It was a bone chilling -17 C (1.4 F) at 6 am in the morning. I was bundled up well, but treacherous wind was assaulting me through the only exposed part of my body – my face. My eyes were watery. The mentally disconcerting sound of howling wind was accompanied by the calming sound of a creek cascading down the slope nearby. The small finger of my right hand was going numb for some odd reason and I had put on an extra mitten as a makeshift arrangement to warm it back to normal.
Once I felt better, I looked at K2, my, then, 11 months old Kuvasz boy and affectionately known as the Polar Bear, trying to determine how he was faring. And there he was, totally unimpressed by the freezing temperatures, about to descend down the bank slope on to the frozen part of the creek. Whenever he is about to do this, I am very careful. I let him go to frozen water surfaces slowly holding and releasing leash like a mountaineer belays his partner.
Once on the water, K2 looked at me as if saying, “Am I going to follow him or not.”
“No”, I told him, “Are you kidding me? It is freezing. I am not coming.”
For one, I don’t have his double coat. Unfortunately, the disadvantage of this furless companion is not known to K2. Compared to mine, his hair is wavy and long, 4-6 inches, except on the feet and head. The coat is also self-cleaning. No matter how dirty it gets, it cleans itself within two hours. This is because the coat secretes oil from its root. I was told by the breeder, Olga Schmidt of Brantwood Kuvasz, not to bath him frequently for it would wash away any oil that is his natural defense against mud and dirt.
Let the readers note that we are neither livestock owners nor dog breeders. Up until then, the biggest dog breed I had kept was German Shepherd.
As a family, we decided on Kuvasz breed after lot of research work. We wanted to have a medium to large size guard dog for home that had low prey drive, was agile and capable of protecting us against intimidating critters, was hypoallergenic or close to it, was a couch potato inside and able to accompany us on long-distance hiking adventures outside, and was able to cope with the extreme winters and summers of southern Ontario. We did not only talk to the dog experts, we also took dog breed quizzes on the reputed websites.
The key learning from dog experts and quizzes was that it pays to have a dog that matches with one’s lifestyle. Surely, if one is into water based activities in the freezing big lakes, getting an Akita will not be a good option even though it is also a cold weather breed. After our research and responses from quizzes, our search was narrowed down to Anatolian Shepherd, Komondor, Great Pyrenees, and Kuvasz.
Breed background – Fierce protectors of livestock, home and persons
All the above dog breeds belong to working dogs group and are used in their native countries as livestock guardian dogs (LGDs).
Kuvaszok are in the same family of white LGDs as Italian Maremmas, Polish Tatra Shepherd Dogs, Turkish Akbash, Slovak Cuvac, and the most well known of the family – Great Pyrenees. The white colour was probably encouraged by owners to differentiate them from marauding wolves. And because these dogs had to protect livestock against bears and wolves, they were bred for large sizes, intimidating deep and booming barks, and valour. These 3 characteristics are what all LGDs should display to thwart the advances of an intruder.
Generally, Kuvaszok, like other LGDs, are lazy dogs, who would spend most of their time half-dozing on a carefully chosen perch from where they can easily observe the proceedings. When an unwanted entity enters their territory, a Kuvasz will first give a low pitch alarm bark and will get up showing its large size. If the perceived enemy does not retreat, a series of deep booming barks coupled with a few quick intimidating paces forward should send it packing. If that does not work either, a Kuvasz will resort to an all out attack. And an attacking Kuvasz, as we found with K2 by the age 9 months, is a force to reckon. He is ferocious, agile, and unforgiving.
It is best to keep an LGD like Kuvasz working and bonded with livestock. However, if a Kuvasz is taken up as a pet and a companion, it will bond with its humans. For example, two Kuvaszok kept by Steve Hounsell, former President of Kuvasz Club of Canada, are entirely companions and guard dogs of property and humans.
There is a Kuvasz by the name of Beamer belonging to Kathleen Dahmer that has earned a TDX (AKC Track Dog Excellence) title. There was another Kuvasz out of Brantwood Kennels that was employed as a sled dog. However, Kuvaszok in their land of origin, Hungary, are harnessed as LGDs.
Confident and self-assured guardians
Guarding instinct is always present in a Kuvasz. K2 displayed none of it till he was 6 months old. But then he hardly looked anything like a grown up Kuvasz back then. Then he began to show his passive guardian instinct. Although he was very friendly with people and other dogs he used to meet in the neighbourhood every day, his barking started reverberating in the air throughout a mile radius of our home when he did not like someone on the driveway or the front lawn.
However, as he grew up, we found that he, like other Kuvaszok, is not as frequent and a nuisance barker as, reportedly, Great Pyrenees or Maremmas are.
Kuvaszok, like any other LGD breed, have a low prey drive. Steve Hounsell writes “They are expected to be calm around livestock and only become excited when there is a potential threat. They are courageous in the sense that they will stand up to any foe, animal or human, in the defense of their extended family and territory. They are not, or should not be, indiscriminately aggressive.”
In my opinion, this makes them generally different from German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Dobermans, Malinois, Giant Schnauzers, Dogo Argentinos, etc. Dogs of these later breeds have a high prey drive and are therefore, trained to be used as attack dogs as well. Generally a Kuvasz will rely on creating ‘fear factor’ only.
Kuvaszok make great guardian dogs that will stand up to any adversity. The dogs on King Royal Farm in southern Ontario protect sheep from coyotes on a regular basis. Steve Hounsell reports a story of a Kuvasz in Northern Manitoba who engaged a wolf pack, while protecting the flock. The dog was injured in the fight, but did recover. No animals were lost and the wolves moved on to new hunting grounds, possibly frustrated by the encounter.
Another example is Kelly Murray of Barriere, British Columbia. Her kuvasz dogs incessantly barked and acted extra protective when Kelly was out in her fields and continued barking from inside the home throughout the night. Kelly discovered the next morning that a cougar had spent a major time of the previous day and the whole night hidden in the bushes nearby.
Lot of hikers in our neighbourhood ravines and conservation area complain that there are too many coyotes. Coyotes have reportedly killed cats venturing out in those areas. However, I have never seen one although there are tell-tale signs of their presence. A park ranger once told me that it is perhaps because of the presence of a large size dog by my side that they are there but not bold enough to show themselves. On one occasion, K2 did give a chase to a pair of coyotes who galloped across the broken terrain running for their lives.
Size: They will outgrow everything quickly
We bought K2 home in our arms when he was 8 weeks old. As soon as he arrived, children in the neighbourhood nicknamed him ‘Polar Bear Cub’. By 3 months of age, he outgrew his large size crate – so much for the crate training. By 6 months, he weighed 60 pounds and stood 24 inches at the withers. Fully grown, he was 29 inches tall, weighs 110 pounds and has a girth of 36 inches.
He grew fast and did not realize it. Till he was a year old, he liked to play with children as he used to when he was a three month old puppy, and in the process, knocked them down unintentionally. For this very reason, my son Rayyan, nephew Ammar and I had to supervise things very closely when children were around. Not only outside, initially in those days, he had to be supervised inside also. There was no table, counter or a shelf high enough to be out of reach with just a stretched neck. However, he settled down by age 2. He loves toddlers, but behaves in a clam fashion.
We have been pleasantly surprised at K2’s ability to train himself rather than by us. Whether it be potty training or other aspects, he picked on the cues rather than requiring extensive training.
Training came in handy during clinical needs for getting vaccinated and during other needs.
Kuvasz as a companion
K2 turned out to be a great hiking partner, especially for fall, winter and spring weather. His big body carries his own backpack with his own supplies weighing about 25 pounds. It was one of those routine hikes in extreme weather that turned out to be classical for both of us.
I believe K2 understood me when I did not follow him to the frozen creek. He dashed back to my side sensing some danger. With his big body against mine and he constantly scanning the surroundings for any threat, I had a great feeling of comfort. We were out alone on the trail. I knew there were coyotes around. There could have been some street urchins that make inveterate brawlers fooling around on the trail, as we had found to our chagrin during a summer hiking session. But as long as we were by each other’s side, I knew that anybody would think twice before trying to play dirty with us.