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Puppies and play behaviour

Puppies play, this is natural but can lead to disaster with livestock

Probably the most difficult hurdle people face when raising a livestock guarding puppy is to prevent play behaviour with the livestock from a very early age.

All puppies love to play - this is a natural thing! They don't even have a clue that they are growing large, that their teeth are becoming every bigger and sharper, or that they weigh so much.

If you watch 2 maremmas playing together it can be awesome - the run hard chasing each other and they will topple each other off balance forcing the other to the ground and grabbing their opponent by the throat shaking their head hard. The one on the ground will struggle and fight back, and this is expected.

Now in fact, if you have a maremma pup and an older dog, the play behaviour is actually teaching that pup very important things about how to deal with a predator should an attach come to a fight.

Maremmas have this amazing shoulder thrust movement they use to knock their opponent off balance. So when they chase, it is not like a predator eyeing and chasing livestock, but rather they run in a way designed to get alongside their opponent, and then topple them. That stumble is all that is needed to give them the advantage to have the other dog on the ground in a flash, and then the mouth to the throat is intended of course to finish disabling the intruder. The hold on the throat and head shaking is designed to tear the throat.

The problem that most people encounter is when they obtain their first maremma pup and have no other livestock guardians to assist in raising this pup. Before the pup came, he was already engaging in this very same play with his litter mates (you can see the behaviour start by only a few weeks old). As the pup bonds to the new livestock, it is a natural next step for that pup to attempt to 'play' with his new family the way he did with his littermates.

This video clearly shows some typical chasing play behaviour and it is quite obvious that you would not want a young pup (one of the 2 playing in this video was only 7 months old) to play with young livestock in this manner!

This means that the play chase behaviour needs to be watched for very carefully when raising a pup. Some of the most successful methods are to keep the young pup in smaller paddocks or yards (giving less chance of a good chase getting underway) and choosing calm animals with some maturity that will not tolerate play from the pup.

If the pup is unsupervised and in an area that allows a good running opportunity, and is with younger or flighty livestock, then the pup learns to ENJOY this behaviour with his livestock. If you are not supervising all the time, then the pup also learns that it is acceptable behaviour, though maybe learns that it isn't so pleasant if you are around.

It is far better for the pup to learn that chasing never brings a pleasant result, as you are nipping the behaviour in the bud.

male maremma playing with his pups displaying the loving nature of these livestock guardian dogs

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