THE KUVASZ REPUTATION

    A few years ago a commercial web site appeared online at http://www.digitaldog.com/kuvasz.html A dog trainer expressed his thoughts on Kuvasz, and wrote several somewhat unflattering opinions about them. People on the Kuvasz list were quite offended and upset by the author's views. Some more than others.

    I forgot all about the site and fuss until a prospective Kuvasz puppy buyer emailed me about it. Below you will find the person's question and my comments about that domain and its contents. Some of it reiterates what I have already included elsewhere on this site, but I think the reality -if you adopt a Kuvasz you may be on your own - is important enough to repeat. You are very helpless if your Kuvasz has health problems unless you are a veterinarian, or know a very good one, and perhaps even then. You can be just as helpless if you have temperament or training problems.

    I was very lucky in one respect when I brought my first Kuvasz home.  I found an excellent trainer who helped me to modify Tyra's over protectiveness and aggression. His instruction was primarily responsible for saving Tyra's young life from the euthanasia to which so many Kuvasz succumb.

    My trainer was also responsible for turning me into the Kuvasz socializing machine which I became. Although this dog business professional had seen delinquent, aggressive, and over-protective Kuvasz behaviour before, and despite his pessimistic prognosis for my first dog, he was professional enough to put his bias aside. He helped me because he saw that despite my ignorance, I was willing to do whatever was necessary and to spend the time required to save Tyra.

At 12:26 PM 11/10/98 -0500, the prospective Kuvasz puppy buyer wrote:

>We are considering a Kuvasz, however I saw a web site that is apparently put
>out by a "trainer" of dogs. He did not recommend a Kuvasz for any one with
>kids. After much research on the breed I fell in love with it and decided I
>wanted one. Not only for a family pet but also for protection. I though it was
>perfect. I have 3 young children 1 1/2 to 8 years old. It this web site
>accurate in saying the Kuvasz is dangerous? 
>http://www.digitaldog.com/kuvasz.html

>I appreciate any information you can provide me with!

>Thanks

    My email reply to the prospective buyer, and subsequent responses to the dog trainer's opinions, are on the white background.

Hello,

    I had forgotten all about Digital Dog and Sapir Weiss the trainer. A couple of years ago when that web site and his comments about Kuvasz first appeared, there was quite a furor on the Kuvasz email list.

    As I write on my web site, the Kuvasz breed does not have very many fans among dog business professionals. I suppose if I was in a business like Sapir's, and my job was to correct poor and or aggressive behaviour in dogs, and I was pretty successful with most breeds but not with Kuvasz, I might denigrate them too. It is one thing for a dog owner to bring an out of control Cocker Spaniel to Sapir for remedial instruction, something altogether different for Sapir to be faced with a large dog like a Kuvasz, which would likely view him as a domineering threat and be capable of putting a world of hurt on him.

    I would like to comment on and respond to some of what Sapir writes in the hope it will be of some help to you. Of course just like Sapir, these responses are my opinions based on my experiences with Kuvasz in particular and dogs in general. However I'm not a dog professional, only a pet owner.

    Sapir's comments are indented and coloured red:

These comments apply in general terms and are not necessarily true of a specific dog. Each dog is an individual based on its genetic heritage, training, and environment.

    This is an accurate disclaimer. In my opinion if you buy a Kuvasz from a breeder who has evenly tempered breeding stock, and she or he has socialized the pups extensively before you adopt the dog from them, and you continue the very important SOCIALIZATION and train the dog in at least the obedience basics, you can worry less that your Kuvasz is going to be a liability.

Breed - Kuvasz (Kuvaszok plural)
Country of Origin - ancient Tibet and Turkey, medieval Hungary
AKC group - Working
Function - herd guard, hunter, protector

    Traditionally, Kuvasz didn't and don't herd. You aren't likely to see them herding your children around by means like pushing and nipping as you might see in the case of breeds like the Briard or Border Collie. They are much more likely to just stay with and watch over your children than to drive and herd them.

Life span - 6-9 years

    I don't think the 6 year life span is accurate in general. If you discount death by misadventure in accidents with automobiles for example, and consider that dogs in farm and working environments are sometimes faced with more dangerous situations than pets, and if your pet isn't plagued by some terminal or debilitating health problem necessitating euthanasia, Kuvasz usually live longer lives than just 6 years.

Appearance - powerful, lanky, big bodied
Color - white only
Coat type - longish, slightly wavy, shedding, soft undercoat, absorbent will smell if kept outside

    It is simply untrue that Kuvasz "smell" if they stay outside. Phantom prefers to stay outside more than in, and she does not smell. Other than the temporary wet wool smell there may be if she is wet and until she dries, there is no doggie smell, and no other smell at all unless she rolls in something when we are out walking somewhere.

Grooming - regular brushing and bathing, nail clipping, ear cleaning

    My Kuvasz are 8 years old and I've never once bathed them. They don't need to be bathed in the traditional sense. If they get into something smelly I use a dry shampoo like corn starch to clean them up a bit.

Height - 26-30 inches
Weight - 70-110 pounds
Activity level - very vigorous

    This estimation of "activity level" is not true. Kuvasz will play and run especially when they are young, but in general they are nowhere near as active as most other breeds. In fact even when given the opportunity to play and go wild with other dogs, they will generally just observe their counterparts. It's almost like they think the foolishness of extended play is beneath them.

    I'm sure your children could get Kuvasz to play, but these dogs don't require the kind of playful stimulation Dalmations or Retrievers or Terrier breeds often need.

Watchdog - very high ability, strong guarding instinct

    The guarding instinct is what Kuvasz are all about. They may not be as multi-talented or as trainable as breeds like the German Shepherd or Doberman, but what they do they do well. Having said that, and considering you want a Kuvasz for protection in part, it is extremely IMPORTANT that you let your Kuvasz know what limitations they are to work under. You must let the pup know from 8 weeks of age when you bring them home, that you are in charge. The pup must understand that under no circumstances can he or she be rough or domineering with children. You must teach them to be discriminating in their defense of you and your family, that there are next to no occasions when they will be required to defend you, and you won't tolerate aggressive behaviour and certainly not allow any biting behaviour.

    While some people must spend a lot of time or a lot of money trying to get their dog to do protection, you will have to spend time nearly every day teaching your Kuvasz companion to be sociable and not protective.

Intelligence - high

    Kuvasz are very smart dogs but often it is sneaky - smart and manipulative.

Trainability - very low, very stubborn, begin early, be firm and consistent, low pain threshold - be gentle

    It depends on the individual Kuvasz, you, and their relationship with you, how trainable they are. In general they can be very stubborn, but given enough time and effort on my part, I probably could have and still could get an obedience title with Phantom for example.

    The part about the "low pain threshold" isn't correct. In fact they have a very high tolerance for pain, and sometimes to their detriment if they are physically ill or hurt. I suspect Sapir has observed some Kuvasz sneaky - smartness and he has been manipulated by it. To use Triumph as an example, if I tell him to do something he frequently isn't likely to do it unless there is food involved. I could hit him with a two by four and that wouldn't change a thing. However if I give his scruff a shake or his ear a pinch he screams like I'm killing him if there is anybody around. He isn't hurt by it, he just finds it humiliating and figures that if he can draw some attention I'll stop. Of course he's right.

Good with children? - not recommended unless raised with children as a puppy. Consistent supervision recommended.

    Every single one of the Kuvasz I've had here including a couple of the guests who didn't do especially well with adults, loved children to bits. My first two Kuvasz had no socialization or exposure to children until they came to live with me. And despite the fact I don't have any children of my own, and therefore those pups only had part time exposure to kids, they really liked them. Triumph and Phantom on the other hand were well socialized by the breeders' children from the time they were whelped, and I continued their exposure. They are literally crazy about little people and vice versa.

    One of the Kuvasz I rehomed wasn't around children but fit into his new home with 3 young children like he had grown up there. Kids can often give you the element of constant socialization just by having their friends over. However I would agree that a Kuvasz shouldn't be left alone with children under 15 or 16 years of age, not only for the individual child's protection, but the dog's too. Sometimes kids will get a fleeting strange idea in their mind. I can't tell you how many times I've had neighbourhood kids, kids who are usually well behaved with Triumph and Phantom, ask me how far they can push the dogs before they will bite. There have even been a couple of occasions when children have hit the dogs and for whatever reason tried to hurt them. And while I've found the Kuvasz to be much more understanding than I would imagine a lot of breeds would be under the same circumstances, I don't want them or the children hurt.

    I should mention once again that it is up to you to help the dog understand it's guarding role and to be discriminating especially where your children are involved. Your Kuvasz needs to know that the friend of one of your children playing roughly with them doesn't require aggressive protectiveness on their part, and that the children aren't his or her possessions.

Good with other pets? - high dominance to other dogs, may be aggressive, not good with small pets

    This particular question is up to you. If you have your Kuvasz around lots of other dogs and animals especially when they are young, they will be well behaved around them.

    My experience with my own Kuvasz and other animals has been quite pleasurable. Tyra and Amiga both liked other animals. Triumph is very fond of other animals, especially small dogs, and most especially the Terrier breeds. I don't know whether he thinks they are pups or not, but he really likes them. Phantom will sometimes initially be bossy with a dog she does not know depending on how they approach us and especially me, but I wouldn't term even Phantom's occasional behaviour "aggressive". She and other Kuvasz know they are big, they are usually confident, and so they really don't have any reason to bully and so they don't. However once again they must learn and get that confidence and reserved discriminating behaviour from somewhere, and that somewhere is from you.

Good with strangers? - suspicious, may be aggressive, may bite

    I'm not in denial about the breed's character. Unlike a Golden Retriever, Kuvasz are not usually going to greet an uninvited stranger who comes onto your property with a tail wag and a lick. However if you are with them, and you have taught them how to behave properly, "strangers" you meet in public don't have anything to fear, and especially not STRANGERS/VISITORS WHO COME TO YOUR HOME. In fact Triumph and Phantom meet many "strangers" every day. They don't think anything of doing so, because Karen and I have socialized them so vigorously.

    As for the rest of Weiss's opinion regarding interaction with strangers, - any dog or breed can potentially be "aggressive" and "may bite".

    I don't know whether Cocker Spaniels still hold the title of dogs who have bitten the most people on this continent, but I know Kuvasz don't. However I'm sure Weiss and other dog business people would prefer a bite from the smaller Spaniel rather than the big white dog.

Character - smart, powerful, athletic, dominant, independent, bold, courageous, fearless

    I would agree with those characterizations for the most part, and would still one more time suggest that you can and in fact must have a very significant role in molding the Kuvasz character.

Home environment - rural area or house with large, fenced yard

    Karen and I live in a townhouse with our Kuvasz. Our yard is very small. However we are surrounded by forest and field, and I walk Triumph and Phantom at least a couple of hours each and every day. I also take them to nursing homes and senior citizen residences, and to doggie play areas at least a couple of times a week. Moreover, because of the nature of my work I spend most every day with them.

    Triumph likes to be in the house with me. Phantom will come in to visit every once in a while, but she prefers to stay outside. They like walking with me and they like going places with me. In general they and other Kuvasz and in fact most dogs need attention and stimulation. They need to be dogs for a few hours everyday whether that entails chewing, or following scents and marking, or scaring a squirrel off the fence. I would be less concerned with whether you are in a rural area and have a large house and yard, and more interested in how much time you can devote to a Kuvasz.

Best owner - dominant leader with time to train and socialize

    I don't think you have to be a domineering person to succeed with a Kuvasz, although I guess I am such a person in some respects. But you do need to be a confident person, and in fact every one in the house has to demonstrate some degree of confidence to the Kuvasz.

    Karen isn't a domineering person, but she is a confident person and she does very well with Kuvasz. My observations of her interaction with our dogs and other dogs leads me to believe that she can more easily develop a rapport with them, because they can respect her without being intimidated by her. While there is no doubt in my mind the dogs are more vigilant when they are with her than when with me, she made them understand she doesn't need them protecting her every time someone approaches or when they are in a new and unfamiliar situation. More importantly, she lets them know she doesn't belong to them, and that they are to look to her for direction and instruction.

Potential problems: 
Behavioral - restlessness, overprotectiveness of the owner, strongly territorial, dominance challenges, biting, shyness, aggression toward family members, destructive behavior

    With the exception of the "overprotectiveness", none of those "behavioural" problems are limited to the Kuvasz breed, and in almost every single instance there could be a direct relationship between how much TIME the dog owner spent with the dog and the appearance of the aforementioned and other unwanted behaviour.

Potential problems:
Physical - hip dysplasia, bloat, skin problems

    I wish those were the only health concerns. Unfortunately the breed is affected by almost every health defect imaginable.

    It's interesting but not surprising that this man understates the health problems since even most of the people involved with the breed, including most Kuvasz owners and certainly most breeders, are not forthcoming about the heartbreaking and VERY EXPENSIVE genetic concerns. I would suggest to you that the chances of adopting a normal and healthy Kuvasz are less than 50-50, and I'm being generous.

    Unless you have personally experienced chronic and serious health problems with a dog, I believe it would be hard for you to imagine how upsetting it can be. Even though you have provided your companion with the best of everything, and spent the time to train and mold their behaviour, if they are sick due to breeder incompetence or negligence, or for whatever other reason, you and they cannot lead normal lives. It takes all the fun and enjoyment out of their lives and your life too.

Recommendations - early obedience training and socialization to people and other dogs, no spoiling, avoid warm climates, daily exercise mandatory

    I don't know what this trainer considers "spoiling". In part I think he may be equating some of his K9 police dog training techniques with Kuvasz care. In training police dogs the one and only handler at first plays with the dog extensively and intensively. Then that play time only occurs as a reward upon completion of a trained task. If I only played with and was affectionate with Triumph and Phantom when they did exactly what I wanted, none of us would be very happy. They aren't working dogs in the strictest sense of the term. They are my pets. So while I do require that they do certain things and behave in a certain manner, I also spoil them with hugs and treats for nothing sometimes.

    Kuvasz will adapt to warm climates, but I feel sorry for those who must. They don't miss the snow and cold if they have never experienced it, but they sure enjoy it when they do.

    I can honestly tell you I hated the weather here in Canada from October to May until I brought my first Kuvasz home. After that each dog's enjoyment of the snow and cold rubbed off on me. In the case of a Kuvasz with skin and allergy problems like Triumph, the winter months turn his enjoyment of life around 180 degrees.

Notes from the Trainer
In today's urban society there is no room for dogs like this.

SOME OF SAPIR'S QUITE LENGTHY COMMENTS REMOVED FROM HERE

This dog is not really suitable as a good family dog. When people buy this type of dog, they don't know what they are getting into. They are big and they are extremely territorial. They don't want to do obedience because they're not bred for that. They're very dominant and they don't particularly like people. But people want to have them as pets and they keep jumping the fence and they may kill other animals because that's what they're designed to do.

    As I wrote earlier I suspect this trainer wasn't very successful with his Kuvasz clients. He was and probably still is afraid of these dogs, and I guess probably rightly so depending on how scary his failures were. He is absolutely wrong about Kuvasz being "designed" to kill other animals. Even a Kuvasz working in an animal protection role is more likely to try and run off or scare away predators than kill them, unless they don't have any alternative.

    You will find the opinions which a Kuvasz owner submitted to Sapir at the Digital Dog site.

Sapir's reply:

How many people will go the extent that you did while researching your dog, or would put up with the behaviors that you obviously endure. To describe yourself as sheep to your dog's obvious sheepherding background is not the relationship that most people strive for. We want our dogs to fetch the paper, wag their tail for us when we come home, and not bite our friends. A German Shepherd or Golden Retriever is a much safer bet for a neophyte dog owner than a handful like the Kuvasz. You are to be congratulated for your love and patience for your pet, and your contribution to the good name of the breed. If all owners were as conscientious and educated about the breed character as you are, then I would have softened my warning to potential owners.

    In Sapir's response to the Kuvasz owner's letter he makes some assumptions, and offers some erroneous opinion.

    I don't know whether every Kuvasz behaves in this manner, and I know the Kuvasz here don't greet Karen in the same way they greet me, but each Kuvasz who has been here welcomes me back from even a 15 minute separation like I've been gone for a year. Not only do their tails wag but their whole bodies too. As for getting them to "fetch the paper" - they can be trained to do that if you so desire.

    It's funny that Sapir mentions the German Shepherd as a "much safer bet for a neophyte dog owner". I was badly bitten by a German Shepherd when I was very young, and they are one of the breeds which has a reputation for biting and aggressiveness. I suspect his promotion of the GSDs has more to do with his experience and relationship in training them as police dogs, and less to do with how ideal they are as pets. I'll be the first to admit that German Shepherds are probably more versatile, that they can more easily be taught to fetch, herd, obey etcetera, but you are still going to have to spend the quality time teaching them. Kuvasz too can learn whatever it is you want them to know. It will probably take a little longer depending on the individual Kuvasz. And with regard to Golden Retrievers, - I've met many very nice Goldens, but surprisingly (based on the common public perception) I've encountered quite a few unpredictable and even downright mean ones.

    Sapir wrote "In today's urban society there is no room for dogs like this". I think I could make a pretty fair case against allowing a large percentage of dog breeds in "urban society" for one reason or another. Dog haters and the anti dog element in society could make a case for a dog-less one. However I think the truest words Sapir wrote were: "If all owners were as conscientious and educated about the breed character as you are, then I would have softened my warning to potential owners." If you or in fact anyone is committed to learning about Kuvasz or any breed, and prepared to learn how to care for and train your new family member, you and the dog should be quite happy.

    I guess in closing I would suggest you ask Kuvasz breeders for the names and contact information of any of their Kuvasz buyers in your area. Talk to those people and have a look at their dogs. Even if the breeders and owners are in denial about the dogs, you will be able to make some judgments based on your own observations. In fact I would follow this course of action regardless what breed you are considering.

    Try and find out where the doggie play areas are where you live. You may not find a Kuvasz there, but perhaps some other breed might catch your eye and subsequently better fulfill your needs.

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