KUVASZ PETS VISIT A FARM

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    I am very fond of dogs and their intelligence and adaptability is amazing to me. Aside from enjoying the Hollywood type tricks and stunts they can master, it's a thrill to see inbred instincts motivating them. Even untrained Border Collies will herd for example, and still have an instinctive desire to group and drive everything from children to automobile traffic. Pointing type dogs turn into statues and will point at a bird they discover in a thicket. Huskies live to run and pull and will tirelessly drag you along for the ride whether you want to go or not. These tendencies and skills are a natural part of the make up of pure and mixed breeds. But unfortunately some of the natural tendencies dogs have can be their undoing depending on your/their home environment. Therefore it is important to research the heritage of the breed you are considering, and when you finally adopt to be patient and consistent in your training.

    Patience is definitely a virtue when you live with Kuvasz, and you could probably replace the consistency requirement with a need for persistence. One reason would be the enduring independent Kuvasz nature. Another would be the willful guardian oriented behaviour which is their essence. You must acknowledge these traits, and persist until you help them adapt to your/their surroundings. These dogs are guardians first and foremost, and they will guard the gravel in your driveway if they think that's what you wish, and sometimes even if it isn't what you want. They will also instinctively guard you as they would livestock. Karen and I realized that reality after we read the book Livestock Protection Dogs, Selection, Care and Training, by David E. Sims & Orysia Dawydiak. When we are walking in forest and field with our Kuvasz, one is always close by, and the other at a perimeter, just as sometimes happens if more than one dog is guarding a flock.

    But Kuvasz can also be quite versatile. There are many Kuvasz dog show champions. Some Kuvasz have been awarded obedience and agility titles. Others have been involved in therapy work, as well as search and rescue. Still others have participated in Schutzhund type events. The level of success in many of these ventures depends on the individual dog's personality, but even more important is the time and effort their human companion is willing to invest.

    Sadly, fewer and fewer Kuvasz are used as livestock protectors these days. The majority of those who reside in North America are in pet homes. But I honestly believe if a Kuvasz is physically healthy, it can go from a pet to a farm home and excel in the new environment. The instinct to protect is already there, all that remains is some direction. Rick McKinney's story (see CONTENTS) about Briar the pet turned livestock protection dog is a good example. I witnessed an even more amazing example of transition while involved with a young Kuvasz male who went from a Toronto high rise apartment, to guarding livestock thanks to some basic instruction. There have been several other similar Kuvasz adoptions with happy endings for all.

    Some Kuvasz breeders and rescue coordinators are reticent to place Kuvasz in working homes for any number of real or imagined reasons. While I understand many dogs and even whole lines are not physically capable, some healthy Kuvasz could work, and would thrive while guarding livestock.

    You will frequently hear city people say they would like to place their overly energetic and out of control pet dog in a farm home. But why would people in rural settings adopt every untrained or exuberant castaway? It usually isn't in their best interests or those of the dog. However a dump the dog in the country so it will have more room to play mindset doesn't really apply here. Kuvasz are natural guardian working dogs, and there is more than a reasonable expectation they will work on a farm and guard property and livestock.

    I like to think each of the Kuvasz I have shared my life with has been content more often than not, despite the hardships which sometimes accompanied ill health. Having said that, I don't know whether my present companions Triumph and Phantom appreciate the various adventures I dream up for us, but I sure enjoy them. In part that is because I like observing my Kuvasz in different surroundings, and I'm always curious to see how they will react.

    My desire to test the theory of the Kuvasz natural affinity to livestock with my own adult pets, was one reason for the following exercise. The other reason was because local media outlets had publicized the problems area sheep producers were having with packs of feral dogs and coyotes. I thought I might be able to find nearby working homes for rescued Kuvasz, especially if I had some hands on experience introducing pets to livestock.

    Almost in the middle of Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, is the Central Experimental Farm. This real working farm under the control of Agriculture Canada, is also a laboratory for every manner of agricultural invention and innovation. Therefore it was fairly appropriate to test Triumph and Phantom's behaviour around livestock at this facility, with the kind allowance and help of Michelle Dondo-Tardiff, the director of the Agricultural Museum, and Richard Berube the herdsman in charge. On two different occasions my pets were able to meet and spend some time with Mike the Clydesdale horse, Eeeorrr the miniature donkey, three little goats, and a flock of sheep.

    Although I spend an inordinate amount of time with Triumph and Phantom, and I like to think I can usually predict their reactions based on previous history, every exposure to something new is a learning experience for each of us.

    We arrived at the farm early in the morning on a September week day. I was carrying a load of video and photographic camera equipment. Just in case, I also had various dog attachments like long nylon ropes and prong collars.

    One of the staff members directed us to the barn where Richard was working. Triumph and Phantom heeled nicely past rows and rows of cows until we found him. While we were walking along, and even when we finally stopped and stood for several minutes, I was extremely pleased to see how calmly my Kuvasz were reacting to the very large animals who were tethered in an open area, (not in stalls) and standing less than a foot away from us.

    On the way over to the pen, I asked Richard if Mike the horse would be congenial with my dogs. He said Mike was "dynamite proof" and had a nice temperament. As it turned out that was absolutely true.

    Triumph, Phantom, and I entered the paddock and Richard closed the gate behind us. I had a leash and dual lead on my companions, but the sheep didn't know us, so they adopted a defensive formation under their shelter. They were all in a circle facing us with their backs to the fence, and in the middle of the flock were the three little goats. But none of those creatures had anything to fear from the dogs, because my Kuvasz weren't even looking at them initially. They were hypnotized by the Clydesdale's approach.

    Mike was coming over to see if I had any carrots or apples for him. Unfortunately I didn't have any on the first visit, but that didn't stop him from gently nudging me in the area of my jacket pockets. Then he put his nose down to check out Triumph and Phantom, who were doing their level best to move me and themselves away, despite wearing the restrictive prong collars. They were definitely very impressed and a little nervous in the presence of the biggest dog they had ever seen. I figured they would be busy watching him, and unlikely to immediately pester the sheep too vigorously, so I let them off the leash.

    Triumph is an extremely curious creature. He also lives to eat, and will consume almost anything. I figured he would be drawn to the horse and sheep droppings, and wasn't even a little surprised to see him make a bee line for those unexpected treats. Phantom on the other hand is consistently my self appointed bodyguard, and she was trying to position herself in such a way that she could protect me from Mike, and at the same time judge what kind of threat there was from all those staring, and perhaps menacing sheep.

    When Richard saw the introductions were going fairly well he went back to work. At that point I took out my camera and tried to get some pictures of the Kuvasz and livestock together. An easy task you might think, but only if the subjects co-operated, and they didn't seem inclined to do so. While Triumph investigated every square foot of the acre, and munched everything in sight including some of Mike's food, Phantom decided the best way to get the sheep to stop their threatening glare was to bark at them. Of course that didn't really help calm them. Finally I called both dogs over, told them to lie down and stay, and photographed and video taped while praying there would be some good shots.

    After a short time all of the animals seemed to be more comfortable with each other, and closer inspection was allowed all around. I was happy to see better acceptance, and the timing was quite good since a number of tour visitors had started to arrive. Several adults and many children were standing at the fence and watching the interaction. Since some were regulars and knew Mike, they had treats for him, and he ambled over to see them. Of course Triumph figured he could panhandle some for himself, and he hurried over to join his new friend.

    The first visit was about four hours in duration. In general I was very happy with Triumph and Phantom's behaviour, and enjoyed talking to the people about them and the Kuvasz breed. It was also fun to visit with the farm animals.

    The second visit was two weeks later and Karen joined us. I expected this exposure to be uneventful, but a new variable was introduced to keep us a little off balance, and to teach the dogs and myself something new. The new variable was Eeeorrr the miniature donkey!

    Over the course of the last several years, I've learned many things by reading email from livestock guardian dog lists. One thing I learned was that sometimes donkeys and dogs don't get along. Apparently some donkeys have such a dislike for dogs, they will launch themselves into a rage and try to kick and stomp a dog to death. Luckily for Triumph and Phantom, little Eeeorrr was not one of those, nor did he have the power of the large sized version. However, he did teach us a valuable lesson: it is unwise for a dog to do the canine version of a handshake with a donkey, even a nicely tempered one. Eeeorrr told them both in so many words, "if you try to sniff my tail end as you would another dog's, I will give you a restrained kick-message each time you try". Phantom understood the message after the second delivery, but Triumph has a harder head and is more curious, so it took three special deliveries for him to understand.

    Dogs use each of their senses to their best advantage. They also use body language to communicate, and they engage in certain normal canine rituals. Since Triumph and Phantom usually only interact with people and other dogs, they are accustomed to certain patterns and behaviours, and they react accordingly. That is why Phantom barked at the sheep when we went to the farm the first time. She considered their unblinking stare to be threatening behaviour. Under our normal circumstances she might have been right if the glare was coming from a person or dog. Similarly, dogs always sniff each other when they meet. A dog shows poor etiquette if he or she does not allow the handshake. So Triumph wasn't really behaving boorishly when he didn't immediately understand the donkey's message regarding tail sniffing.

    Once everyone's customs were understood, the second visit went very very smoothly. All of the animals were very relaxed with one another, and that was pretty amazing considering they had only been together for a short period of time once before. In fact the atmosphere was so pastoral, many of the people touring the farm on that morning thought the Kuvasz belonged there!

    If you are a livestock producer, I hope you will consider a Kuvasz rescue if needed. If you are involved in Kuvasz rescue, I hope you will introduce yourself to local livestock associations, and tell the membership about the breed. Even if you are just a pet owner like me, I hope you will relate stories about the Kuvasz heritage and versatility to both city and rural people alike.

    My belief that healthy Kuvasz pets can successfully and dutifully protect livestock, is not only the result of a couple of pleasant visits to the Central Experimental Farm. It is primarily based on Kuvasz history, and an unwavering conviction that these dogs can and will guard. They only need to know the job description.

 Triumph thoroughly frisks a very patient sheep while Phantom looks on.
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