A dog with attitude

I am going to answer a Frequently Barked Question, or FBQ, today.

FBQ: Is a Pyrenean Mountain Dog (Great Pyrenees) the right dog for me?

I have to point out that the people asking this question have it back to front. The question should really be: Am I the right person for a Pyrenean Mountain Dog? If you’re offended that I have turned the question round then the answer to your original question is a no!

People who live with Pyrenean Mountain Dogs are generally agreed that we have lots of attitude. I think that attitude is a good thing and I’ve seen lots of quotations saying that attitude is everything, but apparently some humans don’t want attitude from a dog!

My ancestors were bred to look after livestock in the mountains, with little or no supervision from humans. We are confident and think for ourselves. If you think a dog should obey you, without question, simply because you are a human, you are the wrong person for a Great Pyrenees.

We are intelligent and capable of learning quickly. Training needs to begin early and our bipeds usually think they have the perfect puppy for a while, as we pick things up so quickly. But most of us, sooner or later, start thinking about whether we actually want to do the things we’re asked to do. Then we start thinking about ways of avoiding doing the things we don’t want to do. I myself began this phase when I was about eleven weeks old – and I’m not particularly precocious!

We need bipeds who are patient and consistent to work through this with us. A sense of humour also helps! If you have those qualities, we’ll gradually grow to trust and respect you and we’ll do as we’re asked most of the time. Training us isn’t about dominance, we respond to positive reinforcement but we’re not usually as motivated by food as people expect dogs to be. I enjoy a treat or two, but I’m far more motivated by praise or a game.

Bone-shaped dog biscuits, treats

Thank you, but I’m not hungry!

I’m a well-behaved adult and I trust and respect my bipeds – they can take me anywhere with them. But I still occasionally check to see if my bipeds are on their toes by trying to bend a rule. Of course it’s just a coincidence that this happens when I know they’re in a hurry, or that it’s raining and they don’t really want to put on shoes to come outside to fetch me in from the garden! I’ve heard that I’m far from alone in doing this!

If that Pyr-attitude doesn’t worry you, check out “Not the dog for everyone“. For those brave souls who are still with me, here are just a few more things you should know before deciding that you’re right for a Great Pyrenees.

Size

It’s fairly obvious that we’re large, but this has lots of implications that are not as obvious – see “Santa Pups“.

Hair

We have lots of it! We moult heavily once or twice a year, but we’re generous with our hair the rest of the time – see “From hair to eternity“. I hope you don’t like wearing black!

Barking

We have a reputation for barking a lot. Our bark is loud, so it can be a cause for concern. I have barked about this a few times.

General barking – “To bark, or not to bark, that is the question“.

Preparing for the barking – “The calm before the barking storm“.

Barking at night – “Why barking at night can be a good thing“.

Aqua paw print

I hope you find the right dog for you!

See you next Wednesday!

My first trip to the vet

When my bipeds first took me home with them I was only six weeks old. I was one of eleven puppies and, as we grew and became more active, my mother’s bipeds were finding it difficult to give us all as much attention as we needed. As we were all healthy, weaned and eating well, they made the decision that some of us should go to our new families early. This would mean that they could give more individual attention to the puppies that remained and the families who took puppies early could give their puppy lots of attention.

I mentioned in “A trip down memory lane” that my bipeds took me home at the weekend and on the Monday morning I was taken to see the vet. My biped rang the veterinary clinic as soon as it opened and asked for an appointment to get a new puppy checked over. She was given an appointment for later that morning and she gave details of my breed and age to the receptionist.

Cat in carrier

You can’t fit a Pyrenean Mountain Dog in this!

An hour later she bundled me into a cat basket! It’s hard to believe that was ever possible! She carried me out to the car and we set off. It wasn’t a long journey, she was soon carrying me into a building. She spoke to the receptionist and then she found a seat in the waiting room. She put the basket, containing me, down by her feet. There were about half a dozen other bipeds in the room, each with a basket or a box – each one containing a potential friend for me.

A door opened and the vet appeared. He caught sight of us and his expression changed, he seemed worried. He called his next patient in and closed the door. Each time he opened his door to call in his next patient he looked in our direction and, each time, he looked even more concerned. My biped checked on me a few times and, each time she did, she seemed more worried.

The tension mounted – it was almost a relief when it was our turn to be called in. My biped put the basket with me in it on the end of a high table.

The vet asked, “What have we here then?”

My biped replied, “A female Pyrenean Mountain Dog puppy, six weeks old.”

He asked, “And what size do you expect her to become?”

My biped gestured just below her waist and said, “About so high, weighing in excess of one hundred pounds.”

Clowie , Pyrenean Mountain Dog, Great Pyrenees, smiling

I’d like to see him lift me up like that now!

Wow! I had some growing to do! She was expecting me to be as large as my mother! The vet went to the corner of the room and started tapping away on his computer.

My biped asked, “Is something wrong?”

He replied, “No, no, I’m just updating the computer.”

He came back and took me out of the basket. He held me up to his face.

He smiled and said, “You’re a hefty little lady!”

He then put me on the table and felt me all over. He peered in my ears and my mouth, he listened to my heart. He picked up some clippers and clipped the dewclaws on my hind legs. He told my biped that they were already growing strongly and she’d need to keep an eye on them. He asked if she was confident about clipping them.

She replied that she was and asked, “Is the puppy healthy?”

He asked, “What is it about the puppy that’s worrying you?”

She replied, “Nothing. It’s just that you appeared worried as soon as you saw us.”

He said, “Oh, you picked up on that! Okay, the receptionist had entered an age of six months, not six weeks, on the system. I wasn’t looking forward to telling you how that puppy is going to grow, if you thought you had an almost fully grown dog!”

My biped smiled and said, “I can imagine!”

The vet also smiled and he said, “She appears to be in excellent health.”

They then talked for ages about all kinds of things related to me, but I’ll tell you about those another time.

Dogs playing poker

We’ve won all the treats!

I don’t know much about poker, but, if that was the vet’s poker face, I’m fairly sure I could beat him. I’d empty his pockets of treats!

See you next Wednesday!

Great Expectations

I’ve been thinking about the dog’s dinner. I touched on the topic in “A (more than) fair exchange is no robbery”, but I have more to say. (Thanks to Savannah for reminding me of this important topic recently.)

I’ve seen a number of people on social media saying that it isn’t fair to expect a dog to allow a person to take his dinner, as it isn’t natural. While I think it’s nice that people are considering the dog’s feelings, I believe it’s in the dog’s best interests to learn to be relaxed about his food.

Pet food bowl

If a dog is possessive about his dinner, he may snap at someone who goes too close to him while he’s eating. The people who share his household may normally give him the necessary space while eating, but this is difficult to control if there are visitors. Things can happen very quickly. My bipeds are careful, but there have been occasions when a visitor has come right up to me when I’m eating. If a dog bites someone in that sort of situation, the dog will often have to be destroyed.

If a family’s situation changes and the dog needs a new home then his chances of getting a new family are reduced if he guards his food. Many rescue centres test a dog to see his suitability for rehoming. One of the tests they will perform is to see if the dog guards his food – if he does, he is not considered suitable to put on the list to find a home. What happens next depends upon the resources of the rescue centre, but resources are generally stretched – the dog’s chances of surviving are not good.

It’s easy to teach a puppy to be relaxed about people being near his food. It’s all about expectations – the puppy’s expectations. My bipeds started teaching me to expect good things to happen when they were near my food as soon as I went to live with them. They knew that Pyrenean Mountain Dogs, or Great Pyrenees, can get quite possessive about things even as young puppies, but it’s good to teach any breed of puppy to expect good things as soon as he comes to live with you.

Sometimes when they fed me, my bipeds picked the bowl up after a moment or two to put something nice in it and gave the meal straight back to me. At other times they just came by and popped a treat on the top while I was eating. Sometimes they moved the food aside to show me that there was something tastier hidden at the bottom. When we had visitors at mealtime, one of them would often drop a treat into my bowl.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t long before I was thrilled each time someone approached my food bowl – I had great expectations!

Grilled sausages

I hope they’re bringing sausages!

A few times a week, my bipeds still pop tasty things they’ve been saving for me into my bowl after I’ve started eating. Sometimes they take my bowl to mix the new item in. I’m always pleased because I know something better is coming my way!

More care needs to be taken with an adult dog that is nervous about people approaching his food. If it is safe to approach the dog then you can start with dropping an extra treat in the bowl. If in any doubt about the dog snapping at you then get the advice of a good trainer to remedy the situation. This can still be done by changing the expectations of the dog using positive reinforcement, without making the dog feel threatened.

I’m feeling a bit hungry now with all this talk of food – I hope they’ve saved something tasty to go on my dinner!

See you next Wednesday!

Train your dog in 30 seconds

Can this possibly be true? Yes, there are all kinds of things you can usefully do with your dog in 30 seconds.

What’s the snag? Well, just like those fitness plans that promise you can get fit in 30 seconds, I’m not talking about just one period of 30 seconds. You need consistency and repeated instances of 30 seconds. Unlike interval training, you won’t need recovery time after the 30 seconds and you don’t need another 30 seconds straightaway. Each 30 seconds is easy and fitted into your day whenever you have a moment.

Stopwatch

Attribution: Wouterhagens (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I’ll tell you about some of the things my bipeds did with me in 30 seconds. They would often ask me to “sit” – I’ve explained in “A sit in time saves nine” that this is one of their favourite requests and that they brainwashed me into sitting almost automatically. Well, this is how they did it – 30 seconds here, there and everywhere to request a “sit” and now my bottom parks itself as soon as they say “sit”!

They sometimes asked me to “stand”, or do a “down”, even a very brief “stay”. Sometimes they would just quickly look in one of my ears and give me a treat. At other times they would check one of my paws and give me a treat.

I love being brushed now, but I had a phase as an adolescent when I hated it! They would often come up to me and briefly brush my tail or the backs of my legs, those were the parts I most disliked being brushed, and then they gave me a treat.

Dog biscuit

Another thing my bipeds would do is give me a treat, or just tell me I was being good, when I was settled down quietly. This doesn’t sound like training at all, but it is giving positive reinforcement to a desired behaviour. Even now I’m grown up and know how to behave, I love hearing that I’m good! And I’m pleased to say that they’re still in the habit of telling me so frequently – bless their little cotton socks!

See you next Wednesday!

Tips for training bipeds

These tips are written for puppies, but I think they can be adapted for general use by any quadrupeds wishing to train a biped. I’ve based them on my own experiences of the things that have worked for me.

The first time that a biped offers you a treat in return for doing something, you may be tempted to refuse if the treat isn’t particularly interesting. I think it’s worth accepting the treat to show that you are open to negotiation, as bipeds tend to decide you don’t understand if you refuse. It’s important to get them used to the idea of giving you rewards for doing little things for them. There will be ample opportunities for negotiating a better deal once they are accustomed to the idea.

Dog biscuit

You need to be patient and spend the first few weeks showing them how clever and adaptable you are. They will probably concentrate on asking for fairly easy things from you during this time. It’s simple to trade a sit for a treat and you need them to become comfortable with this before forcing them to think harder.

You may get taken to a puppy training class, or somewhere else with lots of people and distractions. This is an excellent time to make it clear that you are not satisfied with the treats they are using. Showing no interest whatsoever in the treat they are offering works reasonably well, but if you take the treat and then spit it out it gives a little more emphasis to the point you are making. It also gives them time to think about their shortcomings while they clean it up. I have seen the cats pretend that they are going to vomit when offered something they don’t like – this is very effective, but loses its dramatic effect if you do it too often!

Bone-shaped dog biscuits, treats

Tasty!

You should find that the quality of the treats goes up after this and you should show your appreciation by responding to their requests, but don’t let them get too complacent! It’s wise to reject the treats again after another week or so, this will make them offer you something even better. You can keep doing this to see what variations they will provide and then you can decide on your favourite, or you can decide you like them to keep varying the treats.

Bipeds have a tendency to get fixated on one thing that they wish to do well, such as giving you a treat for a sit. You can show your boredom in a number of ways. Sometimes I have wandered off to do something else until they find something more entertaining to do, sometimes I have flopped down and refused to move. At other times I have pretended I don’t understand the request.

Dog doing a play bow

A perfect demonstration of a play bow
By JorgeAlejanDroo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

It can be difficult for bipeds to understand what we want of them, so always try to end a training session on a positive note. You have to try various things to see what works on your bipeds, but you could politely request that they play with you by doing a play bow. If that doesn’t cheer them up then rolling over on your back for your tummy to be rubbed never fails!

See you next Wednesday!