When I got my first Kuvasz, AJ, I had researched different breeds for over a year. I was not getting into it lightly.
I picked the Kuvasz for several different reasons. I wanted a larger dog but not TOO large with a thick coat but not TOO thick. I wanted a Livestock Guardian breed. In our area of the country the weather is cold (can be – 35 C) in the winter. For me it is a requirement to have a breed of dog that can enjoy normally uncomfortable temperatures, since I like going out in them.
The Kuvasz was such a dog.
What I didn’t plan on was the MAJOR difference in personality from what I was used to with my Australian Shepherds. This difference translated into a difference in how these dogs need to be trained.
The REAL Difference
First let me reiterate – ALL DOGS LEARN THE SAME WAY. This is not what I am talking about when I talk about training differences.
Many people believe that some dog breeds are stubborn and don’t “listen” naturally. This simply isn’t the case.
What is the case are differences in breed characteristics and temperaments as a result of the purpose for which they were bred. These dog are busy doing the thing that they were bred to do and don’t really want anything to do with something that disrupts that.
Having had many Australian Shepherds and being exposed to many as well, I can state that each Aussie has a distinct personality. However, there are many things that are common among all Aussies with regard to in born characteristics.
One is their gravelly bark, and scratchy sounding whine. Other dogs just don’t do this. Another breed – the Boxer – has a specific way that they “talk” as well even though each Boxer dog is different in personality. No other breed of dog does this.
Scent hounds, like the Beagle and the Basset Hound, have the most sensitive sense of smell – like no other dog. This was bred into them.
Kuvaszok (plural for Kuvasz) have one thing in common as puppies. They are relentless in their chase drive and desire to bite and nip. None of my Aussies ever did this with such extreme focus. None of the puppies that I trained (and there were many including Aussie, Labrador, Golden, Boxer, Keeshond, and all kinds of small breeds) were ever like this.
To put it more plainly, the Kuvasz puppy will chew at you like a corn on the cob. Even with consistent positive training, the chewing and grabbing at things can continue for months, if not years. Not only that, they are very destructive and if you value your back yard for its beautiful landscaping, don’t put a Kuvasz puppy in it.
I can only imagine what the purpose of this behaviour is. Perhaps it happens so that the dog will get it out of his system early and then focus on his purpose which is guarding livestock and being calm around them, or maybe it shows the tenacity with which the Kuvasz will protect his flock. I’m only guessing here.
Likely, this quality was not chosen for on purpose and is just something that happened along the path to developing the Kuvasz.
Experienced Dog Owner Needed!
ANYWAY, the point is that many inborn behaviours in dogs are very disrupting when it comes to training. It doesn’t mean the dog can’t be trained, but it is why you will often hear a statement like “this breed needs an experienced dog owner” or something to that effect.
When dogs that were bred for a very specific purpose are trained, they are often labeled “stubborn” or “difficult” or even “stupid” because their one motivation in life is not being addressed.
Training these purpose bred dogs with corrections and negative reinforcement has the unfortunate result of creating a dog who does not comply likely because the only interesting thing in his life is his purpose and he doesn’t get to do that very often. These dogs are also often STOPPED outright from doing the behaviour they were bred for (like chasing deer or sniffing out a rabbit). When a dog ( or perhaps even a person) is always prevented from doing what is most rewarding and interesting to her/him, that dog person starts to focus overwhelmingly on that thing.
Training purpose bred dogs without any fun motivation creates dogs who stop doing stuff and thus creates the myth that they are stubborn. Dogs of other breeds can do this too, but it is most pronounced in dogs bred for a specific purpose in which they were expected to function independently of human direction.
So back to the issue of the Kuvasz chewing. This obsession with moving objects and grabbing them in the mouth – including body parts and clothes – can be very disrupting during training.
You have to get past the desire to chew BEFORE you can train anything properly.
Purpose bred dogs don’t really care about what YOU want. They are obsessed with their job. Think about sleddogs, scent hounds, livestock guardian dogs and sighthounds. All these breeds are more independent than herding and retrieving breeds.
My Australian Shepherds WANT to be with me. ALL THE TIME. When I trained McCoy, my first Aussie with corrections (because I didn’t know how to train dogs at the time) it didn’t dissuade him from always wanting to be with me or come when called. That’s how Aussies are (for the most part).
But because of the independent mindset of the livestock guardian dog, using corrections won’t do you any favours to help you train your dog.
LGDs prefer to be on their own. The independent mindset is bred into them. That is how they guard a flock. They will guard you because you are family, but unless you motivate them positively, you won’t have much luck teaching them a good recall or do most kinds of dog sport.
Using A Different Method
This is why it is so important to use food/toys to train. You are then applying something that is MORE motivating than the inborn quality of the dog. This is also why corrections limit what you can do with a purpose bred dog and why the breeds are deemed stupid and stubborn. They are already guarding or doing their job. They simply don’t need to listen to you.
Of course there are always exceptions to the rule and individual dog personalities, but for the most part this idea has held up with my experiences with dozens of different dogs and hundreds of different clients.
There are other important considerations when training purpose bred dogs and I have discussed one of those in a blog post about training them HERE.
Naturally, if something doesn’t work for you in particular, it is more likely that it has to do with skill in training rather than the dog’s ability to learn. If food doesn’t work for a certain dog, examine the dog’s background, training history, health, your choice in food rewards, how much the dog is getting fed and so on.
You will probably find that there is actually a good reason why something isn’t working.
Happy Purpose Bred Dog Training!