I have mixed emotions as I write this post. I’m pleased and super excited about our latest bit of news! But my heart is heavy as well, anticipating what is to come. Let me explain…
We are now the proud owners of two, very large, (hopefully) very useful, livestock guardian dogs (LGDs). They are a breed called Great Pyrenees, which has been bred over the years to protect livestock of all kinds from predation without human assistance. They are part of our insurance policy, ensuring all the animals that we spend our good money on and sink our time into will arrive at market weight without early termination due to coyotes, neighbor dogs, foxes, raccoons, skunks, weasels, ferrets, hawks, snakes, mink, bears, mountain lions… well, you get the picture! Using LGDs fits perfectly into our mentality for the farmstead, as opposed to trapping, shooting, poisoning, etc.
We brought these two dogs onto the farm before getting animals, in order to acquaint them with our property, our existing dogs, and our family. This has worked out very well in most regards, but presented a few challenges as well. Both dogs have gotten along with our 2 pet dogs (and each other) extremely well, with a minimum of squabbling or posturing. We’ve found that these dogs have sweet personalities, making it easy to transition them onto our farm. On the negative side, we don’t have animals to put them in with yet, nor a large enough outside area fenced off to give them the room that they desperately need to run. As a consequence, my garage smells like dog poop, there is a coat of white hair covering everything in sight, and we have to walk 140 pound animals on a leash at least once a day!
Here are some things we’ve learned about LGDs in general, and Great Pyrs specifically, in the short time we’ve owned them:
- They are sweet, loving, fiercely loyal to the people in their lives, and have a great personality to boot.
- They are VERY independent. They have an instinct to guard without humans around, and get to it immediately. They would totally fail obedience school!
- They shed like nothing I’ve ever seen.
- Great Pyrs bark. A lot. INCESSANTLY at night. Compared to other LGD breed, Pyrs rely more on their impressive size & bark to keep predators at bay. They will attack, but only if the predator doesn’t take the warning!
- Great Pyrs need good fence. They are roamers, and will help themselves to your neighbor’s property if allowed to. If you build your fence to hold LGDs in, there is no way a cow/sheep is getting out.
- LGDs require a strong “Alpha” presence, especially so due to their size. NO physical punishment (sticks with them longer than an average house dog), but lots of getting in their face, pushing them around, using your “in charge” voice, and generally forcing them to bend to your will.
- Great Pyrs make wonderful pets, but are also capable of fending for themselves on a farm. In our application, they are not pets, they are working dogs. They will stay wherever the livestock is, doing the job that we purchased them to do.
In contrast to the joy I’ve had in welcoming these two gentle giants onto our farm, I’m also dealing with a fair amount of sadness. There comes a time in every dog owner’s life, where their once rambunctious puppy (or puppy-at-heart) shows signs of aging. As I’ve been taking Cebu and Sable on daily walks around the property lines, I’ve had to force my old dog Beau to stay home. His hips are beginning to fail, he stumbles occasionally while running around, and you can tell that he is in pain when he returns to the house after trying to keep up. For the first time ever, my best dog, who has been with me for practically my entire adult life, can’t participate in what I’m doing. While we were in the process of searching for land, I often prayed that he would live long enough to see the farm. Both dogs are deliriously happy bombing around the property, so I’m grateful for whatever time he has to be here. But the realization that my best friend begins to falter… makes me… sad.
Anyone have experience with LGDs, or stories to tell regarding their guarding prowess? If so, please share in the comment section. Ours will begin their unique role in less than a week, as we anticipate the arrival of our first livestock on the farm. Enough sad for now, back to being excited!