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Bonding puppies to livestock

The one critical thing when raising puppies to bond to livestock to protect them full time is to successfully bond those pups to their flock - this means that both the pup feels it is a part of the flock and that the flock feel the same way. In other words, this is a dual process, not just bonding the pup but bonding the entire flock.

This may mean separating a smaller amount of livestock from your flock if you have a large property and choosing calmer, gentler animals in a smaller area, close to your supervision to make this process smoother, and safer for the pup. A pup that only weighs 10kg can be easily and seriously hurt by livestock that are scared of the pup and so attack or react violently to the pup. A startled livestock may even accidentally stand on or kick a young pup, so care in the early weeks is critical. Even if the physical damage is not too serious, it can cause psychological damage to the pup who now fears the livestock.

It is certainly best to buy a pup from a livestock guarding situation so that the pup has already learned a lot about interacting with livestock with the help of its mother or other adult dogs.

maremma sheepdog puppy learning to socialise with chickens as an important part of the bonding to livestock process maremma sheepdog puppy showing very good breed typical calm behaviour at a young age with a lamb, who is also obviously more than happy to be so close to a dog maremma sheepdog puppy learning to bond with goats as the livestock she is to protect


The ideal then is to provide a smaller area, from which you can always see the livestock and pup, and reach them without much effort if you are needed. It may be very worthwhile investing in a crate, or at least being able to close your pup in a shed inside this area. The first week is one of the most critical for getting everyone acquainted and the pup used to the new surroundings. Keeping some distance through use of a crate or shed at this time ensures the pup is safe.

The first introductions are probably then best done with the pup on a long lead so that you are able to watch the situation and intervene easily if needed. Walk about, interact with the livestock if they are easy to be close to (dairy animals will usually allow a lot of touch and attention, but many livestock won't be this way), and talk to all the animals in a quiet, friendly voice, encouraging the pup to just walk about and be calm.

There is no completely hard and fast rule to how much interaction, how often, and how long it will take to let the pup out unattended. You have to use a lot of powers of observation to weigh up how both the pup and the livestock are responding together. You may need to remove some livestock, change some, or add some more as the process progresses.

Having the support of experienced breeders and maremma owners is probably the real key to success as they can assist and advise you as your own unique situation unfolds. You can receive this kind of support free by registering with the maremma community forum, where kind people all the world over are more than happy to discuss and assist in this process.

This is a longish video showing a 3 month old pup being supervised with a herd of goats. If you only watch the first few minutes you will see fantastic behaviour, everything you would want to see your pup doing. At the very end, the pup does a big loop chase, and the goats give some body lanugage to indicate that it won't be tolerated with them. That's fine, the pup was just letting off energy. This is great to watch if you are not sure of what is the kind of bonding behaviour that you should be looking for in your pup.

I would not recommend you try having puppies in with a goat that is kidding unless you have plenty of experience both with goats and with livestock guardians! Does that are bonded to their guardians can still become very protective when giving birth and young pups could be injured, however the doe in this video doesn't show any sign of caring that she has both dogs, puppies and other goats all very close to the event.

View more video on this site of typical puppy behaviour when learning to bond to livestock.

This article is broken into topics for your convenience:

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

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