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Learn how to breed and train Great Pyrenees to be a good chicken guard dog.
Story and photos by Marissa Buchannan. Predators, large and small, are a very real threat when keeping poultry. Having a secure coop is one way to keep them away from your flock, but having a livestock guard dog available to protect them is a successful setup. This will help keep predators away from your coop and reduce your losses. In this article I will share my experience of training and owning a Great Pyrenees.
When Luna first joined our family in 2018, she formed a strong bond with my youngest daughter and we decided to train her to be a service dog. Our farm was already in full swing, so we exposed her to our herd as much as possible while she was young. Luna was normally a lazy puppy and only had small bursts of energy. Great Pyrenees excel at family-sitting, being affectionate, and acting relatively alone.
When we started coaching Luna, her background was very different from what it is now. His commands included basic obedience and some fun chores. We started training her when she was 9 weeks old after she moved into our home. While Luna was a puppy, I didn’t have to punish her more than once for doing something wrong before she immediately stopped the behavior.
Great Pyrenees are known to be stubborn but also emotional dogs. They don’t like to upset their family. They were bred in the mountains of the Pyrenees to herd sheep without their owner and can make decisions well on their own.
We quickly found out when Luna was around 16 weeks old. If she thought she was right, she wouldn’t change her mind. This made some of his training difficult. Some days she didn’t want to practice at all. We got around that hurdle by finding what forms of training worked best for him. I’ve been using treats for practice up until this point, but Luna wanted positive reinforcement, not treats. The training went extremely well after that for several months.
By then, I had logged all of her training hours, prepared for her public access test, and taught her commands for the tasks she would perform. We actually trained her to detect low and high blood sugar levels, and she performed this task very well! Everything was in place…until we started having huge problems with a nearby dog.
Luna and chickens
One night this particular dog was trying to get into our coop. Great Pyrenees are big dogs, and even though Luna was only about 8 months old, she towered over this other dog. My family and I were sitting on the porch, and before I could say anything, Luna was gone. We had exposed Lunda to our chickens, and even as a puppy she let them peck and climb on her without any apprehension.
As soon as Luna left the porch, the dog turned her attention away from our chicken coop. Luna chased him to our property line and held him there. She didn’t attack, but she held the dog at the property line until he got bored and went home.
After reviewing state laws regarding service animals, we couldn’t afford to fully train Luna, but this incident gave all of this training another purpose. Luna learned new farm-appropriate commands and spent a lot more time outdoors. She seemed happier than she had been in the previous months, and we knew that was what she wanted to do.
Luna already considered our herd, our herd of goats and us as her family. His best friends besides us were a mini pig named Pua and a mini horse named Biscuit. She was, and still is, very protective of all of us, which is another trait the Pyrenees are well known for.
His commands changed from “sit”, “stay”, etc. to “patrol”, “blow the smoke”, and many others. In my opinion, the most important command you can teach your guard dog during training is “leave it”. Once we had guineas, Luna liked to chase them to fly them. A simple “leave” command quickly curbs this behavior.
Below is a list of the commands Luna uses while I’m around, as far as the herd is concerned.
- Pop Smoke- If a Predator is on our property, it lets Luna know she has the full range to do what she needs to do and not expect another command.
- Patrol – Walk along the property line. This one was hard to teach, but I put treats on each corner fence post and started walking with her on the property line.
- Stand-down – Immediately stop what she’s doing and come back to me. This command helps if it chases a predator off the property but continues to chase it beyond the property line.
- Swivel– I want her to be on alert, but if something pops up, she needs to stay by my side.
Great Pyrenees do well on their own and are able to use good judgment in order to protect what they consider to be their “pack”. I can confidently let Luna watch over my poultry thanks to her training and her temperament. When I’m home, Luna prefers being with the herd to me. She’ll come in from time to time for head scratches. She is also involved in the dynamics of the herd. I’ve never trained her to do this, but if the roosters start fighting, she’ll come between them and end the fight before it really begins.
chicken guard dog
Luna is not really an active dog. She has few prey and spends most of her time lying down unless she senses something is wrong. On days when no threat arises, Luna gets a case of “zooms”, but this surge only lasts about 15-20 minutes before she lags again. The herd tends to quickly get out of its way during these pushes.
On days when she senses there’s something in the area that shouldn’t be there, Luna alerts everyone with a loud, intimidating bark. As soon as they hear this, the geese start honking and the guineas go on alert. It’s good to watch it unfold because once it all starts the roosters join in and the hens immediately find a place to hide or head to the coop. More recently, Luna’s care has extended to squirrels and birds that visit for food. If it’s not considered family, Luna doesn’t want it there.
Watching Luna interact with the babies was also a joy. Goslings and ducks are wary of her, but chicks tend to interact with her a lot once their mothers allow them close enough. I’ve seen Luna lay down and keep watch, and the chicks will crawl through her fur, peck and scratch. The only time I saw Luna react was when a chicken pecked her eye. Even then, she just shook her head.
I find grooming the Great Pyrenees to be quite easy. They don’t need much except a little brushing. They have a double coat, and anything I pick up on the brush is placed in an area so wild birds can mistake it for nests. I’ve also seen them in some of my broody hens’ nests. I don’t think they collected it; it was pretty close when they started building their nests and were added with hay and feathers.
Luna does not like baths or water. We have a pond, and even on the hottest days we won’t catch him in it. When she takes a bath, she constantly fights it, and no matter how tall she is, it’s hard to give her one.
Another issue we faced with Luna is her fierce protection. To combat this, we trained her with a formal introduction. If she has not been introduced to someone, she will keep her territory.
More than a pet
My experience with Luna has been great, but I understand that some Pyrenees called “failed farm dogs” can be the opposite of Luna. We saved a GP who was untrained and not like Luna at all. Unfortunately, we lost animals because of this, and because of her age, she declined training. We sent her to the rescue hoping to make sure she got the home that suited her and her needs. It is important to expose the GP early and start training as soon as possible.
Although there are a few negatives about the Pyrenees, they are loyal and great protectors. They are great with the animal you want them to protect if trained properly. Plus, they are great family dogs and will help your small farm tremendously with losses. On our farm, we do not consider Luna as a pet, but as a partner in our family. If we’re not home, she makes her own decisions that positively affect the protection of her entire ‘pack’, and we can’t be thankful enough for that.
Marissa grew up an active member of Future Farmers of America. She was raised on a cow farm and has experience in gardening, poultry keeping, animal-assisted therapy and garden therapy, and she hosts the Heritage Breeds Festival twice a year in Riceville, Tennessee. She served in the Tennessee National Guard for 10 years as a combat medic and earned her bachelor’s degree in health care administration. Marissa currently owns Buchanan’s Barnyard, a mini-pig rescue and poultry preservation farm. She is a mother of two small children and is married to her high school sweetheart.