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Early Training:
Socialization from Four to Six Months

by Jennifer Floyd
As originally published in

Choban Chatter

A dog of 18 months or more is often considered a gem; a well-behaved dog of polished manners and known reliability. A puppy of under 7 months is not perfect, but is usually biddable, eager to learn and follow directions. The stage of growth between these ages can be a challenging time, not unlike the experience of teenagers of other species!

Adolescent dogs are prone to seek out excitement, question authority, and become interested in social position and the opposite sex. These behaviors can manifest themselves in chasing inappropriate things, ignoring commands, and wandering. In most circumstances, flock guardians are better workers if neutered; this tends to help suppress wandering behaviors, dominance issues, and prevent unplanned litters. Electric wire on fences is also an effective escape-artist deterrant - but it is best applied preventatively, as an initial success in wandering leads to repeated challenges of the fence. If your fence is in good repair when your dog is a pup, there will be no bad habits to break later.

When a pup enters the "teenage zone", rules thought well-established may need redefining; play and chewing behaviors may resurface, and annoyance or damage of the livestock may result. There are a number of approaches to take, particularly if working in a small farm situation. Practicing obedience commands ("sit", "heel", "come", "down") on leash can help reinforce obedience to other commands ("leave it", "easy", "back"), helping the pup to obey better in the field.

Supervision is an excellent method of controlling interactions; also, penning near the stock (but not with) when unsupervised, if troublesome behaviors surface, can be useful. There are other methods that can slow a dog down, or make the game less fun; specifics can be found on the internet accessable from : http://www.sonic.net/~cdlcruz/GPCC/library/resc_lgd.htm or in the book: _Livestock Protection Dogs_, by Sims and Dawydiak.

The purpose of this article is not to offere a cure to all problems, but to provide some direction in finding solutions, and to point out that problematic adolescent behavior is not necessarily a sign that your dog will be unable to fulfill his or her role as a flock guardian; many dogs have gone through a rough spot at this point, and with a little more guidance, gone on to be wonderful working dogs.

As a side note, it is my observation that pups are easier to train and less likely to engage in problem behavior if they are "apprenticed" to an older working dog; learning by imitation of their peers is stil the most effective training method. My very first Anatolian was my hardest one to train, but he helped mentor many others during his 14 years as a flock guard (well, one year of driving me nuts, and 13 years of being perfect!)

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