Thursday, March 25, 2010

ARE AKBASH DOGS GOOD WITH CHILDREN?

   Lately many people are contacting me saying they read on the internet Akbash dogs are "good with children". This information is coming from websites which cover many  breeds and accumulate information from many unknown sources. There are even questionnaires that are matching people with breeds after the person answers a series of questions.

  Any website that is matching anyone unfamiliar with Akbash dogs, to an Akbash dog based on predictions of certain behavior, is doing a disservice to the Akbash dog and the person. Those that know and understand Akbash dogs are always hesitant to recommend Akbash dogs to those unfamiliar with them. They spend a lot of time discussing and informing people before ever recommending someone acquire an Akbash dog.

   Reputable Akbash dog breeders do not promote or advertise them as "good with children".  Only inexperienced or unscrupulous breeders do so. They belong to a class of breeds called LGD's or Livestock Guard Dogs. These are dogs that are used as working guard dogs for livestock. Not "herding" dogs like Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, but "guardian" dogs. They hang out amongst the livestock and protect them against predation from animals such as coyotes, wolves, mountain lions and bears. They have  unique characteristics which are very different from our common companion dog breeds.

   Two examples one with a very sad ending. I got a call last year to rehome a very young eight month old female Akbash dog that a family with four small children had bought as a puppy. The breeder advertises the pups as "good with children". The puppy buyer took the puppy to obedience classes and was raising the pup to the best of his ability. At a few months old the puppy began to show signs of food aggression. One day the young pup had a bowl of really good food, something extra special, and began growling and posturing aggressively to keep everyone away from her food. Unfortunately the owner did the exact opposite of what I would recommend,  he got a rake and got in a big fight with the young dog over the food. She backed off the food but this only increased her aggressive behaviors. The young dog continued to be food aggressive and actually expanded this behavior to become territorial with the family and began not letting them into certain areas of the property. The owner gave the dog away and the dog was returned to him and euthanized.
    This was a dog that was most likely on the more difficult end of the range of temperament and would have required a more knowledgeable patient owner, without young children present, to work through these behaviors.


 Akbash dogs often have issues with food aggression that need to be worked through. This is an innate behavior. Akbash dogs and other livestock guardian dogs use these behaviors to keep livestock out of their food often. This is typical of other dog breeds as well. Dogs are descended from wolves and if anyone has ever seen a wolf pack eating there is constant growling , snarling and teeth displays the entire time the pack is eating. While all our dog breeds are descended from wolves, many of those types of behaviors have been bred out of our dog breeds over many years. They have been bred for other behaviors. Certain dogs remain more true to their origin and have not been changed completely. Does a pug dog resemble a wolf? No, as the wolf has been largely bred out of a pug. Not so with some types of dogs. Breeds like the Alaskan Malamute or Siberian Husky come to mind. One can put Akbash dogs in the category with Malamute's and Huskies, as a dog that has not been changed completely by breeding.




   In the next case I was contacted by a woman that got an Akbash puppy on the  premise that it would be "good with children". While this pup was in no way aggressive to the children, it was also a poor decision.
    Akbash dogs can be extremely mouthy. People often forget the puppy stage comes with very sharp little teeth and a big desire to bite. In a playful manner, but getting through the biting stage of puppyhood can be difficult and trying. A couple painful bites from a puppy is all it takes to get a child worked up into an upset, or fear of the puppy. The biting is combined with a very strong desire to play and run and jump and mouth the children.
    One child in the house had to be kept completely away from the puppy. The puppy owner expressed to me that even though she had a lot of experience with large breed dogs, including Rottweilers, she had never had such an aggressive strong willed puppy. Not in a mean way, but the pup had a very strong desire to play really rough. She was wondering how they could possibly keep the puppy as soon, at about 6-8 months old, the dog would be 70 lbs, and not a calm mature adult for a couple years! I helped her work out a plan of exercise, training and management that would allow her to keep the puppy. It was so much more work than she could have imagined and a less committed person could easily have decided to give up the puppy.
    If one does not put in the tremendous amount of time and energy needed the first year, one has a completely out of control, mouthy, aggressively playful 100 pound dog within six months.



   Our common companion dog breeds, suitable to the typical suburban lifestyle, have a high desire to please people. Livestock Guardian dogs are independent minded and do not have a high desire to please people. They can be wary of strangers and take a dislike to certain individuals. The opposite of  Labradors or Golden Retrievers that most often like anyone they meet.

   The genetic, or natural characteristics of the breed include a strong guard instinct. A nervous system hard wired to alert to possible threats. The Akbash dog has an alertness and intensity which differentiates it from our common companion dog breeds such as Golden Retrievers and Labradors. Those breeds one could safely say are "good with children". Meaning they are, in the vast majority of cases, friendly to humans and other dogs and animals.

  In reality though, how could one really say any breed of dog is "good with children". Dogs have teeth and use teeth and growling and sometimes biting to communicate with each other and humans at times. They can be boisterous and knock children over and play too rough. Any breed of dog has individual temperaments and large differences in individuals. It is up to any dog owner to train and manage their dog and children to coexist within a set of rules and structure....to avoid problems. This fact cannot be avoided by getting a certain breed. This is just what is entailed in responsible dog ownership.

  When thinking of a dog that is "good with children" what does this mean? It means logically, a good companion for children to safely be around, in all circumstances. Sadly in most companion dog homes many dogs do not last and are given up if they are not "good with the children". The children are the priority, not the dog. Knowing this is the case, many rescue groups will not adopt dogs to homes with young children. This is true of the Great Pyrenees rescue groups. That is a similar breed.

     This is not to say any individual Akbash dog or Great Pyrenees dog is not good with children, upon meeting them, or in some homes. What it means is that given the appalling surrender rate of dogs in homes with children, the criteria of what "good with children means" must be examined more closely.

   I do not consider Akbash dogs "good with children" as an all encompassing phrase, for the following reasons. They often bark loudly at  night, if alerting to a noise. If young children are present, sleep in the home for the children, and usually mother, is of utmost importance.

    Akbash dogs are sometimes bossy with other dogs in the house, and often dog aggressive to dogs they do not know. No one wants young children in the middle of a dog on dog conflict.

     Akbash dogs cannot be safely handled in public on a leash by a child. Or if they can, this is such a rare case it is not worth discussing. The vast majority of Akbash dogs will be dog aggressive in certain circumstances and often redirect aggression to the human handler. Redirected aggression is when a dog is frustrated by the leash or fence which is preventing them from getting to the focus of their aggression. Turning and snapping at the human holding the leash or another dog they are walking with or fenced with, is common.

     This bossy behavior can translate to young children. The Akbash dog may try to monitor or control the behavior of young children. People often mistake this for "herding". They are not a herding dog and are not trying to "herd" the children....they are attempting to monitor, and possibly correct behavior, such as loud screaming or fast running.

    They are not a dog for children to walk on a leash. They are large and powerful and it is difficult enough for adults to control an adult Akbash dog on leash, much less a child. They require leadership skills, and above average canine handling skills, which young children do not generally have.

    People often think they will "start with a puppy" and that will solve the problem. If that were the case then all the millions of dogs that were obtained as puppies should have life long homes. We know that is not true. While many people think they will "train and socialize" their pups, so that all will be well when the dog is grown, in reality they have no idea what that means. How they will go about "training and socializing" their Akbash dog so that it will be "good with children" and "walk well on leash etc". Ask yourself this question......do you know how to "train and socialize" an Akbash dog? In reality people that have never met an Akbash dog have no idea what that means or how to go about doing it, and getting a puppy will not help them. The "puppy" is quickly, in a matter of a couple months, a large dog. At a year old, one has a large powerful dog with sometimes a tremendous amount of  energy and a strong guard instinct.



  This is not a childrens dog! This is a dog for an adult, under certain circumstances only. An adult that has above average dog handling skills. A knowledge of and ability to train a dog, and  a safe well fenced secure property. In addition, a lifelong and unbreakable commitment to their dog. Also an ability, and desire, to manage any behavior issues that cannot be controlled through training.

4 comments:

Tiraislin Fold said...

Thank you for posting this exceedingly wise advice.

My Primary Anatolian LGD has died & I'm seeking another.

The farm is 722 acres, in Ontario, west of Ottawa, north of Kingston.

There are sheep. goats, fowl, Yaks, Highland Cattle, horses & a donkey.

There are bear, wolves & foxes which she successfully kept at bay.

Please contact me if & when you have an Akbash, Anatolian, Kangal LG dog who would be happy here.

Sincerely,

Rosemary Kralik 613 268-9999

kim novlan said...

Thi is not a ”hey kids, Dad brought home a puppy”. About like coming home from the office with a horse. If you are a responsible parent, (ie you don't scream at your kids at grocery store), your children are adjusred and intelligent (ie no rolling on the ground uber tantrums) you work with the breeder, have the correct setting and the time, the Akbash is an outstanding family addition. I have two. Akbas require understanding , time, effort, education and they are powerful animals. If you do not want to put the effort into the child and the animal...buy a beenie baby. Expect to lose a couch or two if you leave your Akbash alone as a youngster.

Love

Astro & Graceful Beauty (aka Gracie)

Ran Meron said...

We have an Akbash dog 1.5 year old, we brought him from a flock of aproxemetly 30 dogs, which where grading a very large sheep heard.
We took him when he was 1 month old,
We gave him a lot of attention and love in the first 6 months, while he was living at home. Pointing out we understud that he is an free and independent minded dog, so only at specific behevral critical moments we reacted in dominance and assertive command module reaction.
This was very affective, yet it is a very powerfull and unexpected breed, that men's when our Oso is near the kids we look over and control the situation.
I presume that when he will reach maturity he will be more stable and foreseen.
It is clearly no kids dog, and they, the kids are not really cosey and cutely with him, they take there distance from him as we'll. but it is a wonderfully beutiful animal a true white bear.

straughie said...


HI Ran good luck with your dog!
In terms of training I do not recommend people jump in a situation and react dominantly towards this type of dog, in any kind of physical manhandling way.
This may appear to work in the moment as one has succeeded in intimidating them. However, long term this sets up a situation where the dog will often act in that manner toward weaker creatures. These types of dogs have a tendency to be bossy or dominant and if the owner acts in the same way toward them they often will become much worse and sometimes much much worse and begin challenging their owners or weaker dogs or children.
They are very smart and emotionally sensitive and bond very deeply so a better approach is to set up the kinds of rules and structure for their behavior around children. Many of them should not be left unattended around children or monitored closely by an adult.
The worst combination is allowing them to be free and in control of their own behavior and then jumping in with dominance and punishment when you see something you do not like.