Sunday, April 20, 2008

So you think you want a kuvasz?

I happen to think kuvasz are an amazing breed, but they are not for the novice dog owner. First of all, while they can be very mellow, they also shed. A LOT.

They are very, very intelligent. But they are also very independent, which means that they obey only when they think they should. Luckily I have a very food-motivated pup. Who can only ignore the biscuits on his paws if he doesn't even look at them:

It's not really true "obedience," though, because while pleasing you does please them, pleasing YOU is not their #1 goal in life. Their #1 goal is to GUARD.

And this is where the strongest reasons FOR getting a kuvasz are also the strongest reasons NOT to get one:

1. Barking

If you want a dog that will bark when people come onto your property or try to break in, there are plenty of medium-sized and larger dogs that will alert bark without the necessary additional investment needed to teach a kuvasz what is expected. Better yet, get a little yapper or a burglar alarm.

And yes, while some kuvs are quieter than others (Biggie is a "quiet" one - he only barks when guarding, and is pretty quiet otherwise) and you can teach them which noises are ok and which are not, ALL kuvs bark. And since most kuvs are pretty pain-insensitive (which makes sense if you are a kuvasz defending your flock of sheep from a bear or wolf), "training" collars - in addition to being, in my opinion, inhumane - are simply ineffective.

2. Aggression

Yes, I said "teach" up there. These dogs are so smart that they can and do make inferences. It's part of that living-with-the-flock-independently thing. They have to be able to assess the nature and degree of the threat and take appropriate action without a human telling them what to do. So "teaching" them involves showing them when you (the flock member) are comfortable and when you are not. They are uniquely attuned to your stress level, so if you are walking around worrying whether your pup will "go Cujo" on the next person to walk by, he will because he can read that tension in your voice and your body.

So beginning when Biggie was a pup, when Biggie and I walk we have a pretty silly, light conversation, and if we walk by anyone who might seem remotely threatening, I smile and wish them a good day. If something that used to set him off (delivery bikes whizzing in front of his face) doesn't, he gets copious amounts of praise. And even so, there are times when I will walk him out of the way of a potential Situation. And always, treats in pocket. Because if he starts to focus too intensely on someone/thing (he stops, stands very erect and gets this intense stare), I distract and stuff treats in his mouth while telling him calmly that I see the perceived threat. (You know it's a bad sign when he lets the treats fall out of his mouth to the ground. Then, the only solution is to remove the dog from the situation immediately.)

Same with the apartment buzzer when we get deliveries. (Yes, we do order food delivery that often.) Treats as long as he is quiet when the buzzer goes off, and treats from P-Daddy when he gets back in. (Which leads to me separation anxiety, which merits its own section later.)

Needless to say, we have to maintain 100% focus on our surroundings while walking. No talking on the cell phone or listening to the ipod.

The one saving grace about the potential "aggression" is that kuvs do not overaggress and most of the things they are reactive about are understandable. They are far more guardy at night, and then more to large men, loud men, people carrying anything that could be weapon (skis, ski poles, ladders, garden tools, umbrellas, large bags, loud carts...) First they stare, then they may growl, then bark+lunge, then nip before biting. That being said, people tend to freak out (understandably) when a 100-lb dog barks ferociously at them and it is especially bad when they don't understand dog body language. This usually happens when people stare - and stare at Biggie because he is a magnificent looking dog, and Biggie perceives the direct stare as a threat. Couple that with someone walking up and reaching a hand over the head to pet without asking permission first, and you get the idea.

And finally, there are the stupid people who think it's "fun" to test a large dog. Kuvasz when relaxed look like giant cuddlebears and some people seem to think that means they can just run up and snuggle with them. From a dog's perspective, that kind of approach is very threatening and looks like a charge. In the last week I've had teen boys on scooters scoot at full speed toward us even as I shouted, "Not a good idea!" and an adult wheeling a giant noisy crate on wheels back and forth at high speed to see if Biggie would chase him. And he was laughing, not in a good-natured, "I'm playing with your dog" way, but a jeering, taunting, "you are on a leash and I am not, ha ha" way. Seriously, there are times when I feel like - oops! - dropping the leash. But of course, there is no justified dog bite in our society. So instead, if we are stopped for some reason, like on a street corner, my feet are squarely planted and I'm ready to rein him in if I have to.

3. Territoriality
Kuvasz will expand their territory and their concept of territory whenever able. Obviously, our apartment is sacred ground. However, our building lobby and hallway are Biggie's "territory" too - the only other people he grudgingly allows in "his" hallway are the other people on our floor. In the lobby, all building residents and social visitors - even if they don't like him - are ok, but delivery and service people are not. We did not teach him this, he just decided to draw his own lines. In Vermont, our cul-de-sac and all the residents there are part of his flock. He's better about visitors to the condo (than visitors to the NYC apartment) because we have guests and houseguests almost every weekend we are there. Again, socialize, socialize, socialize! The learning process never ends.

5. Separation Anxiety

Read the poo disaster post here. One characteristic of kuvasz is that they are able to spend long periods of time without humans around. In other words, they don't necessarily crave human contact as human contact per se. This makes them a reasonably good breed for people who work full time. But always remember dogs are social animals and they need interaction with others. Otherwise, why'd you get a dog in the first place?

Anyway, back to the separation anxiety. For a kuvasz whose family is his flock, the daily departure of his flock for school or work can feel a little like failure. How can he guard if he can't see you? Terrible things could be happening to you when your pup is not around to keep tabs on you. Anyway, be aware of the signs of separation anxiety early on so you can address the problem before the pup gets too noisy or, worse yet, destructive.

6. Children

This is where socialization is the most important. Whether you have children or not, it is important to get kuvasz used to these little people. They don't move the same way adults do, they can be really noisy, and sometimes they act a little like prey! Kuvasz have a reputation for being very understanding and attuned toward children, but no matter how even tempered they may be, NEVER LEAVE A CHILD UNATTENDED WITH A DOG.

Biggie's gentleness and understanding of children has always amazed me, because he seems to know that he needs to give them some space so they aren't too scared of him. He is innately protective of them and understands how to play with them. In Vermont, he has barked at children climbing snow piles until they come down. Or, he has to get up on the snow pile and watch every move they make. Last week in the dog run, Biggie wasn't playing with the other dogs. I saw him standing at the fence with a smile on his face, staring at something on the other side and gently wagging his tail. Turns out it was a family with a toddler and a baby, and Biggie was watching the children. When the dad brought the kids into the run, Biggie walked up slowly and sniffed and let the toddler approach him, standing for inspection.

This goes back to the "sense" that kuvasz have; somehow they understand that children are vulnerable and should be watched carefully. Again, however, just because a kuvasz thinks he's a good babysitter doesn't make him one. A kuvasz could see children playing and mistakenly guard his own child from rough play by other kids. Don't leave a kuvasz alone with kids.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

How the Biggie got his 'tude.

Recent voice mail: "Hi Biggie's mom. This is Biscuits & Bath. Biggie is fine, we just wanted to let you know that after a few minutes he decided to go out onto the track with the other dogs. When I said he gets moody, I didn't mean that he gets in a bad mood or gets depressed when he is here. Rather, it's just that he likes to do things on his own terms and he lets us know if he doesn't want to do something. Then we just leave him be and usually he comes out of it after a few minutes and lets us know what he wants."

Biggie and his litter were evaluated at 7 weeks not only for conformation (show potential) but also for temperament. It's a variation of the Volhard aptitude test, which is supposed to give you clues to the pup's adult temperament. So far, 11 months into the craziness, Biggie is pretty true to form. The pups were tested in their birth order by a tester who had not met the pups before. After each pup is tested it is brought into a different area from where it started. Here are the various tests, what they are supposed to signify, and the results from Biggie's litter.  

Social Attraction
Gently place puppy in test area with no talking or stroking. Tell the evaluator nothing about the puppy. The pup's reaction is supposed to indicate its degree of social attraction, confidence or dependence.

1. PURPLE: Goes right to tester, and is kissy, kissy.
2. AQUA: Goes to tester soon; then off, more into surroundings than person. Checks them out, then back to person.
3. PINK (the only girl): Funny – when Mom put her in room, she started looking for another human; then became interested in pup in mirror.
4. GOLD: Came in, Stopped when saw tester, and tried to go back out; Doesn't follow or come, backs away, introduced slowly.
5. GREEN: Cries when put in room; then goes to tester slowly, sniffs, no problem with being petted. Kept tail down to explore room and pup in mirror. (When he was a tiny puppy he would play in the mirror all the time, including running into the mirror (bonk!) to mouth wrestle with the puppy he saw there.)

Prey Drive

Trail rag back and forth, just in front of puppy: what does he do? If nothing, try with rag and string. If nothing, go on to next exercise. If puppy engages, let puppy play with it. Then take one end of rag and pull it: if puppy fights calmly and pulls, let him win it. If he shakes it and growls, take note – a lot of fight drive. Then let puppy have rag again, and pull side to side while distracting it with other hand: tap floor, pet puppy: if still focused on the rag, exciting training prospect. If loses his hold, tease him with it, and let him get it again for a few minutes. Puppy's reaction indicates confidence to overcome new situations; desire to play and ultimately to train; object obsession

PURPLE: Good puppy; knows what to do with prey!
AQUA: Strong, very strong prey drive.
SPIRIT: Stalking prey, purposefully stalking and knows what to do.
GOLD: Watches rope (prey), uncomfy with being there, cries.
GREEN: Good, very good prey drive. (Chases falling leaves, plastic bags, birds, paper bags, newspapers blowing down the street... Catches a ball in midair only about 50% of the time, but regularly snatches random debris as it blows by his face. Then "kills" it by shaking it to death. BAD paper bag, BAD!!!)

Crouch down and attract puppy’s attention with a rolled up paper ball. When he shows interest and is watching, toss the ball in front of him.. What does he do. Give puppy chance to have a successful retrieve: if he doesn’t see it, do it again. If he doesn’t want to go after it, try other toys. See what puppy is trying to show us. If he does retireve, try different directions, different toys, etc. Indicates degree of willingness to work with a human. High correlation between ability to retrieve and successful guide dogs, obedience dogs, field trial dogs, pets. This is the most complex behavior chain tested and includes three components: chasing, object obsession and cooperation.

PURPLE: Ran right after retrieve; brought it back. Good Retrieve.
AQUA: Good retrieve – brought back and gave easily.
SPIRIT: Excellent retrieve; went, got, brought.
GOLD: Went for it, but back to door where Mom left him.
GREEN: Excellent retrieve, went after it, sniffed and brought back – 2 times with tail in the air. (Luckily they did not try this more. He gets bored after 2 times which is just enough for him to show you he knows what the game is, but doesn't find it particularly challenging.)

Relax time
Let puppy explore for a few minutes and record his behavior. Is he confident? How much recovery time does he need? Then call puppy and watch his reaction.  How does puppy recover from test stresses? How much time does he take?  

PURPLE: Friendly pup, comes right back and wants to keep playing with no rest up.
AQUA: Very quick .. very easy.
SPIRIT: Quick.
GOLD: Slow to take up with Joyce; still crying; won't come; not curious.
GREEN: Good, but has other interests. (Again, generally a nice boy, but likes to do things on his own terms...)

Slowly walk around and see if pup follows. If he doesn’t, try to get his attention (like slapping thigh, etc.). Record what he does.

PURPLE: Follows like they have always known each other; nips at feet.
AQUA: Follows easily, nice follow.
SPIRIT: Follows quickly, good follow.
GOLD: Won't follow.
GREEN: Won't at first, and starts, does well, but slow to do so. (... on his own terms, at his own speed. Like all the tricks he knows and executes - at his own (slow) speed.)

Sit down and renew relationship by petting and talking. If puppy is worried, let him crawl over you.

PURPLE: Same, friendly.
AQUA: Quickly recovered and was friendly.
GOLD: Nope.
GREEN: Made friends, good pup.

Repeat prey drive exercise and note differences. If less response, is puppy bored? Can you get more interest by changing the object, etc.?

PURPLE: No different, maybe stronger.
AQUA: Good again.
SPIRIT: An extra good stalker; good pup.
GOLD: Stalks until it moves too fast. Needs more confidence, weak prey drive. Finally followed Joyce, looked at Pup in mirror.
GREEN: Loved game – VERY good prey drive. (Anything small and fast-moving is worth chasing.)

Repeat Retrieving exercise with different objects and toys if didn’t do it before, with different directions, etc. for those that did retrieve before. Any puppy who does better than before can overcome most stresses and learn.

PURPLE: Chased ball; distracted by paper towels; lost interest in retrieve.
AQUA: WOW, great start, but lost interest quickly.
SPIRIT: Went out but didn't pick up ball and bring.
GOLD: Not interested.
GREEN: First one to go after ball eagerly. (He *is* a fast learner. Most tricks and commands take less than 5 minutes to learn, and a few repetitions a week to reinforce. The biggest danger is boredom.)

Elevate puppy. Suspend 6 to 8 inches off of floor by cradling pup under its belly with fingers interlaced, palms up. Hold it there for 30 seconds. Shows degree of accepting dominance while in position of no control. 

PURPLE: No problem through full count.
AQUA: Doesn't mind it at all.
SPIRIT: Absolutely no concern about this.
GOLD: No problems at all.
GREEN: Absolutely no problem with this. (Thank goodness - it makes tub time a pleasure, other than the sheer volume of dog that must be washed.  He lets me pour water on his face and soap it up.)

Recover time
Sit on floor and see how quickly he recovers and reestablishes relationship. Use petting and puppy talk. Lack of forgiveness or too much independence may indicate a puppy that will not bond easily.  

PURPLE: Instant recovery; people dog. High energy, needs lots to do.
AQUA: Okay, but hears Purple barking in other room and is distracted by it. High energy, more reserved than Purple.
SPIRIT: Quick again.
GOLD: Warming up finally. Very quiet, easy lover.
GREEN: Play again, friends – very curious about other things in room. Very sweet. (Again, a degree of independence that makes him comfortable with being alone in the apartment every day for long periods, so long as he has some things to do to keep his mind occupied.)

Touch sensitivity
With puppy on floor beside you, pick up one foot until he relaxes. Squeeze between two toes, increasing pressure and count to 10. Note number when pup reacts.
Total body insensitivity = a challenge to train.
Extreme sensitivity: might have a hard time in a home with children.

PURPLE: Count to 6, average sensitivity.
AQUA: Count to 10 – not sensitive.
SPIRIT: High sensitivity; Count to 3; shouldn't be with children.
GOLD: Count to 6, average sensitivity.
GREEN: Count to 10 – NO sensitivity. (This is a real drag when he wants to guard, because if he perceives a threat, yanking on the leash doesn't really stop the behavior. This puppy would lay down his life for me. On the other hand, this worked really when when he was on a sit-stay the other day on a busy street corner and some doofus rolled a luggage cart over his tail.) 

Recovery time
Again, how quickly does he forgive?

PURPLE: Forgives instantly.
AQUA: Recovers fast.
SPIRIT: More into looking around, very curious.
GOLD: Recovers better, now friendlier.
GREEN: Still friendly, sweet.

Sound Sensitivity
Stand up. Take feed bowl and spoon. When pup’s back is to you, bang the bowl loudly with the spoon. If puppy turns to look, drop food dish and drop food into it. If pup does not run over to see what is in it, tease him to come over by luring with the food to teach him how to overcome being startled. All should startle. Extreme sensitivity: pup will freeze and recover slowly or tuck its tail and slink away. Most will startle and turn to look.

PURPLE: Perfectly normal; stop, looked for sound, recovered.
AQUA: Looks for sound, tries to find, not running; good.
SPIRIT: Looked for noise, stood ground, no fear, very solid.
GOLD: Looked around, and continued with what he was investigating.
GREEN: Turned and stared; no flinching or running .. not gonna run from this! (Nope - not scared of most anything.)

Food Drive
Offer pieces of food in open hand. Once pup gets interested, close hand over food; as pup tries to get it, close hand tighter – want to see pup really work to get the food. Then put some food on the floor and turn food pan upside down on top of it to see how hard pup will work for food. If loses focus, lift pan and let pup be successful even if you have to help him.

PURPLE: Not strong; not food motivated, just licked hand, but loves pup in mirror.
AQUA: Licked it out of hand, got it, not crazy about liver treat but ate it all .. food motivated.
SPIRIT: Worked a little for good, and then appeared to swallow it whole, but had it tucked away; now chewing; then looking for more.
GOLD: Not eager, but did get food, eats it, dainty eater, cleaning up all crumbs; looks now for more; good food motivation.
GREEN: Got it from hand; sniffed and licked; finally took it and takes food to corner to eat. (Thank GOODNESS - given his minimal touch sensitivity, he is still easily trained by the simplest of treats. Will work for anything edible.)

Crouch down and gently roll the pup on his back and hold it with one hand for a full 30 seconds. How does he react? Shows degree of dominant or submissive tendency. How it accepts stress, when socially/physically dominated.

PURPLE: Doesn't fight overly hard, just wiggles a lot.
AQUA: Doesn't like the start, but then lies quietly and recovers quickly.
SPIRIT: Doesn't like being held on back; up and sniffs everything.
GOLD: Rolls over easily, not fighting hold on back, but not comfy with it either.
GREEN: Wiggled to about 8 count; then relaxed and no fighting. (Biggie accepts the hierarchy pretty well, but then again given his nickname of the "Prom King" at the dog run, it's easy to accept a hierarchy when you're top - or near top - dog. The only dog that still dominates him is an aggressive cane corso named Truman. With people, Mommy and P-Daddy can do anything, but not so much for others, who get tested and obeyed only when it suits him.  See, e.g., Biggie does things "on his own terms" at doggie day care.) 

(OPTIONAL) -- For puppies that have shown no fear at all and that have recovered quickly in all prior exercises: Unusual toys that add a new dimension

PURPLE: made friends fast with Big Duck.
AQUA: no trouble with Big Duck.
SPIRIT: Came to Duck immediately.
GOLD: not done.
GREEN: Duck gets fully explored. (Explains why he loves his giant chicken...)

Problem Solving
Open barrier 3 or 4 inches. Have breeder out of sight in other room call the puppy. See how each puppy figures it out and how long it takes him to get through the barrier.

PURPLE: Mom, out of sight, calls, and he finds sound and has no trouble – easy for him.
AQUA: Slow to look for Mom calling and to find it.
SPIRIT: Best so far, immediate.
GOLD: Slow to respond, but finally found Mom's voice and came fast.
GREEN: Found sound and came fast. (He is a problem solver extraordinaire. P-Daddy, for reasons unknown, wanted to teach him how to unlock his crate. Luckily I put a stop to that early enough: He hasn't yet learned to lift, hold and twist the handle while pulling the door open. Instead, he pulls at the handle to open the door if it's closed, but he's still stumped if it's locked.)

Monday, April 7, 2008

NCAA Basketball Finals

Biggie's rooting for Memphis, we think.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Biggietude. Respect it.

Yeah, that's me. 

Lemme tell you about the Biggie Posse. The main peeps in my posse are P-Daddy and Mommy. Mommy keeps me in line more, but if P-Daddy yells at me, man! I am IN BIG TROUBLE. This usually happens when I pull the laundry basket out from under the bed and take some of Mommy's socks. Always Mommy's clothes because she is gone on business more. Other peeps in my posse are the Puppy Transport Team and everybody who lives in my building in New York and on my cul-de-sac in Vermont. They are allowed to be in my territory so long as they let me do as much sniffing and cuddling of them as I want. 

Lately I had to make some changes in my posse. I had to fire my dog walker. We were having a failure to communicate. He kept trying to dominate me and then he would act submissive at the same time. We had to figure out where we stood, and so I let him know that I didn't really like to walk him. I'd rather go with Mommy or P-Daddy because they let me visit with my friends and don't yank on my leash when I'm walking nicely. 

Last week P-Daddy had to hoist all 100 pounds of me into the tub at home for my first home bath in a long time. That's because I wouldn't let the doggy day care people wash me. I only had a short day and it was taking away from my play time. So they kept trying to wash me and I let them know that I was not having a bath right then. Good thing they listened. 

Also, in the dog run there was this boy who hadn't had his tests taken yet. He was a pain in the butt, literally, because he thought he could hump me even though I weigh like 7 times more than him. I tried just ignoring him but he wouldn't leave me alone. Finally last week he brought his mom to the dog run. I LOVE dog-moms. They are the best. So I went up to her to work my Biggie charm on her (Chicks dig it). While I was leaning on her legs, Echo came up and was all like, "That's MY mommy! You don't get to cuddle with MY mommy!" and he started yapping and nipping at my butt. 

Now this kind of activity really cramps my style. Echo was being the opposite of a wing man. Not only was he not respecting me, but he was trying to steal my new girl! I was still gonna leave him alone, but he wasn't listening to my warning signs. Finally, he ripped a big chunk of fur off my butt! At that point I HAD to show him who was boss. I made my ROAR RAR ARRRR GRRRRRR ROAR noises and pinned him with my paw. He still didn't give up so I showed him all my big teeth and made like I was gonna rip his head off (not really, of course). Finally he started crying and that was about the same time Mommy grabbed me from behind and pulled me away and gave me what for. Boy did I get in trouble for that one!

I tried to tell her with my eyes that Echo started it and that he pulled my hair and that it really HURT and that was NOT respecting the Biggietude AND he still had his tests and they were driving me crazy, AND I didn't even hurt him even though I could have eaten him in one bite, but she would NOT listen. She keeps saying that big dogs have to be better than that. She didn't even find the big bare patch on my butt until the next day when she was giving me a bath. (She thought I was just blowing my coat and the rest of my fur hid the bare patch.) At least the one thing I accomplished was that Echo's getting his tests taken soon. But I think even if he doesn't, he's not gonna mess with the Biggie any time soon. 

That's the Biggietude. So long as you don't mess with me, my Mommy or P-Daddy or my girls, you can be in my posse.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

I won! I won!

A couple weeks after my picture was used in Balboa the Frenchie's weekly Create a Caption contest (which my cousin Huck won), I made a winning caption for Seadra's silly picture! Yeah, I rock.