How to Raise and Train Outstanding Livestock Guardian Dogs - The Trick to Telling so Many Maremma Sheepdog Puppies Apart and Why it's Important to Do So!
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!
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.