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Learn how to breed and train the Great Pyrenees to become a good chicken guard dog.
Story and photos by Marissa Buchanan. Predators both large and small pose a very real threat when keeping poultry. Having a secure enclosure is one way to keep them away from your herd, but having a livestock guard dog to protect them is setting you up for success. This will help keep predators out of your coop and reduce your losses. In this article, I will share my experience of training and owning the 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 when she was young. Luna was usually a lazy puppy who would only have small bursts of energy. Great Pyrenees excel at guarding their family, being affectionate, and acting relatively alone.
When we started training Luna, her path was much different than it is now. Her commands included basic obedience and some fun tasks. We started training her when she was 9 weeks old after she was settled in our home. While Luna was a puppy, I didn’t have to discipline her more than once for doing something bad before she stopped that behavior right away.
Great Pyrenees have a reputation for being stubborn but they are also very emotional dogs. They do not like to disturb their family. They were bred in the Pyrenees to guard sheep without their owner and can make decisions quite well on their own.
We quickly found out when Luna was about 16 weeks old. If she thought she was right, she wouldn’t change her mind. This made some of her training difficult. Some days, you didn’t want to train at all. We have overcome this barrier by finding forms of training that work best for them. I used treats to train up to that point, but Luna wanted positive reinforcement, not treats. Training went very well after that for several months.
At that point, I was logging all of her training hours, preparing for the general access test, and teaching her commands for the tasks she was going to perform. We’ve already trained her to pick up both low and high blood sugar, and she’s done the job really well! Everything set… until we started having massive problems with a dog next door.
Luna and the chicken
One evening this very dog was trying to get into our barn. Great Pyrenees are big dogs, and even though Luna was only 8 months old, she cracked above this other dog. My family and I were sitting on the porch, and before I could even say anything, Luna was away. We exposed Londa to our chickens, and even as a puppy, she let them peck her and climb on top of her without any apprehensions.
As soon as Luna left the porch, the dog took his focus off our luck barn. Luna chased him to our property line and held him there. She did not attack, but held the dog at the property line until he got bored and went home.
After looking into state laws regarding service animals, we couldn’t afford to fully train Luna, but this incident has given all that training another purpose. Luna learned new farm-appropriate commands, and spent a lot of time outside. She seemed happier than she had in previous months, and we knew that was what she wanted to do.
Luna has already considered our herd and herd of goats and her family. Her best friends, other than us, were a piglet named Pua and a little horse named Biscuit. She was and continues to protect us all, which is another trait the Pyrenees is famous for.
Her commands changed from “sit,” “stay,” etc. to “patrol,” “pop smoke,” and more. In my opinion, the most important command you can teach a guard dog during training is “Leave it.” Once we got to Guinea, Luna loved chasing them to get them to fly. A simple “leave it” command quickly curbs this behavior.
Here is a list of commands that Luna uses while I’m at it, in relation to the herd.
- Pop Smoke – If a predator is on our property, this lets Luna know she has full scope to do what she needs to do, and not expect something else.
- Patrol – walk the property line. Teaching this was hard, but I put treats in each corner of the fence posts and started walking the property line with them.
- Standing – immediately stop what you are doing and come back to me. This helps if you chase a predator off the property but it continues to chase it past the property line.
- Swivel – I want her to be on the alert, but if something comes up she has to stay by my side.
The Great Pyrenees do quite well on their own and can be judgmental in order to protect what they consider to be their “piece”. I can confidently let Luna take care of my chickens because of her training and temperament. When I’m home, Luna would rather be with the flock than with me. She will come in occasionally for head scratches. They also involve themselves in herd dynamics. I’ve never trained her to do this, but if cocks start fighting, she’ll zip between them and cut the fight off before it really starts.
Chicken guard dog
Luna isn’t really an active dog. It has a low prey drive, and spends most of its time lying down unless it senses something isn’t right. On days when there are no threats, Luna gets into a state of “zoom,” but this surge only lasts about 15 to 20 minutes before she lazes again. The herd tends to quickly get out of her way during these spurts.
On days when she feels like there is something in the area that shouldn’t be there, Luna alerts everyone with a loud, scary voice. As soon as they hear it, the geese start honk and the guinea go on alert. It’s great to watch it happen, because as soon as it all starts, the roosters join in and the hens immediately find a hiding area or make their way into the coop. Recently, Luna’s guarding has extended to the squirrels and birds that visit her to feed. If she wasn’t considered her family, Luna wouldn’t want her there.
Watching Luna interact with the kids was fun too. Elk and ducks are wary of them, but chicks tend to interact with them a lot once their mothers let them get close enough. You’ve seen Luna lie and watch, and the chicks will crawl across her fur and peck and scratch away. The only time I’ve ever seen Luna react is when a chicken pecked her eye. Until then, she was just shaking her head.
I find grooming a Great Pyrenees to be fairly easy. They don’t need much except for some brushing. They have a double coat, and whatever I collect on the brush is put in an area where wild birds can take them to nests. I’ve also seen some of it in some chicken coops. I don’t think they collected it; Instead, he was nearby when they started building their nests and was supplemented with hay and feathers.
Luna does not like baths or water. We have a pool, and even on the hottest days, we wouldn’t catch it in it. When she takes a bath, she fights it constantly, and as big as she is, it’s hard to give her a bath.
Another problem we had with Luna was her overprotectiveness. To combat this, we trained her on a formal introduction. If she does not recognize a person, she will guard her territory.
More than just a pet
My experience with Luna has been great, but I understand that some of the Pyrenees referred to as “failed farm dogs” can be the opposite of Luna. We were rescued by a GP who was not trained and was not at all like Luna. Unfortunately we lost some animals because of this, and because of their age they refused to be trained. We sent her to rescue her in the hopes of ensuring she had the home that best suited her and her needs. It is important to expose the GP early and start training as early as possible.
Although there are some negatives about the Pyrenees, they are loyal and great protectors. They are great with the animal you want to protect if they are properly trained. In addition, they are great family dogs and will help your small farm losses tremendously. On our farm, we don’t consider Luna a pet, but rather a partner in our family. If we’re not home, she makes her own decisions that positively affect the protection of her entire “bag,” and we can never be thankful enough for that.
Marissa grew up as an active member of the Future Farmers of America. She was raised on a cattle farm and has expertise in gardening, poultry keeping, animal-assisted therapy, and horticultural therapy, and twice annually hosts the Heritage Breeds Festival in Rickville, Tennessee. I served in the Tennessee National Guard for 10 years as a combat medic and earned a BA in Health Care Administration. Marissa is the current owner of Buchanan Barnyard Farm, a piglet rescue and poultry keep. She is a mother of two young children and married to her high school sweetheart.