Lambs are becoming increasingly popular pets – for a good reason. Despite their reputation as shy creatures, well-socialized pet lambs are smart, docile, and loving. However, lambs have different needs than your average cat or dog – especially when it comes to their house training.
How do you house train a lamb? Ensure that your lamb is bonded to you and feels secure. Then you can house train them with some work. Encourage them to use bathroom pads, and then migrate those pads outside. With consistency and positive reinforcement, you can house train your lamb successfully.
Successfully training a lamb often depends on just knowing about lambs in general – what they are, what environment they should be in, and what kind of lambs thrive as pets. What are pet lambs really like?
Keeping Lambs as Pets: The Basics
Most people know of sheep and lambs as farm animals. But more and more frequently, people are bringing lambs into their homes as pets. They’re fantastic and adorable additions to any household.
First, a little sheep terminology – so that we’re all on the same page.
- A lamb is defined as any sheep below one year of age. Lambs can be male or female.
- Female sheep are called ewes and make great pets.
- Male sheep are called rams when they are intact (not neutered).
- Neutered male sheep are called wethers.
Should you get a male or a female lamb? That’s up to you. However, rams can be more aggressive or confrontational than ewes once fully grown. So if you end up adopting a male lamb, please make sure they get neutered as early as possible – to make sure they won’t be a risk (or at least minimize the risk) to you or your family.
What breed of lamb should you get? Again, it’s up to you. Remember, though – while lambs are small and cute, they’ll eventually grow into sheep. And different breeds of sheep come in all sorts of sizes. So be aware of how much space they’ll take up when they’re fully grown.
- Some sheep can weigh over 200 pounds fully grown.
- Miniature (or baby doll) lambs are one of the most popular home breeds. They stay smaller – about two feet high.
Sheep with or without horns? Oh – and then you need to decide if you want a pet with horns – or if you’d prefer your pet lamb to be hornless. If the thought of dehorning your lamb makes you uncomfortable, get a polled (naturally hornless) sheep.
Do sheep need vet care? Regarding vet care, lambs are relatively low maintenance. They require shearing once or twice a year (farm sheep get sheared once per year, though pet sheep may need it more often) and vet visits for de-worming, hoof care, and shots. If you’re comfortable with livestock care, you may be able to handle some of the de-worming, shots, and hoof care at home by yourself.
How long do sheep live? On average, sheep live to be between ten and twelve years old, so they’re a long-term commitment.
What Should I Know About Lamb Behavior?
Lambs are great pets because they’re sociable, docile, and love affection. Even though their hoofs can be a little too rough for sitting on your lap, well-socialized lambs may love being petted – just like dogs and cats. (Do lambs and sheep like to be petted? Click here to read our answer!) If your lamb grows up around humans, they’ll likely be less fearful than their farm counterparts.
Even if your pet lamb is inside sometimes, it’s best to give them as much outdoor time as you can. They aren’t good city pets, and some cities even prohibit owning them without the proper space. They need space to roam, time in the sun, and access to grass. But for a backyard homestead? They could be a great pet!
They also need to get used to being in the cold. Lambs are susceptible to the cold and can die of hypothermia if they’re left in freezing conditions. Yes, despite having fur that’s shorn to make sweaters to keep you warm, you should be careful to keep your lamb toasty and comfortable. Here is what my research found on what you need to know about sheep, shearing, and cold.
Sheep are flock or herd animals. This means that they feel better in a group. It’s best to have a group of at least two to three to prevent undue stress or loneliness, which could ultimately lead to a shorter lifespan and a less happy sheep.
Sometimes, though, lambs can adopt other animals, and even humans, into their flock. However, it’s the exception rather than the rule. So remember that the rule of thumb is you need several sheep. Being able to become the lamb’s herd will take work.
However, some lambs will do fine with a motley group of assorted animals and people. Having that group makes them feel secure from predators, and will help them be happier from day-to-day. However, based on my research, sometimes lambs can pick up bad habits from other animals. For example, they could learn to chew on your shoes from your dog. Or they could learn to use the bathroom outside of their designated area – much like a miffed cat who does their business outside of their litter box.
Is it Possible to House Train a Lamb?
There are two camps when it comes to the matter of house training lambs. One camp says it’s impossible – after all, sheep are (usually) farm animals and not dogs who have been bred for thousands of years to be our best friends and companions.
But then, there’s the other camp that says that it’s totally possible – with some effort. With some potty pads and time, some feel that your pet lamb can co-exist along with your cats and dogs when it comes to doing their business.
So the answer is: it depends. And there are a few factors that will determine whether your lamb can be successfully house trained – or if they’ll have to be outdoors all the time.
Let’s go through those factors now.
1. The Lamb’s Age
Just like puppies, the younger your lamb is when you start training, the better. They won’t have any bad habits that you’ll have to train out of them, and their brains will be primed to learn. They’ll pick up habits and behaviors quickly and readily.
You can also improve your chances if you adopt your lamb early enough to bottle-feed them. Bottle-feeding creates a special bond between you and your lamb. Essentially, it makes your lamb see you as its mother because you’re their food source.
The act also helps you and your lamb bond, which in turn makes them want to please you. If your lamb wants to please you, training can be that much easier.
Spending a lot of time with them when they’re young will also help establish this bond. If you have other animals in the house who look to you as the leader (or, in the case of cats, the person who feeds them), your lamb will as well.
2. Their Home Environment
Sheep are flock animals, and as such, they feel most at home in a group. Sheep that live in a herd (usually three or more sheep) are far less stressed than ones that live alone, as previously mentioned. The less stressed the animal, the more likely they are to learn.
Luckily, you might not need to adopt a whole flock of sheep for your pet lamb to feel secure. Well, I guess you could adopt 2-3 lambs. That’s your call.
While it’s great to have other sheep in your home to help your lamb feel secure, sometimes lambs can feel at home with other pets, like cats and calm dogs. However, having a flock of at least three sheep is best.
Be careful, though, especially if you have a dog. Some lambs, especially if you adopt them when they’re older, will be scared of dogs – especially big dogs. Consider the temperament of the other animals in your home. If your dog is loud, high-strung, and loves to get in your face, it might not be good to have a lamb at home.
The same goes for children in the home. Though lambs are great for children in the sense that they’re gentle and loving, some very young children might not be ready to handle a lamb. Be sure that children can understand an animal’s limits and how to be gentle before adopting a lamb.
3. Consistency with Training
Training any animal, especially a lamb, is all about consistency. Think about it – if you had to run a marathon (but you only trained once a month), then you’d probably get injured. And you’d probably have a very difficult time finishing the race. The same applies when it comes to training your lamb.
The most successfully trained animals are trained consistently, and not just for a short burst of time every once in a while. Lambs are no different, especially when it comes to house training. You have to stay on top of teaching them what to do, since using the bathroom is a daily thing.
To stay consistent, make sure you’re prepared at all times. As we’ll explain later, you should have every room in your home prepared for house training your lamb. And if you’re going to be away for a little bit, make sure that whoever’s caring for your lamb knows exactly what to do to maintain your training regimen.
Are Lambs Easy to Train?
Many people think sheep are not the smartest animal. After all, there’s the stereotype of people being “sheep” and just following along with anything, whether it’s a good idea or not. However, it’s a somewhat unfair generalization. Sheep are smart creatures, especially if you give them a chance.
For example, here are a few ways that sheep exhibit intelligence.
- Lambs are capable of recognizing human faces and the faces of up to fifty other sheep, in addition to their emotions.
- They can also understand and follow hand signals, words, or commands. This makes them as smart as the average dog!
- Just don’t expect them to come up with their own theory of relativity and you’ll be fine.
- Since they’re capable of learning, you can house train your lamb and even teach them tricks if you’d like.
- Some can learn how to round up other animals, recognize their own name, or “tell” you that they need to go outside with a signal.
With some consistent work, some lambs can be mostly house trained after about two weeks of training. Of course, you’ll have to continue to reinforce the skill for some time after, but knowing they can learn this quickly is likely a relief.
So, in short, they can be easy to train. You just have to follow a few simple steps consistently. Let’s go over that now.
How to House Train Your Lamb
Since we’ve established that training a lamb is possible, you’re probably wondering how to actually do it. Being house trained is a necessary skill for any pet that roams freely in your home, so spending time on it is very important and totally worthwhile.
If you house-train your lamb, you’ll be able to have them inside the home with you more often without worrying about cleaning up messes. You also won’t have to spend extra money on diapers (though they’re a valid option, which we’ll get into later). It’s also a good way to bond with your pet since you’ll be rewarding them with food or petting.
Here are the steps to train your lamb to use the bathroom in the right place.
1. Get the Right Tools
House training your lamb requires a few easy-to-find products:
- Potty (or puppy) pads
- Cleaning supplies (since accidents will definitely happen)
If you have or have ever had a puppy, you’re probably familiar with potty or puppy pads. At the hospital, we nurses called them chucks. Or if you’ve got a cat, you may have one of these blue, absorbent pads at the bottom of your litter box as a “just in case.”
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Since lambs are small, they don’t need anything heavy-duty. Good quality bathroom pads are very reasonably priced, such as these options, which are available on Amazon: AmazonBasics puppy pads and/or these Hartz Home Protection Unscented Pads.
Make sure to get pads that are big enough for your lamb to have space to do her business, plus some extra space as a precaution. You’ll also want the pad to have borders to make sure that a little bit of roaming doesn’t invalidate having the pad down. If you want to be extra safe and protect your floors, you can double up or put two pads side by side.
Lambs, like most creatures, love food, and treats are a great way to encourage her to use the bathroom in the correct place. Sheep are grazing ruminants, meaning their diet should mostly be grass or hay. Appropriate treats include:
- Dry clover
- Sunflower seeds
However, there are several foods that you should avoid giving them as treats:
- Any food formulated for goats
- Animal products like meat or eggs
- Known poisons to sheep
This page (maintained by the Open Sanctuary Project) has a full list of things that are toxic to sheep. If you’d prefer to limit the number of treats you’re giving your lamb, know that you can also reward them with physical affection or cuddles.
Lastly, you’ll need good cleaning supplies, especially at the beginning. Accidents will happen!
Regular multipurpose cleaning products for hard surfaces and carpets that you might already have are a good bet, especially if they neutralize odors. Luckily, lamb poop is fairly dry, unlike cat or dog poop, making it fairly easy to sweep up.
2) Put Puppy Pads Throughout Your Home
Now that you’re ready to focus on training, start with a training pad in every room in your house. It’s not an amazing look for your house’s décor, but it’s much easier than carrying your lamb from place to place right as they’re about to use the bathroom (which is the next step).
After all, lambs poop more like goats than they do alpacas – they’re going to go when they need to. They aren’t going to go use a communal dung pile like an alpaca would. So you have to use training to make your sheep aware enough to go in the designated area. That’s going to take time.
That’s why it’s far better to be prepared and ready to train than it is to be rushing about and frustrated with what could have been a totally preventable failure.
Watch where your lamb tends to be when they’re inside your home. If they like to be in the space in front of the TV, put pads there. If they love being near the window, put pads there. This way, they’ll be close to the pads when the time comes.
3) Keep an Eye on Your Lamb and Act Quickly
The early stages of training your lamb might get a little messy. To start connecting the potty pads with your lamb going to the bathroom, put them on the pad when they’re about to pee or poop. The hardest part is knowing when to swoop in and carry them there.
You can do this in one of two ways – watching for them to start squatting, or putting them on a pad after a bottle feeding if they’re at that age. Once they use the bathroom, give them a treat as a reward. Make sure you have treats at the ready everywhere. You can carry some sunflower seeds in a little bag around with you, or if you’re in the kitchen, you can pre-cut some apples.
You should also reward them directly after they use the bathroom in the right spot. If you wait, they might not connect using the bathroom on the pad with positive things.
Think of it like this – say your dog sits on command, and then you wait a whole minute to give the dog a treat; they won’t make the connection between sitting and being rewarded (though they’ll probably appreciate the snack.)
If your lamb has an accident, don’t scold her – even lambs raised around humans don’t respond well to fear or discouragement. It’s just like training any other animal. They’re not using the bathroom in the house on purpose to spite you. They’re just being lambs.
Instead, focus on making the next bathroom use and training session a better experience for everyone.
4) Move the Pads Closer to the Door
After the lamb gets a handle on using the pads and starts to migrate to them naturally, pull the pads closer to the door where they’ll be heading outside to do their business.
Do this slowly over time, so the adjustment isn’t too much for them. If you have a pad in a room, then abruptly move it to the other room, the lamb likely won’t follow readily. Take it slowly and be more successful. Continue giving her treats when she does the right thing!
5) Put the Pad Outside
Once they’ve mastered using the bathroom on the pad inside the house, move the pad outside. This can be tricky since you’ll have to give them access to the outside whenever they’re in the house. You can leave the door open or follow them if they’re walking in that direction.
If they know that they’re supposed to use the bathroom on their pads, they’ll go to the pad outside. It might help to slowly walk the pad further and further away from the door of your house. Slow and steady wins the race here! And the slower you go, the more likely your lamb’s training will stick.
6) Eventually, Get Rid of the Pads
Once your lamb is a pro at using their pad outside, then you can remove the pad. Don’t rush this!
To get them used to going without the pad, you could make the pad smaller by partially covering it with dirt, adding more each time until it’s covered. This way, the change is even more gradual.
General Tips for House Training Lambs
While we’ve now covered all of the main steps, there is still more to training your lamb. Ignoring these could mean the difference between successful house training and weeks of frustration – because your lamb isn’t catching on.
Learn Your Lamb’s Body Language
Even if their expressions and their body language aren’t as familiar as a dog’s wagging tail, you can start to understand what your lamb looks like when they have to go to the bathroom.
Knowing this can help you prepare to get them on the potty pad or let them go outside once they have a handle on potty training. You’ll be able to open the door to their outdoor space and avoid accidents.
As mentioned before, this ‘body language’ can mean squatting, or maybe they’re more similar to dogs in that they sniff around a bit before they go. It’s a simple but effective tip that anyone in the family can help you look out for.
Be Patient and Calm
This step applies to all of the other training steps for a good reason. Lambs and all sheep are highly susceptible to getting scared. As prey animals, they’re easy to startle. If they weren’t attuned to potential danger, they would be easily caught by other animals. Then, we likely wouldn’t have sheep at all!
Whenever you’re training your lamb, make sure you’re as gentle as possible. Don’t make sudden movements that could startle them and get down onto their level. This way, you won’t be looming over them, similar to a predator.
It’ll probably get frustrating training your lamb, just as it is when you’re teaching a dog something. It’s messy and frustrating. However, don’t let your lamb sense it. By getting angry and scolding them, you’ll only do the opposite of what you intend to do. They’ll be scared of you, too, and then they’ll avoid you.
Keep Things Clean
Since house training can get a little messy, you’ll likely want to control where your lamb goes within your house. Since it’s easier to clean up hard surfaces than carpet, you can limit your lamb’s access within the home to certain areas.
The easiest way to do this is with a dog or baby gate that fits into your doorway. They come in a range of styles and price ranges. Here are some examples I found on Amazon.
- This more budget-friendly portable pet gate option is utilitarian and will get the job done, but it’s not amazingly fancy.
- This more stylish barrier features a walk-through gate. It’s a little bit pricier, but still very reasonable. If you’re going to need that gate in place for a longer period of time, having the gate you can open is a really nice extra feature to have!
There are tons of other options, too, so don’t feel like you’re limited to those two examples. You can get a pet gate or a baby gate – and either type should work well with keeping your lamb in the right areas.
Use Their Natural Instincts to Your Advantage
You can also use a lamb’s herd instincts to your advantage – especially if you have other animals in the house. For instance, some lambs might be smart enough to understand that if your small dog uses a pee pad, then they should too.
But other times, just seeing that the other animals in the house relieve themselves in certain areas can reinforce good behavior.
Get Everyone Involved
Don’t let all of the training fall onto one person’s shoulders. First of all, it’s a lot for one person to handle all the time. Caring for lambs, especially ones that are bottle-fed, is a big job. Second, having everyone involved can foster the feeling of a flock – or even an interspecies herd.
Though young children shouldn’t be responsible for everything, you can have them help by noticing your lamb’s pre-bathroom body language or have them put pads down. This makes the training process less overwhelming and provides positive reinforcement from other sources.
What If I Can’t House Train My Lamb?
Sometimes training doesn’t fully stick. Your lamb might be a little too old to learn how to use the bathroom outside or in their designated area every time. Or maybe you’ve just decided that house training isn’t the right choice for your pet. As mentioned before, some lamb and sheep owners don’t believe you can house train them at all.
It’s okay! You don’t have to feel like a failure, and you don’t have to give up on having a lamb as a pet. Luckily, there are two alternatives – diapering, or letting your lamb live outside full time.
Lambs can get used to wearing diapers, just like human babies. This is a great alternative for people who’d like their lamb to be inside, but don’t want to clean up waste all the time and don’t mind changing diapers.
Unfortunately, there aren’t ready-made diapers for lambs, so you have to get creative.
The easiest method would be to buy diapers for small incontinent dogs, like these on Amazon. They already have a tail hole cut into them.
You can also go with disposable diapers made for humans or dogs, with some modifications. Start with an adjustable diaper like this kind (click here for price and availability on Amazon). Then, adjust it for your lamb. You do that with a few simple steps. Start by cutting a hole for the tail, then slip your lamb’s tail through it. It helps to hold them still between your calves. After that, you can tighten the diaper around their bodies, as you’d do to a baby.
In either instance, you can help them keep the diaper on using another washable dog diaper like this one on Amazon. Since you’re starting young, the lamb can get used to wearing the diaper. They typically last a few hours between changes.
Of course, you should measure your lamb to find a good general fit. They’ll be growing quickly, so it doesn’t have to be exact. Just remember to remeasure and get the next size up as needed.
If disposable diapers aren’t your thing, you have options. You could buy a washable animal diaper as the primary option – kind of like the one I suggested earlier as the exterior diaper over a disposable one. You could do one or two of those. Then, just wash and reuse.
Or, if you’ve got sewing skills, you can sew a washable diaper yourself. Here’s a great blog post with a lamb diaper pattern for the crafty-inclined.
Want to see diapering a lamb in real-time? Here’s a great video from YouTube on changing a lamb’s diaper.
Seriously – if you’re going to be customizing a diaper, give this a watch. It’s a great watch and will help you see that it can be done – and that it doesn’t have to be rocket science. It’s short and to the point, which is nice, too.
Living Outside Full Time
Finally, letting your lamb live outside full time can be a great option if training or diapering options aren’t working as expected. Letting them live outside with places to hide for shelter is a perfectly okay way to have a pet lamb.
It can be an option when they’re above a certain age or if the weather permits. Just make sure it is warm enough for them not to get cold – especially if they’ve just been sheared. Read my article on sheep getting cold to know when that is – it covers temperatures for sheep after shearing and in general.
One more thing to remember about lambs and being outside: all lambs, even ones that spend a lot of time indoors, need outside time and space. So if your lamb is an inside pet, make sure you go outside to play regularly. And have fun!
While we don’t have a pet lamb, this has been so much fun to research and think through. I’ve also learned a ton more about house training animals in general. It turns out that house training a lamb pulls a lot from best practices for house training other animals – like cats and dogs.
So here’s the TLDR (too long, didn’t read) takeaway: House training a lamb can take time, but once your lamb gets it right, you can have your pet inside just as you’d have a cat or dog. Just be prepared to work at it.
It’s important to learn from your own experience, but it’s also smart to learn from others. These are the sources used in this article and in our personal research to be more informed as homesteaders. 🙂
- “Barking Rock Farm.” Sheep Care 101, www.barkingrock.com/sheep101.htm.
- DiLonardo, Mary Jo. “9 Wooly Facts about Darling Babydoll Sheep.” MNN, Mother Nature Network, 10 May 2020, www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/wooly-facts-darling-babydoll-sheep.
- Griffler, Zee, and Zee Griffler. “Daily Diet, Treats, & Supplements For Sheep.” The Open Sanctuary Project, 13 Mar. 2020, opensanctuary.org/article/daily-diet-treats-supplements-for-sheep/.
- Lacoste, Kristine. “Lambs as Pets: Great Companions or Bad Idea?” Petful, 15 May 2020, www.petful.com/other-pets/lambs/.
- “Lamb Diapers.” Lamb Diapers, welcomehomefarm-tj.blogspot.com/2010/01/lamb-diapers.html#.XsbJzhNKjOQ.
- “Sheep 201: Sheep as Pets.” The Purpose of Sheep 101 Is to Teach Students, Teachers, 4-H and FFA Members, and the General Public about Sheep, How They Are Raised, and the Contributions to Mankind., www.sheep101.info/201/pets2.html.
- “Sheep Make Great Pets. Ask Agnes.” The View from Cleydael Farm, 4 Dec. 2006, cleydael.wordpress.com/2006/12/04/sheep-make-great-pets-ask-agnes/.
- “Shetland Sheep Training Tips.” wpe5E.Jpg (4970 Bytes), www.fibreworksfarm.com/shetland/sheep.htm.