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How do livestock guarding puppies behave?

Whilst livestock guardian puppies are puppies and display many common behaviours with all puppies, they also display some significant differences.

Maremma pups are more physically advanced than many breeds of dogs at an early age. Typically a litter of maremma pups will have their eyes open around day 9 and by 14 days are deliberately attempting to leave the nesting area to relieve themselves, displaying an incredible awareness of their surroundings as soon as their eyes begin to focus. Also around 14 days they begin to notice any person or animal entering the area and will bark in response.

By 3 - 4 weeks old they are out and interacting with the livestock, though please take into account the type of livestock you have, as I wouldn't put small pups out with large, heavy livestock too early. It is not uncommon by 4 weeks of age for maremma pups to elect to sleep in a pile out in a paddock with their livestock even in winter. There is nothing like seeing a pile of puppies unfold and shake frost off themselves in the early morning!

By 5 weeks it is common to observe maremma puppies sitting very still and calm, and scanning the horizon for long periods of time. They are learning their surroundings, and what looks, sounds and smells normal and learning to identify any differences to this. This particular behaviour is not commonly seen in other breeds apart from livestock guardians. For example border collie pups at this age are beginning to practice 'the eye' - you will see them lowering their bodies and following the movement of livestock or people and beginning to attempt little chase behaviours. Maremma pups will not display this behaviour at all.

Pups will however engage in a lot of play behaviour. To many people this looks cute, however it is critical training for them. The main play behaviour they engage in involves chasing each other (but minus the 'eye' behaviour), using a shoulder thrust movement when alongside another pup to knock the pup off balance, and wrestling. In actual fact this play behaviour is training for how to defend against a predator.

maremma puppies display different behaviour to other breeds of dogs that show how the nature of guarding livestock is bred into them
the play behaviour exhibited by maremma livestock guarding puppies is specifically designed to teach them important skills for protecting their livestock
the play behaviour seen in maremma sheepdog livestock guarding puppies continues on throughout their lives

This play behaviour however does not stop once puppyhood is over but continues throughout their lives.

Playing with livestock

This is the most serious breach that can occur when you are raising a livestock guarding puppy with livestock. The pup bonds to the livestock and sees them as littermates. This can result in the pup attempting to initiate this play behaviour with the livestock as the need to learn this behaviour through play is deeply embedded in their character. The results can be minor or serious injury to livestock who are unable to return the play behaviour. The behaviour is very different to predator behaviour and is not meant to injure by the puppy, but remember a maremma pup can reach 40 kg or more within 6 months and do serious damage, without even realising how big and strong they have grown.

Raising a pup with an adult dog or pack is the best and easiest situation as the other dogs will play with the pup whilst preventing the pup from playing with the livestock.

Puppy attitude to livestock

If your pup was born amongst the livestock, then coming out of the whelping area and into the barn or paddock is purely natural to your pup and they will act submissively towards the livestock whilst wishing to investigate them. They will attempt to lick the livestock about the mouth and will attempt to follow the livestock from as early as a few weeks of age. Of course they are too small to be allowed to range far as they would become exhausted, but the behaviour patterns will be observed from very young ages.

If you have acquired a pup that was not born or raised among livestock you have to allow for an introductory stage with some patience. Even more important is the situation where your livestock have not had a guardian dog with them - they will be wary of, or even aggressive towards dogs depending on the type of livestock you have. You must protect your pup from being injured both physically and emotionally by aggressive livestock. It can be best to have a strong crate for the pup to be amongst the livestock safely, and let the pup out with you for short periods to accustom the livestock to the new pup.

Again the easiest situation is when you already have other livestock guarding dogs as they will take care of the introductions and safety of everyone.

For this reason, many people prefer to obtain an adult dog as their first livestock guardian, but they can be difficult to buy as it takes a lot of time and effort to raise pups to adulthood to provide them for sale. However some large properties allow breeders to do just this, and allows them to ensure that a pup is attentive, trustworthy and protective.


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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