Last week we brought home Stanley, our new Livestock Guardian Dog puppy. We decided on a Livestock Guardian dog for our flock last year, after thinking about the best ways to protect our goats and poultry on our new, rural farm.
A guardian dog appealed to us for several reasons. We didn't want to have to patrol for, fence out, or hunt every predator on our land, since that would be a full time job. A natural deterrent like an LGD seemed perfect, and our previous dog had become ill so we knew we would want a puppy in our lives soon. We visited a few farms with LGDs and were amazed at how kind and gentle they were with their animals and how friendly they were to the people that they knew were "ok".
The Maremma Sheepdog is a large white dog from central Italy. They've been used by the shepherds of Tuscany for centuries to guard their sheep against wolves. They are such a classic image in Italian farming that they are symbols in may works of art including Jean-Baptiste Oudry's Hunting the Wolf (1746) and Journey of the Magi to Bethlehem (1460) by Benozzo Gozzoli. In ancient times shepherds would forge large collars for these dogs with long spikes around them, to protect their necks in a battle with a wolf.
Large, musclar dogs, adult male Maremmas can weigh over 100lbs. Stanley was one of the larger puppies in his litter and he had eight brothers and sisters. Maremma's personalities are highly affectionate and kind, but very protective of their herd and family. Like all Livestock Guardian Dogs, Stanley lives with the goats and protects them 24-7. He has a safe run within the goat pen and otherwise he will patrol the borders of our fence line.
While it may sound like Maremmas are part wild, it is very important to do as much or more hands on training of an LGD as you would with a regular house dog. It is important that they not only bond with their goats, but also with you, so they'll understand that you and the people you bring to the farm are friends. We spend plenty of time cuddling with Stanley, and equally as much time sitting with him and the goats, reminding him to sit and be gentle with them.
The goats were extremely skeptical of Stanley when he arrived. Mr Jones, our whether, would not stop bouncing around and snorting to show his displeasure. Sweet Pea, meanwhile, cemented her position as "herd queen" (the dominant female who protects the rest of the herd) by being the first to warm up to Stanley. At this point they comfortably touch noses and they're getting closer every day to just cuddling and wandering the pasture together.
We're working on training Stanley the boundaries of the pasture and that the goats, geese, and chickens are for him to protect. He is a quick, patient learner and not particularly interested in chasing or harassing any of the other animals. He is proving to be a true delight in our lives, and we cannot wait to watch him grow up with us.
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