Big Challenge in an Adorable Package
By Sue Kocher
Originally published in UKC Bloodlines, 2001
"Training? But My Puppy Is an Angel!"
Most people who obtain a Kangal Dog puppy are soon completely smitten by their beautiful little boy or and girl-so full of personality, and the object of interest, questions, and admiration of all who meet them.
Yes, we are proud of our adorable pups!
Most companion Kangal pups are easy to house train compared to other breeds. All the owner needs is a set routine, a little direction, and some crate-training savvy, and the pup seems to teach herself. New owners contact their breeders to report with great enthusiasm that their puppy is a complete angel-she only soiled in the house once, she stopped making puddles inside after only a few corrections, and it's simply amazing! She taught herself to sit, too! My boy likes to play, but is calm and laid back most of the time. The perfect pup!
Kangal Dog breeders hear this often enough. They also hear about how the puppy comes when called, never strays far from the back door, is friendly with all dogs and people, and doesn't chew up things in the house. Well, not much anyway. So, when the breeder checks in and asks about plans for formal training, the happy new owner may wonder, "Why do I need to enroll in a puppy training class, or in basic obedience, or any of that when obviously my Young Turk is fine and I'm doing such a great job training him?"
Why Is My Breeder So Cautionary?
Well... Just as it is very difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel when your puppy is presenting problems, it is also very difficult to imagine that your darling, gorgeous ball of soft fawn fur might one day be dragging you across the asphalt to show the neighbor's chow-chow who's boss. Or that your beloved, sweet-tempered young lady will one day stop "hearing" you when you call and take off for the wild blue yonder. Or that precious, clumsy little 35-lb pup will suddenly decide to defend his food bowl against all takers, including you. Who would guess from that little treasure looking up at you with those big brown eyes, who act so sensitive to criticism, and seems so willing to learn?
Most Kangal Dog breeders will go overboard in informing potential Kangal Dog owners about the challenges of owning a livestock guardian breed such as this-they are not for the faint-hearted. They are not for the first-time dog owner. They are not going to act like Labrador retrievers, eager to fetch all day long and bring you your slippers with a snap of the fingers. A lot of potential puppy buyers are turned off by this frank disclosure, and go looking elsewhere. And that's fine because someone who needs an "easy" dog should not have a Kangal Dog, nor any other livestock guardian breed. So far there have been very few Kangal Dogs turned in for rescue, and with continued vigilance and education of potential buyers, we can hope this happy situation will remain so.
But the new owner, having persevered through the interviews, questions, fencing requirements, and so on... now has a puppy that seems to be just the opposite of all the things the breeder warned about. And the owner thinks they've really got something special in their pup, or a special way with their pup, or both! I hate to dash water on such idealism, but... *splash*.
Reality Sets In...
As a new Kangal Dog puppy owner, it is very important that you do not become complacent about your puppy's good manners. For survival in Turkish villages, puppies must be attentive to the pack structure, and to discipline from their "mother"--first the bitch, and then you, the "shepherd". But slowly, imperceptibly, little signs of impending rebellion and independence become apparent. That independence is also an important working characteristic of the breed--and it constitutes an extra challenge for the western dog owner. So, if your puppy doesn't come one day--you blame "a distraction" and go chase her down. The puppy goes upstairs when he's forbidden to go there--you assume he had a good reason. The puppy starts pulling on the leash--you imagine she'll grow out of it.
But suddenly, that sweet puppy is 6 months old or a year old, weighs 80-130 pounds, and you can see you've let things go too far. He is showing signs of serious aggression against other large dogs, he refuses to "hear" your commands, and he jumps up on your guests in what looks like happy exuberance but is actually a dominance move. He follows all of his commands just great at home, but at the park, it all goes out the window. All of these behaviors and others will occur almost inevitably in an adolescent dog that has not been properly trained and socialized. Reality sets in. And it's a whole lot harder to retrain a dog that has developed bad habits than to train a dog to have good habits from the start.
The message here cannot be overemphasized: socialization training for a companion Kangal Dog must start from a very young age, and continue steadily into adulthood. Even further. Working dogs also need training. You do not need to train a Kangal Dog to guard your stock or property, because that comes naturally for most livestock guardians--but you do need to train your puppy not to play with your goats, to terrorize the neighbor's cows, or to seek openings in the fence and go walkabout. Discipline and basic socialization -- respect for humans -- are needed for the livestock guardian. Even serious working dogs will need to go to the vet occasionally and be well-behaved there. Work him on lead, in the paddock. Keep a pocket full of treats and make sure he will come when called. Such training will not ruin your stock guardian--it will make for a better working dog. Search for a Good Puppy, Train for a Good Dog!
Your dog will be with you for a dozen years or more, so why not make those years as enjoyable and stress-free as possible? A private trainer is a wonderful luxury if you can afford it, but this can be done in conjunction with group training, which is more important. Your dog needs to learn how to pay attention to you when there are distractions present. He needs to learn to accept other dogs in close proximity, and how to stay quietly on the lead for someone else when the need arises. You might even want to show your dog. Remember, the UKC is now considering special conformation classes for neutered dogs, so a great many more of us may have the opportunity to get together and show our dogs.
It is best to start investigating trainers before you get your puppy, sit in on some classes, and choose a reputable trainer and course that you feel comfortable with. Bargain-basement trainers with no qualifications are no bargain. Some puppy classes are available for 3- or 4-month-old puppies--if the trainer is careful about vaccination requirements and the facility is clean, get your puppy in there! If you cannot find such a class until 6 months of age, make sure you train your puppy regularly in public places--a large pet store that allows pets inside is a good option. In fact, pet superstores are great places to practice what you are learning in class, too.
Here's the good news: training is FUN! You will develop a stronger bond with your dog. You will become a better trainer. You will learn interesting techniques such as clicker training, you will discover useful equipment such as head halters and pinch collars, and you will make new friends--and so will your dog. Every Kangal Dog is an ambassador for the breed, and everyone likes a good ambassador. Be proud of your solidly-trained, well-behaved dog when out in the park or at a dog show, once your dog has reached his or her huge, and handsome full glory! Start training now, and take the opportunity to participate in training seminars, carting classes, obedience courses, therapy work-- whatever interests you. You won't regret it, and your dog will love you for it.