Monday, May 5, 2008

So you think you want a kuvasz? (Part 2)

Who could resist such a cute little bundle of fur? Just remember, they get BIG. And even as puppies they are a force to be reckoned with. At 6 months, Biggie was already bigger than many full-grown labs, and about as rambunctious. And that was before the testosterone started flowing:

A kuvasz is just a lot of biomass to handle. Don't encourage your pup to be a lap, couch or bed dog unless you are willing to allow that behavior from a 100-lb. furball. Here, Biggie's littermate Tex, at 7 months and nearly 90 pounds, thinks he is a lap dog.

Of course there are bigger dogs than the kuvasz, and several of these bigger dogs live in the city. But the combination of kuvasz temperament plus his size make him an extra challenge. Not to say it can't be done; it's just a lot of work and a lot more $:

1. Space

Kuvasz are fairly mellow dogs so it's not necessary to have a big apartment (though it helps). However, it is essential to be close to a dog run or other securely fenced area where you can take your kuvasz so he can run and play and get socialized. Even as young puppies they don't get that run-in-circles craziness too often, but when they do, you will need some space where they can stretch their legs if they want to, or else watch vases and furniture get knocked over when your pup realizes he can't corner on hardwood floor as well as he thought he could.

Also, unless you live in Vermont, YOU NEED AIR CONDITIONING.

2. Weather

Remember these dogs were bred to be outside, guarding their flocks, in all kinds of weather. They are impervious to weather conditions that make a normal dog race back in the house. Even as a pup, rain was a novelty, a source of drinking water from the heavens. Snowflakes were to be chased, and hail can be shaken off easily (it sounds like pebbles when it flies off). Put #1 and #2 together, and invest in good waterproof boots and warm, waterproof clothing for those days when you and your pup are the only ones in the dog run and you take cover under a tree while your pup races around trying to get you to chase him through puddles in the pouring rain. Ski wear works pretty well. And forget about using an umbrella while walking a kuvasz. You will need both hands free.

(You could paper train your pup, but that requires him to have really good aim when he gets bigger. And going from a paper-trained to outdoor-potty-only can be really hard. Actually, think about when you'd like to be potty training. In an ideal world I'd want a pup born in February/March or July/August - you'd be housetraining in April/May or September/October, and you wouldn't be doing the hourly 9th Avenue Death March on the hot asphalt in the middle of July, begging your pup to make a potty so you can both get out of the heat.)

3. Dirt

Kuvasz get as dirty as any other dog, but the white fur shows the dirt better. And a dog this big has a lot of surface area, and the double coat is THICK (see #2, above). If you are blessed with a curly kuvasz like we are, you will have many years of brushing ahead of you. The dirtier he gets, the curlier he gets, and a few bouts of wrestling create little mats in the neck fur. So don't go more than 2 days between quick brushings to keep mats from forming.

Paying a groomer is nice if you can afford it, but here in NYC a bath and brushout for our big boy is over $150. Suddenly the bathtub looks a lot more appealing, but you have to be able to get him in it (that's P-Daddy's job, lifting 100 lbs. of dead weight; thank goodness he doesn't struggle), and keep him in it.

Invest in a good rake (we use the T-brush), some good shampoo (guess which size we buy?) and a tough vacuum cleaner (yes, we bought one and it is worth every penny). 

4. Food

Biggie eats 2-3 pounds of raw food a day, or 4-6 cups of kibble, depending on the brand. Price the raw food at $1/pound if you make it yourself, and you're talking $60/month, or more. That's over $700/year. Kibble doesn't necessarily save you money. And remember: what goes in must come out. And be picked up.

5. Training and Socialization

Yes, it always comes back to that. Housetraining a kuvasz pup in an apartment means a rush to get him reasonably reliable before he gets too heavy to carry in the elevator. Biggie started out at near 20 lbs. at 8 weeks and he was gaining as much as 1 lb. a day in his growth spurts. So you had best hope that your pup is housebroken soon.  

Training a kuvasz pup will always be a race against time, because by the time the testosterone kicks in (if you have a boy), he will be 80 lbs. and can easily pull you over if you're off balance and he decides there's something he MUST chase/follow/smell/see/visit. I really do not advocate prong or choke collars with this breed, again because they have an extremely high pain tolerance and were bred to be very independent, so if you decide to have a battle of the wills you risk hurting your pup or yourself, or both. So they have to be at least somewhat responsive by the time they reach adolescence. To make matters more difficult, they don't live to please like a golden retriever or a German shepherd, so they have to *want* to listen to you and respect you.

I've been pulled off my feet ONCE, for a split second of inattention, and I hope it never happens again. Fortunately Biggie had enough sense and was paying enough attention to stop and sit after he pulled his leash out of my hand. He could easily have been hit by a car or just gotten lost if he'd taken off. 

Which brings me to my last point: big dogs are held to a higher standard of behavior. When you walk a 60-pound dog down the street, passersby expect that he is an adult, not a curious, rambunctious, inquisitive 6-month old puppy. Next time you see a yapping mini-dog straining at the end of his leash, barking furiously, imagine a 100-lb bear doing the same thing with a deep, resonant bark. Society does not tolerate that kind of behavior, or anything close to it, from a large dog.  Even when another human is in the wrong, you will get scolded for natural behavior from your dog.  Especially in the city, they have to downright angelic. If you're not willing to put the time and effort into teaching your dog appropriate behavior, do NOT get a kuvasz! In the dog run today, Biggie got scolded by a small dog owner who felt that he was chasing her dog "too close." For every 10 guys who cross the street to avoid walking near your very large puppy, there will be the one dumb shit who gets his kicks out of taunting, startling or provoking your dog, who then covers his fear by shouting things like, "You got a vicious dog!"when your kuvasz reacts protectively instead of fearfully. 


BipolarLawyerCook said...

So cute. So BIG. So much more dog than I could ever handle. Brave woman.

Anonymous said...

I have to know, how old was Biggie in the last 2 pictures of this post!!! We go to meet our new baby Kuvasz on the weekend. Very excited! - Leslie

Biggie-Z said...

The last 2 pictures were taken April 1 - so he was 10-1/2 months. And he's still getting bigger, and fluffier.

Biggie-Z said...

oh wait - March 1 (9-1/2 months) is the snow pictures.

Nanook and Pooka the Newfoundlands said...

If we didn't have newfs, maybe we could have a Kuvasz...

Mango said...

Momma laughed at the thought that anybody would think to paper train a full sized doggie! You would need to paper a room! I like to go out in the weather too. Momma gets all upset because even when its raining or snowing I cry to go out and lie in my yard. I don't mind! Its where I can survey the estate best!


Anonymous said...

Our experience (12 years) with a Kuv male is similar to yours, but I have to disagree on the issue of the prong collar.

Prong collars have turned out to be a Good Thing[tm] on our Kuvasz. Without a prong, he can leap forward with utter lack of regard for what we think. With a prong collar, there is a limit to how hard he can hit the end of the lead.

Some other things to know:

- top speed of a male Kuvasz in his prime is over 35 MPH. I've measured this directly by catching ours while he was in a flat-out run chasing an intruder dog on our farm with our ATV. His expression when I caught up to him was one of "How the heck did you get here Dad?!"

- Never mind chicken quarters. An adult male Kuv can crush cow femurs with utter ease. When your dog is 18+ months old, go ahead and give him a cooked cow femur. Watch it disappear. When our boy was in his prime, he would have a cow femur crushed and disposed of in less than two hours of utter bliss and entertainment.

Keep the picture of the femur being crushed in your mind when you have these buttheads taunting your dog. That's what he could do to them if he so chooses.

- You're obviously attuned to how intelligent your Kuv is. He's all that and more. One morning, I opened my eyes to our Kuvasz face-to-face with my as I lay in bed (not unusual). What was unusual was the coating of metallic dust on his upper right fang.

Upon inspection (see below about dental inspections), I found that he had a film of aluminum on his teeth on the right side. This, I found very puzzling. That is, until I went out into the kitchen and found two cat food cans that had been opened with surgical precision by his poking through the lid with one tooth and ripping down through the side of the can and peeling the can off the salmon inside. There were no little bits of aluminum at all - it was as if you used an awl and a pair of pliers as a can opener: a perfectly neat job. We never gave him salmon before, he just knew from observation that the cat got all this really neat-smelling stuff out of those cans, which we kept within his reach.

- They'll learn to open doors unless your doorknobs are smooth and featureless.

- They'll learn how to close doors.

- They know how to lay in wait for someone in the middle of the night. Your dog is just about the age when this behavior will start. You'll notice that it will become difficult to move around inside your dwelling, because the dog has chosen the exact spot where they are in the middle of everything without moving at all. This is no accident. After about 14 months of age, our dog could go into any house and within 30 minutes of pacing around, he knew where to position himself to observe all approaches and exits from where his people were. If we were visiting another person who had dogs, their dogs would cease all barking and guarding activity within one day. The Kuvasz would take over and all dogs seemed content to give over all guarding activity to him.

- You've doubtless read about an "alpha roll" done by a dog. Until you've seen it done by a powerful dog like a Kuvasz, you're seeing a pale imitation of the real thing. I've seen our dog alpha roll (more like a body slam) retrievers and other small dogs who intruded onto our farm. Imagine having the power to pick up a 80-lb dog by the neck, flip them over and slam them on the ground in one smooth motion. That's an alpha roll. The subject dog is utterly compliant after this exercise, just as the Kuvasz wants.

- An adult male Kuvasz can rip his way through a cyclone fence. Been there, seen that.

- And he can jump a 4' high fence without a mark on him.

- Dental/ear inspections and claw trimming: You should train your dog to allow you to clean his teeth. Many small animal vets can't deal with a dog this big without putting him under, and doing that just for a dental cleaning is a really high risk for a dental cleaning. Practice laying him on the floor, putting his head in your lap and telling him "Let's see the teeth," then haul his jaws open and clean his teeth. Flip the dog and do the other side. Same deal with his ears and claws. He will likely put up with this from only one person. eg, I can do only so much to ours after 12 years. My wife can ask him to do anything and he'll comply willingly, even tho he's clearly not thrilled. For me, he'll just get to a certain point and then ignore me.

They're amazing dogs. They're clearly not for everyone. People should know you're NOT exaggerating in what you say, just because you're obviously very fond of your puppy. They're more powerful, willful, hard-headed dogs than most people can handle. They're also more loyal than any other dog we've had, more intelligent, capable of deductive and inductive reasoning (which can be infuriating) and have a real sense of humor. Still, if people are not ready to deal with a real guard dog (ie, not a herding dog trained to guard, but a dog bred for 1000+ years to guard), people should content themselves to just visit with them, not own them.

Biggie-Z said...

Hey Anonymous, thank you for your very informative post! Yes, I am NOT exaggerating, and working with this big goofball has been both really fulfilling and a lot of work.

Kuvasz are a BIG challenge and anyone thinking of getting one needs to understand that they are not just another big dog. You can get bigger, you can get more aggressive, but kuvs are just DIFFERENT. This from someone who's had German Shepherds and St. Bernards. Not the same.

Anonymous, if you'd like to guest post or have your own blog, do post a link or post another comment. This is a great breed but we could use more information out there about them.

Anonymous said...

I'd be happy to write up a post for your blog on our experience of 12 years with a Kuvasz, in both urban and rural settings. I can also render some commentary as to flock guarding dogs in their real setting, eg, the Great Pyrs, Akbash and Maremmas used by sheepmen in the intermountain west to this day. All "big white dogs" started with the same job.

I love all of them, but as you have so accurately described to your readers, they are not for the casual or soft dog owner.

Your boy, BTW, is clearly exhibiting the best of the true Hungarian Kuvasz characteristics - curly coat, hard-headed, intelligent.

Biggie-Z said...

Anonymous, please send me an email at, and I will put the post up, with attribution if you'd like.

Anonymous said...

I am interested in getting a Kuvasz. I did my share of research on this breed. In spite of all the "difficulties" in handling this head-strong and intelligent dog, I still very much want to have a Kuvasz - they are just so unqiue, intelligent and loyal, not to mention their majestic beauty, it is hard to pick another breed over them.
I am interested to know how much exercise you need to provide them. I don't have a large yard, and, I am a little concerned about that. Could you tell me how many times you take Biggie for a walk and for how long each time?
In general I am interested to know about the Kuvasz first-hand from the owners. I read pretty much all your blogs. Please do post the experiences of the "Anonymous" with Kuvasz or other white LGDs for that matter once you get them.
P.S. You may also e-mail me at