I (Kim) am feeling under the weather - possibly Covid - so I’m keeping my barn chores to a minimum and allowing my number one farmhand, my 18 year old son, Noah, to carry the load. But I have to go outside and at least check on everyone. Marisa and her puppies and Polar’s came to say hello, along with a few of their goat buddies. Who can feel bad for long with this welcoming party waiting to greet you?!
Spend any time patrolling the internet and you will find people complaining about the "problems" they have with their LGD's. Some are committed to making things work and are just reaching out for advice and help. Others not so much. There are people who are dumping their dogs in rescue because it doesn't live up to their expectations. They see LGD's as cheap, expendable "products" and are happy to throw their dog away and start over if things don't go according to plan.
Others are calling their dogs "a failure", "bad dog" and "a disappointment". They seem to revel in criticizing their dogs to get attention, which is disgusting and sad. What makes this even sadder is that these are often PUPPIES that are being called failures. Everyone knows that LGD's can take 2 years or sometimes more to reach maturity and to be totally safe with stock. So why is it ok to call a 9 month old puppy a "failure" for being a puppy?
The first step in setting the puppies up for success lies with the breeder. Puppies have critical learning periods in the first weeks and months. If breeders don't take advantage of these periods the dog will never live up to its full potential. It might be an "ok" LGD, but not likely a "great" one. Puppies should have intensive socialization with stock from as early as possible. At our farm every dog and puppy we own lives with other dogs and livestock 24/7. Dogs are social creatures and they need to have their needs for socialization met in order to thrive.
Puppies should also be trained with positive socialization methods and only allowed to be around other dogs and stock that are kind to the puppies. Using harsh training methods or harsh treatment by other dogs and stock on puppies teaches puppies to be either fearful or to bully other animals, or both. Neither is what you want to nurture in a LGD.
But no matter how careful and conscientious the breeder is in their socialization of their puppies the job doesn't end there. The new puppy owner has the responsibility to continue this nurturing training and treatment of the puppy once it gets home. Other than the first few days the puppy should be with livestock full time asap. Of course with poultry, accommodations will have to be made to keep the birds safe, but the puppy should have another dog as a companion and some type of mammal to guard if at all possible. The puppy should not ever be locked up by itself for extended periods of time. This is counterproductive to what you're trying to accomplish with your puppy. You will only frustrate the puppy, which will lead to "bad" behavior.
If you are experiencing problems with your puppy the first place to turn is your breeder. A reputable breeder will provide lifetime support to their customers. They can tell you how your puppy was trained before it left their farm and can give advice on how to integrate the puppy with your new stock. Good breeders love their puppies and their customers and want everyone to be happy so don't be afraid to reach out to them.
If you need more help I suggest you seek professional help. And by professional help I don't mean some self-described "expert" with no real background or training. I mean a professional trainer with certifications in dog training and behavior and who specializes in LGD's and positive reinforcement training. Hands down the expert in this area is Cindy Benson, of Benson Maremmas. She is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, former Maremma breeder and author of books on training LGD's. She can do zoom training sessions with you and your dog and get you back on track asap.
I would like to challenge everyone who owns one of these wonderful dogs to never, ever think of your dog as a "failure" or a "disappointment" and to challenge others to do the same. Advocate for these dogs. When you hear people blaming the dog for human failure, laziness and ignorance speak up and set them straight! Dogs come to us as clean slates. It's our responsibility to help them live up to their potential. It starts with breeders and continues with owners. And if there is any "failure" along the way it is not our dogs who have failed. It is us who have failed our dogs.
These are six of Marcella's puppies, at 4 months old, enjoying a fun game of tag with their puppy mentor, Marisa. LGD puppies need to have at least one LGD companion in order to be happy and healthy and so that they can channel that boundless energy in an appropriate manner.
When you breed a breed of dog that only comes in one color (white) and one basic coat length (fluffy) telling the puppies apart can be a real challenge. However, being able to do so is important for several reasons. First of all, you need to be able to track the health and weights of the puppies as they grow. Secondly, tracking the temperaments and behavior of the pups is extremely important in making placements, especially in LGD puppies. The puppy that constantly chases chickens might not be the best fit for a farm with poultry. Two puppies that constantly fight should not be placed together and a very timid puppy will need a home that won't overwhelm or stress her out. Being able to tell the puppies apart from an early age, at a glance and from far away is really useful, but how do you do it?
Over the years I have tried a variety of methods with varying degrees of success. First I tried several different types of whelping collars, made of velcro, nylon webbing or paracord. The collars either came off too easily and got lost, or didn't come off easily and presented a strangulation hazard. They got tangled in the long fur too easily and most of them were quickly outgrown. And since they couldn't easily be seen under all the fur they were pretty useless for identifying puppies from even a few feet away.
Next I tried human spray-in hair dye, sold at Halloween time. This worked pretty well but was hard to find most of the year. I tried human hair chalk, sharpies, pet dye and a variety of other things - none really showed up or lasted on the thick Maremma fur, or they were too messy or too expensive. Then somewhere I found some sheep marking dye, available in sticks (like big crayons) or spray. The sticks were useless but the spray worked ok. The only problem was the ones we initially found either didn't last more than a couple of days or didn't come in more than a couple of colors. Foiled again!
Then one day while perusing one of my favorite livestock supply websites I saw a product called Sprayline sheep marking spray. It comes in 6 colors in big cans and wasn't too expensive. I ordered a couple of cans and tried it. It worked great! It was bright, crisp and clear and it lasted at least a week. This was it! I found that by combining colors or marking different locations (head, shoulders, tail) I could mark even Gianna's litter of 13 and easily tell the puppies apart. I simply reapply the paint as it starts to fade and it works great. I even occasionally use it to mark older dogs so we can tell who they are from far away, or to mark our dairy goat kids.
In February 2021 we had two litters born about 2 weeks apart, so I carefully kept them separate so as to not mix up the puppies. But this year (2022) I ended up with two litters that are two DAYS apart, and each litter has exactly 5 males and three females. One litter belongs to Marisa (sired by Simba) and one to Polar (sired by Sevro) and while the puppies do look very different (Marisa's puppies have Simba's fluffier coats while Polar's have slightly "plusher" coats) I didn't want to risk mixing the puppies up. And since female dogs sometimes fight or may hurt another dog's pups I kept them apart for safety, anyway, for the first 9 weeks.
But the puppies were getting bigger and I knew that eventually combining the litters would make training and management a lot easier. And having 16 fluffy white puppies all sharing one space would be a lot of fun! As Polar and Marisa were getting closer to being ready to wean their pups I knew it was about time to turn them over to Genevieve, my amazing puppy mentor, who's raised 4 litters of her own (including the litter Polar came from) as well as helped train many other dogs' puppies. But how would I tell the puppies apart? Well, I had a plan!
And what I did is this. Each litter got the same 8 colors or color combinations (Blue, green, orange, pink, purple, blue/green, blue/orange, pink/purple) of Sprayline but Marisa's puppies (the older litter) got marked on their shoulders while Polar's litter got marked on their tail ends! And to be extra sure I don't mix up the puppies I microchipped them all with the Datamars/Petlink microchips we always use, but did so before putting the pups together, noting the color and litter for each chip number in my Breeder Cloud Pro software. Then Polar and Marisa went back to work (they can come visit the puppies if they want) and Genevieve took over. And oh boy, was it ever an exciting event! The brightly painted puppies had a grand time running around, meeting the pups that until now they had only interacted with through the fence, barking at Genevieve, playing in the mud, and in general having a blast. Genny looked at as if I had truly lost my mind giving her this many puppies to care for, but she took it all with her usual placid attitude and good nature. The puppies played themselves out and crashed all together in the Puppy Parlor yard, while Genny watches over them like the great puppy mentor she is. This is going to be a fun adventure, for me and Genny!
As a Maremma Sheepdog breeder and trainer and Admin or contributor on multiple Maremma Facebook groups, information pages or websites, as well and other dog groups, I often hear people asking how they can teach their puppies not to bite. The first thing people need to know is that biting is a normal developmental stage in puppies. They aren't being "bad", they are just being puppies!
The second thing to understand is that puppies need to learn Bite Inhibition. They first learn this from their mom, siblings and other dogs they are raised with (mentor dogs), and this lesson is NOT best learned through aggression. (Never let an adult dog act aggressively towards a puppy. That's NOT how puppies learn to be gentle and stable LGD's or pets!) Instead, if a puppy gets too rough in their play the other puppies or dogs usually just walk away, thus ending the game. Eventually the puppy learns that if they want to continue playing they need to be gentle. This is one reason why your shouldn't get a puppy that's too young. They need time to learn this and other valuable lessons from their parents, siblings and mentor dogs. Below are two examples of this in action:
In this first video notice how the puppy with the pink tail is happily playing with the green tail pup. But after a bit Pink Tail decides that her brother's biting is getting too rough, so she leaves. Game over. Little Green Tail will remember that and may not play so rough next time, though it will probably take several experiences like this before the lesson fully sinks in!
In the next video I only caught the tail end of the interaction between Gianna and her puppies on video. Before I started filming I watched her patiently and sweetly interact with several of the pups for quite a while, as evidenced by the photos below. Gianna was enjoying a relaxing spring day while I watched as first one puppy and then more and more of them came to see what she was doing. Eventually it was several puppies, all of whom thought mommy made a fine jungle gym and chew toy. Finally Gianna decided she had had enough of these baby sharks and she left! Game over. Gianna felt no need to "reprimand" her puppies, she just left.
What I love about both of these interactions is that none of the dogs got aggressive in order to stop the biting. They simply left, putting an end to the fun but annoying game. That’s not to say some adult dogs don't get aggressive with puppies or that puppies never fight. They do, but that's not what I want to see in a mama dog or my mentor dogs. A mama dog should always have a way to get away from her puppies so she doesn't resort to aggressive behavior with them. If I have a mom who's getting impatient and snappy with her puppies I let her go back to work and bring in one of my patient, gentle mentor dogs. These dogs rarely "correct" puppies. Instead they teach by example and by rewarding the puppies' polite behavior with their attention and affection. That's what I try to model myself in teaching puppies. Aversive training methods are not helpful for training puppies or adult dogs! They just teach them to be either fearful or aggressive or both. That’s not what I want in a LGD who will be interacting with my livestock and my grandchildren!
Clicker Training is the Key
So how do you train a puppy not to bite without using aversive training methods? By focusing on teaching them what you WANT them to do, instead of what you DON’T want them to do. The key to that is Positive Reinforcement training methods such as Clicker Training. There are a lot of great books, videos and other resources out there to teach you all about Clicker Training - what it is, how to do it and the SCIENCE behind why it works. Here are my top picks:
Manding, a Powerful Tool
One of the first things to teach a puppy with Clicker Training is Manding. The puppies catch on very quickly to this fun new game and soon discover that they can “train” you by offering this polite behavior. And a puppy that’s sitting politely (Manding) waiting for a reward is less likely to be jumping all over you or biting you. (Manding isn't sitting on command so read below for more details.)
Below are photos and videos of puppies manding and more information on what Manding is, why it's such a valuable tool, and how to teach it.
Cindy Benson, KPA CTP, of Benson Maremmas Training, works with my 9 week old litter of Maremma puppies, which were born in February 2022 to Celeste and Sevro. This was the first time these pups ever met Cindy but they quickly found her to be fascinating. Notice how well behaved and polite these 8 wiggly puppies are. Notice they are not biting or jumping up on Cindy and they have her rapt attention despite all the barking dogs, goats walking by and other farm activity going on.
And here my friend’s 12 and 4 year daughters also work with the same litter, a few days later. Again, no jumping or biting; just attentive, engaged puppies.
More Information About Manding
More About Biting in Puppies
Now that's not to say that if you teach a puppy to mand he will never try to use you as a chew toy, or that Clicker Training alone is the cure. But both are powerful tools to help you communicate withy your puppy so that he learns what you DO want him to do, instead of what you DON'T want him to do! Below are some great resources to help you learn more about how to survive the Velociraptor stage!
Hi I'm Kim. I have been an avid animal lover all my life but goats and dogs are my favorites so I built a business around them, breeding registered Mini Nubian & Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats and MSCA registered Maremma Sheepdogs. I love sharing my passion and knowledge of these amazing creatures with others.