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Training a Maremma puppy to guard poultry
# this article is the author's opinion only
I own and have been breeding Maremma (Livestock Guardian Dogs) for a number of years.
There are differing opinions about how to train Maremma puppies as each breeder has their own methods, but most are similar.
This is my way of training a Maremma pup to be a good adult working livestock guardian dog (LGD).
I have trained my dogs for cattle and poultry; however one also guards the pet cats. I do not exhibit my dogs.
I always make sure that my working dogs show certain characteristics with work and personality before I breed them. A female is only ever allowed a maximum of two litters, 2½ years apart.
I do not believe in having this breed exclusively as pets. But I do believe that occasionally some pups/teenagers show they are best suited to being a companion to a family, but always with enough land for them to roam.
Maremma are self thinkers = even as pups they work out for themselves the best way to approach a situation. However if this does not suit you, you need to reinforce how you want them to behave in certain situations. Even then if they think you are wrong they will ignore you and do it their way. So always be aware of your dog and think about why it is ignoring you or blocking you from going into a certain area/place.
All my Maremma are working guardian dogs, as well as my companions. My dogs are on large acreage.
If you let a Maremma run loose for a while when you introduce them into a new well fenced paddock you will see that they will happily roam the entire fenced area.
When you own a working LGD, as the owner you are legally responsible for keeping your working dog on your property at all times.
If you want to take your working dog onto another property you should get that landowners permission.
If your dogs (all breeds) are not on your property or in a designated leash free park, they are required to be on a leash that is held by you or any other responsible adult that is able to control the dog on that leash.
IF you take your Maremma to a designated leash free park and that park is not fully secured with fences and CLOSED gates =
DO NOT let the dog off the leash as this breed runs and runs in a new open space and they are not very good at returning to your
call in this sort of situation = until they have investigated everything.
With this breed you must NEVER under any circumstances raise a hand to hit or hurt them.
Maremma is a breed that never forgets and never forgives. They are different to other breeds of dog.
Respect, patience, boundless love and positive reinforcement are the keys to training a Maremma.
You do not ‘own’ this breed of dog. You have to earn each dogs respect and once earned, it will work for and with you.
Maremma are not like herding dogs (Kelpies, Collies etc), or cattle dogs, so never make the assumption that they are.
They do not always come when called and they do not always do what you expect another breed of dog to do in some situations.
You either love the breed, or hate it.
People who do not understand this breed are the ones that hate them.
If and when I re-house pups I look for certain things in the potential new family.
Have they done their homework regards the breed?
Do they understand the breed is different to other breeds of dog?
Do they live on a property? (acreage)
Do they have livestock?
Do they want a trained dog or a pup?
Do they have children? (a trained adult dog will never be rehoused to a household with children)
Is the potential new family aware of and prepared to spend the extended amount of time needed to train and bond the pup as it grows into an adult working dog?
What are the potential new family’s expectations?
First and foremost regards training your pup = do not just ‘throw it out in a paddock’ with what you expect it to guard as an adult and feed it once or twice a day! = this is the fastest way to get a dog that only does what it wants. The pup will not have a clue as to what you expect from it and will most likely end up hurting the livestock or being hurt itself BY the livestock. All pups NEED to be trained. You will need to spend a lot of time with and have a lot of patience regards your pup.
This is about how to train your Maremma pup for poultry but if you want to train for sheep, goats, cattle or any other stock, you can follow this and just use young stock of your choice during the training/bonding process. This training and bonding process can take up to 2 years.
I advise people wanting a Maremma as a true working livestock guardian dog, ”supervise the pup when children are around it and teach both how to behave around each other! Both pup and children need to learn acceptable behaviour."
You do need to interact with your pup and give it attention and pat it. However the pup should not learn it can ‘play’ all the time so do not play with it.
As a reward while training the pup patting it and using your happy voice to tell the pup it is good will go a long way towards the pup learning accepted behaviour, such as walking on the leash.
As you teach your pup basic obedience positive reinforcement plays a big part in the training and trust process with this breed. Also because the pup/dog will see you as part of its family, therefore it will see the interaction as normal behaviour. Just remember do not play with the pup/dog as you would another breed, it is not a toy, it is a working dog.
Feed the pup on its own, away from livestock young or old.
Stay with the pup until it finishes eating. Remove all uneaten food.
Do not let the livestock near the pup while it is eating or the pup may hurt them.
This is not a sign of a bad pup, it is just a pup defending what is his or hers.
Make sure when you start the training that the person who feeds the pup is the person who does the initial training of the pup.
Other family members can join in once the pup is well on its way to being well trained and as an adult.
It is important that you get your pup/dog vaccinated and wormed regularly.
You need to make sure you leash train your pup so you can take it to the vet, or just to walk the boundaries with the pup on the leash while training. It also helps to continue walking the boundaries semi regularly as personal time, they do enjoy this short one on one time with you and this helps reinforce their relationship with you.
Most adult Maremma that have this routine are happier dogs as you are part of their family too.
Maremma are territorial once bonded with their livestock so it can be difficult to get them in a car and take them to the vet if you do not train them to walk on a leash and to go in the car.
If not leash trained and taught to go in the car you might have to drag and carry your dog, or have it sedated; in this case my option would be if there are any problems ask the vet to come to you.
Do not ever let your dog (pup) sleep anywhere but with your livestock, not at your house on the veranda or anywhere else if you want the pup/dog for protecting your stock. Your pup/dog must always sleep with what it is to bond with and protect.
This breed barks throughout the night to warn away perceived threats so if you have this breed in town or on too small a block you will upset your neighbours’ with all the barking.
You can and should teach your pup/dog to only bark at threats by learning each bark and which ones are the “come quick there is something here” bark, and the “I am about to start attacking the thing that should not be here” bark, etc. You must not try to control that type of barking in any way. You should teach the pup/dog not to bark for no reason with the occasional loud ‘NO’ in a commanding tone, you will quickly learn the ‘for no reason’ barking.
Only ever reprimand unwarranted barking during the day.
Never reprimand for barking at night as that is when these dogs work.
Be sure to investigate in the night as they are probably telling you Mr Fox is on the prowl.
You might think your dog is just playing up. But it is not.
There is something out there and he knows it, even if you cannot see or smell it.
If your dog takes on a snake DO NOT distract it by yelling out or running in thinking you can help (you CAN NOT HELP)
and your dog will probably be bitten.
You need to stand back with your mouth SHUT (regardless of your impulse to rush in and shout) and let it deal with the situation and then check the dog for bite marks around the face and legs etc and watch for any signs of snake bite.
IF the dog is bitten and you are within a short drive of the nearest Vet = take your dog there for treatment as there is only a small window to administer antivenin. Ring to advise you are bringing in a snake bite working Maremma. You MUST specify the breed so the Vet is aware they will be dealing with a working guardian dog.
Of course there is no guarantee the dog will live but if able you should try to save the best worker you will ever know.
When trained well, you will find the dog will protect his livestock and you with his life.
You will need – (for poultry)
1 pup 8 to 12 weeks old = preferably one that was born and grown around birds
some chickens, or geese/ducks etc 6 to 8 weeks of age
2 pens – this is essential as the pup does not know the poultry are not toys and needs to learn by initially seeing but not touching
patience and time
Chicks (etc) of that age get used to the pup as they grow, and bond quickly.
Adult birds usually ignore the dog or use it as a perch when it is asleep during the day, defeating the purpose.
You will need 2 pens = one for the pup and one for the birds, 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 see them easily.
Keep the pup and birds in the separate pens for about 1 month.
Then put the birds and the pup in the same pen for short periods of time. At this point you need to stay with them and supervise.
Make sure that the pup does not play with the birds in any way, and it must not be allowed to chase them.
Do not sit with the pup or pat it. Stay outside the pen/s.
Remember the pup is bonding to the birds first not you.
If the pup chases the birds or grabs one get the pup by the scruff of the neck and push it to the ground on all fours saying loudly in a firm voice “NO”, make the NO sound like a mother dog growling and chastising its young.
Hold the pup down for about 10 seconds this way.
Then let the pup go and watch.
This should be done for about 1 month at short intervals throughout the day.
Four times a day for an hour each time is effective.
Once confident the pup is not going to hurt the birds while you are there go to the next step. =
Leave the pen and go stand out of sight of the pup and watch.
If the pup tries to play with the birds yell out that very firm NO and if the pup continues to chase or hurt a bird 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 during this process.
It will take a while, sometimes it can be a few weeks and with some pups it could be a few months.
Some pups are slow to realise what is expected of them, this does not mean they are ‘slow’ it just means those pups are taking a bit longer to process what is expected of them.
Once you see the birds walking over the pup, and it is not reacting, you know the training is starting to work.
It is now time to move on to the next stage.
Add some more birds in with the pup’s birds.
Remember those first birds 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, and praising for acceptable behaviour.
If the pup has accepted all the new birds and it has been a few weeks, it is now time to move the pup on to the next stage.
This is when I teach my dogs the boundary of the yard that the birds pens are in. Not the birds pens but the yard enclosing the pens.
With the leash on I walk them around that boundary 2 times both morning and evening.
Make sure that the yard is well fenced and the pup cannot get out.
After completing 2 circuits of the boundary I return the pup back to his livestock, as I release him back to his birds I say a word.
I use this same word each time. He quickly learns this word means he is 'back at work'.
I continue this for a few weeks.
I then walk the pup around the paddock boundary starting with the leash on; I use a set word as the command for the walk.
After a few days I remove the leash gently and place my hand softly on the pups neck just behind the head, the pup will continue to walk around the paddock with me as if he is still on the leash. After a few weeks of this I can walk the pup without a leash and not touching him = he will continue to walk at my side until released by a command only he and I know, or if he sees/smells a potential threat and goes to investigate.
Your pup now knows his territory.
Maremma know what a fox, a hawk or feral cat is instinctively.
If you own a pet cat or dog = let the pup get to know that cat or dog when the pup starts with the birds.
Let the pup see the cat or any other dog or animal you own every day.
If you do this the pup will not see that animal as a threat to its birds.
Let the pup meet them through a fence and in time in the same yard.
Most Maremma will bond with your pet cat as well as its birds.
You can have several animals in with the birds. But =
DO NOT let other dogs play together with the Maremma pup as this is teaching the pup bad habits.
By now your young (teenage) dog is well on the way to being bonded and trained and will start to look after your livestock.
You will still have to keep an eye on the teenage dog for some time as it has to work out for itself different events that may happen and how to handle them.
This breed think for themselves and handle many different situations well.
By quietly watching you are ensuring that the dog does handle things well.
If something happens and things do not go right you have the advantage of that very strong loud NO and they will stop.
# if you use firearms = teaching a pup firearms safety procedures is essential.
Once the pup is leash trained and sits on command = show the pup the firearm = let it sniff it.
Once it knows the firearm will not hurt = out into the pups paddock.
Make sure the pup has a secure collar and harness with a sturdy leash while sitting next to you when shooting in its paddock = so it does not get gun shy!
At first it may go ballistic wanting to get away = DO NOT sooth it, and do not allow it to get away = keep the leash secure,
firmly telling the pup to 'sit' =
At first more than one telling may be necessary.
When the pup sits, tell it (in a happy voice) it is good and pat it, then shoot off the firearm again to reinforce the need for
'lack of reaction to the noise'.
Let it smell the firearm again to re-establish it will not hurt it = this way it smells that it has been fired and quickly learns to recognise the smell.
Repeat the process of shooting off the firearm = 3 or 4 times at each session is enough.
It may take a while for the pup not to go ballistic at the sound so patience and positive reinforcement for sitting is the key.
Each time the pup sits quietly when the firearm goes off pat and praise the pup, this reinforces it has done what you want and the need for it to sit regardless of the noise.
Eventually the pup will learn when you have the gun that it is to sit next to you quietly =
last thing you want is a gun shy dog or one that runs after what you are shooting at and getting shot itself =
they can suddenly appear right in the line of fire the split second you squeeze the trigger!
Regularly use the firearms with the dog (a maximum of every few weeks) to keep re-enforcing the need for it to sit calmly next
to you when and as needed. I do this once a week.
in relation to attached page of re-training an adult dog =
I do not recommend trying to teach an adult and/or rescue dog firearms safety as it may well already be VERY gun shy!
An adult dog trying to get away = one that does not trust you fully yet = that could topple them right over the edge!
previously published article
# protected under copy right laws of Australia