Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Year with Asher- Lessons from a LGD

Asher has been with us for a year now. He is a Great Pyrenees which is a breed of working dogs bred to guard farm animals. They're one of the more popular breeds of Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD) in the United States.

I read so many things on Great Pyrenees when I got Asher, I was sure I was going to mess him up somehow. All kinds of advice from "Don't get one if you don't have large dog experience" to "You need to get two". And of course, acting in my typical way, I, Kristin, with no large dog experience (and little dog experience in general) brought home a puppy. Here are some of the things I have learned in the last year.

1. Don't overdo it on the internet. Remember, people with good dogs rarely post on forums, it's the people with the problems. If you spend too much time reading, you'll become convinced that problem dogs are the norm. They aren't. Most of these guys are born knowing what to do.

2. Do get a dog from working stock. The first night I brought Asher home, I put him in his own stall away from the goats- he was so tiny I didn't want him hurt. He dug out overnight and has been with the goats ever since. You want a dog with that instinct.

3. Don't get a Pyr as a house dog. While some people have had success with that, most of the problems I've read about stem from the dog not being able to do what he was bred to do. 

4. Teach him to walk on a lead and teach him early. You don't want to be that owner being dragged around by a 100+ pound dog. Also teach him to get in the car. I failed on that last bit and it took me 20 minutes to shove him into the car to go to the vet. I couldn't even bribe him with sausage.

5. A Pyr off a lead is a disa-pyr.  These guys consider any territory they can get to their territory. If you're not careful they'll be guarding the neighbor's place too. And the people on the other side of them. And the folks 3 doors down.

6. Apparently they guard deer too. Ash was out of sorts for 2 days when our neighbor shot us two little does that had been eating our garden.

7. All the garbage you read online about not interacting with your Pyr pup is just that- garbage. Love that puppy. Teach him manners. Don't move him into the house, but don't ignore him! You want a well adjusted dog who likes people. If you have kids, be sure the dog is around your kids and their friends. A lot.

8. These guys are not going to win awards for obedience. They are not giant fluffy Labradors and you can't expect them to be. A Pyr will only come when called if he thinks it's the right thing to do. Teach them to sit though. It helps them know you're boss.

9. Stuffed animals don't stand a chance.

10. Puppies should be around kids and lambs. Asher truly blossomed as a LGD when our kids started arriving. He led us to a doeling that Phoebe had birthed down in the woods. We may not have found that kid in time if it hadn't been for Asher.

11. He will chase your chickens. I guess sometimes chickens just need to be chased. It keeps them in their place. We can't have mutiny by chickens, now can we? Some people warn that you may lose a few chickens before your LDG learns. Asher has never killed a chicken. The few times he actually catches one, he likes to pluck a few feathers and give it a good bath. It's okay for dogs to be dirty, but chickens must be groomed.

12. Will my LGD puppy ever bark? Be careful what you wish for! Asher didn't bark until he was about six months old. He rarely barks in the day but he does a good bit of barking throughout the night to let anything lurking know he's on duty. When you're lying awake at 2am listening to him go off, remember, you could be waking up to dead goats. It helps to have understanding neighbors. Or no neighbors.

13. Spend some time hand feeding him while he's young. And make him sit to get his food. Asher lets the goats know in no uncertain terms that they are not to get near his food. His barking, growling, and snapping can actually be a bit scary, though I've learned that he would never actually hurt one of his animals. Just be sure he knows that you are allowed near his food. He can't think that he's above you in the hierarchy.

14. If he thinks he's a goat, don't disabuse him of that notion, you'll just hurt his feelings. 

15. They do not like baths. Legs wet, body dry. He may never get a real bath, but he doesn't smell bad. That coat of his seems to repel everything.

16. Speaking of that coat. Do not shave it! That coat keeps him cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It also protects him from bites from the nasty creatures he's guarding your farm against.

17. All animals in the barnyard are his animals. Not yours, his. Don't be picking them up and trying to take them off anywhere. That's just not acceptable. I suggest locking your LGD in a stall when you're trying to catch a goose to butcher or send kids off with their new owners.

18. Trust your gut (as long as it's served you well in the past) and trust your dog. You may not understand what he's doing, but believe me, he has a reason for it. For the longest time, I'd discipline Asher for snapping at the goats as they would come out for milking. Finally, I realized that he knew the order in which they are milked and he was helping to make sure other goats didn't butt in line. Boy, did I feel bad for scolding him.

19. They eat much less than you may think.

20. Pyr's have the best smile. But Asher doesn't seem to smile for pictures. Just like my husband....sheesh. 

I'm sure I'll think of other things to add to the list. This has been a great year raising my first (and gigantic) puppy. He's gone from 8 pounds of fluff to 108 pounds of guarding power. And he's still a teenager! He's been a wonderful addition to our farm and I hope to have him guarding our farm for many years.


  1. I'm so glad he's a good dog! I've read many horror stories online, but your right people tend to put only bad things out there not the good. Asher is adorable with those goat babies :)

  2. I love the picture of all the kids laying on Asher. Such a great dog.