Tips for Selecting a Working Anatolian Guardian Pup
by Erick Conard - Lucky Hit Ranch
Finding a good guardian dog ready to work without training or trouble is an almost impossible task because good working dogs are rarely sold. I believe that the most reliable way to obtain a dependable working guardian dog is to raise a carefully chosen pup. Guardian puppies exhibit a wide variety of behaviors that are clues to their future behavior patterns and character. If you interpret these clues correctly when choosing a pup and then diligently and attentively raise this pup, the pup will grow to be an adult guardian dog that consistently works well with your animals without displaying a wide variety of troublesome behaviors.
The first step in selecting a working guardian pup is to obtain a pup from parents with proven working ability whose behavior, demeanor, and attitude reflect correct guardian behavior. This pup should be obtained from a breeder who has the knowledge, experience, and willingness to provide behavioral guidance as the pup matures.
When I raised my first Anatolian litter, I thought a pup's environment made the major contribution to its eventual behavioral responses. As a consequence, I arranged my pups' environment with that thought in mind. It is clear that environment definitely affects a dog's behavior. However, a few years ago I purchased a pup, Blue, from another Texas breeder. Comparing the behavior of pups from my breeding with Blue's behavior (all raised using the same techniques) I learned that heredity makes major contributions to proper guardian behavior.
The breeder repeatedly emailed me that her dogs were amazing guardians and that she wanted me to have the pick of her litter. She raised her pups in the barn with her goats and fed goat's milk to her pups as a supplement, as I do with my pups. The day I brought Blue home I moved him to the middle of a 50 acre pasture in a small pen with several goats as companions. I followed the method I describe in my article "Raising a Working Anatolian." Until he was six months old I never talked to Blue or played with him in any way. I touched him only when absolutely necessary and I was only in contact with him for a few minutes each day when I brought food for him and the goats.
Unlike my dogs, Blue is incredibly friendly and submissive toward people, even strangers. However, he is highly bonded to the goats and wonderful with newborn kids and adults as well. He is very protective against predators, other canines, and large birds flying overhead. (We have a large hawk population in my area.) I require dogs that perceive people as potential predators and that are suspicious of people they don't know, and Blue never developed these desirable traits. Blue helped me understand that although his environment had been the same as my pups' environment, his genetics did not allow for the expression of a behavioral characteristic I need in my dogs.
Blue was five months old when my wonderful working female, Tawny, died during labor. Some of the pups survived and I raised these pups completely the opposite from what I believed a working Anatolian needs. I raised these orphaned pups in my bed and gave them hours of physical and emotional love and attention each day. Because I believed early environment was crucial in raising working pups, I expected these pups to be completely ruined as working dogs. However, I introduced them to goats for the first time at five weeks of age and the pups interacted with goats perfectly and have become amazingly wonderful guardian dogs.
I now believe superior working guardian dogs result from dogs blessed with a combination of great working genetics and a learning environment designed to guide their innate responses into those behavior patterns we desire and approve. Half of the equation in producing a guardian dog comes from the environment we create for our pups as they grow and mature. The other half of the equation comes from the genetics, or innate behavioral responses, of the pup we pick.
Following are a list of some of the behavioral responses I use when selecting a working guardian puppy. I believe the behaviors listed serve as early clues to a pup's eventual potential as an outstanding working guardian dog.
I look for a pup that doesn't engage in puppy play with his charges
Although it is important that guardian dogs like and enjoy the animals they guard, it is also important they don't engage in puppy play with these charges. Prey animals are not comfortable with puppy play and are unable to give the kind of feedback another puppy can provide if the play becomes too rough. It's common for a young pup that's bonded to his charges to feel like playing with those charges as if they were other pups. But when a pup begins jumping on or mouthing his charges, it is important that the pup be placed with animals that won't tolerate that kind of puppy play. A pup has to learn to respect the animals he guards. He should be watched daily for early signs of inappropriate "puppy play" and only be placed with animals with the correct strength (both mind and body) for the pup's stage of development. Animals placed with a pup must not be unfairly rough or mean to the pup. They also must be strong enough to stop a pup's attempts to play.
For me, watching a pup with a newborn kid provides the greatest amount of insight into that pup's future ability to behave with the correct respect toward his charges. I favor the pup that enjoys being close to the kid (indicating bonding) but consistently stops following when the kid moves off with some haste. A pup with this response has less potential to chase his charges as he matures because the "chase instinct" is weak in this pup. Other pups I favor in this context are those who express incomplete follow-through in jumping on or mouthing a kid. I favor a pup that has a "soft mouth." A "soft mouthed" pup places his mouth on the goat but doesn't hold on firmly and lets go quickly. Pups with a "hard mouth" grab and hold goats firmly with their mouth and teeth. A goat who tolerates this fearfully must be removed immediately. I also favor a pup that jumps around a kid tentatively and half-heartedly over the pup that throws his body over a kid and knocks the kid to the ground in play. I favor pups who instinctively limit their aggressive play with their charges.
Correct behavior is reinforced when a pup is placed with charges who are comfortable with guardian dogs but don't tolerate misbehavior. When they were pups my two adult female Anatolians, who are litter sisters, were punished by my large horned nannies if they ever attempted to play too aggressively with either the nannies or their kids. Therefore I rarely saw such behavior. My nannies teach my dogs that rough puppy play is not acceptable with goats. I favor pups that readily respond to this type of goat instruction.
I look for a pup that exhibits early signs of respect toward his charges
Postures indicating respect are more fully developed in pups I've raised with livestock. A pup exposed to livestock exhibits postures of respect more fully than a pup lacking exposure to stock because these postures are used to allow the pup to safely move among the stock. Because of this difference, it is easier to see respect in a pup raised with stock than in one raised without. Although my pups are surrounded by stock from birth they generally begin pup/goat interaction at two weeks of age.
I appreciate a pup that stands immobile with his head slightly lowered when a stranger approaches and strokes his back. I believe this stance is used to inform a suspicious goat that he is really a grass eater and not a threat. It mimics a posture I've seen young kids assume when an adult goat approaches and sniffs its back. If the adult goat tosses its head, the kid moves away. If the adult goat tosses its head to a pup, the best pup will fall down and only move away if the goat becomes more aggressive. This behavior is a part of how a good pup teaches goats to accept the presence of a dog.
Another sign of respect I appreciate is a decrease in speed when approaching, seen when a pup slows down noticeably as he approaches a goat. If the goat still expresses concern, which can be seen through the goat's head posture, I favor a pup that stops or even falls down over the pup who jumps away. Goats do not like fast movement through the herd but tolerate a slow walk, especially if the head is lowered. An improvement on this behavior is seen when the pup walks slowly, head lowered submissively, around a group of goats rather than straight through the goats. A pup that exhibits this cautious behavior is showing a great deal of respect toward the goats.
I look for a pup that shows close bonding to the goats
When I see a pup move away from the other pups to lie down near or among the goats, I am pleased with that behavior. I have noticed that this goat attachment behavior can be predicted at an early age by watching for pups that move away from the puppy pack when resting to lie alone. I also like seeing a pup that will walk up to a goat submissively and persist in staying even though the goat may be expressing some displeasure at the pup's proximity. A pup that enjoys friendship with goats, even cantankerous goats, pleases me.
I look for a pup that shows suspicion toward strange things and strange people
Suspicion can be demonstrated in a variety of ways. My wonderful guardian female, Tawny, raised as a strictly working Anatolian, kept her distance from people she didn't know, generally about 30 to 50 feet. Her first response was to distrust them and she didn't allow them to get near the goats. Shadow and Autumn, the females I raised in bed with me, run right up to people, pressing their noses on them, with their tails wagging quickly. (Keep in mind that a quickly wagging tail, raised high, in a working guardian is more likely to indicate agitation rather than friendliness. Slow wagging tails, held lower, indicate acceptance.) Initially they are suspicious and are physically pushy and intimidating to people they meet.
Only pups that exhibit either a passive response or a desire to avoid strangers demonstrate a balanced suspicion toward strangers as an adult. I would worry about the training necessary for a young pup that growls or is aggressive toward a stranger. This pup would most likely become very aggressive and would require a special owner to raise him. I also would worry about a pup that shows excessive submission with a desire to receive attention and affection. This is the behavior Blue exhibited as a pup and he does not demonstrate any suspicion toward strangers.
Great Pyrenees as I know them are not suspicious toward strange people. Some Pyrenees owners have crossed their working Pyrenees to Anatolian Guardians to recover some of this suspicious nature. I am concerned that in an attempt to develop a "more acceptable" pet dog, this essential guardian trait may be reduced in Anatolian Guardians as well. I trust that other Anatolian breeders are as dedicated to preserving this essential trait as I am.
I look for a pup who moves away from people and toward my goats when stressed
I began leash lessons when my pups were four months old. Good guardians typically are not eager to be lead and if handled too roughly will fall to the ground and refuse to move. Even when the lesson is filled with praise and petting good guardians are uncomfortable being led. Over time they accept the leash without a problem. When training a working guardian to lead, I strongly advise only small tugs on the leash with much praise and petting.
When I begin the leash lessons, the other pups all run to the goats and hide among the herd. I consider this excellent guardian behavior! In my experience a young pup that looks to the herd for protection and safety will evolve into a mature guardian dog who has a strong instinct to protect the herd.
I favor the pup who is initially curious and then moves away and lies down
Too much interest in receiving attention from people I term neediness. I believe dogs are born either needy or self sufficient, which many people label as aloof. I favor the aloof pup! Casy, Tawny, and Shadow, all working dogs I owned and valued highly, are the aloof type. I believe independent dogs that have the aloof personality make the best guardians and are able to become a part of the herd most successfully. I believe that happy, active, needy dogs greatly disturb livestock and never are able to fully integrate themselves into the herd.