Aug 15, 2015 By Kathie Kaercher,
With lots of help and advice from Erick Conard, LUCKY HIT RANCH, Leander, Texas
A large and powerful dog we rescued intermittently terrorized both our house and
our neighborhood. Only when we recognized that our dog consistently displayed
Anatolian Shepherd Dog (ASD) guarding behaviors were we finally able to anticipate
and manage our dog's focused guarding behaviors. Using techniques required to
handle ASD's allowed our dog to change from struggling to fit our needs to a
real asset in our lives.
When an owner wants an ASD to be a home companion guardian, the owner has a major responsibility to make that equation work. A true ASD is instinctively a highly-motivated and skilled guardian dog. The ASD requires appropriate training and management to be a successful home companion/guardian. The home companion/guardian dog is a working dog whose job is to guard his family. Since his family is his flock, an ASD can never be viewed as a casual house pet.
Thanks to lots of generous help from Erick Conard of Lucky Hit Ranch, we now have a well-adjusted, functioning Anatolian Home Companion/Guardian Dog. Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are normally used as livestock guardian dogs. They are very hard-wired to protect flocks of goats or sheep from canine predators and from human trespassers. It is also very instinctive for Anatolian Shepherd Dogs to be very protective of their home territory, family, and companion animals.
Often Anatolian Shepherd Dogs find a modern home environment a challenge because their strong guarding instincts are often interpreted as aggression or instability. In normal residential life, a large dog who appears to be very reactive and suddenly barks, growls, and attacks other dogs is very frightening. In today's world, everybody has heard about out-of-control pet dogs who are aggressive and unstable. It's very easy to assume that a working Anatolian Shepherd Dog is another of those dogs who is a terrifying social misfit.
Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are not aggressive and are not unstable. Anatolians Shepherd Dogs have a hard-wired, very consistent, defined set of decisions that they use to determine their responses to situations. These decisions are very different from the behavior patterns in other more common protective breeds such as Rottweilers and German Shepherds.
Through ignorance, we made many mistakes with our Anatolian Shepherd Dog. As I look back, through all of the problems that we had with our dog, it's now easy to see that he was always consistent in his reactions. But, we didn't recognize the consistent pattern of his reactions. We were trying to use the framework of a normal pet dog's reactions to manage our Anatolian Shepherd Dog – it was a near disaster.
My great sadness is that, out of ignorance, we put our dog into so many situations where he was hard-wired to fail. I hope that we'll be able to help other owners and dogs avoid many of the problems that we had by documenting what we have learned about managing Anatolian Shepherd Dogs working as home companion/guardian dogs.
Things were going very downhill when we finally made contact with Erick Conard. Erick helped us to understand our Anatolian Shepherd Dog's instinctive behavior patterns. He also helped us figure out how we could work with our dog to have him successfully learn to guard us, our home, and our cats.
FOUR YEARS OF CONFUSING BEHAVIOR
Major was rescued at about seven or eight months of age from a very rural area in our county. Major came to live with us on a residential cul-de-sac where each home has about five acres. Major has always lived in the house, as a pet, with us, our other dog Duncan, and our two cats. In the past, we had successfully owned several beautifully behaved large dogs and we assumed that Major, who was such a calm, loving young dog, would also be well-behaved.
For four years, none of the companion animal vets, groomers, and trainers who knew Major recognized that he was an Anatolian Shepherd Dog. The companion animal world doesn't typically deal with livestock guard dogs and Major doesn't look like a current United States pedigreed Anatolian Shepherd Dog - he is shorter (27” at the shoulder) and heavier in the hips with a non-curling tail. But, according to Erick, Major looks similar to pictures he's seen of some Turkish Anatolians. Erick has confirmed several times that Major's behavior is 100% Anatolian.
Major has always been well-behaved, affectionate, and extremely calm and happy. But, as he got older, he began to flip into violent reactions and then, just as quickly, he would return to being a calm, loving dog. This behavior was extremely worrying to us and in spite of consulting with several trainers, meeting with an animal behaviorist, studying online, ordering books, even getting Major's thyroid tested by a canine endocrinologist in California, we had no idea why Major intermittently reacted so violently.
After four years of Major's confusing behavior, one of our long-term neighbors
took me aside and warned me that Major had become a serious problem in the neighborhood.
Our neighbor reminded me that Major had menaced every household on the street and
he wanted to know what we were going to do about Major. It was clear that our
neighbor thought that the best solution was to get rid of Major before anything
After talking with our neighbor, we put together a list of Major's very worrying behaviors. Each incident had been bad, but when all of the incidents were listed together, it was clear how serious the problem was:
MAJOR IS AN ANATOLIAN SHEPHERD DOG
Reviewing the list showed us how many serious problems we were having with Major:
· We realized that, with justification, our neighbors hated Major and most of them wanted us to get rid of him.
· I was terrified that Major would hurt a visitor, a workman, a delivery person, or especially a child.
· I was very worried that Major would hurt another dog in our neighborhood or when I had to take him to the vet.
I was in despair. I was guilt-ridden that I was a terrible owner and terrified that Major was going to hurt somebody. I had no idea what to do and nobody could figure out what was going on.
The trainers, behaviorist, and veterinarians who had worked with Major had many opinions about what was wrong with Major. They told me that Major needed to be better socialized, that he was dog aggressive, that he might be brain-damaged, and that he needed to be put on the Nothing in Life is Free training regimen. One trainer told me that all of Major's problems were caused because I was a terrible owner who knew nothing about dogs. Another trainer told me that I had severe emotional problems which were reflected in Major's hating other dogs.
I tried to keep reminding myself that I had successfully trained and owned, in the same house, in the same neighborhood, a truly dominant, dog aggressive German Shepherd, a giant Airedale, a Samoyed mix, an Akita mix, and a herding dog mix. I didn't have any idea what was going on with Major, but from dealing with our dog aggressive German Shepherd, I absolutely knew that Major's problems with other dogs were not based on dominance dog aggression.
Even though I had worked hard with Major and he was fully obedience trained, by luck, I heard about a new obedience trainer in the area. I called her and told her about the problems that I was having with Major. I remember saying to her that even though I had successfully owned several large dogs, I didn't “get” Major's behaviors.
The trainer seemed nice and I decided to sign Major up for one more obedience class to see if I could somehow socialize him to other dogs. The minute the trainer saw Major, she said that she knew what his problem was. She identified Major as an Anatolian Shepherd Dog and said that that they are very protective and hate strange dogs.
My husband Dan and I had never heard of Anatolian Shepherd Dogs and began reading about them and looking at online videos. I started doing research. Two Anatolian rescue groups agreed that Major definitely has a strong Anatolian appearance and behaviors. The president of our local livestock guard dog rescue group told me that, in her experience, Anatolians can be very violent. That was not news that I wanted to hear.
I figured out that Major was rescued very close to a large goat farm. I called several local goat farmers and most of them do use Anatolians to protect their goats. So, even though Anatolians are extremely rare in our area, being rescued so close to a goat farm made it geographically more feasible that Major is an Anatolian Shepherd Dog.
Most of the Web pages and online videos about Anatolians are focused on Anatolians working as livestock guard dogs. Our situation was different. We had an Anatolian living in our home as a pet and we were trying to figure out how to make it work.
I called several Anatolian breeders who were all very kind to me. The breeders were strong, alpha personalities who knew Anatolians and their behaviors. They all kindly told me that I needed to buck up, to be brave, and to take charge of Major. Even though I had successfully owned large dogs for years, I didn't know how to take charge because I didn't know when or why Major would react. I was extremely nervous that a person or a dog would get hurt.
I found another Anatolian breeder whose Web site contained a video of two beautiful Anatolians playing with two blond toddlers. I thought that Anatolians playing with toddlers looked promising. I hoped that maybe this breeder would know something about Anatolians being pets.
When I called and explained what was going on, that breeder said “I want to be sure I understand you. You have a dog and after four years you just found out that your dog is an Anatolian Shepherd Dog and you want to know how to train your dog to be a pet.”
I asked him if he had any ideas or book that he could suggest on how to manage Major. I was desperate and so worried. Everybody hated Major and I had no idea what to do.
He responded “I'm sorry. Our dogs are never sold as pets. Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are working livestock guard dogs and aren't pets. You could try calling a fellow in Texas. He is an Anatolian breeder and owns Lucky Hit Ranch. His name is Erick Conard. He's willing to talk with people who are having problems with their Anatolians. Maybe he could help you figure out what to do.”
EXCELLENT HELP FROM ERICK CONARD
My very lucky day - Erick was home. I poured my heart out to him and told him how concerned I was about our dog Major's erratic behavior.
When I first talked with Erick, I summarized the problems I was having with Major. He assured me that the kinds of problems that I was having were normal and urged me to read some of the stories from other Anatolian owners on his Web site. Erick also said that, if they are managed correctly, Anatolians can be successful home companion/guardian dogs.
I told Erick that Major was rescued ¾ mile from a large, working goat farm and that, when he came to our house, he didn't know how to climb stairs. Erick speculated that he could have been an outside guard dog when he ran away or was dumped.
When Major was rescued, we tried to find his owner, but nobody seemed to be looking for Major. Later, reading an article on Erick's Web site, we saw that Anatolians who are more interested in people than in guarding their goat herds are considered to have a flock guarding defect. From everything that we've seen, Major much prefers people and being in the house with us to being outside with other animals. So, Major's extreme interest in people could be why he was dumped.
Major and I are very bonded and I knew that he is an excellent dog who made me feel very safe. I wanted to do whatever I could to make him successful in our home. Erick and I talked about, with all of his erratic behavior, the long-term feasibility of Major being a successful home companion/guardian dog. Erick said that he does successfully place Anatolians as home companion/guardian dogs and that he felt that we could turn around the situation with Major.
Not in our first phone call when I was in absolute despair, but in later conversations, after I was having some success with Major, Erick did tell me that it's much more challenging to manage an Anatolian as a home companion/guardian dog than it is to have an Anatolian work as a livestock guard dog
I explained to Erick that Major has always been calm and stable, even as a very young dog. He has no prey drive and is uninterested in games or toys. He has always kept his good nature in spite of obviously being very uncomfortable with terrible allergies and allergic sores on his legs.
The only time Major was ever defiant to me was when he was first started on thyroid medicine. I left Major in the car when I was running an errand. When I got back to the car, Major was in the front passenger seat and didn't want to get into the back seat of the car. I sat in the driver's seat and told him we weren't going anyplace until he got in the back seat. About a minute later, he hopped in the back seat.
Major spends most of his time lounging around, guarding. But, he is immediately alert and will bark and growl and his hackles will go up if he hears something out of order: a strange car in the cul-de-sac, neighbors walking their dogs, or even me exclaiming out loud about something on TV. As soon as Major determines that there is no threat, he immediately calms down. Erick said that Major is demonstrating typical Anatolian behaviors. They are calm, loving dogs who are hard-wired to respond to any perceived threats, but who immediately calm down when the threat has been neutralized. He discussed the Anatolian instant-on / instant-off guarding behaviors. I told him that I had always seen that behavior pattern in Major.
During our conversations, Erick interviewed me in detail. For each incident that we discussed, he wanted to know where we were, who was there (human and canine), and exactly how Major reacted. He asked me detailed questions about things like the position of Major's tail, how far he ran down the driveway to bark at a trespasser, and how quickly he stopped barking after the incident was over. Every time, he said that Major reacted as an Anatolian would react.
Erick and I also discussed the fact that Major came to our home when he was young, between seven and eight months old, and that his guarding behaviors really blossomed when he was about a year old. It was clear that Major's instant-on / instant-off guarding behaviors had to be genetic because Major did not see examples of guarding behavior from the dogs he was living with and playing with when he got our house. Major was always kind and loving to our other dog Duncan, but almost immediately upon arriving at our house, Major pulled himself away from being a dog pal and, on his own, created a role for himself as 24/7 home guardian dog.
Erick also told me that Major's immediate violent reaction to us trying to confine him in the master bathroom the night we rescued him didn't surprise him – he said that many Anatolians have extreme claustrophobia.
Erick also reassured me that if Major had actually wanted to kill any of the dogs or cats whom he had attacked, he would have. Erick also reminded me that Major definitely could have bitten the cable TV repairman if he had wanted to when he was doing the loud, clicking air bites near the cable TV repairman's legs. In my very worried state, I tried to take solace in that good news.
Erick was pleased that I had successfully obedience trained Major in spite of him being dismissed from so many obedience classes. He also said that Anatolians are very sensitive to anesthesia and to pain medications. Erick was very pleased to hear that in spite of Major attacking while he was on Tramadol, his Anatolian bite inhibition had remained in place. Erick reminded me that if Major's bite had not been inhibited, Duncan and the dog visiting our neighbor would have been severely injured or dead.
Erick's opinion was that all of the things that I had told him about Major were very typical Anatolian behavior. Obviously Duncan and the small terrier from next door are Major's “work team”. The other dogs in the neighborhood, at obedience class, and at the vet were unknown canines whom Major is hard-wired to protect against. Erick also said that Anatolians are not casual about unknown canines and have been known to kill dogs whom they perceived as a threat to their flocks or to their owners.
Erick and I also agreed that my husband Dan is the alpha figure to Major and that Major is much more relaxed when Dan is around than when he feels he is fully responsible for protecting me. After talking with Erick, I also realized that even though I had obedience trained Major to do beautiful sits and stays, I actually had no control over his instinctive guarding behaviors.
As Erick and I continued to talk, I began to see all of the mistakes that I had made because I didn't understand how Anatolians see the world. I also began to understand that Anatolians operate with a very hard-wired set of rules about territory and especially about strange humans and canines.
I began to see that a dynamic home environment is very challenging to an Anatolian. Rigid, hard-wired Anatolian responses to on / off territory, threat proximity, and stranger / non-stranger are constantly being challenged as life goes on in a normal United States home. In a Turkish village, there are probably very few unknown dogs and few strangers. Living at our house, new people, with new dogs were moving into the neighborhood and strangers like the UPS man were always showing up. These normal home events are much more challenging to an Anatolian than to a more casual pet dog.
After my conversations with Erick, I began to understand that Anatolians use a series of decisions to dictate how they will act. Erick and I both agreed that the secret to managing an Anatolian is understanding how the dog will react in specific situations. As we discussed the problems that I had had with Major, and Erick gave me suggestions for better management techniques, I developed a summary of the decisions that Anatolians make as they evaluate situations.
ANATOLIAN SHEPHERD DOG DECISION CHART
Here's a summary of the information that I learned as Erick and I discussed how Anatolians instinctively and consistently make decisions about events in their environments. Anatolians make these decisions in a split second and immediately begin their guarding behaviors if they perceive a threat. Then, as soon as the threat is neutralized, Anatolians immediately return to calm, watchful guarding.
To successfully manage your Anatolian, you need to understand the split-second decisions that your Anatolian is making.
ANATOLIAN GUARDING DECISIONS
1. Alpha Here?
· Trusted Human?
· Unknown Human?
· Trusted Canine?
· Unknown Canine?
· Threatening Event?
· Trusted Human?
· Unknown Human?
· Trusted Canine?
· Unknown Canine?
· Recurrent Event?
· Odd Event?
1. ALPHA HERE?
Is my alpha here? Am I sharing the guarding responsibilities or am I totally in charge of guarding?
Anatolians are much more relaxed in their guarding behaviors when they are working with their alpha figure. I have learned to take advantage of this part of Major's decision-making. Especially with workmen in the house, if I don't know them, I will often arrange that my husband will be at the house. When Dan is around, Major is much more relaxed and takes his cues from Dan. When Major and I are alone, it's obvious that Major is on full alert and has much stronger hair-trigger reactions.
I used the alpha rule when my credit card information was stolen and the bank insisted that I file a police report. To avoid complications with Major barking at the police, I wanted to go to the police station to file the police report but the dispatcher insisted that the police had to come to our house to take the police report. To be sure that the interaction with the police was calm, without Major barking and growling at the police, Dan (the alpha who easily controls Major), Major, and I waited for the police on the patio, well away from the house. One of the policemen got out of the car and walked up to us. Dan told Major that everything was OK, the policeman petted Major, and, miraculously, everything was OK.
Dealing with off-territory behaviors is easier because Anatolians are somewhat less on guard when they are off-territory. Erick explained that many Anatolians have an off-territory shut down mode. But, even off-territory, if the Anatolian perceives a serious threat from a human or a canine, he will immediately react with strong guarding behaviors.
Off-Territory Trusted Human?
If the Anatolian knows and likes the human, guarding behaviors will end as soon as the Anatolian recognizes the trusted human.
Anatolians clearly know which humans are familiar to them. Once I was walking Major at our local outdoor mall. Major became obsessed with one store. It turned out that our next door neighbor, whom Major loves, had just taken a job at that store. I had no idea that she worked at the store and was very surprised to see her walk into view from behind a display case. It was clear that Major knew all the time that she was in the store even though he couldn't see her.
Off-Territory Unknown Human?
Anatolians are neutral or friendly with well-intentioned strangers. Erick said that many Anatolians also have a sense that people who are handicapped or weak need special gentleness.
Anatolians will also remain very alert with off-territory, unknown humans who have a hidden agenda or who are “off”, maybe drunk, on drugs, or mentally ill. If an Anatolian senses anything strange, he will immediately begin to carefully observe the person and quickly begin guarding behaviors if necessary.
Off-Territory Trusted Canine?
If the canine is a member of the Anatolian's “work team” then the dog will be immediately welcomed by the Anatolian.
Off-Territory Unknown Canine?
Anatolians will tolerate controlled, unknown dogs who always remain visible, at a defined distance.
My not understanding this rule was why Major had so many problems with dogs at obedience classes, at the vet, and in our neighborhood.
At obedience classes, dogs were too close to Major and were not always visible. Dogs in obedience classes were always moving around and Major couldn't keep an eye on them, especially when they were behind his back.
Major does fine at the vet when he is sitting on the waiting room bench, with his back to the wall, and dogs are walked in and out of the vet, at a distance. When Major attacked the small white poodle in the vet's check-out area, he had already very calmly watched several other dogs walk in front of us to leave the building. I now realize that the poodle's owner had tried to slip behind us and that the poodle ended up very close behind Major. It's very clear now that the poodle being so close behind Major was the trigger for him jumping on her. Erick said that Anatolians tend to jump their prey from behind so they are especially sensitive to unknown dogs coming up behind them.
Off-Territory Threatening Event?
Off-territory events may or may not evoke a response from the Anatolian, depending on the owner's attitude during the event. The Anatolian is going to read the owner's confidence or fear and respond accordingly. For example, if a clown suddenly appears, does the owner love or fear clowns? The Anatolian will read the owner and guard accordingly.
Anatolians notice even the smallest change in their environment The house next door to us had been sold and, before moving in, the new owners switched security companies. The previous security company lawn sign had been gray The new security company lawn sign was white. When Major saw the new sign, he stopped and every hackle on his back went up. He slowly walked towards the new sign. The minute he realized that the new sign wasn't dangerous, his hackles went down and he cheerfully continued his walk. As an experiment, a few minutes later, I walked Major past the new lawn sign and he didn't pay any attention to it.
On-territory, Anatolians are always on guard and they do not shut down. They may appear to be relaxed, but at the slightest noise or odd event, they will immediately begin guarding behaviors. Anatolians always remain fully alert with strangers in their territory.
On-Territory Trusted Human?
If an Anatolian knows and likes the visitor, guarding behaviors will end as soon as the Anatolian recognizes the visitor.
Major normally begins barking when he senses a visitor. As soon as he recognizes the visitor, he runs to the person, smells him or her, and then greets the person and wants to be petted.
On-Territory Unknown Human?
If an Anatolian doesn't know the visitor, guarding behaviors will continue until the dog is told that the visitor is OK. But, the Anatolian will remain constantly on guard until the unknown visitor leaves.
If the human is an unwelcome trespasser, the Anatolian's response will get louder and more violent the closer the trespasser comes to the house:
· If the trespasser is at the end of the driveway or edge of the property, the Anatolian's response is loud and visible.
· If the trespasser moves further into the property, the Anatolian's response gets louder and even more visible
· If the trespasser moves all the way to the house, the Anatolian is on the highest alert, with the most clear warning signals. If the trespasser remains or comes closer, the Anatolian will attack.
Major took control of the situation the day a creepy man was on our porch. Immediately his hackles raised all down his back and he began loud, ferocious barking. He was at maximum guarding. The intruder left immediately. I have no doubt that, if I had opened the door, Major would have attacked the prowler.
When our pool man came up on the porch and knocked, Major was with me inside the house. He began to bark very loudly. I motioned to the pool man to move out to the driveway, away from the house. As soon as the pool man left the porch, Major got calmer. I went outside to talk with the pool man in the driveway. Major went outside with me and was calmer, but very alert, until the pool man left.
Anatolians also are able to sense strangers who aren't even yet on your territory. Major was in the house, not close to a window, the air conditioning was on, and I had music playing. Somehow Major knew that a water company representative was on foot, walking from house to house, delivering notices about water service. When Major started barking, I looked outside and saw the water company representative, still in our neighbor's yard, walking in the direction of our house but still several hundred feet from our house.
On-Territory Trusted Canine?
If the canine visitor is a member of the Anatolian's “work team” then the dog will be immediately welcomed to the territory.
On-Territory Unknown Canine?
An unknown canine will be met with a very loud, ferocious display and will be chased away from the territory. If the unknown canine does not leave, it will be attacked or killed.
On-Territory Recurring Event?
When an Anatolian recognizes that events such as the trash being picked up or the mail being delivered are routine and non-threatening, then he will remain calm and just keep a watchful eye instead of bothering with a full guarding display.
On-Territory Odd Event?
On-territory odd events will evoke a response from the Anatolian. If the event frightens the owner, the Anatolian will go into full guarding behaviors. If the event doesn't frighten the owner and the owner assures the Anatolian that everything is OK, the Anatolian will remain watchful until the unusual circumstances are resolved.
Once I understood how Anatolians make instantaneous guarding decisions, then I had to figure out how to manage Major's guarding behaviors in daily life.
· Anatolian guarding can be wonderful – the creepy man on my porch left and I don't worry too much about the bear that some people around the area claim they have spotted in the woods.
· Anatolian guarding can also be a terrible problem if it is not managed correctly – before I understood about Anatolian guarding decisions, I constantly worried that Major was going to hurt an innocent person or dog.
It's obvious that Major has decided that I am his primary flock to guard. He never willingly leaves my side. If I'm in the house, he lies quietly next to me, appearing to rest or sleep. But, he is always guarding. He will immediately leap up, totally alert, if he hears a strange noise or even if I exclaim about something on TV. If I go outside, to walk or even to take the trash out, Major leaps up to accompany me.
Major loves to ride in the car. When the weather is cool and it's safe to leave him in the car, I will take Major when I go shopping. He's happy to relax in the car while I shop. I trained Major that he is not allowed to get out of the car until he is given a release command. This training is critical and he is never allowed to leave the car before he is given his release command. To reenforce this command, I will often practice at home leaving the door of the car open, making Major stay in the car until he is formally released. If he breaks this command during practice, I put him back in the car and he practices again.
Our cats are inside / outside cats. Our house is on open ground with woods close to the house. I have occasionally seen a fox in the neighborhood and once even saw an eagle for a few minutes. Our neighbors talk about coyotes in the woods and there is even discussion that several people have seen a bear in the area.
I am very concerned when my cats are outside with all of these lurking dangers in the woods. I wish that Major would sit outside with the cats the entire time that they are outside. He doesn't stay outside all of the time. Several times a day, he goes outside to urinate and then makes a circuit around the driveway and garage area. I believe that Major instinctively knows that his walking around outside will lay a protective scent barrier around our yard.
When Major is inside the house, he will suddenly go into full alert mode and start barking loudly to go outside. Either somebody will let him out or he will run out the dog door. When he's outside, he will bark very loudly and make a thorough circuit. Then, he will come back in the house and calmly lounge around, guarding.
Because Major is guarding inside the house, he doesn't get as much exercise as Anatolians who are out in pastures guarding large numbers of goats or sheep. Anatolians are typically fed very sparingly in Turkish villages, so they tend to absorb every bit of nutrient value from their food. It's very easy for an Anatolian, who is not constantly on the move guarding goats or sheep, to gain weight. Major has had problems being overweight even though he was not overfed and wasn't given snacks. Now, we feed Major 4 cups of vet-prescribed low fat food every day and he finally seems to be losing some weight.
The prescription low-fat dog food is also higher in grains and lower in protein than many United States premium dog foods. The prescription low fat dog food is very similar to the high grain diet that Anatolians are usually fed in Turkey. In the past, Major had very severe allergies and horrible allergic sores on his legs. Now, on a low fat diet closer to a standard Turkish Anatolian diet, his allergies have greatly diminished.
We have never used crates for our dogs. We have always believed that our dogs need to be fully able to make correct decisions as they live in our house. With Major's demonstration of extreme claustrophobia, we have also never tried locking him in a room to keep him away from visitors. We have two reasons for this decision. We believe that he has to learn to live as a resident in our house, because we're his owners, not his prison guards. Plus, with his claustrophobia and determination to guard, we feel that he would probably break down a door or jump out a window to reach us.
Major never demonstrated any unacceptable puppy behaviors and has always been fully house-broken. He never caused any damage or chewed anything except a marrow bone that we gave to him. When we had a garage / workshop built, Major was about year old. All of the carpenters liked Major and laughed when he was obviously playing and carried their tools around for a few minutes. When the carpenters had to get back to work and told Major to stop, he immediately left their tools alone.
We feed our cats on a table in our kitchen. A rule in our house is that the cats are to be left to eat in peace and that their food is not to be touched. So far, Major has never touched the cats' food even though he is tall enough that he could eat right off the cat feeding table.
We have a swimming pool and Major has easy access to a stream and to a lake. He has never shown any interest in getting wet.
Major rarely goes in the woods and he ignores the deer who brazenly walk around in our field.
Major is also uninterested in retrieving or playing with toys. He plays very gently with our older dog Duncan and also plays gently with the small terrier who lives next door. He is very affectionate and loves to be petted and is delighted to sit on the sofa next to me, halfway on my lap.
Major is very calm and stable. Except during the worst thunder storms, when he will stay close to me, he seems immune to thunder and lightning. Noises like the vacuum, the security system alarm, lawn mowers, and power tools are irrelevant to Major. He especially loves to be vacuumed and will often beg me to vacuum him. Vacuuming Major makes life easier because Anatolians have large amounts of fur coming out every time they are petted, brushed, or vacuumed.
Major is pleasant, calm, and very easy to have around the house. The challenge is to manage his hard-wired guarding behaviors.
MANAGING AN ANATOLIAN HOME COMPANION/GUARDIAN DOG
After talking with Erick and with my husband, I've developed the following strategies to help manage Major's guarding behaviors. There are definitely challenges in putting a very hard-wired working guardian dog into an environment where there are many random events that trigger an Anatolian's guarding instincts.
Understand the Players in the Game
I am a “softer” personality that Major sees as the person he needs to protect. I'm probably never going to convert my personality to alpha. But, over the years, I have had extensive experience obedience training several large dogs and I am very aware that I must make Major obey all commands.
Major is absolutely devoted to me. He is very affectionate, stays with me, and always tries to be obedient.
A huge breakthrough for me was when I realized that, even though Major was well obedience trained, I was not controlling him mentally and emotionally.
I saw that I am a trigger for many of Major's guarding behaviors because he feels that he has to protect me.
When I was so worried about Major's behavior, my fears were communicated to him and his guarding behaviors became even more hair-trigger because he knew that I was afraid.
My fear also made me appear even weaker in Major's eyes and he felt that he had to do even more to protect me.
My Husband Dan
My husband Dan is definitely the alpha figure to Major. Dan has always had an easy way with dogs and they are always very calm and obedient in his presence.
Major is very respectful and obedient with my husband.
Major recognizes that Dan is alpha and takes his lead from Dan in complex situations.
Dan agrees about the importance of obedience training and he also requires Major to obey all commands.
Dan also told me that he has never worried that he could not control Major's behavior.
From our experience, neighbors don't care about the intricacies of livestock guard dog behaviors or the rare, wonderful behavior patterns of Anatolian Shepherd Dogs.
Trust in Major is beginning to slowly rebuild in our neighborhood as people see my increasing confidence and Major's more controlled behavior.
Recently we've had a several suspicious incidents in our neighborhood. The neighborhood watch is reactivating and there is a plan to put cameras in the trees. I've been sure to discuss how much of a security “asset” Major is at our end of the street. He should get credit where credit is due – nobody is wandering around at our end of the street that Major doesn't alert on.
Major isn't exposed to many children in his daily life. He has had very loving interactions with many unknown children off-territory. But, he also growled at two neighbors' grandchildren.
One incident involved, on-territory, a nervous grandmother forcing her frightened granddaughter to pet Major. When the terrified child gently touched Major, he never moved a muscle, he just gave a warning growl that he was uncomfortable being touched.
The other incident occurred at a neighbor's bonfire. In the flickering firelight, at the end of a party with lots of strangers and several strange dogs, Major growled at an unknown shrieking toddler running towards me.
Even though, in these two situations, Major never moved a muscle and only growled a warning, these two growling-at-children incidents were the biggest reason why Major was labeled as aggressive and unstable by our neighbors.
If I had known then what I know now, I never would have exposed Major to either of these tense situations. I now understand that Anatolians take every situation seriously and that they are constantly evaluating their environment for any potential threats. In these two growling-at-children incidents, Major was put in unusual, high stress situations and his response was to warn the unknown humans, who happened to be children.
Erick says that normally Anatolians are very loving and patient with children in their immediate families. On-territory, Anatolians are suspicious of unknown humans and are very protective of their family members, especially the children in their families. Visiting children and wild play should be supervised to ensure that the Anatolian doesn't interpret children playing loudly as a threat to the children in his family.
Obedience Train your Anatolian
Your Anatolian needs to be obedience trained to at least an Intermediate level of obedience. Obedience class is very stressful for Anatolians – they do not feel comfortable with unknown dogs and unknown humans moving around out of their view.
If your Anatolian struggles with obedience class and you don't know how to obedience train your dog, it is vitally important to get private lessons and practice obedience commands until you can totally control your dog.
Your Anatolian needs to thoroughly know: Heel, Sit, Stay, Come. Major is obedience trained to verbal commands and to hand commands, off-leash as well as on-leash. I have worked for hours with Major on his Stay command. When he is given the Stay command, he immediately does a Stay and he never breaks a Stay until he is formally released with his release word.
When Major rides in the car, he is also trained that he is not allowed to leave the car until he is given his release command.
When Major trapped the female UPS driver in our driveway, I quickly put Major in a Stay command verbally and with hand commands. I locked my eyes on Major and very quietly told the driver to put the package down and to slowly walk down the driveway and get in her truck. I didn't release Major from his Stay command until the UPS driver had driven down the street, out of sight.
Everybody in the house needs to use the same obedience commands and the dog has to be required to consistently follow all commands.
The first obedience class that I signed Major up for used the new, modern clicker and food training method. The clicker and food class was ridiculous. Major was growling at all of the dogs in class. I was trying to control Major and, at the same time, use the clicker correctly. Major knew which pocket the food was in and decided to go right to the source to get the food out of my pocket.
When we started using a choker collar for obedience training, we were able to train Major easily. The choker is only used at first to help position the dog correctly. Once the dog knows the commands, there is never any pressure on the choker collar. The weight of the choker collar also communicates to the dog that it's time to work.
Erick says that some people make the terrible mistake of trying to overpower Anatolians with alpha rolls. He says that alpha rolls often cause Anatolians to become claustrophobic. As well, he says that as soon as an Anatolian realizes that he's physically stronger than you are, he will never respect you.
Erick also says that in spite of whatever the Anatolian has done, you cannot be angry when you are working with an Anatolian. If you are angry, walk away and come back when you are calmer. Erick also warns never to hit an Anatolian because hitting destroys the relationship between an Anatolian and its owner.
As I was trying to learn to manage Major, even though I didn't know how to be alpha, I did know how to obedience train him. I developed two obedience commands which have worked very well. The first command is Watch. The second command is It's OK, Let's Go.
When we are off-territory, I have trained Major to respond to the command Watch. Using this command, I am acknowledging that he has observed something but he has to stand next to me and watch, not bark and growl. Erick suggested that after I let Major watch for a while, then I give the command, It's OK, Let's Go. Erick felt that I need to teach Major that it's my decision that a situation is safe to leave.
Manage Resource Guarding
Luckily, Major has relatively moderated resource guarding tendencies. His resource guarding has always been directed at our cats. Major attacked, but, thank goodness didn't injure, our cat when he went too close to Major's empty food dish. We learned that the food dish has to be picked up the minute Major finishes eating.
Major has also, at times, only inside the house, enforced a boundary around himself and me and he will growl at the cats if they come too close. One of my cats will defy Major and sneak to me to sit in my lap. If Major doesn't spot him sneaking towards me, Steele will jump in my lap and glare at Major. Once Steele gets in my lap, Major will accept defeat and just lie down next to me.
Erick believes that there is a genetic component to resource guarding as well as resource guarding being an indication of an Anatolian showing its alpha position. There is an excellent series of three articles about Anatolian resource guarding on Erick's Lucky Hit Web site:
Anticipate the Anatolian's Off-Territory and On-Territory Reactions
The way to successfully manage your Anatolian is to anticipate how your dog will react in specific off-territory and on-territory situations. As you are successful with your Anatolian, it will get easier to anticipate and to avoid problem reactions.
I find that using the decision chart in this document helps me to understand how Major will react so that I can avoid and contain problem situations.
For example, by asking the pool man to leave the porch and move further away from the house to the driveway, I greatly reduced Major's guarding response. The chart indicates that the closer an unknown human gets to the house, the fiercer an Anatolian's guarding response will be. By asking the pool man to move away from the house, Major's guarding response decreased and I was able to talk with the pool man in the driveway. I'm sure that Major's guarding response would have been very ferocious if I had instead tried to talk with the pool man on the porch.
Avoid or Control Problem Situations
It's important to recognize that Anatolians are not casual pet dogs and that they are not going to do well in certain situations.
Even though dog parks are off-territory, Anatolians will react to and may attack uncontrolled, unknown dogs.
Festivals and Farmers Markets
There is too much of a chance that other patrons may have dogs and there could be an unpleasant interaction between your Anatolian and another dog.
Even though everybody felt that Major would have been an excellent therapy dog, we decided not to participate in the therapy dog program with him because we realized that there could be a chance of Major reacting too protectively if another therapy dog ever came too close to me.
To be certified as a therapy dog handler, I was tested in a nursing home to see how I interacted with patients. During my test with patients, Major was not with me. The day of my test, while the team of therapy dogs was assembling on the patio of the nursing home, one of the therapy dog handlers let her Golden Retriever off leash to jump on the humans and to play with the other therapy dogs. I knew that Major would have attacked the Golden Retriever if he had been there.
We got lots of pressure from the therapy dog group to bring Major into their program. They said that it was obvious that Major did fine with other dogs because he had passed the dog aggression part of their testing. Major ignoring a calm, well trained therapy dog fifteen feet away on a leash is not a valid test for the problems that Anatolians can have with off-territory unknown canines who come too close.
I'm very cautious at the vet. I make Major do a Sit / Stay outside the door of the animal hospital so that I can check that the coast is clear before I bring him into the waiting room. In the waiting room, I clearly tell people that Major is a Turkish Sheep Dog and that he doesn't do well with other dogs and that they need to stay at least 10 feet away from us. If I ever feel that somebody has poor control over a dog, I will take Major outside until our appointment. I also asked the vet to label Major's chart as Dog Aggressive. That has been a huge benefit because now the vet techs are also making sure that Major isn't going to run into any dogs in the hallway. I also will not wait with Major in the crowded check-out area. If we have to wait for medication, I'll take Major to the more spacious waiting room and find an isolated seat.
Home Repair People
Home repair people are often very difficult for an Anatolian to deal with. Repair people have to be on-territory, inside the house, moving around, and often making lots of noise. My strategy is to use companies that I trust and request the repair person who likes dogs. If I see that Major is uncomfortable, I'll usually sit on the sofa with Major next to me and watch TV. Usually if he hears hammering or banging, he'll growl. By having him sit next to me on the sofa, he in is one place and if I tell him that it's OK, he's on guard, but relatively subdued. The easiest way to have repair people at the house is to be sure that my husband, the alpha, is at the house.
Give Your Anatolian a Job
I realized that Anatolians are very serious, hard-working, loyal dogs. They are hard-wired to guard living creatures – their families, their companion animals, and their livestock. Erick reminded me that Anatolians are not suited for territory guarding. He said that dogs like Dobermans are very successful guarding empty warehouses at night but that Anatolians need a flock, human or animal, to guard. Anatolians guard their charges, wherever their charges are.
I now trust Major as my guard and I give him guarding responsibilities such keeping watch over the porch and door as I bring groceries into the house. In our isolated house, I used to be so careful to lock the door every time I would carry groceries from the porch across the kitchen to the counter. Now I let Major guard the door.
I often take the trash out at night. Major has trained himself that when I get the trash bag ready to go out, he goes outside ahead of me and checks the driveway. Then, I bring the trash out, put it in the trash can, and go back inside. After I'm safely back in the house, Major nuzzles and sniff the cats, makes a circuit of the yard, and then comes inside.
As Major understands that I trust him, the relationship between Major and me is much better. I understand what he's doing and why. I am not constantly reacting to his instinctive behaviors with fear and worry. Because I'm calmer, he's much less stressed.
Respect what your Anatolian is telling you. If he alerts, he knows something is going on. Recently, I opened the door to let the cat out on the porch. Major walked out on the porch and started barking and growling. I didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Suddenly, a strange dog walked out of the woods in our neighbor's yard, more than a football field distance away.
Anatolians can be successful home companion/guardian dogs with work and understanding. The owner needs to understand that Anatolian Shepherd Dogs are such excellent livestock guardian dogs because of their constant guarding and their instantaneous reactions to threats. Anatolians also have the courage to eliminate a threat if their loud warnings do not chase the predator away from the flock.
Anatolians working as home companion/guardians are required to be very nuanced in their responses. They need to understand the difference between the UPS man delivering a package to the porch and the home invader stepping on the porch intending to break into the house. In nuanced situations, an Anatolian is reading body language, energies, and especially its owner's response to situations.
In home situations, there is very little margin for error. If an Anatolian responds inappropriately to a situation, he will most likely be labeled as aggressive or unstable.
To have a successful Anatolian home companion/guardian dog, you need to remember that your Anatolian is a working guard dog. It is important to understand your specific dog's personality, strengths, and weaknesses. As well, you also need to fully understand how your Anatolian Shepherd Dog is hard-wired to make decisions about his environment. It's vital that you fully obedience train your dog so that he is physically controlled. You also need to develop a partnership with your Anatolian so that your dog is using his amazing observation and alerting skills in addition to his to his courage and guarding abilities. Your contribution to the partnership is to use your judgment to help your Anatolian operate successfully as an Anatolian home companion/guardian in a very nuanced world.
THANKS TO ERICK CONARD
We want to thank Erick for his caring support and coaching. With Erick's help, we've begun to understand that a huge part of managing Major is knowing how he is hard-wired to react to the world. Being able to anticipate when and how he's going to react, we can either keep him out of difficult situations or work to manage his reactions.
Because Erick took the time to help a stranger on the phone, he helped us to develop Major into a wonderful companion, an excellent home companion/guardian dog, and a neighborhood asset.
Erick, thank you again for all of your help.
Lucky Hit Anatolians following the flock as the flock moves across the pasture
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