Great Pyrenees Dogs
When you raise livestock, you are concerned with predators. Some animals are more susceptible, like sheep. Your predator types and predator load vary depending on where you are. Maybe it’s bears, coyotes, hawks, or other dogs. In our area, our primary concerns are coyotes, dogs, hawks and black vultures.
Farms use a variety of animals as guardians, including donkeys, llamas, and dogs. We read a lot about each of these kinds of guardians before deciding on dogs. You can find a summary of the differences here.
Our guardians are an integral part of our farm. The animals listen to each other. They each respect and react to each other’s concerns. It’s a beautiful and amazing thing to watch.
About Livestock Guardians
We choose to use dogs as our livestock guardians. From there, we decided on two breeds–Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherds. We thought we would figure out which breed we liked better and go from there. Turns out, we love them both.
There is no shortage of people and groups who will tell you there is only one way to have successful guardians. We don’t subscribe to that. We’ll share what has worked for us and what we have learned along the way.
We purchased breeding dogs from reputable breeders with working dogs. It is important for dogs to be socialized with animals and people early. We want our dogs to be good with our livestock, but also with our children and house pets. Our dogs live with the livestock in the barn, not in our house. They are familiar with our house dogs and house cats so they are friendly but aloof.
Our guardian dogs play with us and our children. They love attention and cuddles. Their relationship with us has not impaired their relationship with their stock.
We believe strongly that our dogs work in pairs when guarding our sheep. The risk that predators could overwhelm one dog during an attack is real. A pair of dogs can work together to direct the herd to safety and deal with potential threats. It’s the safer way to function.
We raise dogs on our farm in and among sheep, cows, pigs, donkeys, goats, chickens, ducks, a goose, guinea fowl, cats, house dogs and kids. Our dogs recognize the difference between our ducks and wild ducks. They not only guard from coyotes and threats on the ground, they guard against hawks and black vultures from above. Their work is almost entirely prevention. They rarely have to kill predators or intruders, but we are confident they would.
Setting Up for Success
Every dog is different. We have had dogs that dig and dogs that jump. No matter what, you need good fencing. We use 48-inch goat- or horse-field fencing.
If you have an escape artist, it’s important to understand what’s motivating the dog. Enough space and exercise is important. A bored dog will want to explore. Our dogs will dig under if there is a predator hanging out nearby or a dog in heat across the way. It works for us to do spot reinforcement. We fortify areas the dogs seem prone to dig by putting extra fencing or obstacles in place.
We prevent jumping by having one hot wire strung on top of our perimeter fencing. We regularly inspect our fences and gates to make sure nothing can get in or out. We use electric netting occasionally to rotate or expand an area. The animals learn that those are electrified. Try to observe them the first time you use it so you can make sure the dog doesn’t panic if it receives a shock. It usually only takes one or two accidental exposures to teach that it’s hot.
We have pastures subdivided into 2–10-acre pieces. The dogs need a job to keep from getting bored and guarding their pasture is their job. They need space to take care of. Every dog has their own personality. Some like to be right among the sheep herd. Some prefer to relax away. They often do regular perimeter checks. They are often sitting facing a “danger zone”. They work well together, but resource-guarding can be an issue.
To simplify feeding time and prevent conflict between dogs, we feed separately.
We have several intact males and females. We observe them closely for conflict so we can separate them if needed. Our intact females do really well together unless one of them is pregnant. Our intact males did really well together until they both reached maturity. Spaying and neutering usually eliminate most conflict and make things much simpler.
All dogs bark. Great Pyrenees bark more than other breeds, especially at night. If you live in an area where barking is going to cause conflict, this may not be the dog for you. We find it comforting, but we have learned what the different barks mean. They aren’t right outside our bedroom window. Our neighbors are not close enough to complain.
Our experience is that you do not need to train to be livestock guardian dogs. It is their instinct. It is important that the dog not be mixed with non-guard breeds. A little herding breed like German Shepherd or Border Collie may make a great pet, but they will not make a great guardian. The herding instinct will compete with the guardian instinct and everyone will be frustrated.
You do need to train the dog in basic obedience commands. This is important for your sanity and for times when you need veterinary care. Our dogs know their name and know how to come when called. They may or may not choose to listen. The best skills to work on are walking on a leash, riding in the car, being handled, and walking on a variety of surfaces. Trying to take a 100-pound dog into the veterinary office when they have never walked on linoleum floors is painful for everyone.
The single most important training you can provide your guardian is to expose them to animals early and often. Give them feedback about what animals are theirs and which are not. We use a “be nice” command when the dog meets a new animal that is theirs. We supervise interactions. We move gradually, first letting get to know each other at the fence line. Then put them together and watch. Many times, the dog wants to play and doesn’t realize the other species isn’t up for it. Use positive reinforcement to teach.
We always introduce and escort new people to the dog. We want them to understand that unaccompanied strangers are not safe.
Dogs on our farm are raised in and among sheep, cows, pigs, donkeys, goats, chickens, ducks, a goose, guinea fowl, cats, house dogs and kids. Our dogs recognize the difference between our ducks and wild ducks. They not only guard from coyotes and threats on the ground, they guard against hawks and black vultures from above. Their work is almost entirely prevention. They rarely have to kill predators or intruders, but we are confident they would.
Our dogs live with our livestock. They have access to the barn or other shelter space. They do not and have not stayed in our house except for whelping and their first couple of weeks in our garage. We aren’t convinced they would use a dog house if we made one specifically for them.
Our dogs learn to go to their spot for feeding. At their spot, we connect them to a chain that keeps them separate from the other dogs. They eat. We disconnect them when everyone is finished. This keeps them from fighting over food. It also helps if we need to examine the dog.
Our dogs wear collars. They are close enough on our farm that we see them regularly. If we were on an enormous ranch, we may reconsider the type of collar for safety. For us, it helps us manage the dog.
Our dogs are used to head-to-toe rubdowns. They think it’s cuddles, but it’s also a chance for us to observe any injuries or problems.
They have double coats that stay pretty free from trouble. Occasionally we have to help remove burrs or a matted piece. Our kids like to brush them during shedding season to help the process along. We never shave them.
We make sure they have access to water and shade. They do fine in our humid summer and absolutely love a snowstorm in the winter. We increase their calorie intake when it’s cold outside.
Make sure you take your dogs into consideration in managing other aspects of your farm. For example, we have rats in the barn. We do not use poison because the dogs will hunt the rats. We don’t want the dogs accidentally poisoned.
These animals need regular vaccinations and vet care. They need flea and tick and worm management. Make sure your vet knows the dog lives outside with livestock. We are very lucky to have a vet that does farm calls and one that will let me text him pictures or questions. As with other livestock, you get to know what is normal for your animals and as long as you observe everyone regularly; you pick up on when something might not be right.
About Great Pyrenees Dogs
These dogs are bred to be livestock guardians. Our observations are consistent with how the AKC describes them. We highly recommend you review the breed details to make sure that their build and personality fit with your situation.
They are gentle giants with family and fierce guards of what they consider theirs. GPs are very smart and independent. This makes them great guards. They can distinguish what animals and people belong and those that don’t belong. However, as far as obedience goes, they do as you ask, as long as it is in line with what they want. I often get the feeling that they are humoring me because they think it’s cute.
As guards, they bark to warn predators away. They bark to alert their partners and us that there might be a problem. They are not easily dissuaded.
GPs have some reputation as roamers. We have not seen this in our dogs. Our feeling is that things that contribute to roaming may include not having enough space to accommodate the dog. Also, intact animals will roam for dating opportunities. If something concerns the dog on a security or territory basis, they will feel the need to investigate.
Applying for a Puppy or Waitlist
We want to set up our dogs for success. Our dogs are working dogs. With very few exceptions, they need to go to working farms or ranches with existing livestock. If you are just starting out, you must have livestock before getting an LGD. We will only consider pet placements if you have prior experience with the breed. Please apply through Good Dog. Click on Apply to Breeder to access the waitlist. There is a non-refundable deposit of $500.
We have a litter of seven puppies born on July 28, 2023. We keep our puppies until 12 weeks to ensure they get a good foundation with exposure to animals and a start on leash work. These puppies will be ready for their new homes on October 20, 2023. There are four females and three males. All have badger markings.
Our Breeding Great Pyrenees
Our Dam is Three Little Bird’s Artemis, or Artie for short. She was our first LGD. A sweet little puffball who didn’t like she could spook a fly. She grew into a steady but serious guardian who has mentored many of our other dogs.
Our Sire is Three Little Bird’s Atlas. He is our goofy buddy dog and champion cuddler. He loves to hang out with us while we work and supervise things. He greets the herd as if he’s the principal walking the halls of a school.