Learn how to raise and train Great Pyrenees dogs to be good chicken guardians. Story and photos by Marissa Buchannan.
Predators both 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 dog available to protect them is a setup for success. This will help keep predators far away from your coop and keep your losses down. In this article, I’ll 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 that we’d train her to become a service dog. Our farm was already in full swing, so we exposed her to our flock as much as possible while she was young. Luna was normally a lazy puppy and would only have small spurts of energy. The Great Pyrenees excels at guarding their family, being affectionate, and acting relatively on their own.
When we began training Luna, her path was a lot different than what it is now. Her commands included basic obedience and some fun tasks. We started her training when she was 9 weeks old after she’d gotten settled into our home. While Luna was a puppy, I didn’t have to discipline her more than once for doing something bad before she’d immediately stop that behavior.
Great Pyrenees are known for being stubborn but also emotional dogs. They don’t like upsetting their family. They were bred in the Pyrenees mountains to guard sheep without their owner and can make decisions well on their own.
We quickly found this out when Luna was around 16 weeks old. If she thought she was right, she wouldn’t change her mind. This made some of her training challenging. Some days, she didn’t want to train at all. We got around this roadblock by finding what forms of training worked best for her. I used treats to train up until that point, but Luna wanted positive reinforcement, not treats. Training went extremely well after this for many months.
At that point, I had been logging all of her training hours, preparing for her public access test, and teaching her commands relative to the tasks she’d be performing. We actually trained her to pick up on low and high blood sugars, and she performed this task really well! Everything was set … until we started having tremendous problems with a neighboring dog.
Luna and Chickens
One evening, this particular canine was trying to get into our coop. Great Pyrenees are large 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 even say anything, Luna was off. We had exposed Lunda to our chickens, and even as a puppy, she’d let them peck at her and climb all over her with no apprehensions.
As soon as Luna left the porch, the dog took his focus off our 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 back home.
After looking at state laws regarding service animals, we couldn’t afford to get Luna completely trained, but this incident gave all that training another purpose. Luna learned new, farm-appropriate commands, and she spent a lot more time outside. She seemed happier than she’d been in previous months, and we knew this was what she wanted to do.
Luna already regarded our flock, our herd of goats, and us as her family. Her best friends, other than 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 that the Pyrenees is well-known for.
Her commands changed from “sit,” “stay,” etc. to “patrol,” “pop smoke,” and many more. In my opinion, the most important command you can teach your guard dog while in training is “leave it.” Once we got guineas, Luna liked to chase them to get them to fly. A simple “leave it” command curbs that behavior quickly.
Commands for Luna
Below is a list of the commands Luna uses while I’m present, in regards to the flock.
Pop Smoke– If a predator is on our property, this lets Luna know that she has full range to do what she needs to do, and to not expect another command.
Patrol– Walk the property line. This one was tricky to teach, but I put treats at each corner fence post and began walking with her on the property line.
Stand-down– Immediately stop what she’s doing and return to me. This command helps if she chases a predator off the property but continues chasing it past the property line.
Swivel– I want her to be on alert, but if something pops out she’s to stay by my side.
Great Pyrenees do well by themselves and are able to make judgement calls in order to protect what they consider their “pack.” I can confidently leave Luna to watch over my poultry because of her training and her temperament. When I’m home, Luna prefers to be with the flock instead of me. She’ll occasionally come for head scratches. She also involves herself with the dynamics of the flock. I never trained her to do this, but if roosters begin to fight, she’ll step between them and cut the fight off before it truly begins.
With the Flock
Luna isn’t really an active dog. She has a low prey drive, and she spends most of her time laying around unless she senses something is amiss. On the days that no threats arise, Luna does get a case of the “zoomies,” but this spurt only lasts about 15 to 20 minutes before she’s lazing around again. The flock tends to get out of her way quickly during these spurts.
On days when she senses something is in the area that shouldn’t be there, Luna alerts everyone with a loud and intimidating bark. Once they hear that, the geese start honking and the guineas go on alert. It’s neat to watch it take place, because once everything starts, the roosters join in and the hens immediately find an area to hide or make their way to the coop. More recently, Luna’s guarding has extended to squirrels and birds that visit for feed. If it’s not considered her family, Luna doesn’t want it there.
Watching Luna interact with the babies has also been a joy. The goslings and ducks are wary of her, but the chicks tend to interact a lot with her once their moms allow them to get close enough. I’ve seen Luna just laying out and keeping watch, and the chicks will crawl through her fur, pecking and scratching away. The only time I’ve seen Luna react is when she had a chicken peck her eye. Even then, she only jerked her head.
Caring for Luna
I find grooming Great Pyrenees to be rather easy. They don’t need much except some brushing. They do have a double coat, and whatever I collect on the brush gets put in an area so that wild birds can take it for nests. I’ve also seen some of it in some of my broody hens’ nests. I don’t think they collected it; rather, it was just close when they started building their nests and got added in along 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 her in it. When she gets a bath, she constantly fights it, and with as big as she is, it’s hard to give her one.
Another issue we’ve faced with Luna is her fierce protectiveness. To combat this, we trained her with a formal introduction. If she hasn’t been introduced to someone, she’ll guard her territory.
More Than a Pet
My experience with Luna has been great, but I understand that some Pyrenees referred to as “failed farm dogs” can be the opposite of Luna. We rescued a GP who wasn’t trained and wasn’t like Luna at all. Sadly, we lost some animals because of this, and because of her age, she refused training. We sent her to a rescue in hopes of ensuring she got the home that fit her and her needs. Exposing GP early and starting training as soon as possible is important.
Even though there are some negatives about the Pyrenees, they’re loyal and great protectors. They’re great with the animal that you want them to protect if they’re trained correctly. Additionally, they’re great family dogs and will help your small farm combat losses tremendously. On our farm, we don’t consider Luna a pet, but a partner in our family. If we aren’t home, she makes her own decisions that positively affect the protection of all of her “pack,” and we could never be thankful enough for it.
Marissa grew up an active member of Future Farmers of America. She was raised and on a cow farm and has experience with gardening, poultry conservation, animal assisted therapy, and gardening therapy, and she bi-annually hosts the Heritage Breeds Festival in Riceville, Tennessee. She served in the Tennessee National Guard for 10 years as a combat medic and received her Bachelor’s degree in health care administration. Marissa is currently the owner of Buchanan’s Barnyard, a mini-pig rescue and poultry conservation farm. She’s a mom to two toddlers and is married to her high school sweetheart.