Everything You Need to Know About the Kuvasz Dog Breed

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You are doing the right thing by doing LOTS of research before deciding on a Kuvasz. Read on to get to know more about the Kuvasz dog breed.

Are You Thinking About Adding a Kuvasz to Your Family?

If this type of guard dog is right for your family, it will be the most wonderful experience you will ever have with an animal.

If a Kuvasz is wrong for you, and you insist on bringing one into yo ur life anyway, you will be miserable because this dog will steal your heart and then break it when you have to find it a new home.

We can refer you to people who are still grieving, years and years after they had to give up their first Kuvasz that didn’t work out.

Neil and I have a spayed, pet quality bitch, Ilsa, from Ghosthill Kuvaszok, now almost nine years old. We have had her since she was eight weeks old and she later achieved a CD obedience title as well as passing the CGC test.

We also have an intact male, Laszlo, now four ye ars old, whom we rescued at six months of age. He was returned to the breeders (also Ghosthill) as an unsocialized terror after he bit the owner’s father. I showed him to his championship and we are now working toward his obedience title.

While Ilsa is very protective, loving, and mellow, Laszlo is very protective, loving, and a total brat who still steals socks out of the hamper, shoes out of the closet, and dish towels off the kitchen counter. His creative interpretations of AKC obedience rules at Kuvasz specialties are nationally renowned.

We have no children and rarely have children in our home. Years ago my nephew (around six years old at the time) insisted on “staring Ilsa down” while his dad screamed at him not to stare at the dog.

After that our wonderful, mellow Ilsa would back the boy against the wall and bark at him. It took Ilsa years to be comfortable around my nephew again.

I will try to answer your questions in a brutally honest way. I urge you to share my answers with other Kuvasz owners and solicit their comments. I also recommend you get commen ts from your veterinarian and other Kuvasz breeders.

Where Does the Kuvasz Come From?

The Kuvasz (pronounced Koo´-vahss) is a guarding dog and a member of AKC’s Working Group. The plural of Kuvasz is Kuvaszok (Koo´-vah-sock).

The Kuvasz originated in Asia and is one of the most ancient of all dog breeds. It is the probable ancestor of the Tibetan Mastiff, Samoyed, Anatolian Shepherd, Akbash, Maremma, Great Pyrenees and other breeds of Asiatic origin.

The Kuvasz arrived with nomadic tribes in Hungary’s Carpathian Basin about 896 AD. It was used and bred first by shepherds and later by Hungarian nobility. Its most notable promo ter was King Matthius Corvinus, who ruled Hungary from 1458 – 1490.

Matthius kept a pack of Kuvaszok for hunting and had at least one Kuvasz beside him at all times for protection from assassins. Since it is an odorless breed, specially cleaned and trained Kuvaszok were also used at royal banquets as dinner napkins!

Why Haven’t I Seen This Breed Before?

The Kuvasz is not commonly seen in North America, but thrives in great numbers in its country of origin, Hungary, where the appearance of the breed remains much the same as it has for centuries.

Those dogs are descendants of a small handful of Hungarian Kuvaszok who survive d the devastation of two World Wars and a revolution. Advancing Nazi and Russian armies shot Kuvaszok who impeded their movements by protecting their families and property, and countless other dogs died from starvation in the postwar food shortages.

When Hungarian fanciers sought to salvage their historic breed, only twelve surviving Kuvasz could be found. Another small population of Kuvaszok existed in Germany.

Cut off from Hungarian influence, German breeders suffered considerable confusion about correct Kuvasz type and began breeding Kuvaszok whose appearance differed vastly from the Hungarian population.

I Need To Ensure That Any Dog I Get is Well-Behaved Around Children. More Specifically, What About the Kuvasz and Its Children’s Playmates?

If you are choosing a dog primarily as your child’s companion, a Collie or a Golden Retriever may be a better choice than a Kuvasz. The Kuvasz is first and foremost a bold, agg ressive protection dog. Choose the Kuvasz to guard your children, not to play with them.

Even so, most Kuvaszok will tolerate behavior from children that would not be tolerated from adults, and many Kuvaszok will assume the role of baby-sitter if not active playmate of the family children. A well-socialized Kuvasz is expected to be protective and forgiving of its own children’s behavior.

Playmates may pose serious problems depending on the age and behavior of the kids and how for giving the Kuvasz is willing to be. Children should not be left unsupervised with a Kuvasz, especially if they are at an age where they will take toys, food, dishes, etc., away from the dog, or will tease or abuse the dog.

While most Kuvasz owners would feel that growling at a stranger who is threatening to take the dog’s chewy is understandable behavior, your neighbors and the child’s parents may not. Sometimes a Kuvasz will go further and if provoked grab the wrist of or even nip the person attempting to take its possessions.

This again is not acceptable in our litigious society. Your children should be at least as well-trained (if not more intelligent) than the dog.

If the children are old enough and well-behaved enough to respect the protective nature of the Kuvasz, you shouldn’t have problems. As an alternative, the dog could be confined when young playmates or strangers are in “his home”. Again, this relies on consistency on the part of the adults.

To make a very gross, WORST CASE analogy, think of your Kuvasz as a loaded weapon lying on your kitchen floor. Can you assure yourself that your children will not touch it? Are you comfortable that their playmates will not touch it? Is the adult supervision in the home sufficient that the children will not have the opportunity to touch it?

Are you sure that the adults will ALWAYS lock it up if they can’t supervise children 100% of the tim e they are in your home? Like a gun, your Kuvasz brings protection and peace of mind. Both deserve your respect.

I Do Want Guests In My House, Without Having To Be Concerned About The Behavior Of The Dog. I Know Socialization And Training Are Required, But Heredity And Instinct Also Play A Role. What Should I Look For?

When shopping for a Kuvasz you must insist on meeting the dam, and if the sire is available, ask to meet him also. THIS is the dog you will be living with for (hopefully) about 12 years. It is NOT that adorable little fluff ball you see in the breeder’s puppy room.

Most breeders agree that heredity is 10%, training and socialization is 90%.

Your Kuvasz will develop the intellect and feelings of a six-year-old child. However, it will be close to 100 pounds and very strong. It’s been said that man is the only being that shares his home with another carnivore.

This 100-pound carnivore lying at the foot of your child’s bed will have the in telligence, emotions, playfulness, cleverness, stubbornness and yes, be as mischievous as a six-year-old for most of its life.

If you have sufficiently socialized and trained your Kuvasz, you will be able to introduce guests to him and he will accept them. Once you tell the dog something like, “Joe is OK, and he’s coming into the house and that’s all right with me”, the guest will be more or less graciously allowed to enter.

Our Laszlo will bark and lunge at the fence at a stranger. It is quite frightening from the guest’s point of view. When we tell Laszlo this person is OK and will be coming into his house, he watches very suspiciously for a few seconds and then runs to get his toys to drop at the visitor’s feet. We didn’t train him to do this, he just does it.

Does The Dog Bark At The Wind Blowing Through The Trees?

Some do. Ilsa sleeps on the bottom of our bed and only barks enough to alert, then stops. Laszlo prefers to sleep outside to watch his fence. He will bark to alert and then continue…just because he can. He wears a TriTronics Bark Diminisher (shock collar) every night, so the neighbors can get some sleep.

One night a few months ago, Ilsa stood up on the bed and barked out the window at 2 AM. We told her to be quiet and go back to sleep, which she did. The next morning we discovered our car had been broken into and the cellular phone stolen. I think we’ll listen to her next time.

What If I Want A Kuvasz Who Can Be A Livestock Guarding /herding Dog?

As a flockguard, the Kuvasz does not herd, but instead works at a distance from the flock and shepherd, ever watchful for predators and ready to protect and defend against danger. The companion Kuvasz can easily perform a dual role as a family pet and a part-time livestock guardian, alternating between the home and the flock.

However, the Kuvasz who will serve as a full-time flockguard requires a different upbringing. The puppy should be introduced to its duties around six weeks of age. It should be raised with gentle flock animals who will not intimidate or injure it, and should receive minimal contact with human beings until bonding with the livestock is complete at about fifteen weeks of age.

The flock animals and shepherd become the dog’s family, and it will guard them faithfully.

What Health Problems Are Present In The Breed?

In comparison with other breeds, the Kuvasz is afflicted with few genetic defects, but hip dysplasia remains a major problem. Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD), eye disease, and deafness (in Kuvaszok from German bloodlines) have also occurred in the breed.

As a deep-chested dog, the Kuvasz is also prone to gastric dilatation and volvulus (bloat). Puppy buyers should make sure that both parent dogs are x-rayed and certified clear of hip dysplasia by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) in the United States or Ontario Veterinary College (O.V.C.) of Canada.

The best breeders also certify their stock free of vWD and eye disease, and should willingly provide you with proof of all of these certifications. If a breeder won’t supply health clearances or tells you they aren’t important, go elsewhere, pronto.

How About Their Exercise Requirements?

Although they are athletic and agile, Kuvaszok are not hyperactive and adjust to your lifestyle very well. If you are very active, they will be able to keep up with you, then sleep soundly for hours.

If you like to do nothing, they will do that too, and then sleep soundly for hours. Our two get little exercise other than weekly obedience class and a few minutes of practice (hopefully) daily.

Their major exercise consists of chasing each other around the yard a couple times a day and flying out the doggie door, and running to the fence to bark at the UPS truck and evil joggers.

How Trainable Are They?

Kuvaszok are trainable if the owner/trainer is more stubborn and persistent than they are. They are not usually obedience stars like Shelties or Goldens, but they can be willing workers if you figure out a way to motivate them.

Some are motivated with praise and some are motivated with treats. Some are extremely sensitive and are devastated by a stern vocal reprimand; others are as sensitive as a dirt clod. Some are motivated by avoidance of discipline and if you insist on “non-force training” with this type of Kuv asz personality, you and the dog will be very frustrated.

If your Kuvasz is only motivated by discipline, don’t even bother with a choke chain. You can not pull hard enough to make an impression on this type of dog. Use a pinch collar and your corrections will be effective the first or second time.

The result is actually fewer corrections than with a choke you would continuously jerk. All Kuvaszok are deviously clever and will attempt to modify or neutralize your training efforts. Persevere! (And don’t forget to laugh when your Kuvasz outsmarts you!)

My Yard Is Not Fenced, Will They Roam?

This a livestock guarding dog bred to instinctively protect anything within its own territory. Without clearly-defined boundaries like a fence or invisible fencing, the dog will expand its territory to guard; in Hungary, a pair of Kuvasz would often protect an entire village as well as all approaches leading to the village.

While you and your neighbors would disapprove of roaming, the dog just sees it as doing his job and expanding his kingdom. Remember that the only car that comes down your road all day will hit your unfenced dog.

Can I Leave My Kuvasz Alone For 9 Hours A Day While I Work?

If you have purchased your puppy from a good breeder, it should be well on the way to being housebroken by the time you bring it home. Good breeders make sure the pups learn to follow mom outside to take care of business.

You probably want to confine your puppy to a puppy- proof room or crate (maximum 8 hours) if it will be unsupervised for long periods until it is completely housebroken, and again during its chewing (electrical cords, furniture, shoes, etc.) stage.

Bear in mind that the Kuvasz was never meant to live his life in a kennel. There are many stories about the confined Kuvasz who barked helplessly while the family house was being gutted by burglars. Your Kuvasz needs the freedom to protect you and your possessions.

We find that a well-fenced yard, a doggie door, a Kuvasz-friendly house that has trash and dangerous or valuable objects far out of reach, a big spill-proof bowl of clean water (I must admit Ilsa and Laszlo often prefer to drink out of the toilet) and a cool, comfortable place to sleep works best for the owner who will be gone all day.

The dog can then decide for himself where to spend his hours, either inside or out, depending on the wea ther and his need to guard your house. Remember that a lonely dog will look for ways to “entertain” himself: two dogs are better than one.

My Wife/husband Is Not Sure She/he Can Handle A Guard Dog

Everyone in the home needs to be in agreement when a guard dog will be brought into the family. Your Kuvasz will quickly search out the weak member of the family’s leadership team and test him/her relentlessly.

If that person is not able or willing to assert dominance over the Kuvasz, the dog will quickly move ahead of that person in the family hierarchy.

A jealous child can pose serious problems by covertly abusing the dog: does your child want the dog, too? If an adult in the home has reservations about his/her ability to discipline or control a guard dog, don’t buy a Kuvasz.

What About Puppy Mills And Pet Shops?

Kuvaszok have failed to be a good crop for puppy mills or pet shops. Without human contact and a job to do, they seem to get depressed, stop eating, and get sick. In our experience, puppy-millers give up after a short while and sell off or abandon their stock.

There are several large breeders, though, and you should question how much socialization kennel-raised puppies and their parents have had.

I’ve Seen Two Different Looks Of Kuvasz, Why?

Largely due to the confusion existing in Germany about the appearance of the Kuvasz, you will find two different types in North America. If you are looking for a Kuvasz that has a straight coat, big boxy head and massive chest and bone structure, our recommendation is to shop for a Great Pyrenees instead.

While that type is correct in NEITHER breed, the Great Pyrenees breeders who do produce that type of dog seem to get a structurally better dog than that same incorrect type of dog produced by Kuvasz breeders. Much of this problem is related to the “show dog” mentality that promotes “bigger is better”.

Again, there is a dispute over “correct type” within BOTH breeds, but neither breed should be heavy-headed, drooly-lipped and massive-boned. If you want a functional dog with historic and correct Hungarian Kuvasz features i.e. wolf-like appearance, wavy coat, lean but muscular build and refined head, any of the breeders on the KFA list will be able to show you that type of dog.

What Should I Expect This Puppy To Cost?

While the initial cost of an AKC- or CKC-registered Kuvasz from a good breeder may seem high (about $500-$700 for pet quality, and $800- $1000 for show potential), it is little compared to the cost of caring for this dog throughout its life.

Minimally, the dog will require a good-quality dog food, routine veterinary care including vaccinations, and heartworm prevention medication in most parts of this country.

Your growing dog will also outgrow many collars and destroy dozens of toys. You will need grooming and first aid supplies, leashes and probably a crate. Unexpected medical emergencies as well as these basic necessities may quickly strain your budget more than the puppy’s purchase price.

Should I Breed My Kuvasz?

If your puppy was sold as pet quality, most likely you have signed an agreement that the dog will not be bred without prior consent of the breeder. If your puppy was sold as show potential, there is a lot to consider before breeding it. When the dog is two years old, its hips should be x-rayed and certified clear of hip dysplasia by either Orthopedic Veterinary College (O.V.C. ) of Canada or Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (O.F.A.) in the United States.

The hip clearance is only the first step in deciding whether or not to breed the dog. If the dog then tests clear for von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD), eye disease, and has a normal thyroid, you have a healthy dog. The next question is does the dog have anything to offer that will improve the breed?

The Kuvasz gene pool is very small, breeding a poor quality dog will have far reaching impact on the breed. Unless your dog is sound, demonstrates good movement and stable temperament and has few faults according to the standard, it is better not to breed the dog.

If the dog is of breeding quality, are YOU prepared to be a dog breeder? This involves a committment to any puppies you produce for their entire lives. Would you be able financially and emotionally to take care of every dog you bred regardless of what age it may be when returned to you?

Are you willing to carefully interview buyers in order to place your puppies in appropriate homes? Are you willing to be the support system for your puppy buyers? Just imagine all the questions you asked of your breeder.

If you had a litter of ten puppies, could you answer ten times the questions you asked as a novice owner?

Where Can I Get More Information?

There is one “official” AKC Kuvasz Club and one “official” CKC Kuvasz Club. There are also two independent clubs in the US. Each club has its own preference for type and its own views on how best to serve the breed and its members. There is so little information on the Kuvasz in English, that often the best source of the latest information, especially health concerns, are the Kuvasz club newsletters.

I suggest you contact each club and join the one(s) that seems to meet your needs. Kuvasz Fanciers of America is the only American Kuvasz club which promotes and supports the true, historic Hungarian Kuvasz.

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