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Training a Maremma puppy to guard poultry
Re-printed with written permission of author and consideration as to copyright The Stud extends its thanks for this contribution to the site
By Yvonne from Poultry on the Gwydir
# this article is the author's opinion only
I own and have been breeding Maremma dogs for well over 10 years.
There are many ways to train these puppies and each breeder has there own methods, however most a similar.
This is my way of training and developing up a good working Maremma.
I have trained my dogs for goats, sheep and poultry. I do not show/exhibit my dogs, but I do make sure that my working dogs show certain characteristics with work and personality before I breed with them.
These dogs are called Livestock Guardian Dogs, with good reason, as that is what they do very well.
I do not believe in having them as pets, but that is just my opinion regards this breed. All my dogs are working dogs, as that is what they are born to do. My dogs are on acreage. If you watch these dogs and let them run for a while when you introduce them into a new paddock then you will see that they will naturally roam at least 5 acres.
When you own a dog be it a Maremma, or any dog, as the owner you are totally responsible for keeping your dog on your property at all times and know where they are at all times.
With this breed you can NEVER under any circumstances raise a hand to hit or hurt them. It is a breed that never forgets and never forgives. They are totally different to all other breeds of dog.
You don’t ‘own’ this breed of dog. You have to earn each dogs respect and it will work for you.
They are nothing like sheep dogs used for working the sheep.
They don’t always come when you call them and they don’t do what you expect any other dog to do.
You either love the breed or hate it.
People who don’t understand how this breed works are the ones that hate them.
If and when I sell pups I look for certain things in the buyer.
Do they live on property?
Do they have stock?
Do they want a trained dog or a pup?
Do they have children? And are they saying “oh mummy it is so cute” = little to no chance of getting a pup from me
Do the people know the breed and are they willing to take the dogs needs into consideration?
What are the buyers expectations?
You will need a lot of time and patience with your pup.
I will explain here how to train your pup for poultry but if you want to train for sheep, goats, cattle or any other stock follow this and just use young stock of your choice when you are training them.
I always ask if a person wants the dog as a working dog. Then I advise - do not let children play with or pat them at anytime.
This is not to say don’t pat the pup though. When you feed your pup give it a pat. Not for too long and certainly don’t play with it.
Also feed the pup on its own, away from stock young or old, down the opposite end of the pen to the stock (Chickens) is ideal. Stay with the pup until it finishes eating. Remove all uneaten food when the pup has had enough. Do not let the stock (chickens) near the food while the pup is eating or the pup may kill them. This is not a sign of a bad pup it is just a pup defending what is his or hers. Always make sure when you start the training that it is the same person who feeds the pup as who trains the pup, one master so to speak. This can change once the pup is fully trained and an adult.
It is your choice, but if you are spending good money on a pup make sure you get it vaccinated and wormed regularly.
These dogs are territorial once trained so it can be very difficult to get them in a car and take them to the vet. You might have to drag and carry your dog, or have it sedated; my option would be if there are any problems ask the vet to come to you. (some have a Vet that knows them well and they supply the vaccinations in syringes for the owner to administer)
You need to make sure you lead train your dog so you can take it to the vet, or just to walk the boundaries with the pup on the lead while training. Under no circumstance ever let your dog (pup) sleep anywhere but with your chickens (stock) certainly not at your house on the veranda or anywhere else if you want it for protecting your stock.
This breed barks often and extremely loudly throughout the night so you should not have this breed in town or on too small a block as you will upset your neighbours’ with all the barking.
You must not try to control the barking in any way except the occasional loud ‘sit down’ yelled in a tone the same as NO and certainly only during the day NOT in the night.
You might think your dog is just playing up. I guarantee it is not.
There is something out there and he knows it, even if you cannot see or smell it. They are amazing dogs.
One more thing I will say before I tell you the basics of the training method I use.
If your dog takes on a snake DO NOT distract him by yelling out or running in at him as he probably will be bitten. You need to stand back with your mouth SHUT (regardless of your impulse to rush in and shout) and let him deal with the situation and then check the dog out for bite marks around the face and legs etc and just watch him for any signs of snake bite.
You will also find the dog protects you with his life when trained properly. Mine do.
You will need –
1 pup 6 to 8 weeks old
some chickens 6 to 8 weeks of age (off heat)
Patience (lots of patience)
One puppy 6 weeks of age ½ dozen young chickens or more off heat. I use the chicks at that age as they get used to the pup quickly, and as adults usually ignore the bird or use it as a perch when it is asleep during the day.
You will need 2 pens = one for the pup and one for the chickens next to one another where they can always see each other.
Make sure that the pup has plenty of room in its pen and fresh water at all times. Make sure the pens are away from everyday traffic and away from the house but where you can still keep an eye on them. Keep the pup and chickens separate from one another for about 2 weeks.
The next step is to put the chickens and the pup in the same pen for short periods of time. At this point you need to stay with the chickens and the pup and just supervise what is going on.
You need to make sure that the pup does not play with the chickens in any way especially no chasing them.
Do not sit with the pup or pat it.
Remember the pup is bonding to the chickens first not you.
If the pup chases the chickens or grabs one get the pup by the scruff of the neck and push it to the ground on all fours saying loudly a very firm strong “NO”, hold the pup down for about 10 seconds this way.
Then let the pup go again and just watch.
This should be done for about 2 weeks at short intervals throughout the day. Four times a day for an hour each time is recommended.
When you are confident that the pup is not going to hurt the chickens while you are there, it is time to go to the next step.
Leave the pen and go stand out of the sight of the pup and watch.
If the pup tries to play with the chickens yell out that very firm NO and if the pup continues to chase or hurt a chicken you will need to get in the pen asap and push the pup back to the ground and saying NO again.
This is the most time consuming part of training.
You always have to have one eye on them when you first start this process.
It will take a while, sometimes it can be a few weeks and some dogs it could be a few months.
Some pups are just slower to catch on to what is expected of them.
Once you see the chickens walking over the pup you know the battle has been won if the pup is not reacting.
It is now time to move on to the next stage.
Put some new chickens in with the pup’s chickens.
Remember those first chickens are the pups family so they must always be with the pup while it is young.
Watch them and the pup and make sure they are all getting on.
Keep disciplining the pup as needed for any unwanted behaviour.
If the pup has accepted all the new birds well and it has been a few weeks, it is now time to move the dog on to the next stage.
This is the time I teach my dogs the boundary of the yard that the chook pens are in.
I will put them on a lead and walk them around that yard sometimes up to 3 times morning and evening.
Make sure that the yard is well fenced and the dog cannot get out.
After completing 3 circuits of the yard return the dog back to his chickens.
I do this for a few weeks. Then I walk the dog around the yard starting with the lead and I remove the lead gently and the dog will continue to walk around the yard with me as if it is still on the lead.
You then know your dog is right and knows his territory you want him to look after.
These dogs know what a fox, a hawk or feral cat is instinctively.
A word of warning. If you own a pet cat = let the pup get to know that cat when the pup starts with the chickens.
Let the pup see the cat or any other dog or animal you own everyday.
If you do this the dog will not see that animal as a threat to the poultry.
First let the pup meet them through a fence and then in the same yard.
You can have several animals in with the chickens. DO NOT let these other animals play together with the pup as this is teaching the pup bad habits.
By now your young dog is trained and will start to look after your stock.
You will still have to keep an eye on the dog for some time as he has to work out for himself different events that may happen and how to handle them himself.
This is the beauty of these dogs they can think for themselves and handle many different situations well.
By just keeping an eye out you are ensuring that he does handle things the right way.
If something happens and things don’t go right you have the advantage of that very strong loud NO and they will stop.
# ym – protected under copy right laws of Australia