Training Anatolian Shepherd Dogs For Livestock Protection

Anatolian Shepherds have been used as guardians for a wide range of hoofstock and birds, including (but not limited to) sheep, goats, horses, cattle, llamas, ostriches, chickens, ducks, pheasants, and turkeys. The bonding process of pup or adult dog to the stock is important with all species; however, some of the smaller types of fowls are at a disadvantage due to their smaller size and relative fragility.

While pups are often penned with or near some of the larger animals while they learn appropriate behavior, even a very young puppy can damage or kill a chicken in the mildest of play interactions. That is why it is important to set the parameters of behavior quickly and firmly in dogs intended as poultry guardians. The limits of appropriate and inappropriate behavior should be set under close supervision, so that you can train your dog to be the flock guardian you want him to be.

I have used Anatolian Shepherds to guard my flock of poultry for 13 years, and am now on my second generation of guards. My first six dogs were all raised from puppyhood directly with my flock and can serve as guards if need be, but as we have since relocated to a property where the fowls are no longer kept near the house, only a pair of dogs live with the flock full-time. My newest stock guard was not kept full-time with birds until she was 18 months old. The following is a description of the circumstances in which my dogs are used.

My flock is rather varied in composition; I have both large and bantam chickens, as well as ornamental pheasants. At times, I have also kept geese and peafowl. A substantial number (approximately 50 – 60) of birds are free-range, and roost in one stall of the barn/kennel/aviary building. Nests are provided on top of the doghouses in the kennels: some birds prefer to lay in the doghouses instead! Several free-standing nests with access at ground level are provided for the hens rearing chicks, which are also free-range.

Breeding pairs, brooding hens, and pheasants are kept in poultry netting enclosures, and adult roosters that are not currently in breeding pens are leashed by the leg to a swivel stake, giving them a 16 foot diameter circle, with a small house along one edge for roosting and shade. The perimeter of the bird pasture’ (about 3 acres) is fenced with wire having a spacing of 2″ X 4″, and which is 5′ along some sides, and 4′ on others. The 4′ section has an electric wire along the top, to teach young dogs to not jump on the invisible dog fence. There is a dirt truck trail running along the 4′ fence line.

Predators in our area include the usual raccoons, opossums, and free-roaming neighbors’ dogs, with the addition of bobcats, coyotes, a resident cougar, and large bands of illegal immigrants crossing over from nearby Mexico. Out of the literally hundreds of birds I have raised, predation has resulted in the loss of fewer than a dozen (which were in areas inaccessible to the dogs).

Dogs can be invaluable to the maintenance of a flock. They keep predators away, break up fights in young stock, and alert you if something is out of the ordinary (bird tangled in his leash, snake in the breeding pen, baby chick on the wrong side of a fence). Birds that are fighting may be flapping madly, squawking and covered in each other’s blood, yet the dogs will race in, barking, swatting them away from each other with their forelegs, or reaching in and grasping the birds by their wing or tail feathers and pulling them away from each other. Baby chicks may be hopping right into a dog’s food bowl, and the dog will just back away with a quizzical expression. My bird guards seem to view the fowls their own pets, regarding them with a wonderful tolerance and a desire for peace and order.

Dogs do not just figure all of this out on their own; they are not born with the knowledge that large, noisy feathery things are to be cherished and protected. They are, however, born with the potential to do this kind of work, with the cleverness and desire to figure out how to keep the peace, and with all of the necessary instincts for stock guardianship. How to actualize this inborn potential? The beginning is socialization. Take your dog or puppy with you when feeding, cleaning, or doing any other routine activities with your stock. I feed my flock early in the morning, before leaving for work. When training my youngest flock guard, Gezme, I took her and her brother up to the bird yard with me every morning, allowing them the opportunity to interact with the fowls, and with the senior guardians (Sahin and Sahbaz).

While feeding, cleaning, and scrubbing things, I kept an eye on her, and if she began to put her feet up against a pen, run around it, or chase a bird, I yelled, “Gez, Phooey! Leave it!” If she remained interested (in a playful or predatory fashion), I’d run over, roll her over on her side with one hand across her neck and shoulders, and the other over her muzzle (holding her firmly but gently) and tell her, “No! Leave it!” Usually, after using this mother dog’ style discipline a few times, she would look at the birds, but not try to chase. Until she forgot, the next day!

This is where consistency comes in – never allow the dog to do something you don’t approve of. Chasing is an inherently rewarding behavior, so in order to extinguish it, the less it is allowed to happen, the better. Also, allow alternatives; chasing is an instinct that is not wrong, but it must be directed at appropriate targets (something all young wild canids are taught by their mothers). A chicken may be “No” and “Leave it” (or get rolled and pinned), but a squirrel, gopher, or rabbit may be “That’s a girl” and “Get it”. That shovel or feed dish may need to be left alone, but that bone or stick may be perfectly acceptable. Don’t try to go against or ignore the forces of instinct and nature – just direct them into acceptable activities.

Gezme was allowed to play – but only with her brother or the old dogs. Running through the middle of the birds was a bad idea, but lying quietly near them was O.K. Gez was fascinated by the pheasants, who have quick, sharp movements, are apt to fly around their aviaries if disturbed, and who make an astonishing variety of high-pitched noises. She learned that she could go up to their pens and look in, but then she would walk away when their whistles and chirps became more frequent and higher pitched, signaling that they were getting ready to take off and try to brain themselves against the roof of their pen. Her brother, Gar, could eventually look in and observe them, too, but the birds seemed to be more afraid of him at first (possibly because Garnizon is a dark brindle, and the other dogs are all fawns).

This brings up another point: that of acclimating the flock to being around something which looks an awful lot like a predator to them. My chickens and other fowl paid little, if any, attention to Sahin and Sahbaz, who had been around them their entire lives. However, new birds take a while to become accustomed to dogs, and the birds also know the difference between their’ dogs and other’ dogs. Skittish animals may lead inexperienced dogs into temptation! When training a new dog, it is preferable for the stock to be acclimated to the presence of a non-threatening dog. Just having a pup or new dog around the stock while you are with them helps the flock accustom themselves to the dog, which, incidentally, causes the flock to behave in a much calmer, less prey-like fashion.

Anatolians are also great mimics; think about what you are doing, before you do something in front of them! Dig a little in a garden, and they are glad to help you out by digging deeper, pick some fruit, and they’ll try to make your job easier by pulling off a few branches. Chase a few animals (to medicate them, they got loose, etc.), and your dog may decide that he should help out and try to catch some too. Older dogs know that only you have this privilege, but try not to give puppies ideas. This is why an already trained dog is worth his weight in gold – they act as mentors’, as the pup will watch the older dog and do as he does. This can backfire, however, if the old dog has some undesirable behaviors, as the younger dog will learn them as well.

Having self-assured animals also helps teach pups to give them some personal space’. My pup, Gezme, was also assisted in her understanding that she shouldn’t get too close to the chickens by being walloped by some of the roosters, for the crime of walking too close to their houses. She was also bitten on the nose when investigating broody hens in nests, and, later in the spring, was chased by mother hens. Why didn’t she try to play with them? Well, any time she’d responded in a playful manner, I’d yelled and rolled her. I’d also let her see chickens close up by holding one and letting her smell it, but telling her “No” if she tried to mouth legs or feathers (I’d also allow the chicken to bite her, if it was so inclined). Pretty soon, she was figuring that, while chickens and such were interesting, it wasn’t pleasant to get TOO close to them.

If a couple of mistakes’ are made in the beginning, don’t despair – it is not necessarily a sign of an incompatible dog, if a couple of birds are inadvertently dispatched by your novice flock guard. My first stock guard killed several young chickens during his learning phase, but once he got the idea, I never had a bit of trouble for the next 12 years. Try to figure out what triggered the inappropriate behavior (unusual appearance or behavior of an individual, aggressive behavior mistaken for invitation to play, swarming’ behavior of flock prior to feeding time) and take steps to habituate your dog to this stimulus, so that the undesired behavior pattern is extinguished.

One dog had trouble with the behavior of the flock just prior to being fed in the morning – fowls pacing along a fence line, increased minor fighting, flapping, etc. – so the flock was shut into the pen they roosted in, at night, for a couple of months. (Tethered roosters remained accessible, as they were unable to perform the fence running’ behaviors.) The dog observed these disturbing behaviors from the other side of a fence, and the fowls were not released until I fed them in the morning; after feeding, they scatter. At the end of the 2 months, the door to the roosting area was left tied open again, and as the dog was now accustomed to this kind of behavior, there were no further problems.

Anatolian Shepherds can be used with great success for guarding poultry flocks, but early supervision and reinforcement of appropriate behaviors is essential. Much of this kind of training is also applicable to situations with larger stock, during the breeding season, or when the young are being born. Don’t make assumptions about how a young dog will behave when confronted with a newborn for the first time; many may automatically accept it, but many others may be completely nonplussed by the event, and need guidance.

A year of training is a small investment for peace of mind and the assurance that your flock is being watched over and protected day and night, for the next ten years. Most dogs come into their own’ between 12 and 18 months, and it is at this point that your dog has been exposed to the events of the whole year, knows what to expect, how to react… and you know then that you have a ‘finished’ stock guard!