Double-click to start typing

Joyful Noise Farm


                   New puppy/Great Pyrenees FAQ

 ** This page is always evolving and being revised.  Check back often and if you have one of those burning questions, do let us know, we will be glad to add it!!**  

   Please note, because we are responsible breeders, we recognize that this breed we are promoting (the Great Pyrenees) is an "independent" and highly intelligent type, with "dominant-dog tendencies" (as most independent, working dogs).  We want to do all we can to help prospective owners get a handle on their Pyrenees (or similar breed of dog) BEFORE there are problems.  A litter of pups will have pups that span the whole spectrum of submissiveness, fear, all the way up to dominant- aggressive types.  The latter can then turn into a bad situation (viciousness) if steps are not taken to intervene when the puppy is YOUNG. 

You, the potential new owner, can stop SO much unwanted behavior in a puppy by WHAT YOU DO EARLY ON in the life of your pup, by way of consistency and persistence.

"The breeds with dominant temperaments were developed to be independent, courageous, and intelligent to carry out their jobs of guarding palaces, people, and livestock, hauling sledges across frozen tundra, or hunting ferocious game.                                                                                                                         Dominance is a byproduct of those qualities; aggression and viciousness are akin to antisocial or criminal behavior. "       -Norma Woolf    


We have included several articles and excerpts of articles (bottom of page, after Part II. Medical Questions) written on dominance-aggression and the different drives of individual dogs. We have found hands down, that a dog will display only what it is allowed to get away with.  A biting dog does not happen OVER NIGHT!!!  While you cannot re-wire a personality per se, you CAN have a tremendous influence on what your puppy knows is acceptable.                                 






I. General Questions:

1. What is the difference between a reputable breeder and a backyard breeder?      

This is not always cut and dry, BUT for the most part, reputable breeders have the following characteristics in  common:

  - A deep love for the said breed, a knowledge of the breed, and an ethical framework they operate in to promote the breed.  

-A pre-buyer questionnaire , either written or verbal, that helps them decide if said breed is a good fit and what personality of puppy will be best suited for buyer and his/her family.


-Will not let puppies leave before 49 days of age (7 weeks).  And here is why:      

 "Knowledge of the early growth periods of dogs helps to understand canine aggression. Puppies have a critical need for socialization from three weeks of age, when they can see and hear, until 14 weeks of age. Puppies should best be purchased between seven and eight weeks of age for proper socialization in the new home. Eight to 10 weeks is a fearful period, during which the puppy must not be harshly disciplined and must be handled gently by adults and children.

Fourteen weeks starts the juvenile period -- the dreaded adolescence -- that ends when the pup achieves sexual maturity, usually at about 14-15** months of age. If a puppy has not been socialized by the time he is 14 weeks old, he may never be trustworthy around people or other dogs."

(**I caveat this by saying adolescence in a Great Pyrenees extends to more like 18 months of age!)


-Keeps a careful eye on sold puppies, wanting to be informed of health issues, temperament issues, etc, as to make sound judgements as to whether to continue breeding said dog(s).   Will STOP breeding said dogs if something is proven to be a hereditary fault or a bad personality flaw crops up (aggressiveness, etc).

- Holds to a written contract in order to protect themselves, you the buyer, and the puppy being sold.  

-Offers some sort of health guarantee, either partial or complete.  Even if will not offer money back, will offer a replacement puppy, a discount, etc.

-Involvement with said breed.  If into show dogs, then showing. If into working dogs, then the dogs are WORKING.   

-Willingness to be there  for the life of your dog, to answer questions, or  direct you to the person/people that can answer your questions if they do not know.  This willingness extends to the service of helping you find another home for your dog OR taking said dog back and re-homing him/her should things not work out.

- A spay/neuter contract!!! It is my biggest pet peeve to see SO many "so called breeders" not do what they can to curb willy nilly breeding.  

- Usually part of a registry where dogs are tracked.


2. How do I know what breed is best for me?                                                                                               Buying a breed based on cuteness or as a boost to your ego, or what-not, will invite trouble later on.  Take an honest inventory of your much time do/will you have for this breed? What type of home do you have? What are your time constraints?  Travel?  Financial status?  Other family members or other animals?  What is your personality like?   If you are somewhat obsessed with cleanliness and order, be honest- a fluffy, shedding indoor companion may not be the best choice!  Don't forget allergies...most dogs can make an allergy sufferer MISERABLE.  Lastly, if you are a "softie"  or  "permissive" type of person,  this breed is NOT for you.  A golden retriever or perhaps another "live to please" type of dog would be a better choice.

        There are great websites out there that help a person decide what breed is best for them, take advantage of them.  After seeing what breeds might be compatible with your lifestyle/interests, etc, THEN research those breeds.  Try to find people/friends with that breed!   Call your local vets, many times, they can put you in touch with a rescue group of a said breed and have LOTS of helpful info and advice.  Many times, people choose to adopt a dog from one of these rescue groups..and that is GREAT!!  I try to steer people there as much as possible.  Even to the local dog shelter.  For those of you though, needing a specific WORKING dog, like a herder or a guarder, there are risks in the alternatives mentioned above, versus buying a puppy from a well known breeder with dogs geared and raised for a certain purpose.   


3. What do I look for in a puppy/breeder?                                                                                                            VISIT if you can!!  Take a look at the facilities.   If indoor dogs, area should not be filth ridden and smell of urine or feces.   Outdoor working dogs should have an area where they are not lying in mud all day, and there should be adequate shelter from inclement weather and fresh water  abundantly available.  Look at the dam and the sire (if possible).  The coats should be healthy looking, reasonably in good order (keep in mind, working LGD's will not be their "showy" best and depending on the time of year, may be VERY muddy.)   

      The parent(s) should exhibit the tendency of the breed you are interested in.  For instance, if looking at Golden Retrievers or Labradors, parents should not be fearful, aggressive or stand-offish, but friendly, engaging and inquisitive.  In LGD's, even Pyrenees, do not expect to be able to approach the dam/sire (in other words, I expect initial  stand-offishness and a certain wariness, but NEVER aggression).   In  cases where it is not possible to visit, at least ask for pictures and as much information as possible.  Select a breeder who has a lot of knowledge about their dogs and will be forthright in their individual dog's strengths and weaknesses.       .....ALL dogs have issues :)                               If you are able to visit the puppies,  they should be a good body-weight, not too fat or too thin.   Eyes should be bright and alert.  Puppies should be curious and inquisitive, even if somewhat shy at first (normal with LGD's).   If the dogs are farm/working type, then the puppies will most likely be in a barn/stall area.  Expect FARM type atmosphere!!  Farms, depending on the season/time of year can have mud, odors, FLIES and what-not.  Puppies are normally QUITE active (digging, chewing, etc) and from time to time be DIRTY, despite best efforts to keep them clean!

4.  Ok, so I decided I have the personality, the determination, and the resources to raise a Great Pyrenees, but I do not live in a house or have a large yard, is this dog still right for me?                                                                                                                                                We have sold our Pyrenees to a SELECT few who did not live in the ideal setting.   If you are willing to put in the extra effort of exercising the puppy as he/she is growing, the adult Pyrenees really is an overgrown couch potato.   Being in a condo or something smaller than a large farmhouse with 4 acres, is not the end all of your ability to successfully own a Pyrenees.   We  turn down apartment dwellers.  Great Pyrenees are JUST not adapted to this environment.

5a.  Which gender is best?                                                                                                                                      This is such a personal preference.  I have  always been a male dog person.  Other people SWEAR by female dogs only.  For Great Pyrenees anyway, I will say the females can be more of a moody bunch as they relate to EACH OTHER,  lol.    I have come to prefer the female gender in this breed.  Others long time pyr owners would never own a female and demand male only!!    Some males need a strong hand and while SOME are just fine for a first time Pyr owner, many will need a no nonsense, non -indulgent method of training. (please note, I did not say training needs to be HARSH).   If not trained right when young, they can quickly become terrors in their own household.   As far as other reasons to choose one gender: keep in mind other factors such as cost of altering (females cost more to fix), the fact that males are larger and will take up more room (and eat more), etc.    If this is your first time owning a Pyrenees or any such dominant breed, I would go with a FEMALE.  

5b. I want to buy 2 Pyrenees, should  I get 2 males? 2 females? one of each?                                       Beware of having 2 of the same sex Pyrs, even if from the same litter.  Pyrenees (whether male or female), once they have a nasty fight with one another, can have the next altercation end in death for the unlucky one.   This is especially true of 2 MALE Pyrs.  Not only that, but avoid same sex pairings of any dominant breed dogs.   I'd say if you are buying 2 litter-mates, go with 1 female, 1 male.   If bringing a new Pyr into a home with a Pyr or a dominant breed dog (rotts, dobes, pit bulls, some terriers, huskies) already established, choose the opposite sex.  If you want to bring in 2 of one sex, just be careful and  always be alert and minimize chances of altercations (feed in separate rooms or stalls), do not give attention to both at the same time, etc.    Yes you can train them when young, but all it takes is one situation where training goes unheeded (common for a Pyr), and you end up with a tragic death.

6. I am interested in one of your puppies as a pet, but I see yours are working dogs. I have heard to stay from  working dog lines as they make terrible pets.  Is this true?

NO!  This is not true.  Many a lovely "house pyrenees" has come from "working lines".   As a general rule, it is the individual personality of a dog that will determine if it is successful at adapting to house or not.  As a breed, yes,  Pyrs are more difficult to train as house dogs, but not because of working or non working lines. It is simply due to their NATURE as an independent thinking dog. They have their own way of doing things and you may or may not fit into that realm on any given day (or in any given moment), usually depending on which way the wind is blowing, lol... 

Do not shy away from considering a house dog from a kennel that "works their dogs" on their farm.

7.  Do I really need a crate?                                                                                                                                       We are big fans of crates.  Even in the LGD, outdoor setting.  A crate is a puppy's safe place. A place that keeps it out of danger when not being watched and keeps things out of danger (like your belongings, small livestock animals, etc).  A crate should never be used as punishment and be real, do not expect a puppy to stay in a crate hours on end with nary a fuss or not soiling it.  We use a crate in the early days and for LGD's, the crate is no longer needed after about 6 months of age. Crate training is SO helpful in potty training also!!   **see below for more in the training section.**

8.  How to ease a puppy from it's litter-mates/dam to his or her new home?                                          A puppy's first trip away from mama and litter-mates can be quite upsetting for the new puppy.  I encourage people to bring a towel or something like that to rub on the mom and litter-mates when picking up their puppy.  Sometimes, the smell is comforting to a lonely puppy for those first few nights.   Be prepared for a noisy pup on the trip home.  Some are fine, some just howl.  A ticking clock or a soft playing radio will sometimes help at night also.  

9a.What kind of diet and how much for a puppy?                                                                                                This is so individual, but I will say that I prefer grain free diets for dogs whenever possible. There are so many good choices now, from Taste of the Wild, to  Innova, Blue Buffalo, etc.  That said, I am not the biggest fan of a processed, dry kibble as the only form of nutrition for the puppy's entire canine life...any less than I am a fan of processed food on our grocery shelves as an ongoing source of food for a human being! Dogs are carnivores.  But hey, do  the research.  Check out and draw your own conclusions. 

         As to how much?  Go by feel of ribs (should not see them, but should be able to feel them).  Do not go by the pet food bag.  Some puppies will eat less, some more than others.  Most pups do not need more than 1/4 cup three times a day at 8 weeks old.  Make adjustments from there.  KEEP your puppy on the THIN SIDE when growing.


9b. Speaking of diet, my pyr puppy is SO finicky. He never seems to eat!  I am worried about him not growing. What do I do?

Some dogs (just as people) are more finicky than others.  Some are shaped that way by owners who unwittingly cave to their "finickiness" early on and give them steak/gravy to get them to eat..well, who would ever eat kibble again??  A pyr is not stupid, remember.  Great Pyrenees, are notorious for manipulating their owners into giving them what they want.  I do not cave to finicky whims and if what is presented to them is not eaten, the bowl is simply taken up and put away. No treat, no alternatives.  I present the food the next meal time (later that day for youngsters) and the next day for my "once a day fed adults" and again, take it away is the nose is turned up again.  I have had no dog go more than 3 days without at least eating a hand-ful of food.  When the particular dog is done challenging me and sees he or she cannot manipulate, all is good! They eat form then-on, even if reluctantly.  All my dogs are good eaters though some started down that :finicky road" I just did not let them stay on it.  Keep in mind, a puppy that is refusing to eat, should always be checked out by a vet if you suspect the pup is sick.  Refusal to eat is one of the first signs of "something wrong" in a pup that is not known to be that way.


Now, there are a FEW rare dogs that are just slow eaters and really just do not care for particular brands of food or types of food.  Switch brands until you find something palatable.  Our Hava HATES several popular brands but does tolerate a few. She also HATES raw liver or other organ meat.  She will eat it cooked howver.  Just her!  She has come a long way (she was one of our finicky ones and i have no doubt, had I allowed her to "win at her game", she would be eating only filet Mignon with gravy to this day! )


10.   What are the challenges of owning a Pyrenees?          

   GREAT PYRENEES ARE NOT THE CHOICE BREED FOR SOME!   I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH!   This breed is a DOMINANT breed.  Owning one is NOT for the faint of heart, or the softie type person!!!  

With that in mind, here is what you are potentially getting into should you buy a Great Pyrenees: 

                  - STRONG pack instinct and very DOMINANT as mentioned above. As a rule, most will not co-exist peacefully with aggressive  or other dominant animals (usually other dogs) who will not submit to it.   Please be aware if you have a dominant type breed of dog already and are considering bringing a Pyr in to your home/farm, you are potentially inviting trouble.  Dominant breeds include, but are not limited to:  Chows, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Pit bulls, some terriers (Airedales, etc), other breeds of Livestock Guarders (Anatolians, Kuvaz, Maremma, etc).   

                   -Due to this same dominant trait, avoid same sex pairings of Pyrs.  DO NOT make the mistake of thinking if they are father/son or 2 brothers, they will be  fine.  People have lost Pyrs in a horrible fashion due to this mistake.  Again, others have said, "never had a problem".  I applaud them and say "yay!!" :)

                  -BARKING!!  Great Pyrenees are barkers!!  Some worse than others.   If  close neighbors are an issue, be aware of the negative impact this *may* have  on your relationship with them. 

                  -SHEDDING!!!    Twice a year, they BLOW THEIR COAT!!   If you are an OC (obsessive-compulsive)  neat person, pass this breed up if you want an indoor dog.  Not only is it lots of hair, it is lots of WHITE hair. And oh trust me, you WILL end up having it everywhere, despite your best intentions of grooming the dog daily, vacuuming like crazy, etc.

                 -DIGGING!  These dogs like to DIG.  Pyrs have a strong trait of burying things..their food, a toy, etc.  They like to bury their food and go back for it later.  Also, a bored pyr will dig even more-so.  It seems digging is its worst as youngsters...between 6 and 18 months of age.   But some dogs are diggers when mature...this is because another reason some dig, is to cool off.  They will dig a shallow hole and then plop themselves in it.  Cools  'em off and helps keeps flies off their underbelly and paws. 

                  -Food aggression towards other dogs (and potentially to YOU, if you do not assert your alpha status over this puppy at a young age).  Make sure all members of your human family assert this same dominance over the puppy, even if young children. There is not much you can do about inter-animal food aggression, except do your best to prevent it by feeding dogs separately, etc.

                  - Independent and STUBBORN. They have a strong will. Part of what we admire about this breed is also what drives us crazy!  Again, I would never trade it for the world.  This is why they are valued so. To make judgements and choices regarding the safety of the stock in the absence of human leadership.  Raising a puppy of this breed is a COMMITMENT of the utmost. Be prepared for challenges through their 2nd birthday.  Some mellow right out by the time they are about a year to a year and a half old. Others are raging balls of rebellion for at least 2 years if not trained properly.

                  -Territorial.  Some like to  "enlarge their territory", therefore, prone to wandering/roaming.  Not all Pyrs, but a good many of them.  Good, sturdy fencing is strongly encouraged!  

                  -Jealousy!!  Pyrenees can be insanely jealous.  Whether food (and hence why they can be food aggressive ) or for your attention, this jealousy will exhibit itself in proportion to the dog's innate temperament.   An alpha type dog will show this jealousy toward other dogs ACTIVELY...usually as growling, bared teeth, marking if a male....and your more submissive dog may show it in more clinginess, irrational fear, etc.   This jealousy is part of why they are good guarders!


13 . Any advice  for training my puppy, especially a Pyr?

(Of course!!  Read up here..and then see articles below at bottom of page, particularly if you have an "alpha dog" on your hands!!)

           Puppies will challenge their new home/owners to varying degrees, depending on breed, gender and personality.   They have just been plucked from their litter and thrust into a new pack.  Expect challenges. Depending on the puppy ,it can range from alpha dominant behavior of stare downs, growling, posturing over you, and if bad enough, snapping/biting,  all the way down to whining/crying, etc.  

There are some dogs that never need much in the way of "training" or disciplining...many refer to these as their "good dogs".  In our opinion, they are all good dogs, in the right hands and with proper training!! 

**Using dominating techniques on a submissive, more timid animal would be counter-productive and will do more harm than good.  You may still end up with a fear-aggressive animal.   The flip side is also true.  If you are a softie type of person who tends to "yield" to others or has a hard time "Taking the bull by the horns", then a more dominant type of individual dog will be a nightmare for you (and to the dog when he has to be re-homed or euthanized).  


PLEASE NOTE!!! EVERYONE that walks on TWO legs within your family unit (children, elderly parents, etc)...ALL need to be involved in the training process of a pyr. ALL need to do the following exercises with the new puppy.  A pyr is very smart and one that is more "alpha" may submit just fine to its "leader" (or one particular person) but then treat the other members of a family with disdain, ignoring them,  and even worse , AGGRESSION.   I will repeat myself, biting does NOT happen overnight.  It is the result of the dog getting away with "minor power struggles" since puppyhood, power struggles you may not even have recognized as such.


Irregardless of what personality type you have, everyone can start with this: (works for many breeds, though be careful about the short-nosed ones like bulldogs, pugs, bostons...if they seem to have breathing distress, let up and modify it to holding pup on side) :

LAP TIME                                                                                                                                                       A very effective and gentle method of establishing  pack hierarchy is this:                                   Twice a day (once for a submissive, timid pup), give the puppy "lap time".  Puppies very much come to enjoy this snuggle time yet you are teaching it an important principle. Vary the family members who do this each time so the puppy learns not only YOU are boss, but so is every other 2 legged creature in the household!  Sit with your legs extended and place puppy on its back, head towards you, cradled in the "v" between your legs.  Hold them there with whatever force needed (a more firm hand will be needed to restrain the squirming, flailing stubborn puppy, or even the fearful puppy.  As you are holding with one hand, gently stroke its belly over and over, softly speaking to it.  After a while, the pup will relax and the legs will go limp.  It may even fall asleep.  After a period of time, (start with 30 seconds at first, gradually increasing the amount of time to minutes), let it up with a light, cheery "good puppy or its name" and lots of praise.  If the more stubborn  pup  resists after only a few seconds of stillness, let it up anyway after the initial relaxation, even if brief.  Work on longer periods.  Then vary the amount of time each time it is done.  In this way, you are communicating, I am the one in control here.   If the stubborn puppy struggles the whole time, still let it up after 30 seconds.  Keep repeating the 30 second thing 2-3 times a day until it learns to lay still.   Keep all anger and frustration out of your voice.  Just speak with firm authority and in a soothing voice.

Always keep yourself "above the puppy" in all your interactions.  Refrain from "getting on its level" to play, etc.  This is very important!

     For the submissive. timid pup, the above will suffice to show where this dog is to view itself in your family as well as give this type of puppy comfort knowing you are its "leader".    Any correction or training for this type of pup will need to be done carefully with  minimal physical manipulation.  A change in voice  and simply "posturing" over the pup, is usually sufficient to correct the undesired action of this kind of puppy. Posturing simply is my term for placing yourself in a way that you are  "over" the puppy.  Body language is the key way dogs communicate.  We as humans, do well to study and mimic this in order to speak their language, while teaching them some of our language.  

Licking: puppies lick not to "give kisses" as we think..they lick to show their submission to who they consider "alpha".  My licky pups in a given litter are not just cute and sweet, but I know right away, they see me as alpha.   A stubborn type of dog that you win a power struggle over can give you the greatest compliment by a short "lick" after you are done correcting it!


      For the more willful, stubborn pup,  I always encourage owners to correct the puppy as its mother does: pressure over the muzzle, pressure to the back of the neck.  We accomplish this in ways such as  a finger wrapped  firmly around muzzle, or a gentle scruff-grab to the back of the neck, accompanied by a low growly "NO."   PLEASE do not speak in your normal sing-songy, cheery voice.  LOWER THE PITCH OF YOUR VOICE AND growl if you have to :)   What do we use this for??   Well, anytime you want to correct a puppy that is dominating itself over you, a family member or even another animal within the  family.   PLEASE correct jealous tendencies as well. This is VERY important in Great Pyrenees.   While you cannot re-wire their genetic make-up, you CAN teach them the acceptable way to act.  On our farms, that means while we allow the dogs to guard their food against livestock, it is a NO-NO against humans, it is also a no-no to act violently towards another dog or livestock when defending their food. Growling is ok, and even lunging towards a stubborn goat intent on eating its food is ok....snapping/biting is NOT.  

Stare downs are also QUITE effective in dealing with alpha type pups or more dominant males. See article below entitled "The Alpha Factor".

Take -Downs: 

         I reserve a "take down" move  for the alpha personality puppy who  ties to play the aggressive card OR for the average dog that is going through a phase of stubbornness where the usual training tactics are not working.  Take downs are not done for minor offenses (barking, stealing food, etc).  ALSO... PLEASE NOTE...I am NOT advocating trying to change the make-up of a breed.  Do all the training you want, you will not turn the Pyrenees breed into a water loving, agility, obedience driven breed.  Please always keep this in mind when forming your goals.  Back to take down moves: again, this is reserved for the willfully disobedient pup who is trying to assert it's dominance over you or your family by growling, snapping or even for those pups that are guarders that are trying to play too rough with the livestock, or hurt them, despite your commands not to.  

AND please, please, PLEASE!!!  DO NOT use this on a submissive puppy!!!  See articles again, for what defines a submissive pup.  YOU WILL RUIN THE DOG AND POSSIBLY turn him/her into a FEAR biter!!!

 Ok, back to take down moves.  A take down is simply gently placing the puppy on the floor with all legs out from under it and holding its head gently but firmly to the ground so that you are leaning over the puppy.   Restraint ,immobilization, a stare down into its eyes capped off with a low, deep pitched  "NO"...or again , a growl sends a very clear signal to the most stubborn pup/dog.   They WILL avert their eyes and when they do, and they go limp, struggle over.   (  Please do not view this is as a "I am bigger than you mentality" or threatening your puppy.  It is furthest from the truth. You are using language the dog understands...and what a mother or elder dog member would do to an unruly pup/young dog.  Have you seen a Pyrenees dam correct its youngster?  Paw to the chest, pin it to the floor and a stare down or a growl!! )  Again, do not let up until the puppy relents (relaxes, looks away, etc).   Looking away is a subtle sign the dog accepts your leadership in this instance.  When let up, it is over.  No grudge needs to be held, you can go back to praising the dog and giving it a pat or 2.  Ours love belly rubs.               AGAIN...DO NOT USE THIS MOVE ON A DOCILE OR SUBMISSIVE PUPPY/DOG. .  Remember this, a puppy as it grows, will show you clearly what personality it is.  If he or she drops to the ground and shows belly, even if partial show of belly where only one hind leg is lifted...this dog does not need to be shown you are boss.  He or she already knows it.   A take down move  is over the top.  

These are just techniques.  LOVE needs to permeate everything.  You do not want a puppy afraid of you, but neither do you want it to view you as its equal.

As mentioned above, be wary of instilling fear in a puppy between 8 and 10 weeks of age.   Firm correction is usually sufficient with a "NO" and clapping of the hands to startle the puppy.



On the flip side, overindulgence of a puppy, especially a Pyr, can be equally disastrous and while cute now, in several months, will result in a young adolescent who has no boundaries and is just not pleasant to live with.  So what do I mean by overindulgence??

Well, glad you asked.  Your home is just that, it is YOUR home, YOUR turf.  When you take a new puppy in, you are inviting it onto your turf.  In the early days, make sure this is clear ot the puppy. All privileges have to be earned.   This is certainly true of the Pyr.  Dogs are pack animals, the Pyr, even much more so.  If left with a pack of their mom, dad, siblings for too long...past 4-5 months, taking said puppy away c an be very detrimental.  I wish i had known this before acquiring one of our Pyrs. While she has come a long way, I truly believe she will never be the dog she could have been if removed at a younger age (she was 9 months old).    Being a strong pack animal, your puppy will learn quickly where it sits on the totem pole of your family not only by what you do not allow, but also what you ALLOW. 

 This is where the overindulgence comes in. Time and time again ,I see the same mistake being made, despite warnings to our potential owners NOT to allow this in early puppy-hood (8- weeks to 6 months).  Do NOT allow your puppy to play mouth your hands, put its paws on you, JUMP on you..all these are the puppy's language of "asserting" itself over you.  DO NOT allow the puppy to sleep in your bed!!  I am still unsure if this is a primary cause of a puppy being dominant over its owner OR if it is simply a trait that people have ALONG with a lax training spirit...I don't know., but I do know of the few cases where  Pyr is dominating its owner, that dog has been allowed to share its owner's bed from the beginning.  DO NOT get me wrong...if you want your dog to sleep in the same bed as you, fine. Wait until he or she is OLDER "over 6 months for some...over 18 months for the select rebellious few pyrs.  Remember what I said about overindulging???  Sleeping in your bed is a PRIVELEGE. Your puppy can sleep in your room, but in a CRATE . We are BIG advocates of crates.       Remember that rule of always keeping yourself "above the puppy" , physically??  Laying down beside it in does not accomplish this.


Tomato staking:

More on proper boundaries...make use of a term  I call, tomato staking.     In other words, if you let a tomato plant grow willy nilly, it gets out of control and unruly...going everywhere.  Grow one yourself and see what I am talking about.  Stake one, don't stake another.  Big difference.  You are essentially using this same principle on your puppy, whether a Pyr or not, but especially a PYR!!.   Keep your puppy with you at ALL times...BY YOUR SIDE.  How?  USe a thin, 10 foot lead line, kept on the puppy anytime it is outside its crate.  I keep it tied to my waist. Where I go, puppy goes.  I bring bones, etc for puppy to chew on and there are plenty of rest where i need a break and puppy goes to crate.  If I am sitting at the table reading or on the computer, puppy is at my feet.  Get the idea??  This is a great way to develop communicating and reading puppy cues. It makes potty training a lot easier too.

   In regards to potty training, pyrs are creatures of habit.  Take them our every 2 hours, after every meal, after arising from nap or coming out of crate.  Be consistent and take to  the same area each time you want it to eliminate in, PRAISE success...pat, food treat, clicker, etc. Specifically with a PYR, you NEVER want to scold for an accident that has already been committed.  Be wary also of this...even those websites that say, only scold if you catch the pup in the act of soiling, with Great Pyrenees, PLEASE be careful doing even this. Not always, but a good portion of time, a Pyrenees who is sensitive to rebukes and very intelligent will draw the conclusion that it is not advisable to relieve oneself in front of you....irregardless of whether that is inside or outside. The message of "don't  go in the house" is trumped by the message to the puppy's brain of "it is not ok to relieve myself in front of my person".     You can tell if this is happening because the accidents will be  "hidden away" another room, a far corner of the house, the basement and so on. Positive reinforcement as to where puppy should go is better than negative.  If you apply this to Pyrs, along with taking advantage of being creatures of habit and allowing frequent enough opportunities  to relieve him or herself, your puppy should be potty trained very quickly.  

While being tomato staked, it gives you a good idea of puppy's schedule.  Give yourself a good 4 weeks after bringing a pup home in order to work with it.  If you work  9-5 job, lease do not get a puppy right now unless someone is home and can begin the training process OR you can take some  time off.  Then you have adequate time to get puppy on a routine, adjust it for the puppy's individual needs, and learn how he/she communicates the need to go out (some whine, some walk in circles, sniffing, etc)

For help with specific commands for a Pyr: go here to this Pyrenees website


14. My Pyrenees was SUCH a doll from about 6 months old onward...and now at 12 months old, she is acting like a dog that was never trained? WHAT is going on??? 

 This is SO common I am afraid, that a book could be written on it...with several volumes, lol.   Great Pyrenees are INFAMOUS for going through a "rebellion phase" where they seem to have "unlearned" everything they previously were taught.  Sometimes, a couple times in their young adult years.  But be encouraged, this is really not the case. And with a recommitment of intense training for a few weeks and lots of patience, most will pass uneventfully though this.    Also keep in mind, many Pyrs "come into their own" in the 9-18 month age.  Meaning, "good pyrs" will suddenly develop a "bad habit" and ones that never roamed are all of a sudden, taking off.  OR "quiet"  Pyrs suddenly  become obnoxious barkers.  Some play a game called "rearranging the house/farm" in which they gather up items and hoard them or rearrange them.    Some people find it quite comical, others find it exasperating.  No worries, does pass.  Well, most of it.  The ones that start roaming at 9 months of age (or barking excessively, may continue to do it lifelong).

15.  My 4 month old puppy was purchased to be a  livestock guarder and I do not understand why he/she treats the little baby (lamb, goat kid, etc) so roughly.  I went into the stall this morning and found the lamb's ear chewed up and bleeding.   When will she learn??

In the training process of a Pyrenees, unless you have an older, wiser LGD who will "train" the youngster on what is or is not acceptable (and this is ideal), then it is up to YOU.  This means, never, never, NEVER leave young pyrenees (up to 15-18 months old) out with livestock on its own...especially YOUNG livestock.  A puppy should have its own "space" near the stock but not WITH them.  Only when you are out and about with the stock, can puppy trail behind you.  And this should be several times a day when first acclimating a puppy to your farm.  Some pups are more trustworthy than others and can be left out at a younger age.  But be aware...problems can and do happen.

 Until maturity, you are risking severe injury to the young sheep, goat, whatever, and perhaps even death.  If you are putting your pup out with mature livestock, you can expect the reverse...severe injury or even death for your young pup...even if the pup is a bit older (4-6 months of age).


16. My Pyrenees puppy is SUCH a handful.  I was not prepared for all of this incessant ___________  (fill in the blank: chewing/barking/digging).  When will this stop??

 Take heart.  Pups will be pups. This is normal, especially for the pyrenees. As a highly intelligent breed, if bored, the behavior is worse.   GENERALLY, they "turn a corner" around 18 months of age.  There is usually improvement from 9- 12 months of age but things can "go backwards" it seems due to a teenage rebellion of sorts as mentioned above in an earlier question (see #14). But by 18 months of age, things get MUCH better.  Again, there are always exceptions, but it seems to hold true, at least in our litter, that once a year and a half rolls around, the puppy seems to have "matured" overnight, lol.

17. My puppy us great, except he has this disgusting habit of rolling dead things and coming back smelling awful!! What do I do?  (and a similar question: my puppy eats cat/dog/livestock poop!! Help!!)

I do not mean to be offensive, but this always makes me smile. Again...dogs are dogs. They do not consider it at all rude, disgusting or "wrong" to eat such items or roll in dead foul smelling dead things, etc.  I am not sure there is any sure way to remedy this other than, severely limit the puppy as he/she matures and do not allow a "loose reign" all over the yard/property. And as in question #16...wait it out. 18 months comes soon enough.  Though truth be told, I still have an occasional pyr some back fro ma romp in the pasture, smelling quite FOUL.


18.  When does a Pyrenees puppy mature to where I can depend on him to guard/protect?   He is not barking at all, and he is _"fill-in-the-blank"_months old!

We have gotten this question frequently and  quite honestly, most people are thinking a pyr puppy should be on his game by 6 months old and definitely by a year.  This is wrong thinking. There are *some* pups who are all about their business by 6 months old, but far more often, puppies take a bit to settle in to a "protective" role. I admit, a few rare ones are simply not cut out for it and even as adults, will simply "show the intruder where the good are", if you will.  The average Pyrenees puppy reaches maturity by 2 years of age.  If your 6 months old pup is not showing guarding aspects by this age, DO NOT WORRY!!  Give it some time.  At our farm, we have NEVER had a pup we could count on until at LEAST 15 months of age...more like 18 months, and definitely by 2 years of age. PLEASE keep in mind, the Pyrenees does its job by intimidation (barking). They are NOT an aggressive breed like other LGD's(the Anatolian, etc).   I have NEVER had a pyr dog that did not at least BARK.  But again, the age at which this "comes out" varies widely...from 4 months old all the way up to 15 months old!

Don't give up on your pyr pup if he or she is still under a year old and does not seem "protective".  We have been surprised MANY times when we shrugged off a pup as a "non protector". 


19. I have heard of two different types of pyrs...American and European...what is the difference?  ((or asked another way...why is your female pyr seem so much smaller and look "different" than other pyrs I have seen?

 Well ,in a nutshell: it is because here in America, we have set about perverting the original breed of the Great Pyrenees to make it more massive, more heavy and more "aggressive".   It is a personal peeve of mine to see  such emphasis on size in this breed.  This breed is NOT a Newfoundland or a Saint Bernard or a Mastiff. The original European Pyr as they call it, simply are those pyrs who still closely resemble the original breed in France!  Our Hava Anael, is more of this European variety. 
   Our Jed, is more of the American variety and it is with high hopes, he balances her out!  We do not breed for size. We breed for function and sound temperament.  Our dogs have NEVER been aggressive with people who are not a threat and have never growled or bit, even with newborn pups at their sides.  I sadly see so many novice backyard breeders who are propogating ill tempered pyrs or boasting of their huge size and rapid rate of growth.  Too many die of bone  cancer by 4-5 years of age for me to get wow"ed by this.  







             II. Medical questions!

1.My breeder/vet  announced my puppy has a heart murmur!  Should we  take it back or choose another?

             Puppies (kittens) are immature, both emotionally and physically. Just as in human babies, sometimes the heart is just not quite mature.  An "innocent" or physiologic murmur is just that: innocent!   30% of puppies have this murmur, 99% of them go away by 4 months of age.  Hopefully, your pup was vet checked before leaving the litter, but even if it was and it was missed (these murmurs are VERY soft). chances are, it will be  gone by 16 weeks of age anyway.   Most breeders will have a contract that gives a recourse should the rare event happen that the murmur is more than just innocent, meaning there is a heart defect.  If you already have the puppy, again if you did not have a contract with the breeder that discussed genetic/congenital problems, then it is unfortunate, but there is nothing that can be done should it prove to be an issue. 

2. What is cryptorchidism?  

          Simply put, a failure for one (unilateral) or both (bilateral) of the testicles to descend into the scrotum.  Testicles have usually "dropped" by 8 weeks of age but some persist and do not drop until 4 months of age.   If you have been told your puppy is a "crypt", it is not a big deal as most puppies are fixed anyway.  If the testicle has been retained in the abdomen, the surgery will be a bit more extensive as the abdomen will have to be opened to get the other testicle.  BEWARE the breeder or vet that tells you "just leave it" (the retained testicle.)...problems galore happen, from aggression, marking, etc, to CANCER of that testicle from being where it is not supposed to be. 

3. Is there anything people can "catch" from their puppy? 

    Yes!  Roundworms, hookworms, giardia, ringworm, leptospirosis...these are a few of the "zoonotic" conditions of both dogs and people. Zoonotic means it is able to be transmitted from people to canines and vice-versa.   Ask your physician for more info on any of these diseases.  Regular dewormings are a given for most ethical dog breeders.  Giardia is not common but can be an issue.  Ringworm is just a fungal infection (dermatophyte) and is usually not a serious issue.

Simple preventative care can do just that: PREVENT a problem from happening.


4. What age do you recommend fixing a puppy?

     We like to see our puppies fixed by 1 year of age.  Six months is usually a good time.  Some do it around 4 months of age and contrary to popular belief, it does NOT affect growth rate.  There are pros and cons to waiting later to fix a dog, especially female and that is why we recommend 6 months old.


5. My female puppy squats a lot like she is trying to pee frequently, but nothing comes out.   She seems to have a lot of accidents and is not potty training as well. Is this a UTI?

      Could be!   The urethra is much shorter in a female of any species, dog, cat, human.  But there is a condition called "puppy vaginitis" and causes the same symptoms of a UTI.  Treatment is usually the same (as both are infections),  so we recommend a trip to your vet and they will run a urinalysis to determine the problem.  Some breeds have recessed vulvas that predispose to frequent UTI's and recurrent puppy vaginitis.  There is a simple surgery to help repair a recessed vulva, talk to you vet about it.


6.  My puppy has an umbilical hernia according to the breeder. What is this?  Is it serious? 

    It can be, depending on the size of the defect.  A hernia just means the hole did not close as it is supposed to.  Umbilical means where the umbilical cord had exited the body, the hole remained open.  Usually, the hole is small and only a bit of omental fat protrudes out of it.  The bigger deal is the holes that are so big, they allow intestines to some through and possibly trap and strangulate.  Most breeders will not sell a puppy with a serious hernia.  A mild hernia is not a big deal and can be easily corrected at time of spay/neuter.   Some breeders will offer a bit of a discount.  Doesn't hurt to ask!


7. "We don't like vaccines - what is your take?"

         Vaccines are over-used, don't get me wrong. But to simply throw them all out as "evil" is equally foolish.  Let me disclose something:  in our clinic where we saw HUNDREDS of animals a year...parvo virus, a potentially LETHAL disease, was NOT diagnosed in PROPERLY VACCINATED puppies. 

A vaccinated puppy was a protected puppy.

 We are not "anti-vaccine", but nor do we rely on them as a "cure-all".  

 I have been asked my opinion on the "talk" of doing some vaccines every three years, instead of every year.  I will continue to recommend the vaccination schedule until labels are changed. 






A special section dedicated to outlining dog behavior and how this can help with your new puppy:


Dog Drives

Excerpted from an article by Norma Woolf:

"The technique of recognizing dog drives--the inborn attitudes towards the stresses of life--is an old one, but until 1991 when Wendy Volhard put it down on paper, the knowledge was passed on from trainer to protege. A founder with husband Jack Volhard of the so-called motivational method of training, Wendy Volhard attended a Schutzhund seminar taught by German trainer Jorg Silkenath. She became intrigued with the concept of drives and did further research before writing a series of articles for Off-Lead Magazine.

The concept is simple--dogs have different personalities and therefore different learning styles, and techniques that work with one may not work with another. Thus some dogs obey with almost whispered commands, and others need firm words and stern expressions. Some dogs panic at quick movements and others stand their ground. Some dogs need wide space and others are not happy unless leaning against the master's leg.

Drives defined

The four drives outlined by Volhard include preypackfight, and flight reactions.

The prey drive includes those behaviors that highlight hunting and foraging behaviors. Dogs that hunt and kill their toys (or objects of clothing, pillows, etc.), chase anything that moves, steal food, stalk the cat, and pounce on toys or other animals are probably high in prey drive.

The Pack drive involves a dog's affinity for humans or other dogs. A dog with a high pack drive cannot get enough of people; he barks or cries when left alone, solicits play and petting, likes to touch, enjoys grooming, and loves the sound of his master's voice.

The Fight drive is defensive and indicates a dog's self-confidence in stressful situations. A dog with a strong fight-defense drive stands his ground, walks high on his toes, guards his territory and his family, may guard his toys and food, tolerates petting and grooming but does not really enjoy these activities, enjoys tug-of-war, and seems ready to fight.

The Flight drive is also a defense drive and indicates a dog's lack of self-confidence. A dog with high flight drive is unsure in new situations and may hide behind his person, is stressed when separated from his person, crawls on his belly or urinates when reprimanded, and may bite when cornered. 


What they mean:

A dog with a strong fight drive may be described as dominant; a dog with a strong flight drive is often described as submissive and can become a fear-biter if not trained appropriately.

Although each breed exhibits a general character, individuals in each breed can vary. Akitas, Rottweilers, Dobermans, and German Shepherds are guard breeds and are expected to be high in both prey and fight drives and moderate or low in pack and flight drives, some individuals in these breeds have a high pack drive or a high flight drive. Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Standard Poodles, and other companion breeds are expected to be high in pack drive and moderate in prey and fight drives, but some individuals may have a high defense drive and become either aggressive or excessively fearful. Problems can arise when a breed is chosen for its general drives but the individual dog differs from the prevailing character of the breed.

To determine the strength of these drives in an individual dog, Volhard devised a simple 12-question test for each. Each question is answered by "yes" or "no"; the number of "yes" answers detemines the depth of the drive in the dog's personality. "




"Many breeds of dogs have dominant temperaments, especially the working breeds and terriers. Some people consider any scuffle involving puppies or young dogs of a dominant breed to be proof of aggressiveness or viciousness, but they are wrong. However, they have contributed to a false picture of several breeds with their proclamations. "





 Good stuff on aggression and how to avoid it!!

Excerpted from an article by Gary Clemons, DVM

"Obviously, dogs are not people. They have a pack order that determines their social rank, a pack order that is established and maintained by body language. Some dogs occupy dominant or alpha status, and some have low rank or omega status. When dogs live with people, they look at humans as members of the pack and try to establish their place in the social order by challenging the more submissive family members, particularly the children. If dogs display a dominant gesture such as growling while guarding the food dish, and they are not corrected for this behavior, they have established a bit of dominance to build on with any or all family members. If these dominant gestures remain uncorrected, the dog slowly but surely gains in status over one or all family members.

The subtle signs of dominance usually go unnoticed or are explained away until the dog bites the human for infringement on his alpha position. The owner misunderstands the progression of behaviors and blames the dog for biting "for no reason." These dogs frequently end up at animal shelters and are destroyed because their owners misunderstood the development of aggressive behavior. 

 Types of aggression

There are several types of aggression: defensive or induced by fear, pain, or punishment; dominant; possessive; territorial; intra-sexual (male-to-male or female-to-female); predatory; or parental. A dog may exhibit more than one type of aggression.

Dominant-aggressive dogs are characterized as confident, macho, and "on the muscle." They stand tall, up on their toes, with their ears up and forward. They carry their tails high and wag it slowly and stiffly from side to side. They often have their hackles up, stare menacingly, and emit a low growl with lips pursed and teeth exposed. They will place a paw on the shoulder of another dog, mount people's legs, and push children aside when going through a door. Dominant-aggressive dogs are demanding of attention. They demand to go outside, demand excessive affection, are possessive of their sleeping areas, and stop eating when approached. Many of these dogs will not obey commands, especially submissive commands (such as "down" or "wait"). Males lift their legs on everything, even in the house, even if their bladder is empty. Most dominant-aggressive dogs are purebred males.

Defensive-aggressive dogs are much more ambivalent in their behavior. They display submissive body language (ears back, often flat against the head; avoidance of direct eye contact; lowering of the head and body; tucking tail between the legs; submissive urination) and they lick hands and roll over to expose their bellies. They resist handling, hate to have their feet touched, don't like to be groomed, and often shy away from human hands. These are the fear-biters; they may snap if cornered and will often bite at people who turn and walk away. 

Preventing aggression

The primary goal is simple -- never allow any dog to achieve dominant status over any adult or child. If dogs always know their social ranking and are never allowed to challenge people, they will usually be good family members.

The first rule for preventing problems is to match the right breed and puppy to the right owner. In other words, the Rottweiler or Akita is not a suitable breed for a meek or mild owner or the macho owner looking for a tough, aggressive dog; the Dalmatian and the Flat-Coated Retriever do not fit sedentary lifestyles; the Shetland Sheepdog or the Chihuahua do not like boisterous, rowdy children, etc. Likewise, the litter bully will take over the home of a submissive owner and the shy puppy needs extra attention to adjust to an active household.

Puppy testing done by the breeder can help. The test includes social attraction, following, restraint, social dominance and elevation dominance.

Aggression prevention includes early socialization. Puppies should be handled gently, especially between three and four months of age. They should be hand-fed by children and adults and taught to take food without grabbing or lunging. They should not be allowed to chase children or joggers, jump on people, mount legs, or growl for any reason. They should never receive or be part of rough, aggressive play such as hand-fighting, wrestling, or tug-of-war games. Puppies should never be physically punished for aggressive behavior; instead, they should be denied the rewards of aggression, restrained from repeating the infraction, and taught alternative behavior.

If puppies bite at or jump on children, the children should take charge by screaming "Off!" and crossing their arms (to protect hands and arms from being grabbed) and turning away. Puppies love to play; if fun is denied when they get too rough, they will learn to play more calmly.

Puppy parties, where children of all ages visit and play gentle games and offer food rewards are helpful for the children and the puppy.

The puppy should be part of the family pack and should learn to accept delivery people, repairmen, and other strangers. Once they have been vaccinated against the common canine diseases, puppies should be exposed to non-aggressive dogs so they learn that other dogs as well as other people are friendly.

Older dogs

Food rewards help train young puppies, but as dogs get older, they must receive praise for good behavior and mild discipline for bad behavior. Dogs should earn everything they receive from their owners. They should sit to receive petting or treats, sit before going out the door, sit before getting out of the car, sit to have the leash attached to the collar. These exercises constantly reinforce the notion that the owner is boss.

Dogs should not be left unsupervised with children, especially children who do not live in the household. Children should be taught to use the basic obedience commands so they can exert some control over the pet as well.

Dogs should not receive excessive praise (or constant petting), especially for doing nothing. Excessive praise and petting elevates the dog's social status and sends him mixed signals.

Neutering male dogs will not solve all problems, but will help prevent dominance aggression and inter-male fighting, particularly when done before the pup reaches sexual maturity.

Finally, prevention of aggression requires that the owner win each and every confrontation with the dog. If the dog wins a showdown by growling when you try to get him off the sofa or take his toy or approach his food bowl, he receives a 'go' signal for the next step in an attempted takeover.

Genes + environment = temperament

Please remember this, if you don't remember anything else: Once a dog has reached dominant status, punishment cannot be used to correct a dominant aggressive dog!

The trainer may make the dog revert to a submissive-aggressive or defensive-aggressive animal, and the dog may respond to that person out of fear, but it will never be trustworthy around others, even family members. The most that may be accomplished is to reduce the frequency and severity of the aggressive acts.

With biting dogs, humane euthanasia is often the kindest form of treatment. Biting animals often go from home to home and lead a life of fear and severe, inhumane punishment.


Treating aggressive behavior is best handled by a professional animal behaviorist or a very experienced, reputable animal trainer. There are a number of individuals who call themselves animal behaviorists or trainers who are poorly qualified. They often resort to brutal and sadistic methods such as "hanging" and shock collars to correct aggressive dogs. Excessive force and punishment are their main tools.

When seeking a professional trainer, always seek advice from your veterinarian and carefully interview trainers to find the one who uses the least amount of force necessary.

Treatment consists of listing all the things that trigger aggressive behavior and preventing these situations from developing. For example, if the dog growls when you try to remove it from the couch, don't allow it to get on the couch.

The first impulse is to minimize contact between an aggressive dog and the person or people he is most aggressive to. However, this scheme only encourages the dog to become dominant to more and more people and tightens his control of the household. Therefore, the individual who is having the most difficulty with the dog should become the main provider for everything the dog needs food, water, exercise, praise, affection, and all play activity. This person must be able to train the dog to obey basic obedience commands of sit, stay, come, and down. He will probably need a lot of help with the down command (which puts the animal in a submissive position) so he doesn't get bitten.

All other family members must totally ignore the dog no play, food, or affection. The dog must look on that one person as its sole provider of everything.

The dog must be rewarded for any signs of submissive behavior such as ears back, looking away (avoiding eye contact), rolling over, licking, crouching, or lowering the head when being reached for. Any dominant gestures that the dog will tolerate should be used frequently and the dog must be praised and given occasional food rewards for submitting. The dog must earn everything.

Once a dog starts to respond, then counter-conditioning can be started, but this should only be done with a qualified behaviorist-trainer. Counter-conditioning includes working with a dog that doesn't like its feet or hindquarters handled; it is also referred to as desensitizing the dog to certain stimuli or conditions.

To counter-condition a dog that does not like its hindquarters handled, first teach the dog to stand on command, then, with an experienced handler controlling the dog's head, the gently touch the rear end. If the dog submits, praise and give a food treat. Repeat praise and reward for each positive response. Gradually increase the duration and frequency of handling and praise the dog for each act of submission, no matter how small.

Aggressive dogs can be retrained under the right circumstances. Keep in mind, however, before anyone starts a program to correct an aggressive dog, he must realize that the dog may never be trustworthy around other people or children and may bite if provoked. Owners should always be given the cold, hard facts: they should never feel guilty for having an aggressive dog euthanized, but they should also realize that, if they are likely to make the same mistakes with another dog, they should not get another dog."


Dogs must be taught to not bite

How to do it depends on the dog's age

Q: What can I do to make my dog stop biting the heck out of me?

A: This is a common question of many dog owners.

All dog biting springs from the same source rooted deep in canine behavior. To answer the question properly, I divide the people asking into three categories according to the age of their dogs. Methods of correcting this problem differ if the dog is a young puppyaround a year old adult (teenager), or a two-to-four year old adult. Beyond the age of four years old, most dogs who have viciously bitten someone have been euthanized or otherwise disposed of.

Biting is very basic canine dominance behavior used from the time a puppy is able to move around in its litter. Biting among wild and domestic canines is used as communication to establish standing within the pack. This pack may be an extended family of wild canines, a litter of puppies with its mother, or your pet dog intermingling with your family. Dogs live so well with humans because they regard all the members of your family as fellow pack members.

The puppy biting dog

If the biting dog is a puppy under six months old, the biting is very correctable. Pups this young rarely bite hard enough to break skin, and many people start out thinking their new pup is simply playing. Your young pup may or may not have risen to the status of pack leader within its litter of puppies. Moving into your house, the pup is introduced into a new pack and is unsure of his ranking within the group. No matter the reason for biting, young pups should never be allowed to playfully use their teeth on human skin.

There are hundreds of tapes and books available on how to train your dog. While tapes and books are a start, there is no substitute for face to face sessions with a qualified obedience instructor. Puppy kindergarten and basic dog obedience are good classes to take. Professional trainers can not only answer the question of why the pup is biting but can show you how to use various exercises to communicate to the new pup that the people rank above it in the pack. Most of these exercises mimic the way your pup was disciplined by his mother and other litter members. Performing these exercises tells your pup that you are the leader in a manner well understood by dogs. A good trainer will also go over small changes you should make in your everyday life. These changes may mean little to you, but to a dog they govern every aspect of life. Establishing a correct relationship between a pup and its human family will lead to years of enjoyment of each other’s companionship.

A list of Dog Owner's Guide training articles is available in the Manners and training section.

The teenaged biting dog

Older puppies (around a year old) who have intimidated their owners through their early puppy months will progress to what most refer to as “play biting.” By this stage, the biting no longer looks like a cute puppy game; even if the dog is not breaking the skin, the problem is becoming serious. The dog is making it clear that, as far as he’s concerned, the owner is stepping out of line. However, with obedience training, and by learning to modify certain daily living behaviors, this is still quite correctable. A formal obedience class, with a qualified instructor, will teach you to substitute desirable behaviors for the dog’s aggression, and how to modify existing behaviors. Such seemingly unrelated things as the games you play with your dog, where your dog sleeps, and when he is fed may be contributing to the biting problem. Allowed to progress, play biting can become vicious biting.

Obedience training is the quickest way to overcome play biting. A dog that learns to obey commands begins to understand that he cannot bully people. Management of biting teenaged dogs includes many of the same or similar techniques that are used with puppies: sit before getting petted or eating; no freedom to roam the house unattended until he learns to come when called; use of a crate for time-outs and when he cannot be supervised; no games (tug-of-war especially) where he wins; and no sleeping in a family-member’s bed.

(More on obedience training)

The adult biting dog

This is the category where you hear on the news about a dog who “turned on his master.” In reality, the owner was never the master; and the problem did not develop over night. These dogs have gradually reached the status of pack leader. In the dog’s eyes he owns the house, and all the possessions within, and it is his responsibility to protect his pack. If they gave in to the younger dog’s play bites and stopped doing obedience or grooming because the dog didn’t like it, the humans in the family may be demoted to subordinate pack members.

Dogs who achieve pack leadership will relish an opportunity to bite, drawing blood if necessary, if they perceive a human as getting out of line. Dogs who have reached this stage are dangerous and a liability suit waiting to happen. Most of these dogs end up euthanized or given away (to a good home); in the latter case, the problem is passed on to an unwitting new owner.

All is not lost, and dogs who reach this stage can be corrected. A qualified obedience instructor or dog behaviorist must intervene. The humans in the family must adopt a new regimen of behaviors to interact with the dog. The professional’s suggestions must be followed to the letter, because there is little margin for error. This modification period is usually more hard work than the humans care to undertake, and Fido will find the process unpleasant too. Special considerations must also be taken during the retraining, to confine Fido to prevent him from seriously biting someone. The family must also understand that the changes in day-to-day living with Fido apply for the rest of his life.

Yes, dogs bite, and for good dog reasons. Correcting the problem early, learning to communicate, and establishing a proper relationship will prevent heartache later.

By Ozzie Foreman


The alpha factor

Who's the boss around here, anyway?


Regardless of your reason for acquiring a puppy, you'll have to win it over. You, not your dog, will have to be the leader of the pack if your pup is to develop into a well-mannered family member instead of a burden. Dominance and alpha behavior are important concepts that every dog owner should comprehend.

Dogs are animals, not human beings. They are pack animals by nature. Every pack has a leader, known as the alpha animal, who dominates and leads the other members of the pack. The alpha is the boss who makes decisions for the entire pack. Usually the pack will have an alpha male and an alpha female. All the other members of the pack form a hierarchy of dominance and submission where everyone has a place.

In your home, you and your family become your dog's pack, as do any other dogs you may have. It is your responsibility to establish yourself in the alpha position. If you fail to do this, your dog will do it as a natural behavior. Many people assume that they are automatically in charge just because humans are superior to animals. But are you really the pack leader? Does your dog know it?

Being the pack leader does not mean you have to be big and aggressive. Nor does it mean that there has to be a battle of wills after which you are the victor. Anyone can be the pack leader. It is an attitude an air of authority. It is the basis for mutual respect, and provides the building blocks of communication between the two of you.

A pack animal becomes a full fledged member of the group by a process called subordination. With dogs, subordination begins shortly after the third week of life and continues throughout early development. Most normal, healthy puppies are basically pushy animals, and will try to advance as far as possible within the social order of the pack. The key to successfully rearing a puppy is to establish yourself as the pack leader and then maintain that position for the life of your dog.

So how do you become the alpha leader? In the wild, the adults of the pack begin early to teach the cubs the rules. The adults grab pups around the head or neck and gently, but firmly, pin them to the ground. The cubs learn to greet the adults with respect by approaching them using a slightly crouching posture, with ears back, tail down and wagging, and they lick the adults' muzzles. The cubs do this as a sign of respect and affection, not out of fear. It is called the subordination display, and its function is to keep peace and harmony within the pack.

Alpha exercises

Leadership exercises can confirm humans as the heads of the family pack. Once you establish this relationship, your dog will seek you out. He will want to be with you and will treat you with respect and affection. After he learns to submit to handling, all other tasks such as grooming, nail clipping, cleaning ears, and medicating will be easier to accomplish. But first he must learn that you have the power to handle him, and that handling will not lead to any harm. He must come to trust you entirely.

These exercises will help establish leadership but should not be used with an older pup who has learned to use his teeth to get his way. Exercises one and two are recommended only for small puppies up to three months of age. Exercises three and four are suitable for pups up to six months of age as long as there's no problem with aggression. Be gentle but firm with all exercises, as you would with a baby human.

  1. Sit on the floor, then pick your pup up off the floor with both hands supporting him just behind his front legs, facing you. Hold him away from you at arms length. Look directly into his eyes. Growl at him if he struggles, using a low guttural sound. Hold him till he relaxes. Vary the time you hold him in this position from 15 to 45 seconds. Vary the location.
  2. Sit on the floor and cradle your pup, placing one hand under his head and the other supporting his back so that he is upside down on his back, and up in the air. Hold a larger puppy across your lap. Hold the pup for 15 to 45 seconds, using the same growl as in exercise 1 if he struggles. Hold him until he relaxes.
  3. If your puppy is large, substitute this exercise for the first two. Straddle your pup, with one of your legs on each side of him. You should be facing the same direction as your dog. Lock your fingers together under his chest, just behind the front legs. Lift his front legs off the ground for 15 to 45 seconds. If he struggles, growl at him till he is quiet.
  4. Place your dog on the floor with all four legs pointing away from you. Hold him firmly by the neck with one hand, and press down on his midsection with the other hand. Talk to him softly after he is quiet. It might take two or three minutes to get him to relax. If he exposes his belly to be rubbed, you are on the right track. Do not allow him to struggle, get up, or nip. Always praise him lavishly in a quiet tone when he relaxes. Now is also a good time to handle all four paws and look briefly into his mouth so he can get used to tolerating your handling him gently. Be sure to do this exercise four or five times a day at first. Taper off as the pup gets more used to you and accepts your leadership.

The stare

Eye contact is also one of the ways order is kept in a wolf pack. Only an alpha animal may use the stare to remind everyone who is in charge. When you initiate eye contact, you express your alpha position. Encourage your pup to maintain eye contact for several seconds, making it a pleasant experience. Do not force him to do so. Use the term "watch me" and always praise him the instant you have eye contact. However, you do not want to try to do this with a dog who thinks he is already in charge of things. The dog must know you are the leader first. Otherwise you will begin a stare-down contest. An alpha dog will not be willing to be first to avert his eyes. If you are the first to avert or even blink your eyes, it will help confirm the dog's alpha status.

Alpha discipline: Pack leader activities

There are many pack leader activities you can use as part of a daily training routine. Probably the single most important command your dog can learn is "sit." You can incorporate "sit" into everyday situations as a reminder that you are in charge of things. Tell your dog to "sit" before you feed him, before you play, before he goes out the door. This shows the dog that he must respond to you before indulging in his own pleasures. If he is obedience trained, put him in a down-stay while you prepare his dinner.

Your dog will accept you as pack leader as long as you are consistent and fair in your demands. You must never permit him to growl or snap. If he does, a severe scruff shake is necessary, followed by no attention from you for 10 to 15 minutes. The scruff is the loose skin around the dog's neck. If your pet growls or snaps and you are not afraid to handle him, grab him firmly by the scruff with both hands, stare him in the eyes, and shake him. Then put him in his crate for 15-20 minutes and ignore him.

If your dog growls or snaps and you are afraid to discipline him, seek professional help. Don't ignore the incident; a dog allowed to threaten his family can easily become a biter.

Never overlook any challenge to your authority. Most dogs will test their owners, usually in adolescence. When the issue is settled immediately, it usually ends the matter.

There are several books that will help owners establish leadership to assure a long, healthy relationship with a pet. There are also several training clubs and businesses in the area for those who prefer an instructor's assistance and for those who need help with problem dogs. -  Barbara Jansen