Dr. Mark raises free-range rabbits, chickens, geese, ducks, guinea fowl, horses, and sheep at his small farm in Brazil.
Dogs Will Instinctively Chase Sheep
Livestock guard dogs are raised in the barn close to sheep and often reside with a few lambs as soon as they are weaned. Worrying sheep is a big problem, and your dogs must be trained to avoid sheep or else their instinct to chase could put them in danger. Chasing is dangerous for your sheep and your dog. Some dogs that chase sheep may even be killed by livestock guard dogs. In certain regions of the world, dogs that chase sheep are even shot by ranchers. In many places, a shepherd can legally kill your dog if he/she is chasing sheep.
There are training classes available in Britain and in some areas of the United States. If you are a sheep rancher in a remote region of Montana, or only have a small flock of sheep in a hobby farm in Wisconsin or Minnesota, these classes may not be available.
Livestock Guard Dogs Are Desensitized to Sheep
Training Your Dog Not to Chase Sheep
- Start with basic obedience training. Teach your dog all other methods of impulse control so that he is used to obeying you in all situations. I emphasize impulse control every time I take my dogs out for a walk; if your dog learns that he is not able to do whatever he wants whenever he wants, he is much less likely to try to chase sheep.
- Take your dog out on a leash. No matter how well you have trained your dog, he should be under your control the first time you introduce him to the sheep. Put your dog on a training leash even before going outside to the area where your sheep are grazing.
- Move towards the sheep. Your dog should be at your side in a heel position.
- Walk towards the sheep until your dog notices them. Before your dog lunges for the sheep, tell him to lie down.
- Give him a treat, but only when he looks away from the sheep and looks up at you.
- Stand up and move another few steps towards the sheep. When he acts like he is ready to go after the sheep again, tell him to lie down. Give him a treat, but ONLY after he looks up at you and away from the sheep.
- You can walk towards the sheep several times but give your dog a chance to cool down. Lead your dog back the way you came, away from the sheep. When he is in a safe area, you can then play catch with him, wrestle with him, or go through some of his tricks (like spin, shake, etc.) so that he will earn lots of treats.
- Repeat the exercise. If he does not get too excited about the sheep, you can go right up to them and let him smell them. If he is too interested and starts pulling on his leash, have him lie down and take him away after he is calm.
- Repeat this exercise in the afternoon or the next day. It is better if you repeat it as often as you can. (Dogs will learn more in three 10-minute sessions than they will in one 30-minute session.)
- When your dog has gone through this training exercise numerous times, you can let him loose and allow him to walk past the sheep. Only do this if you have trained him to come to you at all times. If your dog only comes to you 90% of the time, this is not good enough. That 10% may cost one of your ewe's her life. To ensure that your dog has a perfect recall, you should use a safety word and teach him to respond to this word 100% of the time. I use “touch," a command that was developed for use in guide dogs for the blind.
Dogs Must Learn Impulse Control
Are There Alternative Training Methods?
The method I have suggested above works with most dogs. It is not the only training technique available, however, but it will teach dogs to leave sheep alone without using cruel methods.
Older methods used in areas of sheep production include leaving the dog in a paddock with a ram. When the dog starts to bother the ram, the ram attacks and hurts the dog. If the dog lives and survives his broken bones, he is probably afraid of sheep and will not chase them. If the dog figures out that a ewe does not act the same way as a ram, however, he may turn into a sheep killer.
A newer training method that I do not recommend is the use of an electronic (shock) collar. The dog is given a shock as soon as he starts to show interest in the sheep. This is cruel, but it does sometimes work. Some dogs are intelligent enough to figure out that they are only going to be shocked if they are wearing the collar.
Choose a Breed With a Low Prey Drive
Will This Work With Every Dog?
No training method works with all dogs, and not all dogs can be trained not to chase sheep. If a dog has a very high prey drive, like most sled dogs (Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, etc.), sighthounds (Greyhounds, Salukis, Afghan Hounds, etc.), and some hunting dogs, then no amount of training is going to help when the sheep start to run. A small dog might grow tired of the chase, but if you have a sled dog or sighthound, the dog may develop a “selective deafness” and ignore any command until the sheep are taken down.
Many dogs can be trained to ignore sheep, even if they have an interest in chasing them. If you already have a dog, no matter what the breed, try the training method in this article. If you do not have a dog yet, find a breed with a low prey drive like a Boxer, Golden Retriever, or Newfoundland. Some large guard dog breeds are also a lot happier sitting around rather than chasing sheep (the Neopolitan Mastiff, Giant Schnauzer, and Boerboel, for example.) If you want a small dog, many breeds are great since they will not go after your sheep. The Bichon, Papillon, and Maltese are all excellent choices.
A Cruelty-Free, Alternative Training Method
What About Strays and Dogs You Cannot Train?
All sheep ranchers worry about stray dogs and other dogs that cannot be trained. At night, we can confine our sheep to the barn. In the day, watching out for dogs is a constant struggle.
If a stray or a neighbor's dog will not learn to leave your sheep alone, the only alternative is some sort of guard. The most common guard is a livestock guard dog (like the Great Pyrenees, Kuvasz, Komondor, Anatolian Shepherd, etc.), but these dogs are expensive and sometimes hard to find. I keep my sheep enclosed at night when strays are most likely in the area, but during the day, they graze with a Sicilian donkey that protects them against dogs. Some ranchers own llamas, another good guardian animal, and others have small mules or ponies.
I have also heard of some hobby farmers keeping a flock of African geese since they are large, loud, and can be aggressive with stray dogs. Geese will not work against a coyote or larger predator. Smaller and less aggressive breeds of geese are of no use even against smaller dogs.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: My 6-month-old Maremma is chasing sheep and brining them down. Can it be retrained or should I have him destroyed? He was serious in his attack, biting and shaking.
Answer: Was your dog imprinted with sheep. That is unusual since the breed is very malleable and follows instructions well. I would recommend keeping him around a while and trying the exercises above on how to train dogs around sheep. Also, do you have facilities where you could let the dog sleep with just a ram at night? He might learn to bond, even at his age. It is worth a try.
© 2018 Dr Mark
Please leave a comment if you have other ideas to stop dogs from chasing sheep:
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on February 19, 2018:
Suhail, I would imagine you will have more of a problem with coyotes up there. Down here it is mostly strays, but when I lived in North Africa it was jackals.
A hobby farm will be a great chance to put your dog to work!
Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on February 19, 2018:
Oh yes sure Dr. Mark. And I may run into this problem as my brother and I want to have a small family hobby livestock farm.
Dr Mark (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on February 18, 2018:
Hi Suhail. Did you see this problem when you were younger? Just what K2 was built to do! I know that not a lot of people are going to need this info, but I do hope it helps those that do run into this problem.
Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on February 18, 2018:
Hi Dr. Mark,
This is the dog training for most unusual of circumstances, certainly not for the urban dogs. I really liked the article.