Wednesday 6 October 2021

Introducing a new LGD puppy


The submissive behaviour of the pup is clear. The pup has its ears drawn back, licking behaviour around the mouth, low body posture and low tail. It is a bit harder to see but the eyes of the pup have a soft and friendly expression. The older female is calm, ignoring but her attitude is gentle towards the pup. These are all good signs.

How to introduce a new LGD puppy into an existing pack of LGD

©Louise Liebenberg (2021)
Written for The Shepherds Magazine

I have in a previous article discussed how Livestock Guardian Dogs (LGD) and other farm or ranch dogs interact together, in this article I would like to focus more specifically on the introduction of a new LGD, pup, into an existing group of LGD.

Introducing a new LGD puppy between the ages of 8 to 12 weeks, usually goes without too many problems provided, the existing dogs demonstrate normal dog behaviour. Most dogs will willingly accept a new puppy into the pack. Older males will often display a certain level of uninterest after the first introductions. An older female can show a little more disciplinarian types of behaviours. If the puppy irritates her, she will most likely snap, growl, “hold” the muzzle of the pup or roll the puppy. It is often a lot of noise, but little harm is done. The pup will howl and whimper and do as if he is seriously injured. In most cases, it is just his ego that is put out. A younger male is generally the most sociable to a new pup and will often display a lot of enthusiasm and play behaviour towards the pup. Younger males make excellent companions for pups. Females can be a little bitchier than their male counter part, but usually will also engage a little more with the pup.

Some pups can be totally overwhelmed when meeting new dogs. These pups can sometimes show defensive behaviour, growling when another dog approaches them. Care must be taken with these pups that the older dogs do not react negatively towards them because of this.  It is a good idea to let the pup settle in, rest, eat and relax a bit before introducing them to the other ranch dogs.  Waiting a few days might not be a bad idea. These pups often react poorly simply because they are stressed from being separated from littermates and travelling to a new place. The change of livestock can also be a stressor, take things slowly and ensure he or she is placed in with kind ewes so that the pup does not get hurt by the livestock, most working raised pups will be happy to be with the sheep. An indirect way to start introducing the new pup is through scent. The scent of the pup will be on you, so when you feed and interact with the other dogs, they will start “knowing” the pup through its scent being on you. 

It is easier to introduce an 8-week-old pup to the existing pack than it is an 8-month-old. Older pups can be rather rambunctious, and some may react a little more aggressively towards the established dogs. Reading the behaviour of these older pups is essential during introductions. If it looks like he may react aggressively it might be a good idea to first let him meet an opposite-sex dog first. You really want to avoid any form of conflict during the introductions as that could set things off on the wrong foot. Dogs do hold grudges, and if things go wrong initially it might be awfully hard to convince either dog to get along. 

This is a fence line meeting. Both the pup and the adult male are showing relaxed behaviour and they want to hang out together, as both are in the same corner. The male shows some interest, and the pup is calm. I would have no concerns placing these two together at this point.

Observe the body language to judge how acceptive your LGD are of the puppy. If your adult is showing friendly and curious behaviour you would expect to see a relaxed posture, slow tail wagging, a higher tail set, butt sniffing and even some invitation to play, like a play bow. These signs tell you that the adult is happy to meet the pup and it will be okay to let them interact. If the adult dog is showing more hostile behaviour such as ears pulled back, rigid body, tenseness, growling, snarling, stiff legged walking, lip lifting, hackles raised you really want to be careful as anything could trigger this adult to attack the puppy. Take introductions to this adult very slowly and carefully.


Behaviours the young pup might display when meeting new adults are generally submissive in nature, low tail wagging, rolling over onto back, some mouth licking, crawling and low to the ground, tail between their legs and urinating. These are good signs as it shows that the pup knows how to respond correctly to strange dogs. He is being submissive and respectful, and every normal adult dog will not harm a pup that is displaying these behaviours.

The safest way to introduce the new pup is to allow them to meet on neutral ground. Dropping the pup off in the pasture the resident LGD lives in, can be a little intrusive. Try introducing them in a field where there are no sheep, toys, or a shelter that the resident dog might feel the need to guard. Some older dogs can be very territorial so meeting at a fence line can result in the older dog wanting to guard his area, similarly, a dog who is tethered can be are very protective of their space. If you do fence line introductions take both to a neutral area for the initial introductions.

Keep the pup (and the resident LGD) on a lead, set the pup down outside the fence and just observe both dog’s behaviour. If both show curiosity, and friendly then bring the pup into the field where they can engage in butt sniffing and other social meeting behaviours. Ensure someone is with you to keep control over the adult, “just in case” things do not go well, this way you can control the interaction. Be aware of your own role in these interactions as you might be the trigger to cause some tension. The resident dog might feel some jealousy towards the pup, or attention seeking behaviour could be a reason for stress. Try and remain very calm and neutral and just observe what is going on.  For the most part these meet and greets do go well.

An adolescent LGD meeting a mature dog in our LGD team. You can clearly see the submissive behaviour of the younger dog to the right, low body posture, tail low, sniffing/licking around the mouth. The older dog has her tail raised, but her body language is not aggressive. The younger dog is showing deference to the older dog.

You can expect the older dog to possibly growl at the pup or show some dominant behaviour toward the pup, however it should not be threatening. An older dog will very quickly place boundaries on a new pup which is not a bad thing. Reading the dog’s behaviour is important to know when the adult dog is being aggressive and can harm the pup, or when it is more corrective and simply warning the pup.
Most dogs work out their social ranking quickly and learn how to interact in a positive way. I have found with my own dogs that they are very tolerant of a pup; however they will reprimand a pup for being overly enthusiastic, irritating, obnoxious and not being mindful of their space and food.

I feel that most of these introductions go well provided both pup and adult dogs are well adjusted and show normal dog behaviour. Small things like taking out food, bones, and toys to reduce the potential of conflict is always a good thing to do.  I have a safe puppy kennel in the pasture so when I am not around to supervise these interactions and to ensure the safety of the young pup, I will place the pup in the kennel. Here the pup can eat, sleep, and still see what is happening in the pasture and be in contact with the other dogs.

While some dogs delight in welcoming a pup into the house, other adult dogs do not open the "welcome wagon". If the adult dog is not friendly, introductions might need to take longer, particularly on neutral ground and on a lead. Sometimes the older dog needs a few more weeks to warm up to the pup and that is okay. If the adult does not accept the pup within a few weeks, while the pup shows good behaviour, the adult dog may have some behavioural issues that could make it hard to have more dogs working with it.

I think the key to good introductions depends a lot on the owner’s capability to read dog body language, to remain calm and to not make a big deal of it. I have expectations of my own dogs to accept my working border collies, any new LGD pups I add into the pack, to accept new livestock or even a different species of livestock. My LGD are expected to behave in a normal and natural way and if they do not, I will step in a reprimand or correct unwanted behaviour.

This is a fence line meeting. Both the pup and the adult male are showing relaxed behaviour and they want to hang out together, as both are in the same corner. The male shows some interest, and the pup is calm. I would have no concerns placing these two together at this point.

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