In 2012, we had a massive chicken loss to predators. We had toyed with the idea of getting a Great Pyr to protect our chickens, and this sealed the deal. A family member had an accidental litter of Pyrs, but it wasn’t quite the right timing. Raising 3 batches of chickens and a puppy would be a lot of work, but we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
We got Maxie at about 2 months old. We started her off in the chicken’s yard, but blocked off the access to the coop. This gave her a chance to be around the girls, but not so close that she could “play” with them. During the day, Maxie would stay with us around the farm and around the chickens supervised. Her first encounter with the chicks in the tractor was being pecked on the nose when she got too close. After that, she would still get close, but not that close. Once the chicks were in the electric netting, Maxie would stay the night in there with them.
The thing with Pyrs is they are not normal dogs. Fetch, come, roll over…that’s not their thing. I read a lot about training them and how they operate. Natural guard dogs, instinct rules their behavior. They keep their puppiness for almost 2 years, so training is long term. While they’re guard dogs, they’re submissive to whatever they protect. They were originally used for sheep, goats, and cattle, but have been used more for poultry recently. It’s harder to train them for poultry since the birds don’t have the same stature and power as goats or sheep. When a Buck or Doe puts a dog in place, it’s very clear and respected. When a chicken doesn’t like what a dog does, it runs, which entices a chase.
With Maxie, I put her on a schedule and routine right away. At 2 months, that may seem a bit strict, but I believe that it’s easier to train a dog in what’s expected to start than to try to do it later or correct bad behavior. Maxie learned quickly that if she wanted to eat, it was on my terms. I would set her bowl down and if she did not eat right away, I took it away and tried again later. Once she started eating on schedule, I started to make her sit and wait to eat with “stay”and slowly walking away from her. Once she got that, I added “kiss” to it. I know, not really a useful command, but she is so sweet when she does it. “Kiss” is me getting about 6 inches from her face, saying the command, and her lifting her nose to touch mine. Feeding time goes like this: bowl on the ground, sit, kiss, stay, I walk away, sometimes to the other side of the chicken coop, and eat. Everything is accompanied by a hand signal (except kiss) and sometimes, it’s all done with signals.
Pyrs do not like to come when called. I work with her on this, but even now, she struggles with coming. I would take her on walks around where I wanted her to protect before her feedings. That was her work before she ate. Some days she loved it, others, it was like pulling teeth. That led to leash training. She did NOT like the leash. I would put it on her and she would THROW herself on the ground and holler and wail like I was strangling her. After a while, she learned that it was better to get it over with than fight it. Then her wandering instinct kicked in. She would bolt down the driveway and head to see the neighbors dogs. I would go and get her, scolding her. I didn’t want her going there because it was on the main road and I didn’t want her to start hanging out there instead of where she was supposed to be protecting. We thought about putting down an electric drive over fence on the drive, but eventually, she stopped going down there. She even started to be able to come to the front barn and do chores with us without straying too far.
I adhere to a very strict I am the alpha dog policy with Maxie. I take her food from her whenever I wish. If she finds some nice bone or carcass out in the pasture, I make her drop it, take it from her, and give it back after I pretend to eat some of it. When she would start to get crazy with the chickens, I would tell her no, pin her down, and growl in her face until she stopped struggling to get away. Even now, a growl will get her attention. She’s also on a species-specific diet with no treats. No, not even as a reward. She eats raw chicken, pork, beef, eggs, salmon, and sardines. We used to give her some kibble because sometimes I forget to defrost the meat, or I just need a quick meal for her. Now that our production is up, we have enough raw food for her and the other dogs. No treats mainly because I want her to do what she does for my approval, not food. Also, I don’t like dogs that beg for food. I can sit next to her, eat a sandwich, and she pays no mind.
She had her first protecting incident when 2 dogs came on the farm. Some of the girls were foraging in a pasture a bit farther from the barn than I like, when the dogs were spotted. I went running to them and so did she with a bark and growl I hadn’t heard before. She chased them off and the girls were ok. Since then, she’s been chasing off deer, rabbits, and even hawks. She keeps the neighbor’s dogs on their property, too.
Maxie is the first dog I’ve had since my Akitas when I was in my early 20s. After losing my male, Kuma, I didn’t think I would ever bond with another dog. He was such a great dog, I always thought no other would compare. But Maxie won my heart. I wanted a work dog, not a companion, but Maxie had other plans. She can go from being a love hog to running across the pasture in full protection mode in nothing flat. Some days she has tried my patience to no end. Others she has been the perfect dog. Either way, I am so happy we have her, and wouldn’t trade her for anything.
UPDATE: Since getting Maxie, we’ve added a Gret Pyr x Komondor, Zeke to our protection staff. Maxie was a great teacher and helped Zeke get up to speed with the chickens much faster. Since Maxie is getting up in age, she has the easy job of tending to the layers while Zeke works the broilers.
Leon & Gloria Poole says
i love this story. you are a good writer, u should keep all your stories and write a book, very interesting, i would buy your book.
Jane Reed says
Temple Grandin’s book called Animals Make Us Human is a good book for people around animals: dogs, cats, horses, pigs, cows, etc. I am just reading it now. I believe our friend Jane also is reading it.