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:
ACKNOWLEDGING THE THREAT:
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.
POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT and DISTRACTION+REWARD:
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: