I’m working on a post about life stages and expectations for LGDs, but it’s a bit slow going as farm life is in full swing here, leaving free time in short supply. In the meantime, I want to take a moment to remind LGD breed owners of one undeniable fact.
Whether you think your dog is a working LGD or not doesn’t matter. If he has working ability, HE thinks he’s a working dog and will act accordingly. This is what he was bred to do.
More often than not, when a LGD breed is kept as a companion or in an urban setting and they have significant working ability, their owners run into trouble leaving them on their home turf unsupervised with strangers, unfamiliar animals, etc., as they mature. This is especially true of the harder or less stranger tolerant breeds such as the Caucasian Ovtcharka, Central Asian Shepherd, Kuvasz, etc.. These dogs are hard wired to assess risk, to identify threat and then to drive it off or eliminate it. This can bleed over into their life off property, especially if they are regularly taken to certain places or walked on certain routes, since this can encourage them to believe that these things and places are also “theirs” and meant to be protected.
Unlike many other breeds, where the maturing process is difficult, but maturity brings with it a dog who is MORE biddable with their owners and steady with strangers, LGDs become hardened with time and tend to listen less and be less tolerant of threat behavior by others. Unfortunately, many people who acquire LGD breeds expect that their dog(s) will see extended family, visiting family, close friends and playmates of their children as completely safe… just like the owners do. They expect that the loving and sweet dog(s) who allow their children to sit on them and who cuddle with them on the couch will extend that behavior to others who don’t live with them. This is not at all what these dogs were bred for, and it is unfair to expect that of them. Thousands of years of selection pressure has brought us dogs who act independently to address threat, swiftly and unforgivingly (in varying degree) and who don’t understand that Aunt Martha or Uncle Bob aren’t stealing from you, or that Sammy’s little friend from school was only play fighting.
Both breeders and owners share responsibility for this issue. Breeders should know their dogs well, and sell only to suitable homes that are prepared to deal with any issues that may arise. Owners should think hard about their expectations for any dog they plan to bring into their home, and ask themselves if they would be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, so to speak, or if they are truly willing to do what it would take to keep a large, powerful and ever-suspicious dog happy and safe in that setting.
With proper management and understanding, LGDs can make good companions – in fact, they can be absolutely wonderful in that role. Setting them up for success is the kindest and most appropriate thing that we can do for them, which sometimes means passing them over for a more suitable dog. You can take the dog out of the working environment, but you will NEVER take the working ability out of the dog.