Early Training for the Guardian or The Companion Dog
by Diane Spisak
The Akbash Dog is a serious working breed that is most happy with a job to do in a semi-rural or rural setting. The breed’s primary purpose is to live with livestock, patrol fence lines and bark away or confront would-be predators, often making these decisions independently of humans. In order for these dogs to be good livestock guardians they must be inherently submissive to or at least tolerant of their livestock. Akbash Dogs as adults are also highly intelligent, very independent, very confident and can be quite dominant. This unique combination of characteristics enables the dog to be good with livestock and yet aggressive with predators.
In the right setting, with the right people, the Akbash Dog can be an excellent companion dog. However, this breed is ill-suited for life in a town or city, or as an apartment dog, and is definitely not the breed for an owner who only wants an amiable pet. For an Akbash Dog to succeed in the semi-rural or rural environment as a companion dog, owners must have the time and dedication to provide intensive and continual training and socialization for their dog. Companion dog owners should have a better than average understanding of canine behavior. Pups need to be well socialized in a variety of settings and raised by people who can be good pack leaders. Owners need to practice subordination exercises with the pup during the formative years, and need to be firm, fair and consistent trainers and leaders.
Some of the Akbash Dog characteristics that can be a problem in a companion environment are as follows:
1. Akbash Dogs are athletic and need to be confined behind very secure fences. They can become escape artists; they like to dig and can easily jump or climb a 4 foot fence.
2. They can be expected to bark and patrol fences if left outs ide. If they can see the comings and goings of people and other animals outside their fences, dogs often experience barrier frustration which may result in redirected aggression against other pets or people on their side of the fence.
3. They are typically aggressive against dogs they don't know, particularly other large dogs.
4. Akbash Dogs will be wary of people not in the company of their owners or other people they know well.
5. Akbash Dogs can be food protective, and may attempt to dominate owners who are not consistent and confident in their training and pack leadership.
6. They expect people to understand subtle canine behavior inflections and communicate appropriately.
Most of these characteristics can be overcome if owners have a good understanding of canine behavior and are committed to making the time to socialize and train the dog.
Training starts the moment that you get your Akbash Dog puppy. It is purely your responsibility to shape that puppy into the dog that you want him to be, and one that will be able to live happily in a companion situation. Puppies have an intensive learning curve in the first 16 weeks of age. This is an excellent time to get your puppy exposed to a lot of different things in a calm and non-threatening manner. From the very start that cute white and cuddly puppy must learn to respect all humans in the household and recognise them as leaders.
Basic training involves shaping the dog’s behavior by praising the pup’s right choices and correcting its wrong choices. This must be done consistently and continually until he knows what you approve of and disapprove of. You show the puppy what you want him to do, or catch him doing something appropriate and then reinforce that action with words of praise. "Good boy" or "Good girl" can be used to reinforce an appropriate behavior. Similarly you use another verbal signal to express disapproval. The best one I have found is what we call a startle correction - a gruff-voiced and sharp sounding buzzer sounding "Ehh!". This is an excellent, non physical way of getting the dog’s attention and relaying your disapproval. Once the pup has a good idea of right and wrong, you can introduce the" No" command to his vocabulary.
A caring breeder often starts training as soon as the puppies are mobile. I always call my litters to greet me or to visitors with a "Puppy, come!". When pups approach in greeting I have visitors gently push them into a sitting position at the same time saying "Sit". By the time they go to their new homes at 9 weeks of age they already have a good start on "come" and "sit" for greeting people. Dogs that come and sit to greet people are less likely to jump up and become a nuisance.
As soon as the puppy has settled into your home, continue his training. Always use the puppy’s name to get his attention, followed by the command. Call him in a high and happy voice, "Puppy, come!" As he comes toward you, reinforce the appropriate action with a verbal "Good boy!".
If you establish the "come" command in the pup’s mind now while he is young and impressionable, then you will have that command ingrained in the dog when he is older and more independent. If you don't teach the "come" command while he is young, don't expect to ever have a reliable recall when the dog is older.
When the pup comes up to you, push his tail down and say, "Sit". Or even better, if you have a treat in your hand, guide his nose upward above his eyes and as his rear goes down to a sitting position say "Sit". Remember to reinforce the behavior with praise. Within a couple of short sessions your pup will know to come on command and to sit in greeting.
Your pup should have at least a vocabulary of the commands "Come, Sit, Down, Stay, Off, Back, Wait, Easy and No". He can easily learn many more commands. If you practice for only 5-10 minutes a day, the time will be well spent by producing a well-behaved and mannerly companion.
I strongly encourage all people who get a companion puppy to find a puppy socialization class and after that at least one obedience class. I suggest this mostly for the socialization aspect but also for getting a good start on training. As adults, Akbash Dogs are generally quite aggressive towards other dogs. Continual socialization with all sorts of dogs will help override this tendency. The first 16 weeks are critical for developing a dog who will be able to deal with changes in his environment later on. This is when he must be introduced to a variety of things, people, animals and places. Puppy and obedience classes, and even dog shows, are a good place for puppies to meet other dogs and children of varying ages. A pup who is used to 10-year-old children will not necessarily react the same way to toddlers or teenagers. He should be exposed to a variety of ages of well-behaved children .
A dog who has grown up with a variety of life experiences is more likely to make reasonable decisions when confronted with challenges later on. In today's litigious world, a companion dog needs to be as well-adjusted as possible so that he is better equipped to react appropriately and safely under stress.
When training, also keep in mind that your pup should not be allowed to do anything that you won't want him to do as an adult. For example, it might be tempting to allow the pup to ride in the car on your lap when you are driving. How will you convince your dog when he is 90 pounds that he can no longer do this? Start right off with him sitting quietly on the seat or floor boards.
Perhaps equally important as training and socializing is for the family to practice what I call subordination exercises with the puppy. These exercises, without stress or trauma, are intended to convince the dog that humans are the pack leaders. A dog who knows his place will be a secure and happy dog, and a secure dog is less likely to bite inappropriately. Some subordination exercises and other training tips follow:
A couple times a week have the puppy sit still as you handle his entire body. Look at his teeth, play with his feet, roll him over on his back, trim his nails. Ifat first, for instance, he won't let you look at his teeth, start by just lifting his lip up for a second. Praise him for allowing you to do this, and continue working a little at a time until you can see into his mouth. If the pup really struggles and resists, use a sharp startle correction to show your disapproval. Usually one sharp buzzer sounding "Ehh!" will get his attention, and then you can resume the exercise. Take baby steps but make progress and always end on a note with you winning. If you are trying to trim his toenails and he is pulling away and jumping around, don’t give up. If you let him have his way at this point, you teach him that if he fusses long enough you will stop what you are doing and he wins. An Akbash Dog who knows he can win against humans can become a dangerous dog when he matures and can really throw his weight around.
Before feeding your dog, ask him to "sit" and then "wait" for an "okay" from you to start eating. Then walk away and then return to the pup placing one hand on the dogs shoulder and the other into the food bowl. Practice this at least twice a week for the first 10 months. If the pup ever growls or snaps immediately grab his scruff and jerk him to a down, with a booming "Eahh!". If you make an effective startle correction he will immediately submit, by averting his eyes, or turning his head and yelping or urinating. Immediately release him and walk away with out fanfare. Return and try the routine again.
**** Never, ever reprimand the pup past the point where he submits, and that can be as swift as a glance away from you. If you correct him past the second he submits, you give him no other option than to fight for his life, and his only recourse then is to bite you or try to escape.
When you are going through a door or gate with your dog, ask him to "sit" and "wait" while you pass through first. If you get any resistance with any of these exercises correct the dog and try again. Always end with you winning.
*****If the dog resists or reacts inappropriately a third time this tells you that your corrections were not well understood which means that they were not well timed or not firm enough. Corrections must be made within 5 seconds of the act and firm enough to get the point across. And the correction should last only a few seconds, not "Bad dog what did I tell you, don't you ever think of doing that again!" type of lecture which he can’t understand except for the tone of your voice. A fast, firm and simple "Ehh!" should suffice.
When you go to the veterinarian, have the dog sit quietly on the exam table. If he jumps and wiggles around don't tell him, "It’s okay, it’s okay". What you are actually telling him is that it is okay to jump around! Rather, give him an "Ehh!" or "No!" and then tell him to "Sit" and help him into position. Only when he is sitting nicely should you praise him.
**** Always correct the wrong and praise the right.
The same lesson applies to crate training. If you release him while he is crying, he has learned that if he cries long enough you will let him out. The proper response is to give him a correction or a "Quiet" command and only after he is quiet for 5 seconds or longer do you allow him out. Again praise good behavior and correct bad behavior.
Many owners like to have their dog sleep on the bed with them. It should be an honor for the dog to be allowed in your bed room, your "den", but you give him equal status by allowing him to sleep on your bed with you. A dog who regards his humans as littermates is generally not going to be a respectful dog, so make him sleep on his own bed or beside your bed..
*I also highly recommend that you spay and neuter your dog by 4 or 5 months of age if not earlier. Intact dogs are generally too much dog in a companion setting.
And finally I'd like suggest that you purchase your companion puppy from a reputable breeder. A quality breeder will make sure that the pups are socialized and exposed to a range of experiences in their first 8 weeks of age. This gets the pup off to an excellent start. It is also very important that the puppies stay with their dam and litter mates for at least 8 to 9 weeks of age. Staying together that long allows them to learn some valuable social skills including bite inhibition. This breeder will help you select a puppy whose temperament and characteristics will be best suited for a companion setting.Ask questions of the breeder. Ask them how they socialize their puppies. Ask them to describe the temperament of the parent dogs. Are the parent dogs certified free of hip dysplasia? Do they puppy aptitude test the pups and can they pick a puppy with characteristics most suitable to your needs? Most of all will they give you support and help you with questions, problems or help with re-homing your dog should that become necessary? Often buyer support is key in the success of raising an Akbash Dog and a good breeder will be there for you for the life of the dog.