Dog trains man

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Ego of a Hovawart Expert

When I was invited as a Hovawart expert to speak for a group of new Hovawart owners a while ago - it was before Tilde - I was asked the question what could be done to stop certain bad behaviors, like jumping up and mouthing.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Jumping The Fence

Tilde jumps a lot. Mainly because it is practical. It is about getting from A to B in the quickest way possible. She is not an avid jumper, and doesn't seem to jump for the pleasure of it. When she is on full speed, it is an impressive sight though.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Nothing To Show For

I hardly had any clinical signs to show for. Usually, whenever Viva or Kenzo had any health-issue, there always has been some kind of physical sign, how tiny it might be. The vet always complimented me, for spotting things early on.

But this time I had not much for the vet to go after other than a change in Kenzo's behavior. Tilde, as a youngster probing her boundaries, had started to bully Kenzo. Not something out of the ordinary, as that is what young dogs do, especially young Hovawarts, and I already expected there would come plenty of opportunities where I would have to help her remember bullying is a no-go.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I Told You So

It bothered me. Kenzo didn't allow the young German Shepherd dog anywhere near Tilde.

He hardly allowed him to move at all actually.

A few days later, the same happened with a sweet Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

Kenzo and me usually agree who we would like to meet and who not, but sometimes he sees more than I do, and I learned to listen to him. I know I can trust his judgement.

But this time, I didn't agree with Kenzo.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Are Two Dogs Twice The Work?

With two Hovawarts, I occasionally get the question from people we meet, if two dogs are twice the work.

I remembered when I only had Kenzo, I asked others that question too.

"Not at all", has always been my firm answer.

Some people buy it, while nodding their head with a smile. Some people don't and say "Really?". I am so glad they asked.

We do have twice the nails to clip, twice as much fur to groom, twice the meals to prepare, twice the bills, twice the vet visits, and I can go on. Clearly something is not adding up.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Groundhog Day Has Arrived

It seems our achievements to make a perfect Hovawart lady out of "you know who I mean", is suffering a minor setback.

I am afraid to call her by name, as I am sure just mentioning her name will wake her up for a new round of mischief.

It all begun, when I felt waking up started to resemble a lot like going through groundhog day.


Friday, September 19, 2014

The "Shitbag" Checklist

If you have been reading Jan's Chickenshit post, well, Tilde wasn't finished with us yet. And this time, she was caught on camera.

I was looking forward to the weekend, and also to meet Emil in person - as Jan mentioned in her post, we were spending a weekend with friends we know for quite a while from FB - I always followed Emil's story on Dina's FB page, and watched him grow from a shy and insecure puppy mill dog, into a happy and thriving Hovawart.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Beauty and The Beast

I can see most dogs think twice before they approach.

On one leash I have the Beauty, wriggling like a worm, bouncing as much as the leash allows, while the smiles on her face work like a magnet, "I want to lick you up!".

And on the other leash I have the Beast, sizing you up, to determine if you are worthy of approaching his awesomeness. And not in the last place, approaching his Beauty too.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It Could Have Been My Dog

Once you had a reactive dog, you'll never see things the same.

I can see around corners, have a set of eyes in my back, and are constantly on my toes. Ready to step in front of my dog at any moment. I rent a holiday-place as isolated as possible, avoid other dogs, and scout the paths I want to hike for escape routes. The best moment of a walk is when we made it home safe and nothing bad happened. I am misunderstood, get blamed, and called names, and couldn't care less about it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Love Bites

Tilde is doing great. So are we. Like I said before, she is settling-in rapidly, especially for a Hovawart, and we already earned her complete trust.

She is as self-assured as a pup, now 16 months old, can possibly be. Meaning some new things can still scare her, like roller-bladders and umbrellas we noticed so far, but with a little help of us and some desensitizing tricks she quickly overcomes them and bounces back. It's a joy to witness, and a huge compliment of how the shelter and her former family has socialized her.

Friday, May 16, 2014

I Am So Really Happy To Meet You

Tilde is so happy to meet people. Really happy. When I took her out to walk in a small and not too busy shopping street, her excitement went sky-high.

There were so many people to meet. And then they were on the left, and then they were on the right, it was hard for her to keep up, if she hadn't missed and disappointed somebody.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Renewed Friendship

This photo was taken 4 years ago. Viva hadn't joined the family yet, and Kenzo was still an adolescent.

On it are our youngest grand-daughter, Lucia, only 1 year old, and her mother.

It made me happy Lucia was growing up with "a dog". I hoped, it would become a just as important and large part of her life, as it was for me, growing up with the dogs of my own childhood.

It was not allowed to last, it seemed.

Her parents, witnessing several incidents with other dogs, although not involving Lucia, became mistrustful of dogs in general. Including Kenzo. The blooming friendship between him and Lucia, was abruptly canceled.

You might not expect this, but I thought their newly found distrust wasn't a bad thing at all. Even if it meant I had to keep Kenzo - and later Viva - physically separated from them and Lucia, I had to give them their own time to learn and get to know how to let kids and dogs safely interact.

They asked me for guarantees, which I never gave. But I offered help and repeated what I always felt was best. Never leave them alone together, supervise each interaction, and teach (y)our child how to interact with dogs.

Time passed in a status-quo, until Viva, with her outgoing nature as a cuddle bear and her calmness, was the first to de-ice them. She was a great help in teaching Lucia that a dog is not a toy, but a living creature with its own personality.

It made me sad that Kenzo, unlike Viva, was still looked upon with distrust, as they thought he was dangerous, with all his barking and guarding. They never understood, he was merely protecting them too, as he did for the rest of his family. I never shared my sadness with them before now, as I realized they needed to find their own way.

Lucia in the mean time became fascinated of Kenzo and Viva. Both became equally important to her, and one of the main reasons why she enjoyed her visits. Even when she could only see Kenzo from a distance behind a baby-gate, or gaze in awe at him during a walk.

Slowly, step-by-step, Lucia's parents learned to appreciate Kenzo more, by small "incidents" like the next. I remember how Kenzo once sneaked up behind Lucia, when the baby-gate was left open by mistake. She felt someone was sniffing the back of her head, and when she turned around, stood nose to nose with Kenzo. She put both hands in front of her eyes - an inventive response to what we told her never to stare a dog directly in the face - and said "Hi Kenzo!". Kenzo licked her face, and settled down right in front of her. I could see how everybody exhaled, and Kenzo just earned a new installment to his "trust"-fund.

When Viva passed, they witnessed the unexpected impact it had on Lucia, now 5 years old, and realized what an important part in her young life, Kenzo and Viva already had become. I was grateful to see how they allowed Kenzo to step in, and support Lucia in her grief over Viva. Words were not spoken, but I knew this was the moment, Kenzo was granted the benefit of the doubt.

No need to tell you, it went very well, and a friendship was renewed in the blink of eye.

And so I leave you with this recent photo of Kenzo and Lucia playing.

It warms my heart, all our hearts, seeing those two finally together again. I say it with a huge sigh of relief too, that patience finally paid off and ensured all involved felt comfortable with the situation.

Lucia makes me proud when I see how she interacts with Kenzo. As we taught her, she waits for Kenzo to initiate contact and doesn't impose herself on him.

Most of all I am thrilled on Lucia's behalf, to experience the blessing of a dog's companionship while growing up, receiving unconditional love, learning empathy, responsibility, respect and understanding of animals.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I Am Watching You!

Living together with a Hovawart like Kenzo does wonders for your social life. At least, when you spent a lot of time outdoors. Receiving guests at home, not so much.

When you are new to the family, you can expect Kenzo to pay a little visit to let you know in perfect Robert de Niro style: "I Am Watching You!". If you haven't seen the movie "Meet the Fockers", it looks something like this:

In Kenzo's version, he comes in eye-height if necessary, barks, and then retreats again. It is not really harmful in itself, but Ben Stiller will agree with me, it is pretty uncomfortable when you are on the receiving end. Even when it is Kenzo, instead of Robert de Niro.

It all goes well during the whole "oh what a good doggie" greeting process coming through the door with a lot of treats. Yet as soon as the treats stop, or we settle down, Kenzo hasn't forgotten to assert himself to the guest as the man-in-the-house, and waits for the opportunity to deliver that message loud and clear, to avoid any misunderstandings.

It has been a lot of work trying to socialize a Hovawart as protective as Kenzo - his protective nature was already shown in his puppy temperament test - with new visitors from the moment they step through the door.

And I admit, somewhere down the line, in his late adolescence, I got sloppy, thinking we were ready, because we had so many visitors as I ran my company at the 1st floor of our home, and he behaved so nicely. Maybe he was not ready, or maybe it was the fact that Viva joining the family made him even more protective, but it started with his first "I Am Watching You!" demonstration when he barked at a guest of which we assumed he had already ran the gauntlet with good results.

Since then we have tried different ways to introduce new house-guests, but he never lost his goal out of sight. The one that baffled me the most was, when I tried to greet guests outside. Away from the property, before they went into the house. It still didn't help, he even developed new strategies, by sniffing out a new guest from a group of people which he already knew, being his friendly self and receiving a shower of treats, only to quickly single that person out again for his "I Am Watching You!" warning, when we moved towards the house.

Who? Moi? Really?!
With the message delivered, he keeps one eye open to watch what the guest is doing, while I continue to reward him for all his "proper" interactions, like ignoring the guest when he or she moves, or just sniffing when we pass by. I can't define it as socializing anymore what we do, but more helping Kenzo to behave as society expects.

Our guests are always supplied with a rich supply of treats too. Kenzo might be protective, he is also practical. Although it sounds like a good idea, the treats and Viva's opposite outgoing nature, sometimes made guests overconfident towards Kenzo: "he looks sooo cute", and they approached Kenzo to give him a hug, despite my clear instructions. Only to discover, he ain't their pal yet.

More than once it were exactly the people that said to know and love dogs, who can't resist that urge to connect, and I have to bite my lip not to fire a "I told you so", when they stand there in disbelief, either questioning their own dog skills, or Kenzo's character. Instead, I run my simple script again, to explain, "Kenzo will never trust any person he never met before, in his own house, the first time you'll meet."

I realize I expect a lot from our visitors, with instructions not to initiate contact in any way with Kenzo, but do give him a treat, when he comes for a sniff. I understand it is difficult, and it is almost counter-intuitive for people not to try to touch or make contact in any way. Don't we by nature, disarm others with a smile and some attention?

The reward for the visitors that do decide to come back for a second time, is to enjoy that Kenzo will approach them with a toy, as a declaration of his acceptance. I always joke, that from now on they have to be even more careful, as Kenzo will start to protect them from their own friends.

What are your experiences with a very protective Hovawart, or any other dog that protects by nature?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Learning To Share

Until recently, a picture like this made my heart skip a beat:

The toy falls in the wrong place, exactly in the middle of both Kenzo and Viva and they have an equal opportunity to reach it. When one of your dogs is a resource guarder, like Viva, it is a disaster waiting to happen. A resource guarder has to own whatever it is they value high, usually a toy or food. And they'll fight to get it.

When resource guarding would lead to a conflict their relationship could be disturbed for ever. And I know plenty of people that had to give up one of their dogs because it has gotten totally out of hand and the relationship seemed beyond repair.

Managing Viva's resource guarding has therefore always been a big deal to me. The very first time I tried to play with Viva, now three years ago, I remember she left me baffled. She would take the toy as far away from me as possible, and her body stiffened as I tried to approach her. Since then, I worked with her, two or three times a day, to reach where we are today.

The obvious thing to do was to exchange the toy for a treat, and then give it back again, so Viva learns I won't take it away and it is fun to let me have the toy for a moment. Like we did with Kenzo, when he was a puppy, to socialize him how to interact with people and dogs when there are toys in the mix.

But that was a bridge too far for Viva, and the first half year just went by letting her have it, and acting casual and not interested around her when she had a toy. Then when she started to trust me with her toy around, I started making "play-ish" movements in her direction, which she recognized as play, yet kept her distance, but the blink in her eyes revealed she was enjoying it.

I think it was somewhere near the end of that first year Viva decided to make the next step. When I stopped that day with our game - of still making "play-ish" movements in her direction - and put my attention elsewhere, I noticed Viva was approaching me ... with her toy. She didn't want me stop. Finally we could get started with our training, and soon after we made our very first toy-for-treat exchange.

One-and-a-half year in she started to enjoy teasing me with her toy. Sometimes I found Viva standing beside me, pushing her toy against my hand. When I reached out she turned her head or made a step back so I couldn't reach it. After a second, I could feel her touching my hand again, asking for more. And when she dropped the toy she pushed her nose against my pocket, "treat please! didn't you notice?".

Although Viva and me were good now, it took longer with Kenzo in the equation. Thankfully Kenzo is blessed in being the absolute opposite of a resource guarder, and already proved he can cope with resource guarders before. But Viva remained more fierce towards Kenzo if he would run off with her toy. Kenzo quickly dropped it again, as soon as he discovered Viva noticed him. These next shots show how careful he is around Viva and a toy:

Kenzo sneaks in when he notices Viva drops her toy

 Just Viva's head turn makes Kenzo hit the emergency brakes

 Viva has it again ... of course

As it slowly became more clear to Viva that Kenzo was not out on owning what is "hers", she could relax more. At least during that second year, we could have toys laying around, and we could start trusting her enough not to start a fight over it.

Of course Kenzo took advantage of the fact Viva was getting more relaxed, and started to tease her by keeping a toy longer in an attempt to invite Viva to chase him, after which he quickly dropped the toy. And ran a little further, just in case. And so we slowly reached into the third year, where we finally noticed if the toy would end up in the middle of them like in the photo above, Viva was ok with letting Kenzo have it. Also for a longer while.

And this month we had our first encounter where they found themselves both on the end of a tug-of-war rope, and after a second that seemed to last a century, Viva let it go, for the very first time, and chased Kenzo-with-rope instead, because that is a lot more fun.

We can all relax a little bit more now, and although I think it is not necessary anymore to oversee and help them in their play, I think I'll keep my eyes open for a while still, just in case.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Kenzo's Trash Talking

Trash Talking? Moi?
We ended up scouting the new area we stranded in, Kenzo and me. The car had to get fixed. Again. Thankfully Kenzo was with me, and a walk beats the repair shop's waiting room and bad coffee any day. It was mostly a business park area so I didn't expect to experience any thrilling sights. When you have seen one, you have seen them all. But for Kenzo, a sniff is a sniff. It's good everywhere.

Passing a fenced-in area, I got a shock when a dog on the other side of the fence suddenly started barking. They always do that right at the moment you least expect it and when you go around in your own thoughts. Kenzo pretended he didn't noticed the disturbance, continued with his sniffing like nothing happened and only changed his stance to a little more low and calm, while keeping an eye on the other dog only from the corner of his eyes.

Excellent, I thought. That was an awesome display of calming dog body language, and gave Kenzo a treat for that. It seemed to have a soothing effect on the "guard" dog, so I threw a treat over to him as well - old habits die hard. He followed us all the way down to the end of the fence. And it was a long fence. He was still barking, but the alarm sound in it was missing. Kenzo remained stoic.

On the way back I thought it was better to pass on the other side of the street to avoid all the commotion. No reason to tease the dog after all. This side of the street had a long line of two-feet high boulders along the pavement, and it gave Kenzo plenty of opportunity to do some additional sniffing. Still, the routine repeated itself. When we reached the end of the fence, the dog stopped barking and now he was up for one very rude answer.

Like in slow-motion, Kenzo seemed to use every muscle in his body to make himself as tall as possible. His tail went high up into the air, and he took one step to the closest boulder, lifted his leg facing the dog, looked straight at him with his mouth closed, and released some water. The dog answered with a tail wag.

I just witnessed Kenzo "giving the Finger" in dog language, and I started laughing out loud, while Kenzo already was parading further down the road, celebrating his "victory". Studying all that dog body language is getting more and more fun, now I have opened my eyes for it.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Don't Ignore Too Much Bad Behavior

May I jump up on you? Please?
This is a post inspired by - and you might like to read that instead - "You Cannot Punish Love".

If you are still here, I only want to share why it was an Aha!-moment article for us.

We have always been your average "responsible" dog family and learning Kenzo and Viva not to jump up on people was on our shortlist, among others.

It didn't totally work out. Actually it is quite easy to train, you just ignore the behavior and they stop jumping. It was working quite fine if I could have resisted those wagging tails and cute smiles when I come in the door. But I can't. I like it when they jump.

So I admit. Kenzo is a jumper. It is entirely my fault. I look forward to the ritual that is going to go down as soon as I open the door. I just love to have his paws on my shoulders and get my ear nibbled while he bursts my ear drums with loud barks.

Viva is not a jumper, but that is because of her back issues, but she sure bounces. I come down on my knees for her instead so she can make a tiny jump and she loves it too.

Luckily for me they first start jumping up on other people after they have already had a couple of earlier good meets with them, so they will not jump up on just anybody right away. But all our regular house guests know, they will probably jump. If they don't like it, they should just ignore it by turning away, I told my guests. I know, it is not my finest hour.

Other behaviors, like coming over for a kiss and a hug, while leaving fur and slime on my guests' clothes, I told them to just ignore those advances too if they didn't liked it. Some didn't care, and actually let them jump and had a blast with Kenzo & Viva like I do. Others just did the ignoring by turning away.

And then there were the middle-way people. Ignoring the behavior, but making sure they were giving love in some way to Kenzo & Viva, in an other way. Like giving them a belly-rub when they asked for it. In hindsight: they were the smart ones.

Kenzo in particular started to develop a non-relationship to the guests that were ignoring him. He even returned to some of the typical behavior we know when he meets people for the very first time: he became suspicious. And that made things worse, as now these guests started to feel he didn't liked them. And in fact, he didn't. Not anymore.

It always puzzled me why that happened, and what I could do about it. And that's when I read "You Cannot Punish Love". According to the article, jumping up is one of the genetically hardwired tools a dog uses to bond with us humans. My poor guests were not ignoring his behavior and thereby shaping it, they were refusing his love. And as a result, Kenzo loved them a little less, too. In the words of Prescot Breeden, the author:
"it is the product of an entire evolutionary lineage that survived through cooperation and the building of strong social bonds through reciprocity, trust, play and affection. Thus when a dog is being social with us, it is essential to reciprocate their play and affection."
Dogs are complex social beings like us. Probably my biggest mistake was to see it as just another training exercise, without acknowledging what the root cause is that makes them actually jump up in the first place. So it is back to the training of the jumps, and this time in a way to make sure they get the love they are asking for in another way. I imagine my guests now having to perform a mandatory belly-rub or tug-of-war game as soon as they entered the door. At least, if they want Kenzo & Viva to bond with them.

I think I never stop learning, dogs are truly fascinating.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

First Dogs Adopted: Now What?

Bella - first of the "grown up" Hovies up for adoption
Earlier than expected the first dogs from the former puppy mill already went up for adoption, and ... were also adopted. So far 8 dogs are adopted. Earlier during the week the first of the puppies started appearing on the adoption site, and yesterday the first grown-up Hovawart, Bella, almost 4 years old, was put up for adoption; a milestone.

Bella is still shy, but the shelter noticed she already made big steps forward on a daily basis, so they were confident Bella was ready to make the next step. Amazing, as it is only a week after they were seized. Dogs are so resilient.

They are all carefully evaluated by the shelter's behavioral expert, and of course some requirements are put forward to the future families. In shy Bella's case that was: a family experienced with dogs, a calm environment, and no small kids. Of course, the future family is briefed in more detail, but...

What does that mean? Can you summarize instructions for the rest of Bella's life in one or two short sentences? What does it require to take care of a shy, anxious or fearful dog which had a life so far confined to the inside of a cage in dark stables, deprived of daylight and social interaction with humans?

I asked Debbie Jacobs, CPDT-KA, and author of the book "A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dog", what would be her main piece of advice to the people that are about to adopt a dog from the former puppy mill:
"The most important point at this time for these dogs is that they feel safe, have their choices for distance respected and receive LOTS of good food treats and if they want, playtime with the people or other dogs in the house."
When I adopted fearful Viva some years ago I felt a lot like how some of you might feel today, when you are about to adopt one of the puppy mill dogs. It was mostly a leap of faith from my side. Debbie's book and blog was a tremendous help in understanding Viva better, and helping her to be the happy and not so fearful dog she is today. According to Debbie that is very well possible for the puppy mill dogs as well:
"If these dogs are going to be successful it's going to be because their owners are able to respond appropriately to behaviors they are seeing. Thankfully even many of these dogs who have suffered so much or been deprived, can become successful pets."
When you are not a natural like me, and you consider to adopt one of the dogs, you might find Debbie's blog very helpfull. A great place to start exploring all the resources available is Getting Started, and just take it from there. Or if you like it better, consider the book.

You are on a mission. It will not happen overnight. Some of the things you do today and cherish, you might have to find alternatives for. But the reward of success for you and your dog will be a bond that goes so deep, you not have thought possible. It will have its ups and downs, but it will definitely be worth it. At least, that is how I feel now, looking back at the journey of Viva and me so far.

Back to the dogs. The shelter mentioned the interest for the Hovawarts is a lot less than for the Golden's. Maybe understandable, as the Golden's are a lot more well-know to most families. On the other hand you will read with most Hovawarts in the accompanying requirements-text that a family with Hovawart experience would be preferable. That makes me wonder. There are not that many Hovawart families in Denmark. Most of them are torn beforehand by the 20 year's existence of this puppy mill and having advocated not to buy from the puppy mill.

Therefore I hope that the shelter will soon accept adoption requests from experienced Hovawart parents from surrounding countries as well. Or maybe even, overseas, although the shelter rightfully worries the long travel might be too stressful for the dogs.

And to keep the best news to the end: I just learned that the first Hovawart puppy was adopted by a family. Her name is Stella, only 5 months old. She is a careful little girl and her new family will provide her with a calm environment just to her liking. Wishing Stella and her family all the best. I am delighted.

I almost can't believe this is happening now. Stella will soon make her first new steps in life, into the light and with her freedom regained. More will follow. I wish I could be a fly on the wall with them all.


You can find the adoption page here. Inquiries can be send to internat (at) mail (dot) dk.

For the latest and how you can help, visit the page Stop Danish Hovawart Puppy Mill.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Small Victories

While I work with Viva's "main" issues, like fear of dogs and sudden sounds, I don't give other, smaller issues, a lot of thought. One of those is her dislike of the water hose. I guess I don't have to control everything, so if she dislikes something as trivial as a water hose, that's fine by me. And with the bigger issues pending ... I always have a first things first attitude. And of course, my gender prevents me from multi-tasking.

It is good to know that even when you have plenty of lame excuses like I do, you can still be surprised with progress.

When we return from our daily walks, I play a little with Kenzo and the water hose, and use it to fill up a small pool Viva likes to cool her paws in. She always keeps her distance, wait until I lay down the water hose, and then rushes into the pool.

You can imagine the look on my face, when suddenly Viva showed up very close to the water hose while I was filling up her pool. All I did was stay quiet - and took out the camera:

"Oh my, this is really awfully close"

"Hmmm, it doesn't seem to do me any harm..."

"Let's do it then"

"That was not bad at all"

"I can do this!"

These small unexpected victories are the best. Just like her earlier nice behavior at the groomer's. I like to think it is because of all the work we put in, it improves her so much, that she can take the smaller battles herself. But maybe it is despite my efforts, and Viva can do it a lot better independently, without me prodding. Either way, I love it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Week Under The Wings of a Guardian Angel

Soon after our Norway trip we unexpectedly found ourselves traveling to Holland and Germany again.

On such short notice we could only rent a tiny cabin in a very busy park with a lot of off-leash dogs. A perfect scenario to totally freak-out Viva, and I didn't want to find myself in a situation where I had to have her locked up in a car and a cabin for a week or more.

Unable to arrange something that would accommodate Viva's reactive needs, only me and Kenzo therefore left for the trip.

I thought that some serious one-on-one time would be excellent, and Kenzo would enjoy my undivided attention. At least in the evenings, during day time he would come with me to the office. Of course, that was not how events unfolded.

When we arrived at the busy park, the tiny cabins were almost build up against each other. Luckily we had the last one in a row giving us a forest view on the rear of the cabin. Our direct neighbor had two dogs that barked continuously. The paths between the cabins, campers and trailers were a myriad of excited kids and the occasional off leash dog - not allowed but nobody seemed to care about that.

Keeping an eye on the path at all times
Normally Kenzo would have marked the cabin as his territory and barked at anything approaching that I could have missed. In stead, he looked curious at his surroundings, kept a good eye on the two barkers next door - which even barked more because of that. In the late afternoon we went on a trip to the beach. While navigating through the park, dodging kid's toys and passing lunging dogs behind fences I was proud of Kenzo. He was on his best behavior, and ignored all the disturbances.

He bullied a couple of off-leash, "in your face", adolescent male dogs, that made a rude attempt for a greet, accompanied by the obligatory "my dog is friendly !" from an owner somewhere. Apart from these instant lessons in dog etiquette, he kept stiff on my side and ignored all the park could throw at him. How differently would it have turned out, I thought, if Viva would have been with us.

When we made it to the beach I started to worry. It seemed he didn't want to play fetch or swim. Which is very odd as he usually goes ballistic when we are on a beach. This time, he didn't seem to seek his high. When I sad down on the beach to look at some kite surfers and waiting for the sun to set, Kenzo laid down as well - picture on top - and kept his place. Again unusual. He didn't seemed depressed, or sick for that matter, at all.

I was puzzled. We done this before. He can handle new places. We just returned from Norway, where he seemed to find so much pleasure in exploring his new environment. Continuing our beach walk, while trying some fetch again, I noticed he did play when the ball was within approximately 5 meters from me. Any longer and I could get it myself. I went for a swim. Kenzo followed.

So those were the new rules. Kenzo, recognizing that the family not being with us was odd, decided to keep me under his wings. Keep an eye out, not to leave my side whatever the temptation, and make sure I was safe. He appointed himself as my guardian angel for the week. And he would keep on doing that until we got home again. Nothing I could do about it. When Kenzo decides - like a Hovawart -, he takes his own decisions in situations like this and is determinant as well. The Born Protector.

Stranded in Germany
Fate was not finished with Kenzo and me. Driving back home after a week in Holland, we stranded with car trouble in Germany - so much for the new Hovie Cruiser but that is another story.

Suddenly my newly self-appointed guardian angel was driving on my lap in a tow-truck with a strange driver next to us. Found himself in a car repair shop with loud noises, visited busy hotel lobbies and stayed in a hotel room with lots of sudden sounds on the hallway and adjacent rooms. Kenzo just got very busy.

I helped him as much as I could, "It's Ok", "Nice person coming". And when he is alert and vigilant, I better make sure to tell him that, or an unavoidable arrest would be carried out - fast and accurate.

So far, Kenzo hadn't barked the whole week. That's a first. Neither did he make an arrest. The "It's Ok" kept him re-assured we had everything under control. But it meant I had to be as alert and vigilant as Kenzo at all times. And that my friends, is wishful thinking.

I crashed together with Kenzo on the outside restaurant of the hotel. A nice couple came in and sat down on the table next to us. They had a Dachshund that barked a couple of times. We don't know of what. Kenzo remained balanced, sniffed a little from a distance, and ignored the Dachshund. We were having a conversation in German and I was so excited with this opportunity to brush off my German I got carried away.

The thing is, for Kenzo a waiter has always been a little like a mailman. They come straight at us, he barks, and they go away. At least he thinks. Who can resist such a reinforcer? I knew that of course, so the first times the waiter came at us, "It's Ok" had the expected effect. After a couple of times he accepted the waiter. Talking with the couple, I let my guard down. Kenzo barked, and came forward about 1 meter, although I had him leashed. The volume of the Hovawart bark silenced the whole restaurant and I noticed from the corner of my eye, another waitress with my appetizer's was standing behind me, now shaking and looking very worried. Kenzo seemed to have a proud smear on his face like he was saying: "There is one you missed dad!".

Doing my best impression of a responsible owner, I took Kenzo to our room and returned to the restaurant without him. Made a couple of jokes to the persons with the most worried faces, to diffuse the situation, and made an apology to the waitress - plus she got a huge tip, that instantly returned a big smile for the rest of the evening. The waitress took it good, "He takes good care of you". She was spot on, and described my week in a nutshell.

That was the only time he barked that week. Still amazingly well done. Especially for a Kenzo on high alert. For me it was a whole new experience to see Kenzo so focused on his task. It is kinda nice as well, to be appointed the center of the universe, by your dog. Albeit for a week. We closed the week off with a reunion coming home. It was heart-warming to see how Kenzo and Viva greeted each other with excited squeals and ear-nibbles, and first when they were done, they said hello to my wife and me.

I wonder how that would have made Kenzo feel of himself. Not wanting to give him human feelings and reasoning, I do think he must have been pretty proud of himself. Bringing dad home and reuniting the family. The first thing we did, was play some fetch, and indeed, the 5 meter barrier was broken.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

There Is a Time to Think and a Time to Act

In the previous installment about Hovawarts and Temperament I mentioned how responsible Hovawart breeders have the temperament of their puppies tested. What did this test reveal about Kenzo? And did the test help us understand Kenzo better?

When we visited Kenzo's breeder for the first time, we met both Kenzo and one more Hovawart puppy, his brother "Izak". At 12 weeks old, they were the litter left-overs. The families they were destined to join had regretted their decision.

While Kenzo's brother continued to interact with us, growling, biting my shoe-laces and jumping up, Kenzo had retreated to the garden after a first greet. There he laid down, leaning on a fence, and enjoyed the view he had over the fields. Still playing with his brother, I asked the breeder which one he would recommend, considering we would become first-time Hovawart owners. He nodded over to Kenzo, "That one", he said, and added, "He is more mellow". Would it be my newbie decision, I would have chosen Izak, but I followed the breeder's advice.

When we took Kenzo home, we also got a copy of his temperament test report. Over time I became fascinated by it, as the test confirmed some of the things we started to observe with Kenzo.


In short, Kenzo missed most of the "desired" behaviors in the test that would qualify him as a working Hovawart. He remained cautious in his contact towards the tester during the contact tests. He was interested in the ball used for the prey drive test, but sniffed it before grabbing it. In the fight drive test he cautiously took hold of the object but quickly released again. Overall, his drive was low in these areas. No need to say, that his brother Izak scored high values.

In the social- and stress tests he did very well. He was an active, calm and balanced participant and used most of the time for the test to engage and showed no signs of stress. In the defense tests Kenzo displayed a high drive, he made no flight attempts neither did he respond with aggression. There was a little defender already present in that small puppy.


We soon experienced, like the test predicted, that Kenzo is a little reserved and craves some encouragement. He needs time to think things over. He remains cautious towards people he doesn't know, even if they would come with his favorite toy. When he gets a new bone or treat, he first takes a short sniff, before he gently takes it. Any new thing we bring in the house, from coffee-machine to doormat, has to be investigated thoroughly.

He chases squirrels but has never hurt one despite ample opportunity. Even when he catches one, he quickly releases. Kenzo doesn't value resources. His favorite toy, or place to sleep, is happily shared with Viva, and before her, with any dog that visited.

In our "Shutzhund" class it also became very obvious. When Kenzo was presented with the "guy with the arm" he grabbed it cautiously and quickly released again. It took a couple of additional sessions for him to understand that this was a game and getting hold of the arm was fun. The day we got a replacement trainer, he didn't bite, as he had to think over this new situation.

In all types of training we did in the past or still do today, like obedience and tracking, Kenzo needs encouragement and some time to solve a problem. I learned not to try to help him, as he will only look up at me for guidance and I want him to do the problem-solving himself. He is quickly labeled as "shy, not confident" but that is not true. He just needs some encouragement and a little more time, and maybe allow him a second or third try. One of our trainers who knows Kenzo since puppy hood takes pride in always giving Kenzo a new puzzle to solve. We both enjoy seeing him go through his elaborate thinking process.


The test also predicted a little defender. And indeed, Kenzo does not need a lot of thinking when we have an unexpected visitor on an unexpected place. On the contrary, he is as fast as lightning. Kenzo has by now made a number of "arrests" - he stops a person and keeps them on the same spot until I arrive -  in which he judged a person as a threat. Maybe you remember his drugs-bust, but we also witnessed arrests where people would come on our property, or when a "suspicious" person would approach us or other people he knows very well, outdoors.

When we were involved in an outdoors search exercise, the trainer I mentioned before was present in the search area. A Ranger suddenly appeared from behind a mud wall and walked straight to the trainer. She looked at the man while the expression on her face changed, probably wondering what the man wanted. Kenzo was the first of the group to notice this change in her expression. While I looked up to see what got his attention, he was already on his way to make his arrest.

Although the trainer was very flattered and touched when Kenzo jumped in to "protect" her, Kenzo's high defense drive is something which is difficult to manage properly. When I am outside I am always aware of the surroundings, to prevent him from making any further arrests.

If anything or anybody strikes me as odd, it is guaranteed Kenzo will be next to notice. It took a while, but when I let him know it is alright or recall him he listens fine and relaxes. It means a lot to him knowing I am aware of any "threat". The problem is when he notices something before I did and I therefore act too late, and he makes his own decision. Although I am certain he will not bite, people might understandably mistake it for getting attacked, maybe hit or kick him, and things could go wrong from there.

The odd thing is that we also trained arrests on "Schutzhund" training, but on that stage he always refused to arrest any new person he did not know. Clearly he distinguishes between the two and only acts this way when he perceives something as a threat, as that is how he is wired.

I am still grateful for the breeder, giving the advice for Kenzo as he did. For a first-time Hovawart owner, one drive is more than enough to manage.
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