So yesterday was our big meeting with the trainer to see if Biggie can continue to go to day care. For those of you joining our program in progress, I found out a couple of weeks ago that the Biggietude had been having incidents at day care - lunging on his relief walks, barking and nipping and showing classic signs of leash aggression - but no one told us about it until they decided that he was suspended from day care. Which means that he can still come to day care, but they will not do pickup or dropoff, nor will they take him for relief walks during the day. Which sort of defeats the purpose of day care and worse yet, boarding, because if they won't walk him, Biggie can't pee or poo during the day.
I've been talking to the day care people about ways to resolve this, since Biggie has been really terrific with us, and we thought his leash reactivity was pretty much resolved. The upshot is just as I thought when we first heard of the problem: Biggie's been getting his kuvasz on in a big way at day care. He's figured out who he can boss and who he can't. At 15 months he's like a gangly teenage boy who's adult-size but a bundle of childish, undirected energy insde. He jumps on the guys who work at day care, trying to get them to wrestle with them. Never mind that he is NOT ALLOWED to put his paws on ANYTHING or ANYONE but the floor when he is with us; at day care he's figured out that the handlers will good-naturedly push him away and sometimes pet and wrestle a little with him. Which only reinforces it, of course.
We also watched out of sight while one of the handlers walked him up and down the block in front of the day care. He walked pretty nicely and went poop at the curb, the handler picked it up and then a bike whizzed by on the street. A little silent lunge, but not anything different from any other dog, and with one tug the handler got his attention back and they walked on, around the corner, and started coming back. A woman with 2 kids, one of them on a scooter and the other running wildly on the sidewalk, were heading straight for them. Behind them, another mom with a baby stroller. The trainer and I watched from our hiding place, and she stepped out to tell the handler to move Biggie all the way to the edge of the sidewalk. We needn't have worried - he saw them but did no more than turn his head and look at them with mild interest.
The trainer's assessment of Biggie? Very good impulse control, attentive to the handler, and well-behaved on the leash. He's not actually showing leash aggression, but rather the handlers need to be more attuned to his arousal levels and know how to manage it by removing him from the situation. The other thing we found, from talking with the people at the day care, is that over the last few months, when no one told us about it, Biggie has been slowly making his way up the people hierarchy. He doesn't hurt anyone, he just plays with the people like other dogs and treats them like part of the pack that he has decided he will lead and guard. We learned that he barked at and then jumped on one of the workers there, and knocked him down and pinned him. He didn't bite, he didn't lick him to death, he didn't growl, just pinned him. I don't doubt that Biggie would protect this person to the death if he needed to, but as between the two of them, it is pretty clear who is the boss, and it's not the human. We've got a bit of work to do, but more with the walkers and handlers at day care than with Biggie.
Biggie is being a classic kuvasz, fearless but cautious, with a very strong prey drive, even compared to his littermates, an independent and slightly aloof demeanor, and NO sensitivity to pain. All of these make him hard to control in an uncontrollable environment like the city. The aspects that make him better suited for city living despite his kuvaszness are his friendliness (for a kuvasz), his ability to accept a dominant leader (for a kuvasz), and his very strong food drive. This last has done us well for teaching him lots of tricks, and the trainer remarked that Biggie's tendency to "offer" behavior is a classic sign that he's been well-trained with positive reinforcement, because dogs that have been trained with negative stimuli ("no" or punishment) won't offer behavior. For them, it's all about avoiding the negative stimulus.
I knew when we were getting a kuvasz that we were going to be challenged. Working with Biggie is an exercise in patience and creativity (how can I teach him what I want him to do?), but it is so rewarding. I love you, you big oafy polar bear.