is leaning back and looking away.
Now, in the next photo, 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. She is not as tense but is also not yet orienting toward the sheep as she is still looking for guidance from her person. The doe is watchful and alert, but not really frightened. Everyone here is showing calmer posture but not yet at ease. Likely it would have been easier for Reyna if she had a companion, for comfort, guidance and connection.
Bari, at around the age of 6 months, was still living in Artsakh when these photos were taken. She displays most the excellent and appropriate body language with sheep. Notice her tail and general body is lowered, very much easing through the sheep as to not disturb them. Below she is affectionate with her stock, happily allowing them to inspect her.
Body language of dogs is actually very similar to human body language. To understand dominance play, picture two people at the gym, shoving each other around in a playful way, chests out, standing tall. Dogs do this also and can take it very seriously. So if you see this type of play among your pack of dogs, its ok, but it's not ok when it extends to the livestock. This can lead to games that become more rough, and result in injured livestock which can lead to your dog becoming more of a problem than an actual protector.
The Border Collie below is an example of the exact posturing and body language that you never want to see your gampr direct toward livestock. Notice the eyes are glaring and focused, lips are drawn back, the body is aimed like an arrow pointed directly toward it's prey and the muscles along the neck and back are tensed.
If you see your gampr in this posture, you probably cannot use the dog as an LGD as it it indicative of a high prey drive, but at the very least, extensive behavior guidance would be necessary.
Remove the dog from the livestock area immediately, and only allow him to see them while on leash. For any moments of training, the dog must be willing to maintain a soft body posture for a long time before being allowed near livestock.