Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Teaching a kuvasz not to guard - is it possible?

"He doesn't look like much of a guard dog."

People, a good guard dog is not a dog who is aggressive and mean to everyone; they are not "fighting" dogs, and they are not necessarily dogs that will attack on command! If I had a dollar for every time someone said that over the past 14 months, we would actually have enough money to pay for Biggie's dinners for a month. We also call him Digital Dog, because he is either the sweetest, happiest, playful oaf, gentle with puppies, kittens, babies and rabbits, or else he is going Cujo - all 100+ pounds of him lunging at the end of the leash or standing over 6 feet tall up against a fence, sound and fury signifying a guarding instinct that has been shaped by hundreds of years of breeding. Remember that puppy aptitude test? Biggie was the fat lazy one who was just as happy sneaking off to a corner to nap while his littermates played.

At "his" dog runs, Biggie has decided he must guard everyone in the run from anything that he deems threatening. This includes Port Authority and construction workers, to homeless people dragging carts along the sidewalk, to bicyclists, male joggers and rollerbladers. The problem with just ignoring it is that the behavior gets positively reinforced: he barks, they leave (eventually), he thinks he's chased them away. Negative reinforcement, by saying "eh!" or "no" doesn't work either; these dogs were bred to ward off wolves and many were killed defending their homes to the death from the Nazis, so an "eh" or "no" isn't going to stop a full-on guarding behavior.

BUT... a combination of a strong leader acknowledging the threat, plus a lot of positive reinforcement, does work:

We start with a calm but authoritative "leave it" or "it's fine" (as in "I hear it, thanks for telling us it's there, now I'm in control of the situation and I deem it NOT to be a threat"). For minor threats, this works really well - he stands and gives his thousand-yard stare, but doesn't escalate to going Cujo. He just watches. This allows him to guard, but teaches him that he can guard quietly, thus keeping us in good standing with the neighbors.

If he's standing quietly and just watching, I'll place a calm hand on his shoulders or pet him, which helps to reinforce the quiet guarding. And as long as he's being quiet, he gets petted and praised.

Biscuits are the American Express Card for kuvasz walking. When I see a potential Cujo trigger approaching, I walk up and say hello in a cheery voice and start shoving little pieces of biscuit in Biggie's mouth. [**DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME IF YOUR DOG DOESN'T HAVE GOOD BITE INHIBITION!!!**] Saying hello shows him that I think this person is not a threat, and it's hard for Biggie to bark if he's munching on a biscuit. The idea, of course, is that eventually he associates the trigger with a positive event (biscuits), and rather than barking, will look to me for a treat instead.

When he is able to look at the "threat" without barking and then looks to me, he is ready for the last step, which is to sit for the treat. If I can cut through the guarding instinct to the point that he can listen to a sit command given once, then he clearly doesn't think this "threat" is much of a threat any more. At this point, the next time he sees this type of "threat," he may break away from his playing to run up to the fence to look at the person, but just as soon will run off and resume his play after he's had a good look.

Here he is taking a good look at 8 months - still not something you'd want to tangle with:


Booker the Treeing Walker said...

What an astoundingly handsome dog you are, Biggie. This was very interesting. H-Mom read all the material at the links. We think that "Can you teach a coonhound not to bark," is a similar question. They are bred to do just that: BARK. And each bark means something else: I smell it, I'm following it, I've found it, Let's go get it ... he is a HUNTING dog. We are doing great at working on bark inhibition, like when Booker is at the gallery. If someone comes to the door (Here comes someone to, the hunt must be on!) Booker now comes to me QUIETLY and gets a treat instead of barking ... most of the time. We have to remember that we CHOSE the breed we did because of what they are, not in spite of it. And that's why we love them, too!

PeterPan and Vic said...

PeterPan: I, too, am an excellent guard dog. Whenever I hear anyone at our door, or near our door, or too close to our door, I bark my my unfortunate high-pitched bark and run quickly away so my "muscle man" can move in.

Victor: PeterPan thinks he's so tough, so I let him bark at the door first before I go and do the real work scaring all of the bad guys away. I'm better at this job than he is because I am bigger and much more scary, but I humor him and let him take the first crack at defending the house. I am the best guard dog in the world because I will bark until I hear my mom yell "Quiet" and then I will bark once more (or maybe twice if the bad guys are really scary), just to let everyone know I can't be pushed around.

Lindsay said...

Man, if only you could get this through the heads of all those owners of little dogs.

Kess And Her Mama said...

Looks like you need to be super creative with Biggie Z! Treats always works...Good job.

Pity you missed the mooncakes this year. Never mind, there's always next year.

Saint Lover said...

One thing to remember with LGD or any large dog that gives warning barks/alerts. The bark is a fair warning to all intruders and if taught not to bark can be more dangerous as it becomes a stealthy guardian and gives intruders a false sense that things are ok. - just a though.

Mango said...

Biggie - I don't know about all those words your mom wrote, but I think your snow photo is great.

I think I might be one of those binary dogs as well, cause mom says I am either a happy dude or I am in the zone. Whatever.


the 4 Bs said...

you're such a handsome boy, Biggie. those are good lessons on "non guarding". we need some practice in that area also. we're excellent watch dogs. we let mom know when anything is happening.


Pacco de Mongrel said...

i can't imagine u wanted to guard everything... even stuff that doesn't concern u... must be a little busybody eh...

i only guard my owner and my bag

Biggie-Z said...

Booker: Thank you for the compliments! You are a most handsome coonhound, I might add. My Momma is teaching me how to assess threat - she says that rollerbladers are not anything to worry about, but still I get concerned when humans roll. It's just not natural.

PeterPan - you are clearly the eyes and ears of the operation. Good work!

Victor - You tell 'em. That's what my Momma would like - an alert bark if she doesn't see or hear something, but she wants me to leave it alone if she says so. But sometimes it's so hard because there are just so many things in this city (as you know) that make you go, "WTF?" and then I want to bark.

Lindsay: I don't want to turn it into a big dogs v. little dogs thing, but my Momma gets really peeved at little dogs with no manners. When she sees a purse pooch dragging its human all over the place and barking at stuff and tangling up people with the leash, she takes me away so I don't take it upon myself to teach it some manners.

Kess: But no mooncakes for another 7 dog years is a REALLY long time! Do they make mooncakes in liver flavor?

Saint Lover: Good point. Momma is teaching me that certain things are not threats. Like if someone rides a bike past my dog run, it is nothing to worry about. It's hard being a guard dog in the city, because there are so many unusual and sudden noises, people, vehicles, and all sorts of strange situations. My Momma is trying to teach me that the space I need to protect is really a lot smaller than I think it is, and I am learning that if it's someone who my Momma invites in or says is ok, I need to trust her judgment.

4Bs: It's always good to let your humans know what's going on, because their eyesight and hearing are pitiful! Sometimes I'll look at something I think is of concern and my Momma picks up on it and looks where I'm looking. Then she tells me if it's ok or not ok.

Pacco: I like to guard stuff because everyone could use a little Biggie bodyguard. And I tend to think that everything concerns me, because when I walk around my city, EVERYONE stares at me because they have never seen anyone quite as magnificent as me. Sometimes they squeal, sometimes the run away, sometimes they say, "OH MAN!" and "Put a saddle on that thing!" but then I look around and there are no horses around, so I have no idea what they are talking about.

Thanks for stopping by!

Stanislaw said...

You Biggie Dude. I'm glad your human is training away!

But make sure there's no more raw salmon. Check this out:


Salmon poisoning disease is a very real threat if those fishies aren't cooked or canned. Just an FYI! They make some tasty dehydrated salmon treats if your in love with the fish. Big Pupi is!

Isn't canned pumpkin a miracle? Mom always has some on hand just in case. Anyway... I'd love to see how your hula trick progresses! Happy training!

Biggie-Z said...

Wow, thanks for the tip about the raw salmon! My Momma was reading somewhere that all sushi and sushi-grade fish gets auper-frozen before it is sold, I wonder if that can kill the parasites? Momma is doing more research now, because I love salmon and that is a big bummer because Momma is LAZY and this means she'll have to cook my salmon.

P.S. I LOVE those dried salmon treats. That's how my Momma got me to go in the tub all voluntary-like last time.