Our Kuvasz, Sasha, is doing great. Big, beautiful puppy. Well ok… a 95# dog isn’t a puppy.
We took a lengthy hiatus from taking her on walks. She still got a lot of exercise playing with the kids, no worries there. But walks just didn’t happen for whatever reason. The main issue? Given her highly protective nature, it’s difficult to go walking at most times of the day. If too many other people are out, especially walking their own dogs, it just makes it difficult to get a successful walk in. Then it got hot, and between the hot pavement and too many lawns with burrs in the yard, walks just were not going to happen.
But a few weeks ago I started taking her on walks again. I’m up very early in the morning, so early morning walks are workable. Plus if I can get a good brisk walk in, that’s some amount of exercise for me… not huge by any means, but better than nothing and every bit counts right now. Yes, I’m trying to work this into my exercise strategy… like walk a bit as a warm-up, put her back inside, then drag the tire sled. We’ll see. I digress.
Plus, recently Sasha started to get a little too big for her britches, so doing some more rigorous training exercises helps her remember her place in the pecking order. Nothing bad, but again she’s got an alpha temperament and needs to remember that *I* am alpha, then comes the rest of the family, the cats, and so that puts her somewhere around lambda or maybe upsilon. So going on walks is good for that, especially since the walks aren’t just putting her on a leash and wandering around. No, there’s lots of commands, lots of leash control, lots of working on her self-restraint. BTW, she loves these Cloud Star Chewy Tricky Trainers Cheddar flavor. Excellent training treat.
In training, the collar is important. Not just so we can keep hold and control over her, but to provide Sasha with feedback. When we first got her, we took her to the Triple Crown Dog Academy. There they recommended we use their Pro-Training Collar (used to be called the StarMark, but I guess they recently changed the name). This was a tremendous help in Sasha’s early stages because we had to deal with a lot of her rehoming issues. She had to (re)learn her proper place in the pecking order. She had to learn what was appropriate and what was not. At the time, Triple Crown’s techniques were precisely what we needed — they were the “emergency” first aid to help get Sasha back where she should be. But long term, we needed someone who better understood and could take the time to work with her breed, her temperament, and her issues to best provide what we needed to operate in our environment and home.
The trainer we found and worked with (and I’ve covered elsewhere on my blog) was fantastic. If not for her we never would have made so much progress with Sasha, and Sasha wouldn’t be the happy pup she is. We are grateful for what we learned.
Certainly tho, the trainer didn’t like the Pro-Training Collar. Instead, she wanted us to get a martingale collar, pure nylon as one with a chain would just bind up in Sasha’s long fur. Of course, we did as she requested, but we always had reserve. The main reason? Choking. Sure they appear more humane than the “star” or a prong/pinch collar, but I’ve been around the block enough to know that appearances/cosmetics don’t correlate to utility or humaneness. I hated how we might have to snap the leash for reinforcement, and hearing Sasha gag and choke. Or we’d take her on a walk and she’d go a little too far and get gagged and cough. I just didn’t see that as being better. Think about it… what does the collar do? It constricts. Put your hands around someone’s neck… now sharply constrict and tell me that’s pleasant. Well sure, it’s supposed to be unpleasant, but let’s compare. Instead of using the flats of your hands around the neck, curl your fingers so just your fingertips are against the neck; now constrict your fingers. To me, that’s preferable. First, since the force is now directed to a few small points instead of flattened out across the entire length, the specific pain is sharper and more acute. But because of that, you need less total force to get your point across. Furthermore, now there’s no constricting against the windpipe. To me, that’s the big thing. I live in fear of crushing or collapsing her windpipe or causing some other damage to it — that’s going to be fatal, and it’s totally preventable.
And yes, I’ve put both collars on myself. I’ve felt them. I know what’s happening and what it feels like. I’d rather get the StarMark collar because well… I guess I don’t like the feeling of strangulation.
It doesn’t really matter to me the philosophy behind the “prong” collar. Some say it’s replicating the bite from a mother dog or the alpha dog to remind the other dog of their place. Some say it’s merely because it’s an uncomfortable or undesirable sensation that they just will learn to avoid. Even read this article from AKC advocating the prong collar. But whatever the reason, I just always thought the “star” collar was better: it was less problematic, and more effective.
Here’s the real testimony.
When I started walking Sasha again, of course I used the martingale. The one we have is about 1″ wide and pure nylon. It acts as her normal everyday collar… we never take it off, no reason to. I would use it, walk her, but management could be challenging at times. This is not atypical. She listens, the commands register, but sometimes her genetic programming takes over and she’s like “Yes, Dad, I hear you, but this thing is a threat and I need to let it know I mean business — stay away!” Sometimes I have to work the collar hard, but it doesn’t matter. Basically it winds up choking the dog and being a massive tug-of-war. It only serves to hurt the dog, and it’s not providing the necessary feedback. What good is that?
So about a week ago I pulled the StarMark collar back out. Instantly I saw a difference. Sure she got a few reminders at first, but after that wow… she knew. Whereas all of my “walks” were little more than going up and down our road, working on commands, keeping her “at my side” and working on basic leash stuff again… suddenly I was able to go around the block. In fact, this morning we did two laps around the block with almost no stopping nor correction, loose leash. It was fantastic.
Note that I don’t leave the collar on all the time. It’s only used when we go on walks or need to ensure proper reception of feedback. We’ll keep her martingale collar as her normal collar with her tags and everything, and we’ll still use that in a pinch if we need it.
I will say, a prong is not a panacea and is only a tool. Like any tool, it can be misused and abused. There’s no question some people do not know how to use such a collar in proper context. And I would also say that not every dog needs such a collar. So again, it’s all about proper tool selection, proper tool use. I cannot make a blanket statement of “use this collar” because it just depends upon each dog and each situation. But I can say at least for me and my dog and my situation? Oh yes.
Sasha never ceases to amaze me. She’s an incredibly smart dog and certainly picks up on many things we feeble humans miss.
One thing about her that gets me is her sniffer. She’s got quite a nose, which is apparently fairly standard for the Kuvasz breed. They’ve been used for tracking… and yeah, I’ve wondered how well we could develop this. Of course, I tend to think about that when it comes to game tracking… easier to find that hog or deer that got shot and ran off into the thick brush at sundown.
But one thing a Kuvasz is not acceptable for is police work, because they’re just of a different temperament and not really suited for what that work requires.
So when I came across this article about The Mind of a Police Dog, it was fascinating… and shattered some widely held notions about police dogs and their ability to sniff things out.
Several studies and tests have shown that drug-sniffing dogs, scent hounds, and even explosive-detecting dogs are not nearly as accurate as they have been portrayed in court. A recent Chicago Tribunesurvey of traffic stops by suburban police departments from 2007 to 2009, for example, found that searches turned up contraband in just 44 percent of the cases where police dogs alerted to the presence of narcotics.
[Researchers] asked 18 professional dog handlers and their mutts to complete two sets of four brief searches. …. What the handlers were not told was that two of the targets contained decoy scents, in the form of unwrapped, hidden sausages, to encourage the dogs’ interest in a false location. Moreover, none of the search areas contained the scents of either drugs or explosives. Any “detections” made by the teams thus had to be false. ….
The results? Dog/handler teams correctly completed a search with no alerts in just 21 of the 144 walk-throughs. The other 123 searches produced an astounding 225 alerts, every one of them false. Even more interesting, the search points designed to trick the handlers (marked by the red slips of paper) were about twice as likely to trigger false alerts as the search points designed to trick the dogs (by luring them with sausages).
The dogs who failed Lit’s scent tests did not lose their sense of smell. But in the process of domesticating dogs, we have bred into them a trait that tends to trump most others: a desire to please us—and toward that end, an ability to read us and a tendency to rely on us to help them solve their problems. Any training program that does not take this tendency into account will produce dogs who frequently issue false alerts.
Interesting, but not necessarily surprising once you think about it.
So much of the training work we do with Sasha is ultimately based upon that want to please us. As well, there’s so much involved in reading us. The relaxation techniques we use with her? It’s all her cuing off us. We are alpha, we are leader, we are the ones in control, and so… it’s all cues from us.
It just has a lot of grander implications, say for criminal matters. Read the full article; it’s food for thought.
We had 2 older cats that we knew weren’t long for the world, so we wanted to get a couple of kittens to bring into the house before the older cats were too old to accept others, ultimately to ease the transition for the children.
So down to the Town Lake Animal Shelter we went. We fell in love with 2 cats, Estella and Zoe. We couldn’t take them home due to them needing to be spayed beforehand, and since it was Labor Day weekend there wouldn’t be any medical work until Tuesday. But they were ours, and the shelter folks put the two of them together in one larger cage area. The two bonded instantly… the kids refer to them as “sisters”, and while they really aren’t, they sure act that way. Quite well bonded to each other.
We’re not 100% sure of Zoe’s age, but we figure she was probably 6 months or so when we adopted her.
That was 7 years ago.
We didn’t think we’d be saying good-bye so soon.
About a week ago we noticed she wasn’t looking right. Zoe was always a secluded and aloof cat, so it’s not easy to notice if something is wrong… especially when it happens so slowly, so gradually. We don’t know how it happened, but in short, liver failure. Once we noticed we took her to the vet. We’ve had her on various medications, I’ve been force feeding her multiple times a day, all sorts of things. But alas, her body had enough and was spent… it just couldn’t go any more. This evening we took her to the emergency vet clinic, they examined, we discussed, and had Zoe put to sleep.
We all took it hard, especially Daughter. Zoe was her cat; they had a bond that no one else had. She worked hard at helping me with Zoe this past week, spent as much time as she could just being with Zoe, sitting with her in the sunlight, or whatever she could do. Daughter was brave until the end, seeing Zoe all the way to the Rainbow Bridge.
Zoe was cool because she wasn’t a typical cat. She did her own thing, she didn’t need you, but yet she did. Her meow wasn’t a typical cat meow either; there’s no way I can describe it, but they were soft and quiet yet expressive. I remember how she jumped up onto things… the way she cleared things made her look like she just effortlessly glided up there; it was so cool to watch. Of course, there was the time she decided to jump onto the railing around the landing at the top of the stairs… then decided to take the flying leap of the railing, down to the tile floor some 15′ down! (she was fine, and of course never did it again). I’ll remember her most tho for being one of the most obsessive cats I’ve ever known… constantly needing to lick and clean things, especially Estella. She was also rather obsessive about being on things, especially cardboard and boxes (see the picture. There’s a box! I must sit on it!!!). You couldn’t leave a piece of paper on the floor without her deciding she had to be on top of it. I know all cats do that sort of thing, but she took it to a whole new level.
Yo-yo… we’re going to miss you. Thank you for being a part of our lives.
We have a “defense dog”.
Or at least, I think that can be a good term to describe her.
She’s not an “attack dog”, both by breed nature and by well… this morning’s example.
Every few years, Austin Energy comes around to trim trees away from the power lines. This morning was our day, and they’d need to get into the backyard to have access to some trees. I knew the guys were out front, but they were still finishing breakfast (as far as I knew). Sasha had been wanting to go out and I figured one last pee break would be a good thing. I went into the backyard to check, saw no one, went back to the door to let Sasha out… she zoomed out the door, and by the time I turned around she was barking and going nuts.
It seems, by sheer coincidence of timing, that the moment I let her out was the same moment the tree workers decided to open the fence gate and come into the backyard! ¡Ay dios mio!
Sasha barked big and hard, but she didn’t rush the workmen. She barked, made aggressive “go away!” posturing, but was constantly fading back as if to assess the situation and buy herself time while things unfolded and she could determine where things were going (Kuvasz are smart dogs, they think). I know the workmen had the daylights scared out of them so there was certainly no posturing on their part, certainly retreat and signs of not just submission but “OH SHIT!” Within seconds I was between them, ordered the workmen to leave the backyard, and was able to snap the leash onto Sasha with little trouble and get her back inside.
Once inside, I went to explain things to the workmen, and of course they had questions, like if she’d bite. And this is where I came up with “defense dog”.
You see, if we have the time to explain things to people, we can explain that she’s a Kuvasz, that the breed is a livestock guardian dog, that their demeanor is not to attack but rather to control the intruder, keep them away from the flock, pose and posture looking as big and scary as possible, all in an effort to scare the intruder away. They don’t want to attack, they don’t want to chase (because then they’d leave the flock, undefended, unprotected), but if attack is the only remaining option then so be it because protecting the flock is their job, what they are programmed to do.
But you see, that’s a mouthful. We’ve been searching for ways to describe and explain Sasha to others in a manner that’s brief, concise, yet accurate. That would explain what she’s like, and why we got her (in particular). To say “defense dog” I think can work, because that’s what she is. She is NOT an attack dog, she was not gotten to hurt anyone, to be aggressive to anyone. Kuvasz are there to defend the flock, and that’s why we got her… kinda rolls with the whole personal defense Lt. Col Grossman “sheepdog” paradigm.
So we’ll see how the term goes. My hope is that it’s enough to explain it, but that people will be likely unfamiliar with the term (and I expect they’ll be familiar with the “attack dog” term and will probably make a quick mental connection there that should make them go “huh?”) and then perhaps they’ll ask for more detail. Hopefully it’ll work.
My dog, Sasha, is a Kuvasz. Kuvasz are a breed of dog known as a Livestock Guardian Dog. There are other such breeds, like the Maremma, Akbash, Komondor, and Great Pyrenees. Simply fascinating animals, and they truly are the “sheepdog” in Grossman’s analogy of “sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves”.
While poking around online, I found a great article about the Great Pyr and its use in siviculture in British Columbia. It’s that sort of first-hand telling of what these dogs can do that makes me adore them even more. Take 15 minutes and give it a read.
Sore throat still present, now with extra scratchiness!
To top it off… I screwed up my ankle last night.
I had just fallen asleep when I hear this sudden crash from the kitchen, Wife, and various Kiddo voices freaking out. It jolts me out of bed, I run towards the kitchen. Lots of “SASHA! SASHA!” and crashing going on, panicked sounding. I was wondering if the dog got one of the cats? the kids? Completely out of the question. No alarm going off, so no one broke into the house… but all this noise and freaking out! What could it be?
You see, Sasha likes to help out when someone is doing dishes. Put a dish in the dishwasher rack and puppydog likes to lick off anything she can find. Seems last night when she was done helping she turned to leave but her collar or tags got stuck in the bottom rack and she pulled the rack along with her… which freaked her out, then of course dishes and silverware clinking and crashing, which freaked her out more, but being it was all attached to her she couldn’t get away and so it just continued to be a horrible situation for the poor dog. Wife was able to intercept her, stop her, and free her, but oh the poor dog…. she was so freaked out.
I screwed up my ankle because as I tore around through the hallway I slipped and came crashing to the ground. I was basically crawling into the kitchen last night… the kids said it was quite a sight.
What a mess.
I’m still all sore this morning, can’t speak well, can’t walk well… but I’m just hoping that Sasha isn’t scarred for life now, afraid of the kitchen, afraid of dishes clinking. Wife did a little “rehab” work with her last night before bed, coaxing her with some treats back into the kitchen. I hear puppy awake now, so I’m going to go see how she’s doing.
I haven’t written much about our dog training because well… I just haven’t. But we haven’t stopped. We’re still working with Sasha and the new (well, she’s not new any more) trainer. We’ve done a lot of the basic obedience, working on her territorialness, and teaching her how to be calm on command (“settle”).
What’s really interesting is the recent turn of events. If you remember, we took ownership of Sasha around 8 months of age. She had another owner for 4 months prior. We had a lot of questions about what went on during those 4 months because the time from age 2 months to 6 months can be a very vital stage in a puppy’s development. But we resigned ourselves to never really knowing what happened apart from the few things the breeder told us.
Let’s hear it for the Internet. A few weeks ago I get an email from Sasha’s previous owner! You see, when he returned Sasha to the breeder they said she’d become a show dog. Well, a few weeks ago he happened to be thinking about her and figured he could Google to see if perhaps she was listed in any dog show results. Instead, he found my blog and based upon what I had written knew it was her. He wasn’t sure about reaching out to me, but because he’s always dealt with recuse dogs and wondered about their pasts, he figured now being on the other side of that coin he’d contact me so he could fill informational void.
We’ve been exchanging some emails, with him telling me a lot about her past, including sharing pictures. It’s been very useful and answered a lot of the questions we had. We gave all of this information to our trainer, and it’s creating a new course of action for us in terms of behavior modification work. All good. It’s still going to take months of work, but we’re dedicated to this dog. She’s awesome… it’s just that well… “this one goes to 11″ and we sometimes just need her to turn it back to a 10.
Here’s a puppy picture her previous owner shared with us. Ain’t she cute?
It’s time for Sasha to continue her schooling.
Our first round of training was with Triple Crown Dog Academy. We did 6 private lessons in basic manners and obedience. Overall our experience was a positive one. There’s no question that Sasha is a better mannered and behaved dog, and we’re better owners for the experience. However, we knew Sasha had some baggage, and there’s just some things about the Kuvasz breed that need tending to. It was our plan to go back to Triple Crown for more training, taking their “basic manners and obedience” in a group setting this time, to help with socialization.
But plans have changed.
Wife was poking around Facebook for Kuvasz stuff and happened upon a woman who was local (well, up in Round Rock, city just north of Austin) and lo… she also had a Kuvasz! Turns out she’s a trainer, S.A.F.E. Training for Dogs. From her page:
Elizabeth Marsh is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) and behavior specialist. For over 20 years, she has been training pet dogs and service dogs and providing behavior therapy services for dogs with moderate to severe behavior problems. She has a formal education in behavioral psychology and is the developer of the SAFE Training method – a proven, scientific and reliable method for teaching dogs to adapt to life in a human environment. She is a certified evaluator for the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Program and a member of several professional organizations including the APDT, Delta Society and The Humane Society of the United States. She is deeply dedicated to improving the welfare of animals through the education of pet owners and their pets. Elizabeth lives in Round Rock, Texas with her Hungarian Kuvasz dog “Gretta” and her Great Pyrenees “Bo”.
And of course, she has a picture up of her cuddling her Kuvasz, Gretta.
I cannot lie. This held great appeal to us. A lady with a lot of training experience, seems to have the credentials, and not only knows the breed but owns it. She’s got daily experience with what it takes. You know, that could be good!
Wife was very excited and got right on the phone with Elizabeth, even setting up a meeting at our house. Me? I wasn’t too hot to it. I knew nothing of this person and just didn’t want to deal with it. So I put it off.
While things are getting better with Sasha well… after the experience we had at Wife’s in-laws, I got to thinking that yeah, we need a “Sasha Whisperer”. We don’t need some generic training routines. What we need is not just general training, but we also need some work to specifically address Sasha’s issues and situation. After the weekend at the in-laws, I decided to contact Elizabeth and get the ball rolling. I figured that she had as good a chance as any, as far as general training goes, but knowing the breed… heck, that can only help, right?
Yesterday Elizabeth came down to our house and spent about 2 hours with us. Us getting to know her, her getting to know us — and Sasha. She asked us lots of questions, we asked her lots of questions. Sasha hung out, and while she was initially not receptive to Elizabeth being around, Elizabeth had us try a few things.
For instance, with a territorial dog, it can be hard to introduce someone by having them come into the room. The dog is there, sees this as place to protect. But if instead the person is already in the room then the dog is brought into the room, it can go over better. Sure enough, it seemed to have a positive effect!
Lots of things were discussed, other tips, lots of reinforcement of what we already knew, some “ah-ha!” moments. It was just a good meeting and time.
Yeah, we’re going to give her a try. We’re going to do more private lessons to help work out the issues, with the goal being that towards the end we join some of the group lessons. Elizabeth is excited by the fact she can work with another Kuvasz, which I think gives us something intangible here… there’s going to be a lot of care going in here, not just another client.
We’ll see how it goes.
This is showing what sort of “not a dog person” I am. I have been agonizing over it… knowing she’s going to be left “alone” at the vet’s office, how much it pains her to be away from us and additionally locked up at some strange place with strange people. And then having to come home wearing “the cone of shame” and how miserable that’s going to be for her for a few days.
It’s been one of those “hurts me more than it’s going to hurt her” sort of situations.
Even Wife and Kiddos aren’t as pained about this as I am.
Yes… I’ve become a total sucker for that dog. *sigh*