Saturday, November 15, 2008

Canine Tolerable Citizen (oh, the things we put up with!)

Lindsay over at has a great post asking, What do you tolerate from your dog?

Rather than hijack the comments to Lindsay's post, I decided to hijack Biggie's blog instead, because he does not have opposable thumbs and is napping now. Biggie's tolerable behavior illustrates the kuvasz temperament beautifully:

Like every other kuvasz I have ever heard of, Biggie's mission in life is to guard. When we go to the dog run, he is always aware of everything on the other side of the fence. Anyone who comes too close must be watched, assessed, and, if deemed a threat, challenged and chased away by charging at the fence with ferocious barking. For the most part, the people he deems threatening are understandable: WTFs, big loud men, fast-moving (and loud) bikes, scooters or rollerbladers. At best, we manage the behavior by trying to teach him that most of the people who walk up to the fence are friendly, and he is slowly getting it; if I walk up and talk to the person, he will stand and watch but won't bark. And sometimes he is so busy playing that he will break just to look and decide to go back to playing. But even while he is playing, he has half an eye on the fence.

One point here is that a "protective" dog doesn't necessarily mean a dominant or aggressive dog. Dog owners who know him call him a "mush," a "flirt" and a "softie" and are always amazed at how gentle he is with other dogs, letting the younger and smaller ones climb all over him. I have never seen him hump another dog, yet others hump him all the time when they're playing, and when he's had enough he simply walks them off, no snapping or snarling. He will roll another dog if he thinks it's necesary, but he has an amazingly high tolerance level, and has only done it two or three times in his 18-month life.

The other morning our neighbor's Boston terrier mix came into the run and immediately started barking and snarling and nipping at Biggie's neck aggressively. Biggie just stood there and looked at him sideways before deciding he'd had enough and walked to the dog run gate and waited there to leave. At that point he was a little droopy, like, "Who brought this little bully in here to spoil my fun?" Biggie could have done a lot, but he chose not to. The neighbor's dog was definitely (fear) aggressive but not dominant, while Biggie was neither aggressive nor dominant. 

One of the few things Biggie gets really excited about is chasing small living things, like mice and birds. Sometimes when the weather is crisp and windy, he will chase leaves and pieces of paper blowing around. It must be the irregular and unpredictable motion, because if you throw a ball, Biggie may chase it up to 2 times. On the other hand, Biggie has chased and caught a duck, a mouse, and a pigeon; the duck he chased and caught at 6 months, and the latter 2 he caught recently while on leash, and all 3 times I've been screaming at him to cut it out. Fortunately he didn't kill any of the animals he caught; he knows bite control and just likes to chase and catch them, and eventually lets them go after enough yelling. 

Which brings me to another issue dear to my heart: Dog owners need to teach their dogs some self-control. The guarding instinct and the prey drive are VERY strong in the kuvasz, but that doesn't mean these behaviors can't be tempered. Teaching your dog self-control is like teaching children the difference between "inside" and "outside" voices; your dog can still be a dog, he just doesn't need to attack the food delivery guy or chase every single pigeon he sees. 

3. SOCK (and other clothes) STEALING
Ok, this one has been going on for a while. Luckily he doesn't tear them up, but Biggie will raid the clean and dirty laundry piles and select socks or bras to snuggle with and mouth when I'm not home. When he was younger he used to do it to get us to chase him; now it's just a sad gauge of how crazy my workload can get, because once I'm home he doesn't do it at all. It's just so sad to come home and see the big goofball, happy to see me, with a pair of slobbery socks by his side, that I just don't have the heart to try to train this out of him. 

4. PAWING AT STUFF (not people, thank goodness)
This would be a lot cuter if Biggie were a 10 -lb dog, and it sure is better than incessant barking. Biggie only barks when guarding, and the rest of the time he's the strong but silent type. If he's thirsty, he'll just sit in front of his water bowl, shooting us doleful looks. If he's hungry, he wanders into the kitchen and wanders out, looking at us meaningfully, then back into the kitchen and back out.  But sometimes if we're not catching his looks, he uses his big bear paws - to paw at his tip-proof water dish, his empty food bowl, but most often at a door that he wants opened. When he paws at a door, he sounds like a horse pawing at his stall. It's not the claws - our doors are amazingly unmarked - but the sheer weight of his paws that make it so loud. 

5. Peeing in the house when his flock leaves unexpectedly
This dog has the biggest bladder I've ever seen. He can hold it for 12+ hours without an accident, so long as he is being left alone on a schedule he is comfortable with. On the weekends, if we go out, it's usually not on a regular schedule, and chances are just better than 50-50 that he won't make a little anxiety pee near the door. He doesn't cry, he doesn't get destructive, sometimes he just makes a little dribble. 

6. Laziness
This is just a function of the kuvasz independence and stubbornness. Unless properly motivated, The Big One just moves at his own speed. He'll come when you call him, but only when he's good and ready. And even then, he'll just walk. At 18 months, he does like to play, but if you leave him alone he will find a spot (usually between you and the door) to contentedly be a blob. Unless he's guarding, of course.  There is no laziness in the guarding. 


Amber-Mae said...

Thanks for sharing this information with us about Biggie & especially about the Kuvasv breed. Yet another good post!

Back to my BOOGIEself,
Solid Gold Dancer

Lindsay said...

Haha. Oh Biggie! I liked this post. It's fun to hear about Biggie because he is so different than my dog. How do you go about teaching a dog not to chase squirrels and other small animals? Ace doesn't have that strong prey drive, but I know other dogs that do. I've also considered fostering a shepherd mix that has a pretty strong prey drive.

jan said...

Biggie is so lucky to have an owner who trains him to be a good citizen but doesn't expect perfection. A dog and a human sense of humor make a great pair.

the 4 Bs said...

we're glad to hear that Biggie isn't perfect. we aren't perfect either, but mom says we're pretty close. it's that laundry basket that tempts us all the time. hee hee


T-Bone said...

You just described T-Bone to an absolute T. The Kuvasz is such a fascinating breed. T-Bone loves socks, finds them from any hamper he can just to gum them. He does it with his blankie too, never tries to rip just mouths it. As for the barking, the only time we ever hear barking in the house is if someone strange is at the door. He is awesome that way! What amazes me most, is what you said about tempering play to smaller dogs. When we go to the run the small dogs LOVE him, they literally hang from his neck hair and he happily obliges them!

Biggie-Z said...

Amber - good to hear you are back to your healthy self!

Lindsay - Biggie sure is "different" and "special!" If you get any tips about managing that prey drive, let me know, ok? We use the distraction and reward method, but sometimes there is NOTHING that is more appealing than a bird to pounce on.

Jan - the training (aka "work") is never done - if we get lax about what we require from him, it is like telling Biggie he doesn't need to work. But he lives to work, and he'll find a job to do if you don't give him one. So "pay attention while on lead" needs to be the job, not "lunge at the mailman."

4Bs - believe me, Biggie is far from perfect. But his "issues" all come from his kuvasz-ness, so at least we're not mystified. In other words, he's very internally consistent about how he misbehaves, and even a lot of that misbehavior is because we didn't see the potential "threat" walking towards us and manage it appropriately.

T-bone - Biggie has a blankie too! (A beach towel we dry him with). He loves to drag it around and shake it around, and likes the "challenge" of stepping on it accidentally when it's also in his mouth and jumping around with it. And yet, he never rips it. He never destroys a toy, his plushies just get little rips from playing tug or plain old wear and tear.

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Miss Sophie said...

I love socks too (& other undies), like George I do not break them, just suck and pull. We love the undies 'cos they are the best smell of our people and we show the love of our people by snuffing their sockies.
Way to go Biggie for your gentle guarding.
Velvety Kissies

Saint Lover said...

I think that about sums it up.. lol As long as the person that gets a dog researches the breed going into it and knows what to expect and can make a rational decision about their quirks it can work.

with love, Madison said...

I have read this post over and over. I think that Madison will have behavior that in many ways is similar to Biggie's, so I am becoming a student. Today she BARKED loudly, when a hooded carwash guy came up to aggressively behind us. OMD ... she is only 4-1/2 months old and watching out for her "herd." She is doing great ... her tendency to mouthiness is diminishing very quickly with a concerted and gentle "NO BITE" effort from the whole family.

Dannan and The Girl said...

Well, that doesn't sound so bad! :) LOL!

I find it amazing that big dogs like Biggie are so tempered when they're playing with other dogs. Dannan has no clue as to his size in most situations - the one exception being when we're at the dog park and the dog sniffing him is bigger than he is. But he's getting better at not going on the offensive just because they're bigger, and I'm getting better at managing him and seeing when he's just had enough.

It sounds like you've done a pretty admirable job with the prey drive - only three "catches" in 18 months! Also amazing to me is that he just wants to catch them. It is so cool to learn about other breeds!

When Dannan is particularly sad and lonely, he will often tear cardboard or paper (or books, grr!). Thankfully, he's not in that state of mind very much! And if I put things away where they belong, there's no problem at all! LOL!

Lindsay (The Girl)

Biggie-Z said...

HI Sophie- yes, socks and undies make the best security blankets and pacifiers. I like being gentle with my fragile little people. They need us to take care of them, after all.

Saint Lover - Absolutely! Everydog has his or her personality quirks, some we can change, some we "manage" and some we live with. And it's the quirks we live with that make our dogs so special.

Madison - way to go! You have the makings of a very good guard dog for your peoples. Just easy on the mouthy stuff, ok? Your puppy teeth are sharp!

Dannan - it's ok to tear paper and cardboard. I love it and I do it when I'm a little frustrated and miss my people too. Just do'nt do it to books, ok? There's lots of stuff you can grab from the wastebasket and maybe The Girl can give you a cardboard shipping box with a chew hoof or treats inside - sort of a do-it-yourself puzzle toy. Those are good and much more fun than books.