One of the most valuable things on a goat farm can be your Livestock Guardian Dogs, and our farm is certainly no different. We have – in my opinion of course – some of the best darn dogs a goat keeper can ask for.
The Z-Team had its foundations before even I came to the dairy, when Bob and Sam the Great Pyrenees were adopted and brought to Honey Doe Farm to be the guardians of the herd. Sam had been living with a lovely lady when Bob, a young adult at the time, appeared in her pasture, wild and frightened. With time and patience she was able to gain his trust, and Bob became attached to Sam. Soon she began to look for a home for them together, and they found it here.
Bob and Sam were the guardians still when I started working at the dairy. Sam was a sweet fluffy friend, though Bob, still quite shy and wary at the time, made even me rather nervous. Unsurprisingly, Steven made friends with Bob right away, even rolling him over to rub his belly. As our time on the farm increased, I made friends with Bob as well, and he’d give his big welcoming smile whenever he saw us.
Those two reigned for years together, but soon Sam began to slow down. He preferred sleeping inside the house where the air conditioner was to being in the barn. He was ready to retire and it was time to find some young dogs to train. A short time later, he would pass away, leaving a little hole in the farm. I knew another goat breeder who had a litter of Great Pyrenees/Akbash crosses, so I reached out and secured two female pups for the farm. Traded a really nice Nigerian Dwarf doe to get them!
Shortly before they arrived, I spotted an Anatolian puppy looking for a home on the local Facebook swap page. I figured if I was going to do all the work training two pups, it might as well be three pups, so we whisked her home and my husband dubbed her Zeni for her totally zen-like attitude. Several days later two absolutely adorable fluffy white puppies arrived to join her, and to join in the theme started by Zeni, were named Zarah and Zofie. The Z-Team was born.
The two Great Pyrenees/Akbash cross girls looked extremely similar as pups, except that one – Zarah – was larger. While I was working with them, I ended up calling them Big Z and Lil Z, which has stuck so hard that they’re much more commonly known by their nicknames than their actual names now.
It’s a common misconception that Livestock Guardian Dogs need minimal to no training and “naturally” know what to do. Many a new owner has simply plopped their new pups into the pasture with the goats and let them sort it out. That wouldn’t do for our animals of course – if there is one type of animal that I have even more experience with than goats, it’s our common canine friends. I have had much success training and handling working dogs of many breeds over the year, and bringing up three LGD pups at once was a delightful challenge I took head-on. Another common myth is that these dogs are meant to completely independent, with minimal human contact – it’s even discouraged by some goat keepers, which is wrong! Livestock guardians were bred to work alongside the shepherd – they need our support just as we do theirs. So I took their training very seriously from day one.
The most important thing for any LGD is boundaries. There is an untold number of “lost” guardian dogs in shelters, because they wandered out of bounds. These dogs were developed to roam a large territory – and defend it. It’s incredibly important that they know where their territory ends. So the first thing I did – before even introducing them to the goat herd – was to take them for a long walk. Accompanied by Ana the Chinese Crested, and sometimes by Bob himself, the puppies and I gamboled along the fence lines of the big pastures. We took breaks to swim in the ponds and to explore exciting places, making it fun, while at the same time they were learning – and wearing themselves out! A tired dog is a content dog.
Once they were good and tired, then we went into the goat pen. The goats were horrified – more dogs? The pups had to tolerate some rude headbutting and threatening, but they all took it in stride, pressing forward to plant happy kisses on goat noses. We ended on a good note and the pups returned to their own kennel to sleep off the exciting day.
We repeated that for another week, regardless of the weather, and once I felt confident that the pups would not wander away or try to escape, they were moved to the goat pasture permanently. That’s not to say their training was over – far from it! As they grew and became larger at an astonishing rate, they had to be supervised in their interactions with the goats, especially the younger small ones. Playing with the goats had to be discouraged and redirected – goats are not playthings and don’t appreciate a game of chase or ear nipping. The great thing about having three young dogs at once is that they were able to expend excess energy playing with one another instead, and they learned quickly to not include the goats in such play – although even now they sometimes need reminders!
I had help as well – if they became too rambunctious, they were corrected not just by me, but by Ana or Bob, both of which they adored. This became invaluable when the pups experienced their first kidding season. Placenta is a very tempting treat, but I had to be very firm about not allowing them to attempt to take it from the goats before it had passed completely. Without Bob it would have been much harder – he aggressively punished them for bothering the does, and they learned quickly that they had to wait until they found an afterbirth on the ground to enjoy it. I admit I was wary that they would also eat stillborn kids before I found them, but the opposite was true. More than once the dogs brought me a stillborn kid gently, and in situations where a mother had walked away from her newborns, they laid nearby or even licked the babies clean, protecting them. These girls were naturals.
Before long, the entire Z-Team settled into their roles. Zeni became the “Hunter” of the pack – when the herd is out, it’s Zeni who is actively searching the nearby brush, and it’s Zeni who inevitably drives out the snakes or other animals she discovers. Big Z became the “Attacker” – she is always nearby, placed at an opportune position to run in and assist Zeni when she finds a potential danger, and she is the first at the gate to warn us of visitors to the farm. Lil Z, the most people shy and wary of the three, settled into the position of “Guardian” – she is always with the goats, hidden among them, ready to defend them at any moment.
Who could ask for a better set of dogs?
If you were to ask me my favorite animal, you would not be surprised when I answered goats. However, that answer is only correct because I consider the domestic dog on a level above “animal.” Dogs are our companions, our partners, our co-workers, our friends. When handled properly and trained as they should be, there is simply nothing more valuable than a good dog.
I have lived a life full of canines, from tiny Chihuahuas to actual wolves, coyotes and breed types of all kinds. I have participated in everything from Canine Good Citizen (and passing the test with wolfdogs, no less) to Agility and even dabbled in protection training with German Shepherd Dogs. And despite all of the very exciting and successful things I have done over the years, I will stand firm when I say that the Z-Team represent the finest working dogs I have brought up.