What Helps Me Train My “Difficult” Dog

Even though I have been teaching dog training to people since 2003, and training my own dogs since 1999, I still learn stuff about dogs and training them everyday.

Since our Kuvasz Ira came to live with us in 2016, we have been very busy with him and he has really been a handful. I knew that dogs of the Kuvasz breed, being livestock guardians, can be independent minded. (and there are other breeds like this as well). This makes them more apt to need extra motivation to learn behaviours that are essentially unnatural to them.

But working with Ira has given me a lot more information and knowledge about how to work with dogs of breeds that are focused on working independently, without the assistance of humans.

The following are the most important things that I have learned that have helped me work with Ira better.

1. He needs to check out the environment first.

Purpose-bred dogs need to check out the area they are going to be working in. In this post we are concentrating on dogs with inbred focus for their job applies – LGDs and scent hounds, etc – but all breeds will benefit from a good check out of the training area.

Dogs need to be able to freely sniff just about everything in an area since smell is the principle way dogs communicate from a distance. Without being allowed to smell things around him, a dog will become more stressed and distracted. It is important for a dog’s mental health to be able to sniff the surroundings.


2. Repetitive training doesn’t work well.

Livestock Guardian breeds especially do not enjoy repetitive training. This is because is really goes against their desire to keep watch and focus away from the human. All dogs will get sick of, stressed, or bored of repetition eventually, but some breeds are more tolerant of it than others. This is directly a factor of how human focused the dog is.

3. He needs extra motivation

Ira is extremely particular in what motivates him. When compared to the Australian Shepherds I have worked with – 8 of my own – there is a drastic difference. The Aussies would all work simply for kibble or low value rewards. Ira does his best work for cooked meat, but especially freeze dried liver. When I used kibble (before we started feeding real food), he would lose interest VERY quickly, if not even before we start. Not so with the other dogs.

4. He doesn’t need a huge amount of exercise before training

Ira is not a super high energy dog. Yes, he likes and needs exercise, but the livestock guardian tends to be more energy conserving due to their job. They often prefer to sit around, or lie around, and watch what is going on, especially as they mature. This gives them a good vantage point to observe what is going on in the environment so they can decide whether or not to use energy to check something out that seems concerning.

I don’t always exercise my dogs before a training session. The reason is that firstly, they aren’t totally out of control and in need of exercise in order to focus. My dogs are mentally stimulated throughout the day and get small amounts of movement and things to do so they don’t get to that point of being keyed up from lack of something to do. Exercise sessions may take place later in the day. They are never at the same time or place. Often, I train BEFORE exercising, like in the morning, to mix things up for the dogs. It helps prevent them from expecting something at the same time every day. That to me is the most problematic thing – having a dog who expects something and becomes persistent in needing to get it. You may have experienced this with your dogs when they bother you to eat their meals at a particular time.

This photo explains the breed focus issue perfectly. Emmett the Aussie is waiting for my direction, and AJ the Kuvasz is watching and guarding, even though they are only about 20 feet apart.

5. Make sure he has a job to do specifically for him.

Every dog needs a job, especially those breeds that are purpose bred. Some dogs will be your companion – that’s a job. Some are hunters, some runners, some protectors. Ira is a protector. Because I know this, and to prevent him from doing it would be detrimental to his mental health, I let him bark in some situations. He comes with me when I do chores in the evening. During that time he barks. When I’m done, he quits. We started this because we had bears in town last fall and it made me nervous going out by myself. Now that Ira has a job and is allowed to do it, he seems much happier or maybe more relaxed. He knows what to do, when to do it, and seems to enjoy it.

6. Really good food rewards.

Good food rewards really helps get and keep a dog’s attention during training. However, if your dog hasn’t checked out the environment well enough, really good food rewards aren’t really going to help.  Good rewards are required anyway (what motivates your dog best is important ) but you need both in combination, among other things, in order to have a good, effective training session.

These things worked for us

So these things I have mostly always suspected, since Ira is not my first Kuvasz, but he has solidified these ideas as truths for me. By knowing what he is like (and using some breed characteristics to determine that as well) I have been able to come up with these important points to train him in the best, most effective way possible.

There will still be some human stragglers that don’t believe in the “some breeds are more difficult to train than others”, but generally, these are the ones who have only trained  certain breeds to a certain level of training and not a livestock guardian breed (or Basset Hound etc etc) to a high level of competition obedience. Sure you can train a Kuvasz to a high level of obedience but there will always be that situation in which he feels that it is important to guard first. And that could really be anywhere. It doesn’t mean they are unpredictable, just watchful, and so less focus on you.

It’s important to remember that some dogs learn at different rates, not because they are LESS INTELLIGENT, but because they would rather be doing something else, even with a lot of training and motivation.

Happy Purpose bred dog training!