Alduin is a lovely Maremma/Sarplaninac pup that I am raising to be a helpmate for Ivy, my main LGD. We don’t have a lot of luck up here finding trained adult dogs without significant issues, and through the course of my recent experience with Ivy’s pregnancy and litter, it became clear that we require more full time guardians. Enter Alduin. This is one of the pictures his breeder sent to me.
Wasn’t he just the cutest thing? Of course, by the time we picked him up, he looked more like this:
Big, BIG boy. Here is what he looks like now, at 4 months old.
For scale, here he is with Ivy.
Now, Alduin is a pretty big pup at 49 lbs and just 4 months old. He looks like an older dog, but make no mistake, he’s all puppy, and as such, acts like one. He’s been known to chase the odd chicken that gets into the pasture, harass the sheep when he’s bored, and to just generally be an obnoxious nuisance as puppies are wont to do. Here he is, annoying Ivy.
Early on, a sharp word or short well timed confinement were enough to discourage Alduin from continuing his puppy antics past the point of tolerance. He was allowed a wide range of expression, and a lot of leeway when younger, both by me and by Ivy. He had to learn the “ropes” as it were, and a the vast majority of his training at that point centered around encouraging him in a positive way to behave with some decorum. Roughhousing with the livestock was never tolerated, and as he grew Alduin was put up in a safe area when he wasn’t under direct supervision. My expectations of him were always directly related to his age, need for play and his attention span. It was also a time (and this continues still) that I concentrated on exposing him to as much novelty as possible, socializing him to strange people, places and things. We took him for car rides and to the pet store. We introduced him to visitors and took him for a walk in town. We handled him all over his body, trimmed his nails and taught him to walk on a leash. My daughter taught him to sit – with emphasis! – before he was given his meals. I taught him to wait at thresholds, and to respond to his name. He was never allowed to escape the pasture or to exit the barn to the yard without first having a leash put on. All of this was done with a lot of praise and reward and very little correction or negative input.
Alduin’s personality is more laid back and thoughtful than some of the other pups we’ve had previously, likely due to his Sarplaninac father’s influence, which accounts for his size as well. That said, he’s a smart cookie and gets bored fairly easily. He also has a rather goofy side that doesn’t always mesh well with his size and the delicacy of living with livestock. Up until very recently, he responded very well to verbal communication and took what I asked of him as implicitly more important than his own desires. However, as anyone who has raised a LGD pup will tell you, this lovely, rather easy stage ends with the advent of pre-adolescence at about 4-6 months.
Alduin started by becoming selective about when he’d respond my voice. I believe that it’s best to ask LGDs to do things less often than other working or pet dogs, but to always follow through when you do speak. In this way, you are much less likely to frustrate them; LGD’s aren’t fond of rote repetition. If you approach training in this way and respect their independence, I have found that they are more willing to partner with you and to respect your decisions. Asking them to do random exercises (subordination or otherwise), that have no immediate relevance in their minds is a very quick way to lose compliance and respect. If you remember nothing else about what I say here, remember that respect and relationship are the cornerstones of a good working partnership with LGDs. Since I only ask for a few things and not often (if I find I’m nagging at a pup, it’s time to separate them and consider going to the next training step), it’s really easy to pinpoint problems with compliance and address them in a timely manner.
Two very important “commands” or “cues” that I teach to all pups and adult LGDs are “Leave It” and “Come” (also known as recall). Together with “Sit” and “Wait”, which are self explanatory, and “Be Nice”, “Enough” and “Mine” (which I’ll go into another time) they make up the backbone of my current training program. If you can ask a dog to disengage from an activity/walk away from an item as well as come to you when you call, you have the bulk of your management concerns under control. A great deal of LGD training consists of learning both through observation as well as trial and error, both of which take time and exposure to various naturally occurring situations. LGDs are experts at learning on the job, having been selected to do so for centuries. They need to interact with their environment, with their charges, ideally with each other and with their shepherd to receive a well rounded education. Keeping very young pups under direct supervision is a necessity, but as they grow and need to be exposed to broader and more complex situations, an e collar can be a great tool for the shepherd to impart information accurately and effectively.
Good timing in communicating with LGDs is critical. I cannot emphasize this point enough. Poor timing and ineffective communication are two of the issues I run into the most with LGDs and their owners. With this in mind, I’ll walk you through Alduin’s first serious e collar training session.
***Important note: Alduin had been introduced to the collar in several brief sessions previously that went as follows: 1) Collar placed on and left on with no stimulation added, then removed later. 2) Collar placed on and left on for a time while he went about his business, then both increasing low levels of stimulation and the vibration tested to gauge his reaction. Responses noted and looked for: slight facial expressions that show a recognition of the collar stimulation, eye movement that indicated the stimulation was felt and recognized, slight turning of the head to the left or right. As can be expected, these signals vary by individual and require a high level of observational focus on the part of the handler.
In this session, I worked on “Leave It”, which was a fairly new concept for Alduin, and “Come”, which was very familiar to him. He’d begun ignoring me when I called to him to “Come”, and I used the vibrate function to gain his attention.
Now that it’s winter, I’d begun wearing my gloves to the barn for chores. So far this year, I’m wearing a lovely pair of felted mitts made by a friend of mine out of Icelandic wool. Underneath, I wear a pair of gloves. Some chores require me to take off the wool mitts and do more fine motor work with just the gloves. It wasn’t long before Alduin sensed an opportunity for a fun game of keep away and decided to steal a mitt. Now, I know that it’s great fun for him, but as he has other things to play with and I need my glove near me and not out in the middle of the snow banks where I can’t reach it, I chose to use this development as a foundation for more “Leave It” training.
Here is Mr. Smarty Pants, rounding the bale feeder, carrying my glove. I’ve already called him and asked him to “Leave It”. We’d been in this situation before.
He’d been wearing the collar for a while now, and from the previous sessions I described in the italicized section above, I had a good idea of the level of stimulation I needed to start at to get his attention. As you can see, he pays me no mind.
From here, he heads out past me to an area where the snow is deeper. Ivy looks at me as to say, “What are you going to do about this boy, Mom?”
I’m very calm at this point, as I know that I will get his attention in the end. He thinks he has bested me at a very fun game, but that is not the nature of our relationship and I need him to know that. When a ewe is in labor, or injured, when I need to complete my activities to care for them, the last thing I need is a large dog interfering thinking it’s time to play.
I continue to say “Leave It” at intervals, in a serious voice and addressing him by name (which he knows very well). There is no doubt in either of our minds that he has heard me and is choosing to ignore me. I increase the stimulation level, pressing the activation button on the remote for no longer than a second at a time, but in successions of three. It goes like this: “Alduin, leave it!” <pause> <stim> <wait for reaction> <stim> <stim>. No reaction was forthcoming from him for longer than I expected, but I kept going, raising the stimulation 3 or 4 levels at a time. It’s important to remember that whatever stimulation level is effective in a controlled environment with little distraction will often not be sufficient when distraction and higher arousal levels are in play.
Finally he responded, and followed right through to compliance.
At this time, he doesn’t associate the stim with me but instead with the glove, as I intended. He is content to return to me, and I immediately praise him.
He heads out to Ivy, and as he passes the glove, I once again ask him to “Leave It” just as he glances in its direction. He does.
I decided not to pick up the glove while he was with Ivy, and to see if the cue would hold on his way back. I didn’t call him back; he came back to the glove on his own. As the pictures show, he did pick up the glove this time despite my request to “Leave It” as he approached. This gave me a chance to reinforce that I did, actually intend for him to hear me every time. It took much less persuading this time for him to comply, and he dropped the glove, trotting off to the fence where a couple of the house dogs were hanging out on the other side. Watch what happens when I get back to the barn (with my glove) and ask him to leave them and come to me.
Over time, I’ve come to know where that line of going too far or too long with a session is, but generally, it’s better to end a session earlier rather than later. Latent learning (learning that solidifies in the time in between sessions) is a very big thing with LGDs, and I expect that the next time we visit this, Alduin will respond much more readily to me at the beginning. Still, I feel that this session went very well and he learned very quickly with a minimum of stress. Directly after the video portion, I spent some time sharing affection with him, fawning over him a little and letting him know how much I believe him to be a very special and smart pup… an integral part of the training process known as building relationship. LGDs tend to prize moments of affection like this. I didn’t get any pictures of he and I right into our love fest but that’s because we were concentrating on the moment, which is after all, so very important.
Feel free to ask any questions in the comments or on the FB groups where this will be posted. Until next time!