Guarding Deer

written by Cindy Benson    June 2016


Over the past couple of years I have had the privilege of living with quite a few Maremma pups as I searched for the breeding dogs I had in mind. Thankfully, that search is nearing an end as I think I have found what I was looking for. It has been hard on my heart to part with the pups that went on to guardian only homes. Many of these pups were placed as adolescent dogs, and all were paired with more mature mentors. Placing started dogs has it’s rewards and challenges. I have been so impressed with the adaptability of the dogs I placed. The Maremma breed fascinates me and continues to earn my respect.

One of the placements was particularly unusual so I thought I’d share the story with you. The dogs in question are Wildcat Hollow Raissa, who was six months old, and her partner Katie, an eighteen month old Maremma.

Natalie and Alan raise deer, in addition to a few other more typical animals. They were looking for started dogs and their timing was good. These folks are wonderful. They did their research, asked me all the right questions, and spent time with me here on the ranch. They have also stayed in touch which I appreciate. When they asked me if I thought Katie and Raissa would guard deer I told them I had absolutely no idea. Here on the ranch, all on their own, none of my Maremmas will allow the deer or elk, or even the wild turkeys, to come into their pastures. So Natalie and Alan would be asking my dogs to protect what they had been protecting against here. The decision reached was that they would attempt to teach the dogs to accept the deer, and if they would not just having the dogs on the property would help to protect the deer.

I instructed Natalie and Alan to introduce each dog to the deer singly, with a 20-30 foot length of parachute cord attached to the collar of the dog. In this way they walked the perimeter of the deer pasture. If the dog showed undue attention to the deer that thought process was interrupted by a bump with the parachute cord. Once distracted, and redirected, the dog was verbally rewarded. The dogs were not scolded and all training was done with patience and positive reinforcement. I was so impressed with the dedication these new owners showed to my dogs. They worked with the dogs frequently over about a month and then allowed the dogs to live full time with the deer. It should also be said that the deer pasture is close to the house so it was easy for them to keep an eye on the dogs in their new job and that was certainly wise since both these dogs are still pups.

I was told that the greatest challenge came with Raissa. She is a gregarious darling of a dog and Natalie said that she appeared to have her feelings hurt because the deer didn’t like her and would not allow her to touch them. In Natalie’s words “everyone loves Raissa so they should too”. Once new pet piglets were introduced to the mix Raissa was much happier. The dogs have been in this new home for several months now and all is well. They are loved and productive trustworthy guardians. What more could you ask for!