Friday, August 15, 2008

Biggietude: 98-pound weakling takes control



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.




10 comments:

T-Bone said...

I love you too!!!! You are giving my mom a window into the future! We started at obedience school the other day, post still to come - good news is I didn't eat any of the other dogs AND my trainer had trained a Kuvasz before and knew what to expect! Awesome job Biggie (and Biggie's Mom and Dad), because I know how hard it is to train a Kuv. You have done amazing.

Lindsay said...

Gosh, I'd be pretty pissed at those daycare people. Do you ever worry that he would get away from them if they can't control him? I guess that's the problem with places like that, they just aren't always consistent with rules. I hope they start to take a more assertive actions with Biggie. Of course, he will continue to challenge them if they let him. Let us know how it goes.

Biggie-Z said...

T-BONE: I can't wait to hear about your puppy class! I never eat any doggy friends in class. You are lucky to have someone who knows our breed. It's actually not hard to train a kuv at all - you just have to know what motivates us, and then you have to be consistent, and you have to be the boss!

LINDSAY: YOU HAVE NO IDEA. At least the trainer agreed with me, so I know I'm not just being a proud Momma who thinks her dog can do nothing bad. They have never dealt with this breed before, and I don't think they quite understood what I meant by "You HAVE to be a strong leader and be consistent with him!" (And being a strong leader is not the same as just manhandling him by brute force!) I'm not terribly worried about him getting away from the day care people because whenever I've dropped the leash before (it's happened, either because I tripped and fell, he pulled me over, or I just dropped it out of clumsiness), he's immediately stopped and just hung around. This is different from, say, when we let him off the leash to run around - then he keeps tabs on us but isn't so great about coming when called.

Kess And Her Mama said...

Hi Biggie-Z, we came over from Dogs with Blogs. We've never met a Kuvasz before. You are a very handsome dog. Mum & dad just spent 3 weeks in New York (1 week in NYC and 2 weeks in Finger Lakes and Adirondacks) without me! They said that the 20 hour flight from Malaysia to NY is too long for me...

Booker the Treeing Walker said...

You have a real challenge because you are counting on people ("uncontrolled resource") to be consistent in training and discipline. It's like having a kid in daycare - yikes - let's not go there ...

Booker has been doing GREAT with me when out on leash. No more barking at other dogs or car lunging. But he loses it completely when Man-Dad walks him. What's up with that? Last night I told Man-Dad that when Booker begins to wind up for a barking tantrum, snap him around and walk briskly the other way. Man-Dad said, "what if I'm not going that way?"

hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. i think i know the problem ...

the 4 Bs said...

we think that most of the problems with dogs are really problems with the people who don't understand us or handle us properly. of course, poodles are easy and our mom says we are perfect. we've never known a dog like Biggie, but we sure like Biggie.

woofs.

Georgeous said...

Biggie Momma - It is with great empathy that I bark at you today... big snuffs to Biggie - we have a lot in common...training those outside our pack. Big up to the Biggie!!!
Something for Biggie on my Bloggy..http://www.georgeous.us/blog/?p=121#more-121
Love & BIG Snuffs
George

Saint Lover said...

Oh Biggie Dude.... the daycare has failed you. They are supposed to be professionals and should know how to deal with dominant behaviors. Encouraging or allowing Biggie to wrestle and jump is a no-no and should have been nixed the very first time he tried to get randy. Then for them not to tell you issues were brewing is unreal! Its irresponsible for them to have allowed it go on with out your knowledge.

I am sorry you are having a hard time and misunderstood. Its hard for the big guys sometimes. Rufus and Brutus feel it sometimes too. The bar of expectations and requirements of behavior is set so much higher for big dogs than that of little dogs. It is really unfair.

Good luck with the Bigitude, I am confident you will sort his behavior and can fix the issues the daycare allowed to escalate.

Peanut said...

You would think people who took care of dogs would be able to handle him. Good luck training the humans.

Mango said...

Biggie! You are just being yourself. You can't help it if you are big and confident. Gosh! I have the opposite problem. I get all scared when Momma isn't with me and am totally submissive (she spies on me at the spa to confirm this).

I agree that its pretty dumb of the doggie daycare people to say you could come as long as you don't go potty all day. Gee whiz!

Keep up the good work.

Slobbers,
Mango