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Introduction to Proper Training, Obedience and Socialization

As we addressed in previous chapters, the Great Pyrenees is a large sized dog and is a dominant breed. They possess strong guardian instincts and a strong desire for a proper pack structure. Because of this, it is absolutely essential that you begin basic training and socialization from the day you first bring your new dog home. Failure to do this will very likely result in later problems that will be much more difficult to correct down the road.

It is very important to remember that the Great Pyrenees was bred for a specific purpose, as a livestock guardian dog, and as such is not an ordinary dog. You must never allow yourself to forget that, and must ensure that you keep your Pyr controlled at all times, on leash when walking and behind a fence when at home. It will only take one altercation with a neighbors dog to remind you of this fact if you forget, so to ensure good neighborly relations, ensure your Pyr knows his boundaries. Most Pyr's make poor candidates for off leash types of dogs and even if yours is tolerant to other dogs and animals, they can many times develop selective hearing when off the leash and out of reach.

There are 3 types of training that you will be involving yourself in.

Basic Control Techniques:
These are essential techniques to properly control your Pyr and allow him to understand his place in your family. This should begin from the first day you bring him home.

Basic Training:
These are the basics, the sit, stay, come commands. Teach these early, and often for best results.

Socialization:
This is critical and the most important time of all is between 8 weeks and 3 months of age. During this time it is essential that you familiarize it with other people, children and other animals, including dogs, cats and any other animals that it may encounter later in life. Proper socialization helps ensure that you dog will become accustomed to all these strange creatures and learn that there is nothing to fear from them. Failure to properly socialize can result in fear aggression and possible biting incidents. However, proper socialization will almost always pre-empt any such behavior. Socialization is easy, and fun and can be accomplished with 2 or three walks a week where there are a lot of people and other dogs. Socialization also involves new experiences, such as vehicle rides, strange noises and visits to different places.

Obedience:
This is advanced training and can help master the basics as well as more advanced commands. It is usually done in a class situation, with other dogs. This is optional, however can be very helpful to help socialize your puppy to multiple dog situations. This is very important, especially if you plan on showing your dog down the road. Its a fact that dogs learn from seeing what other dogs do. Although Great Pyrenees are highly intelligent and will likely understand and pick up on a new command almost immediately, its independence will weigh heavily on its overall success. Quite simply, if what you want and what your Pyr wants do not match, it will resist. This may require some extra training and can also be minimized with plenty of positive reinforcement. When the dog performs as requested, give it lots of praise and reward it. This will help ensure things go much smoother.




Introduction to Proper Control

As the Great Pyrenees is a dominant breed of animal, it has a strong sense of pack structure and unless taught otherwise, will naturally attempt to assume the dominant role in your "pack". This is bad and can lead to aggression against family members. It is however, very easy to prevent and usually can be learning in one or 2 lessons.

Signs of challenges to your dominance is growling, snarling, food aggression, stare downs and other obvious signs of aggression. Some Pyrs are less dominant and do not require a solid setting of the ground rules, while others may require a lesson or two. It is essential that all members of your family, including your children are seen by your dog as its "Alpha". This can begin during play, feeding and other interaction with your dog. The dog should understand that any member of the family can touch its food, toys and other playthings and even take them away at any time. It should also understand that toys and food are on your schedule, not its. Growling, or any other forms of aggression towards the family must be dealt with immediately in a firm, yet gentle way. Great Pyrenees are known to be very sensitive to human contact and physical discipline by striking the dog should be avoided as it can result in the dog becoming hand shy.

Your Great Pyrenees is a dominant breed animal with strong instincts and desire for pack structure and as such, its essential that you set the ground rules and provide proper training and socialization from the first day you bring it home. The dog should clearly understand that all members of the family, including your children are its "Alpha". This will eliminate the possibility of aggression as well as making the dog happier as it will clearly understand its place in your "pack"



Proper Control Techniques

The first weeks that you have your new puppy can be critical. You have the opportunity to head off many potential behavioral problems before they start.

Food & Family Aggression:
Do not let your do dictate about food, either the type of food or the feeding times. If your puppy refuses a meal, pick up the food bowl and put it away until the next feed. A healthy puppy will come to no harm from missing one meal. If you have this battle for a couple of days, you will have cured this problem. If you allow it to persist, you will have much more difficulty curing it later. Your puppy must learn to eat at feeding time and not when he or she feels like. From a very early age, litter mates work out a very strict hierarchy with one another, sorting out who is the boss of their pack, so do not make the mistake of thinking your puppy does not understand what is involved. Always feed your dog AFTER the rest of the household has eaten, do not give your puppy tidbits when you are eating.

Once a day, at feeding time, place the food bowl down and let the puppy get started on it, then quietly remove the food, while praising it for 30 seconds, then replace the food bowl. As pack leader, you have the right to decide when and what will be eaten and it is your right to remove the food at any time if you wish. If the puppy growls when you approach the food, tap him or her on the nose and say "No!!" and remove the food for a few minutes. Continue this until the puppy no longer growls when you reach for the food. Then allow all the other members of your household to repeat the procedure to ensure that the puppy does not act aggressively towards any member of the household. Failure to do this can cause dominance problems with other members of your household. The puppy must learn that aggression towards members of the family is never acceptable. If you have a particularly dominant puppy and it snarls or snaps at you, another way to make them understand is to roll the puppy over on his or her back, kneeling over the puppy and carefully hold it still until it stops squirming. Once it stops squirming it understands that you are in control and you can release it. You can repeat this with other members of your family if necessary and repeat if required. This is the canine equivalent of a submission. You should avoid this technique if your have a "soft" or shy puppy as this can sometime reinforce the shy temperament.



Chewing & Toy Aggression:
Never allow your puppy to chew on your fingers, this is a sure way to cause much bigger problems in the future. On the first occasion this happens, simulate a dogs deep throated growl. A growl from you, the pack leader will stop this behavior. Do not move you hand away quickly, the puppy will think you are teasing and the chase instinct is to grab.

Toys always belong to you. You allow your puppy to play with them on your terms, they should be kept on a high shelf, out of reach of the puppy. It is vital that the puppy understands that playing is at your invitation and that you always win the toy in the end. Tug of war games will teach the puppy to challenge you for supremacy. Although this can be cute with a 25-30 pound puppy, it will be a different story with a 120-130lb full grown dog. At the end of playing, you must take the toy from the puppy. If the puppy is reluctant to give up the toy, or acts aggressively, place your index finger and thumb on either side of the bottom jaw and open the puppy's mouth and remove the toy, growling deeply at the puppy if there is any sign of resistance. This technique will help reinforce your dominance over your puppy.

Do not allow your puppy to run off with an object. If you suspect that this may occur, attach your puppy to a short, light line and then you are back in control. A puppy that believes that it can have its own way simply by staying out of your reach can be difficult to train later. If your puppy does not come back voluntarily, lightly pull on the line towards you. When the puppy comes towards you, give it plenty of praise. If does not matter that the puppy had no choice, what mattered is the puppy did come to you.



Required Training Supplies


Some essential are required for the challenging training and socialization stage. These include the basics, such as crate, collar, leash and can also include some more advanced training aids and tools, which will be discussed later.



Training Crate or Kennel

This is a very important tool that will go a long way to helping house train your dog and also will help you keep your sanity. This will be your dogs hidey-hole while he is unattended in the home or sleeping. It will ensure that you dogs stays out of mischief and elimination in the house while you are not looking. As Great Pyrenees grow very quickly, it is best to buy once and allow your dog to grow in to it. A good crate should be wire steel composition, at least 32" high by 29" wide. This will allow most adult dogs to stand up and turn around. A good crate will cost in the neighborhood of $75-250, depending on brand and features. Many brands are portable and can be folded up for trips. A good one will also have a removable bottom tray, very handy for cleanup.



Regular Collar

A good quality dog collar is also essential. If your dog is a puppy, it is likely that a medium thickness nylon collar, 16"-20" long will do until the dog is a young adult. If the puppy's neck is too small, you can punch an additional hole in the collar. Remember, he will grow into it within weeks. Once your dog is a young adult, you should invest in a quality heavy weight collar, either nylon or leather. A thick leather collar is more expensive, but it will last for years and is more durable than nylon. If your dog is to see some duty in the field as a guardian dog, you will likely want to invest in a heavy duty spiked leather collar, designed to help protect yours dogs vulnerable neck area from predator's teeth. The regular collar is the everyday collar that remains on the dog.



Dog Leash

Your dog leash will be one of your best friends. As with the collar, the best option is to invest once in a high quality leash that will last for years. These come in many compositions, such as nylon, leather, steel chain, rope-style and hemp. You will want a heavy duty one as an adult Pyr can easily snap a light weight one. The leash should be comfortable in your hand and also durable. Keep it out of reach when not in use to avoid it being mistaken for a chew toy. In general, we do not recommend using retractable leashes with Great Pyrenees as their strength can easily break it. Additionally, halti's or gentle leader harnesses also do not work well with Pyr due to their tendency to walk beside or behind you, rather than in front as these are designed for.



Training Collar (Prong or Pinch)

Training collars come in 2 general varieties, pinch/prong and choke. The pinch collar, also known as prong collar is often misunderstood by those not familiar with it, due to its rather barbaric look. Looks aside, it is a very effective training tool and is also preferred by many trainers over choke collars, which are known to cause long term neck damage and muscle strain. Prong collars do not have this side effect and work by delivering a light pinch to the neck when you dog is resisting your direction. It should be stressed that it is a temporary use collar, for use when walking and should never be used for tying your dog. Pinch collars are also very adjustable as they come with removable links for resizing to your dog's growing neck. The pinch collar can make walking your dog a breeze and it will also make it far easier to hold your dog in a control position should you need to. Proper use of a prong collar can reduce time involved for leash training by 50-75%. It can also be helpful in walking and controlling the very dominant Pyr.



Training Collar (Choke)

A choke collar is another type of training collar. It works by applying pressure to the dogs neck when resisting your direction. Although less expensive than prong collars, it is not as effective and has been shown that long term use can cause neck and muscle damage. As with the prong collar, a choke collar is a temporary use collar and should never be used to tie your dog.




Basic Leash Training

Beginning to train your dog to walk properly on a leash is something that should begin within the first week of first bringing your dog/puppy home. It can be done using a regular collar and leash, although proper use of a training collar, such as pinch/prong collar will greatly reduce the time required to train the dog. The Great Pyrenees have a much higher than average tolerance to pain and as such, regular collars are less effective than with other breeds of dogs. It should be remembered that the Great Pyrenees is a very independent breed and will definitely initially resist your efforts to take him for a walk. If your dog is a puppy, you can begin anytime after 8 weeks of age, the sooner the better. For puppies, keep the walking sessions brief, 20-30 minutes and then allow the puppy to rest for a short time. By 3 months of age, your dog should have no problem going to a 1 hour or longer continuous walk.

The first time on the leash will be somewhat challenging and many times dramatic as your puppy will resist the efforts. A training collar will help greatly at this point. It is critical that you do not give in to your puppies wishes, as doing so will be reinforcing the negative behavior. Attaching the leash to the collar/training collar, begin walking forward gently pulling the puppy in a forward direction. He/she may walk voluntarily for a short duration and will then abruptly put on the brakes and will try to sit down and resist the walk. At this point, gently pull up on the collar with the leash and continue moving forward. When the puppy attempts to resist you, give it a gentle tug in a forward direction in addition to coaxing his by voice until it begins to move forward. Give him a light praise as he moves forward. Do not pull aggressively, your goal is ensure the puppy understands and also to help the process be as enjoyable as possible, which aids in the training process. It will be necessary to correct the puppy numerous times through slight forward tugs, until the puppy understands clearly that he MUST follow your lead. If you are using a pinch/prong collar, the gentle pulls forward may be accompanies by a small yelp, do not be alarmed, this is normal and is not injuring the puppy, but rather simply applying a small pinch to the neck as a correction for the cease in motion. As the training sessions progresses, you will notice a decrease in resistance to the leash. Typically this takes 2-3 hours using a training collar and significant longer using a regular collar. Once the puppy clearly understands that resisting the walk is not an option, you will have very little problems in the future.

If the puppy is young, allow it to socialize with other people and dogs on the walk, always checking with the other dogs' owner first to ensure it is not aggressive. Allow children and people to pet it. This helps make the walk a more enjoyable experience for your puppy, thereby reducing the training period and also helps properly socialize the dog with people and other animals, which will greatly reduce the chances for aggression problems later in life.


Although somewhat draconian in appearance, properly used, a pinch/prong collar will significantly reduce the leash training period. It is much more effective than a regular collar and does not cause long term muscle/neck damage as choke or chain collars do. It is expandable by adding/removing links and will also be very effective in helping to control the dominant Pyr later in life if you encounter another dog while on a walk.



Basic Socialization

Dog are social animals and learn just about everything from one another in their pack. (including you, their pack leader). From the day they are born they are constantly learning, from their litter mates, their mother and other animals/objects around them. They learn proper dog-dog social skills, placement in the pack and basic interaction skills with dogs and other animals. For example, the overly bold puppy that ventures too close to its mothers food bowl is gently, but firmly corrected by its mother and it quickly learns that such behavior is inappropriate. Once you bring your new dog home, it is no different and an absence of socialization and proper control will definitely lead to negative behavior problems later in life, when they will be far more difficult to correct.

The most critical time for socialization is between 8 weeks and 3 months of age. During this time, it should be well introduced to other people, especially those it is not familiar with, new experiences, different noises, as well as other dogs and other animals. Proper socialization begins at home, with controlled and supervised introduction to any other animals in your home. This helps it to develop interaction skills with other animals and to learn what is not appropriate behavior. Introduce to everyday to new noises, clatter pots and pans together, dishes and make other loud noises. This helps to prevent noise shyness with your puppy. Then begin socialization with other dogs and people on your walks together. This will also help it to develop proper social skills and will ensure that it does not fear people or other dogs, which can lead to unwanted aggression. Allow people and children to pet and play with the puppy and also allow other dogs to interact with it, after getting permission from the other dogs owner. The well socialized dog will know how to act with other people, and animals and will ensure that your dog grows up to be a happy, trustworthy and confident member of the family.




Housebreaking

House breaking is essential if your new dog is going to be spending any amount of time indoors. To exist in a home, your dog must be trained not to eliminate indoors, but rather to alert you that it needs to be let out. The easiest way to accomplish this feat is through proper use of an indoor training crate. This is a wire kennel that will server to train your dog as well as giving it a place to sleep when unsupervised. A good crate will cost anywhere from $60-$250 depending on size, manufacturer and features, so ensure that you purchase one that will fit your dog when fully grown. Most of these can be folded up to take on trips or stored away when not in use. As a general rule, make sure you purchase one that is no smaller than 32" high X 29" wide. This will allow most adult Great Pyrenees, with the exception of abnormally large males to stand up, lie down and turn around in.

Dog's have an instinctive desire not to soil the area where they sleep. As such, a training crate will allow you to contain your puppy, which will naturally whine and bark when it needs to eliminate. Puppies less than 3 months old have a very small bladder and need to be let out every 2 hours on average. Once 3 months of age, they will be able to hold it a couple of hours longer. By 6 months of age, they should be able to contain themselves for the night. This means that for the first couple of months with your puppy, you need to expect to let it outside every few hours. Do not neglect its whines and allow it to eliminate in the crate or you will set a negative behavior pattern that will be more difficult to cure. When you let the puppy out to eliminate, it should be praised for holding itself. You must also learn to distinguish between the puppy whining from simply being contained in the crate from the puppy whining that it need to relieve itself.



A crate, or wire kennel is a great training aid for housebreaking. It will also serve well to keep your dog out of mischief when indoors unattended. As Great Pyrenees puppies grow very quickly, ensure you purchase a crate that will be large enough to be used for your dog when fully grown. Typically, a crate no smaller than 32" high X 29" wide. This will service most sized adults, with the exception of abnormally large males. If it is your budget, you can aquire a 36" high kennel to ensure your dog will not outgrow it.


During the training process, there will unquestionably be incidents. These usually occur after play or when unsupervised. If the dog eliminates indoors, you should firmly, but gently tap it on the nose with your finger, tell it NO! in a firm voice and immediately take it outside. This procedure will ONLY work if you physically catch the dog in that act of eliminating and it must be done immediately, or it will have no effect. Never strike the puppy with your hand or any objects as this is sure to cause hand shyness.

For best results, ensure that you take the dog outside shortly after meals and water breaks. This will help minimize the chances of an indoor incident. A young puppy will typically have to relieve himself 6-8 times per day on average.

When allowing the puppy to play in the house, it should be confined to a small area or room in the house, which is covered in newspapers to catch an accidental elimination. Again, when the puppy eliminates on the newspaper, scold it firmly but lightly and immediately take it outside and praise it when it relieves itself outside.

Some people have had success in training their dog to eliminate on command. This is done by using a short keyword just as the dog is about to relieve itself, followed by praise afterward. With repetition, the dog can be taught to quickly eliminate on command.

The house breaking process takes time, so you must have patience, be persistent and offer plenty of praise on good behavior. Accidents in the house are not intentional acts, rather the young puppy is not yet able to control its bowel movements. Light scolding allows it to recognize its mistakes, while praise reinforces desirable ones. Positive reinforcement allows the puppy to adjust easily as it feels loved and wanted, rather than alone and rejected.



The Basic Come Command

The "come" is something that will be used often. If your dog is a puppy, it is likely that you will have quicker success if you begin short lessons beginning from the day you bring your new puppy home. To your puppy, the first few days will be filled with puppy enthusiasm and curiosity. Most puppies will have a natural instinct to approach when coaxed, especially if you kneel down or sit closer to its level. This immediately puts the puppy at ease and it is likely to come bounding over once you have attracted it attention. Generally, positive reinforcement works the best. Some people use a treat or biscuit to help kick start things, however these should be used sparingly or it will backfire on you later once you try to take the treat out of the equation. Instead, substitute with plenty of praise and love.

The time involved to master the come command depends on the individual dog, the training methods and the duration. Remember, dogs have limited attention spans for repetitive actions, so keep the training sessions brief, but frequent. The strong, independent nature of the Great Pyrenees pays a large role in the process as well. This is why it is essential to keep things positive, because if your Pyr really does not want to do something, it will quickly develop a case of selective hearing. Never use the come command to scold the dog, as this will greatly retard the learning process because you will be associating negative actions with the command for your dog. If there should be a need to scold the dog, always go to it.

During the first few sessions, try and keep the training confined to relatively quiet areas, free of distractions, such as other dogs, or children playing. Such distractions seriously impair the training process as the dog's mind is on other things, rather than focused on you. Some dogs will learn quickly off leash, while some others will be a bit more stubborn and require a long length of rope to encourage them to come.

Begin by walking into the middle of the area that you will be using for the training session. Coax the dog or puppy to follow you, then allow it to sniff around for a couple minutes. During this time, slowly begin to distance yourself from the puppy. Then call it's name and issue a firm but friendly "come" command, while facing the puppy and kneeling or sitting. If the puppy comes bounding over, be sure to give it plenty of praise and vigorous pets. If the dog does not come, re-issue the "come" command, and clap your hands together or slap your hands to your thighs to get its attention. If you are successful, repeat the process after a few minutes, each time slowly increasing the distance between you and the dog.

If the off-leash approach is not working for you, acquire a long length of rope, generally 50 feet or more. Repeat the same process, except this time once the command is issued, give the puppy a light tug on the rope towards you. If necessary, pull the dog all the way towards you. Either way, once the dog comes, regardless of if it came voluntarily or not, be sure to give it plenty of praise, as the most important thing at this point is that it came to you. Then repeat a few more times and end the session.

Once the dog is coming on command in controlled situations, begin introducing the dog to places with some distractions, such as children playing or other dogs, noise, food etc.



The Sit Command

The sit command is also an important command that will be used regularly throughout the life of your dog. For many Great Pyrenees owners, it is a very critical command as it allows those with dogs with very dominant personalities to be more easily controlled in certain situations, such as another dog approaching. The dogs great size can also at times intimidate certain people and children and a dog in the sitting position is far less intimidating to these types of people. Additionally, A dog in the sitting position is relaxed and far less likely to be pulling on the leash.

Teaching the site command to a Great Pyrenees is no different than any other dog with the exception of its independent nature may delay the action for a longer period of time after the command is given, as opposed to a highly trainable breed, such as a retriever. It is most easily taught while the dog is still young. Needless to say, it is far easier to train a young puppy to do something it might not want to do then it would be to train a fully grown adult dog. The sit command can be accomplished with an occasional treat and plenty of praise. Begin by taking the dog to quiet area, such as a backyard or quiet park, that is relatively free of distractions. Have the dog on a collar and leash.

If you choose, you can use an occasional treat to help kick start the training, however regular treats should be avoided. With the dog in a standing position, place a treat or a biscuit in your hand and make a fist. Place the closed fist with treat inside in front of its nose, so that it may smell it and is aware of its existence. Gently move your hand up and overtop the dog's head towards the rear of the dogs back. The dog will naturally move its head up towards the treat and will naturally assume the sitting position in order to maintain its balance once its head move back far enough. Just before the dog is physically sitting, issue the sit command and reward the dog and give him praise once complete. If the dog is hesitant to sit, gently push down on its rear with your hand until the sitting position is achieved. This exercise will take a number of sessions until your dog has mastered it.



The Down Command

The down command is also a common command. While no more difficult to train a dog instruction-wise, most Great Pyrenees owners encounter much more difficulty with this command. This is primarily because the down position is by its very nature a submissive position and generally speaking the Great Pyrenees is far from a submissive animal. Many particularly dominant Pyr's will resist all efforts to place it in a down position, especially if there is another dog nearby. This resistance can sometimes be countered by making the down command training into a game for your dog. This can be done by playing a short game of touch tag with your Pyr and then quickly crouching down on your hands and knees in a playful motion. Many dogs, especially young ones will assume the crouching down command in front of you




Next: Great Pyrenees Health Care




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