This is a revision of an article I published in the July 2004 issue of UKC Bloodlines magazine
Whether your puppy is going to be a family companion, or a full-time working flock guardian, or a mix of both… training is an absolute must. A puppy reared in an isolated, dull environment will be seriously stressed by new noises, places, people, and other animals, and is likely to suffer temperament problems later on. If you got your puppy from a conscientious breeder, your puppy will have already met lots of people, other dogs, and be familiar with bicycles, car rides, noisy machines, other animals, and so on. Early socialization shapes the dog that your puppy wil become in significant ways, but after you obtain your puppy, it's up to you!
This article will focus on the companion Kangal that will be spending significant time around family, friends, and other pets, but I’ll have a few words to say about training for working dogs as well.
Let’s start with the good news: most Kangal pups are easy to housetrain compared to other breeds. All the owner needs is a set routine, a little direction, a properly sized crate, and the pup seems to teach herself. New owners contact their breeders to report with great enthusiasm that their puppy is a complete angel. “She has never pooped in the house, she stopped making puddles inside after only a few mistakes, and it's simply amazing! She taught herself to sit, too!”
You might very well find that your puppy will be playful, but calm and laid back most of the time. "The perfect pup!” you might think. So, when the breeder checks in and asks about plans for formal training, the happy new owner may wonder, "Why do I need to enroll in a puppy training class, or in basic obedience, or any of that? It's a waste of money because obviously MY Kangal is awesome!"
Why Do You Need to Train Your "Perfect" Puppy?
Livestock protection dogs are not for for the inexperienced dog owner. They require consistent, intelligent training from a very young age. An ethical breeder will have made that clear on their web site, placement application, and communication.
For survival in their rural Turkish homeland, puppies learn about the social structure of their environment, getting discipline from their mother, and also from the shepherd and the entire village. As the puppy enters adolescence, little signs of impending rebellion and independence become apparent. That independence is also an important working characteristic of the breed—but it constitutes an extra challenge for the urban/suburban dog owner. And it’s not to be ignored.
However, just as it is very difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel when your puppy is presenting problems, it is also very difficult to imagine that your darling, gorgeous ball of soft fawn fur might one day be dragging you across the asphalt to show the neighbor's German Shepherd who's boss. How can you imagine that your sweet young puppy will one day stop "hearing" you when you call, and take off for the wild blue yonder? Or that precious, clumsy little 35-lb pup will suddenly decide to defend his food bowl against all takers, including you? "Naw, not MY puppy!" you say? Please don't make me say "I told you so" a year from now...
Reality Sets In…
One day, you call your 4-month-old puppy and he looks right at you, then continues on his merry way—so you blame "a distraction" and go chase him down. A few months later, he starts lunging at other dogs on the leash—you imagine he’s “just protective” and that makes you proud. Your pup growls or snaps when you take away a bone or rawhide—you justify it as ‘normal’ in a working breed. All of these behaviors might be natural, but they are not acceptable.
Suddenly, that sweet puppy is 6-12 months old, weighs 80-130 pounds, and you can see you've let things go too far. He is showing signs of serious aggression against other dogs, he refuses to "hear" your commands, he jumps up on your guests, he guards his food dangerously. All of these behaviors and others will occur inevitably in an adolescent dog that has not been properly socialized and trained.
And now you find out that it's a whole lot harder to retrain a dog that has entrenched bad habits than to train a dog to have good habits from the start.
The message here cannot be overemphasized: heavy socialization and training for a companion Kangal Dog must happen between the ages of 8-12 weeks, and continue steadily into adulthood. Even further. Working dogs also need training (that’s a separate article). You do not need to train a Kangal Dog to guard your stock or property, because that comes naturally for most livestock guardians—but you do need to train your puppy not to bully your pet beagle, to worry your goats, or to seek openings in the fence and terrorize the neighbor's cows. Discipline and respect for you as a fair but firm leader is required for the livestock guardian whether companion or working dog.
Search for a Good Puppy, Train for a Good Dog!
Your dog will be with you for a dozen years or so. Why not make those years as enjoyable and stress-free as possible? A private trainer is a nice luxury if you can afford it, but I would not recommend leaving your dog with a trainer for "Boot camp" --most of such trainers rely on correction-based training, often with shock collars. This is a Very Bad Idea for any dog, but especially Kangal Dogs. Besides, group training is actually more important, because you will learn together. You need to learn how to get and keep your dog's attention when there are distractions present. He needs to learn to accept other dogs in close proximity, and how to stay quietly on lead for someone else when the need arises.
It is best to investigate trainers and find a class with a positive training approach before you get your puppy. Bargain-basement trainers with no qualifications, and/or trainers who use physical corrections, are likely to waste your time and money, and mess up your dog.
Please read this article on Puppy Socialization. The current research indicates that it is best to start puppies in class at about 8 weeks of age, right after they’ve had their first set of vaccinations. This is because the ‘socialization window’, the time at which the puppy’s brain is most open to learning and adapting, is between the ages of 6-12 weeks. Sadly, many training facilities have not caught up with this protocol and will not accept puppies that have not had 2-3 series of vaccinations.
If that is the case in your area, make sure you take your puppy regularly to safe public places--a large pet store that allows pets inside is a good option (but not the potty spots outside—dangers there from unvaccinated shelter dogs!). In fact, pet superstores and some large home improvement stores are great places to practice what you are learning in class, too. In my neighborhood, dogs are allowed at Bass Pro shops.
Here's the good news: training is FUN! You will develop a stronger bond with your dog. You will become a better trainer. You will learn interesting techniques such as clicker training, you will make new friends--and so will your dog. Every Kangal Dog is an ambassador for the breed, and everyone likes a good ambassador. Be proud of your solidly-trained, well-behaved dog when out in the park or at a dog show, once your dog has reached his or her huge and handsome full glory!
Start training now, and take the opportunity to participate in training seminars, obedience courses, carting classes, therapy work-- whatever interests you. You won't regret it, and your dog will love you for it. And it won't decrease her guarding ability one iota!
My favorite practical puppy training book: The Puppy Primer, by Patricia McConnell