Lambs are one of the cutest babies on a farm, but they always, inevitably, grow into sheep. While some would never consider this, others make them into indoor pets.
Sheep are friendly, smart, and playful. If raised right they may even think they are just one of the other four-legged furry animals that share a home with you.
If you are considering having a lamb as a house pet, you may enjoy Part 1 in our series How to Keep Sheep As Pets.
How do you house train a lamb? To house train a lamb requires a few things:
- Potty or pad training
- Establishing a good bond
- Teaching boundaries
- Raising them with a flock (even if that flock includes dogs and humans)
While a lamb, or baby sheep, may not seem like the most conventional pet, that is mostly due to misconceptions. I am hoping to dispel these misconceptions and show you what good pets sheep and lambs can be.
Sheep, the Newest Pet Craze
Sheep are becoming the newest craze for an indoor pet. It’s no wonder. Lambs are adorable!
But, there are several reasons that they make great pets:
- Easy to train
- Loving, to everyone in their flock, no matter the species
- Not as fearful as you would think (not sheepish at all)
- They can think for themselves
Lambs are not necessarily great pets in the city. This is due to city ordinances, many of which classify sheep as livestock and prohibit them inside the city limits. It’s also important to know that sheep need time outside and the ability to eat grass or other pasture foods such as clover.
Existing pet owners of sheep are sharing their experiences with raising pet sheep and helping to open more eyes to the joy that lambs and sheep can bring to a home.
In addition to the usual cuteness and gentleness that lambs bring into a home, they can also help shy kids and those who have trouble interacting with other people.
Potty training an indoor lamb is a big deal. Dogs and cats are relatively easy to potty train, but can a sheep be potty trained?
There are several important steps to potty training your lamb.
- Start as young as possible
- Make sure that any other animals in the house are already potty trained
- Start with a puppy pad. Make at least one available in each room of your house.
- Put your lamb on the pad anytime she’s likely to pee (watch for squatting)
- After bottle feeding is a prime time to put your lamb on the pad.
- Once your lamb pees on the pad, you can move the pad to a box
- Over time, gradually move the pad closer to the door
- After the lamb gets used to peeing next to the outside door, move it outside
- Pay close attention when your lamb seems like it needs to go outside.
This can be easier if you have other animals that already use a potty pad and if your lamb is still young. You may find that your lamb picks it up pretty fast. Having animals that use both pads and outdoors will make things even easier as they pick up how things should work in a home shared with humans.
If you have dogs or other animals that already use pee pads, your lamb may pick it up very easily just by smelling the pee already on the pads or by watching other four-legged members handle business.
You may also need to diligently monitor your lamb and train her in the first week or two of owning her. Move her to the pad every time she starts to urinate.
Lambs can be pretty fast learners. I have heard that young lambs can learn to pee on a pad within a week or two.
Once your lamb is used to going on the pad, you can start to consolidate the number of pads you have in your house.
You can also move the pad into a box if you prefer.
Pooping can take a bit more work to pad train, but at least their fecal mess is easier to clean up than a puppy’s. That’s because it’s so dry!
Once they are used to using the pads, start moving the pad closer to the door. This will help train your lamb to go outside.
A full-sized sheep just pees too much for a puppy pad, and they can hold it longer, which makes trips outdoors as they get older easier.
It’s healthy for the lamb to be outside much of the day. Lambs will be happiest outside.
So, even with an indoor lamb, it’s a good idea to allow it some outside time and to allow them to get used to the cold.
Raising a lamb around other animals like older lambs or dogs will help make your job so much easier.
Did you know?
Lambs will be happiest if they are paired with 2 other lambs. Lambs that don’t have other sheep tend to be more stressed, have greater unhappiness, and experience more health problems.
In some cases, other animals can help to be the “flock” that a lamb needs. Other animals can teach them how to ask to go outside and games like tag and fetch.
Lambs can be taught to signal when they need to go outside.
While teaching them to go outside, taking them outside every couple of hours, in the beginning, is vital. Babies have tiny bladders, which makes them need to urinate frequently.
Lambs pick up new habits faster than adult sheep, who may never pick up a new habit.
If you garden, you’ll love the way that lamb feces helps your garden grow faster!
Establishing a Good Bond
Bonding with your lamb will make the biggest difference in both raising them and with house training them.
It will be much easier to bond the younger you adopt your lambs and especially if you are able to get them young enough to bottle feed.
Your lamb will see you as mama because you are the source of food. This will allow both you and your lamb to bond during the feeding process and will make your lamb want to please you. Spending time with your lamb will increase bonding.
This also makes teaching easier because they expect to learn from you.
While they will also learn from other four-legged siblings, if they view you as the mama it will make you the most central figure in your new lamb’s life.
Just as with raising any baby, the emotional connection between the baby and the mother figure will be important. This doesn’t stop when bottle feeding stops either.
Sheep have been shown to strongly bond to their human caretakers when time is spent with them.
They will pay close attention to you, follow you around, and try to mimic what you do.
More than just how the lamb will respond to the establishment of that bond, but it will help you as well. As you bond with your lamb, you will learn how to read its wants and needs as well. You will learn the individual body language, wants, and needs of your lamb.
If you pay attention, it will speak in its own way. Because a lamb uses body language to communicate needs, you will need to be able to understand your lamb’s language. In turn, they will learn to understand your as well, not just verbal language, but also body cues too.
You will learn to read when it is hungry, needs to potty wants some attention.
Lambs love attention. This includes a scratch behind the ears and full cuddles.
Your lamb can learn boundaries. They can learn where they are not allowed to roam in a home and where they are allowed to go to the bathroom.
You lamb may want to follow you everywhere and may not understand the concept of limits right away. She may cry for you, even when you are still in sight.
Here’s an idea:
Use baby gates to keep lambs out of areas that are dangerous to them. Certain areas of the home that cannot be lamb proofed should either be kept with doors closed or gated off.
One thing to keep in mind is that as the lamb grows into a full-grown sheep that they will jump higher. Gates will need to be adjusted as they grow.
As your lamb grows, pay attention to its new abilities. You may not often see it jumping inside until that time it suddenly shows up behind you while you are cooking. This is why paying attention to them when they are outside, and their antics with other animals can be particularly important.
An Alternative to Potty Training Lambs
If you don’t have the time or patience to potty train your lambs, you can use baby diapers instead. Simply cut a hole out for the tail, and attach it to your lamb.
This makes cleanup a breeze and keeps your house clean at the same time.
Diapers can be adjusted in size as your lamb grows. They make it easier to have a lamb in the house if you simply don’t want to train them to go outside.
Another alternative is to use diapers but to also reward your lamb with food when it does go outside. Lambs can be trained with food as a reward.
The Downside to Learning From Other Animals
Lambs can learn from other animals and each other, not just from humans.
Dogs that chew on things they shouldn’t or cats that mess in the wrong places can also teach a highly impressionable lamb that these habits are ok. This could lead to you needing to teach both animals that this is not acceptable.
This may be an issue that needs to be taken into account before bringing a lamb into your home, so you don’t have to do double duty on teaching what is acceptable and what is not acceptable to multiple animals.
You may want to correct the bad habits in existing pets before bringing in a very impressionable lamb.
Raising Them With a Flock
When you consider how accepting sheep are when it comes to other species, they can actually have a pretty large flock.
Sheep need a flock as they are highly social animals, more so that dogs, but similar in social needs as humans are. Sheep are more willing to accept humans, dogs, cats, and even horses or goats into their flock, as long as they have that social interaction that they need.
How To Train Your Lamb or Sheep To Do Things
Sheep are pretty smart and can be trained to come with a hand signal, a call, or a sound. They can be trained to do simple tricks.
Lambs learn best with positive reinforcement. Use treats, petting, and happy expressions when they do what you are training them to do.
Don’t try to train too many tricks at the same time. Focus on one trick and train it. Then, when your lamb has mastered an action, you can move on to the new action.
Use a lot of the same types of positive reinforcement you would use when training a dog. It’s important at the beginning to provide constant rewards for the desired response.
You can reward your lamb with something as simple as a much from a bowl of clover. Be careful about feeding your lamb grain as a reward and it can quickly make your lamb overweight and isn’t healthy for it.
Basic Sheep Care
While pet owners may look at their animals as little humans, the fact is they are not. While they may need some of the same basics as humans such as food, love, and shots, there are other lamb specific things needed too.
Most breeds of sheep need to be shorn once or twice a year to keep them comfortable. If they aren’t shorn, it can cause health issues.
There are some breeds that shed naturally and won’t have to be shorn.
Your sheep will also need to have her hooves trimmed.
In addition, your sheep will need regular boosters to the vaccination for clostridial diseases.
Lastly, you will need to monitor your sheep to make sure that they don’t get too many worms. Nearly all sheep have some worms internally, but too many can make them sick. Check out this article on more details on caring for sheep.
- Annual shearing of wool
- Regular trimming of hooves
Busting the Sheep Myths
Farm-raised sheep and home raised are very different creatures, but not in that they are different species. The personalities of lambs and sheep raised in a home have an opportunity to be seen more, and this can teach us that a lot of what we believe about sheep may not be much more than old wive’s tales or behavior learned from sheepish moms.
Sheep Are Sheepish
The word sheepish refers to being shy and potentially fearful, and sheep that are raised on a farm are taught to be this way by their sheepish moms. While I have not found any studies done on it, it seems that sheep that are raised with more human interaction are less fearful, much braver than sheep without.
I have discovered that by raising a lamb to be more comfortable with humans and in constant contact with humans are less fearful, not just of humans, but braver in general. It seems like many of the qualities that we attribute to sheep is something that is not genetic, but something that is taught from one sheep generation to the next.
Not Just Dumb Animals
Sheep are not as dumb as many people think. Many people who have decided to open their homes to sheep as pets have discovered their the intelligence of a lamb or sheep rivals that of our more common pets like cats or dogs.
They are fast learners, can learn more human language and can figure out how to do things even dogs have issues with.
I have even heard of a woman who raised a lamb from birth. As her lamb grew into adulthood, it learned how to round up her horse.
Animals that flock can get spooked easily. This is true for many herd animals such as horses, cows, and even deer. If the animals on one side of the flock get spooked, their combined fear can motivate the entire flock or herd, and they will stampede to escape what they fear.
This has less to do with stupidity and more to do with collective fear.
While studies on the intelligence of sheep are limited, one study done did determine that sheep can recognize up to 50 or more faces of their flock. This applies to a sheep that considers humans and other four-legged nonsheep animals as part of their flock.
This actually puts the intelligence level of sheep equal to or higher than the average dog. In addition to recognizing faces, they also learn to recognize emotions as well. So much for dumb animals.
A Flock Means Other Sheep
A lamb, or sheep in general, are social creatures, just as humans are. Due to their extremely social nature, they do need a flock to feel safe and happy.
Ideally, this means other sheep, but in some cases, sheep have adopted other animals as their flock.
This happens most often when the lamb is introduced to the new flock at a very young age. Keeping more than one lamb together will allow them to be around someone who speaks their language.
Sheep have accepted, donkeys, cattle, horses, and goats as their flock. Indoor sheep have been known to adopt cats and dogs as part of their flock.
You may also find these other articles in our sheep series.
My Essential Sheep Supplies
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A sturdy dog collar is essential. Don’t do rope (they’ll break and tangle) or chain (injury!).
A Black Water Tub is way nicer than buckets that tip over. I like to get a 20 or 30-gallon in each pen so my goats have plenty of water, but you can get 100-gallons if you have a lot of sheep in one pen.
Loose minerals in a small bag or a Purina 50 lb bag, and a mineral feeder for free-choice is the best option. One side holds minerals, and the other holds baking soda. Don’t feed sheep goat minerals because it usually contains copper- something that is fatal to sheep.
Hoof trimmers are a necessity because you’ll need to trim your sheep’s hooves every few months. These are nice for the price.
Don’t make the mistake I made by waiting to order a drench gun before you need it. I was surprised by how often I use it. It helps with bloating, dehydration, and other ailments. Here’s a good drench, but you can also drench a bloat solution or water if dehydrated.
Digital Thermometor for when your lambs act sick. You’ll need to know if their temps are too low or too high so you can accurately diagnose the issues.
Vetericyn for wound care. It makes a big difference in a speedy recovery.
These heavy duty clips for fences, to clip ropes to collars, and a million other uses. They are stronger than carabeeners, which we broke a dozen of before switching to these.