Thursday, 2 August 2007

Training and working a Hovawart - part 3

A Hovawart needs to have a job to do, otherwise he will use his creative nature to find one.

Training is a way of improving the relationship you have with your hovawart, of improving the bond between you and as a means of enabling him to be more sociable and reach his full potential. It enables your hovawart to cope better with his immediate environment, gives him an easier life and makes him easier to live with. By training your hovawart you create opportunities to spend more time with him, wherever you go or whoever you are going with. Most training consists of taking the natural behaviours of the hovawart and then bending them to your advantage, so it is worth discovering what really motivates your hovawart. Some are very enthusiastic or driven by toys or objects whilst others have more interest in food. A combination of food and toys or objects seems to be very successful, the food makes it easier to manipulate the dog into the position that you want without undue pressure, and the object as the reward to be played with. Use "different strokes for different dogs", to misquote the phrase. Our male hovawart adores tracking, but he works best for a much loved object, give him food as a reward and he is content; but give him his toy ( in his case a rope and ball ) and play with it with him as the reward, and he is demonstrably far happier. On the other side of the coin is our bitch, who, whilst enjoying toys or objects will not work for them. She is food oriented, so offer her food as a reward and she will "walk through fire" for us. These sorts of motivational methods can be used for all training; choose to use food, or objects (toys) never compulsion.

An example with recall. You are out walking your hovawart, he is off the lead and it is time to go, you call him to you. He comes back, but then a metre from you he skips away again, as if it’s a game, inviting you to play. Or perhaps he is just reluctant to respond and just stands looking at you. You are probably in a hurry and become tense or angry and shout. All of which exacerbates the situation and makes him even more reluctant to return, he is aware of your anger and frustration. It doesn’t take very long for a hovawart to understand that by only putting the lead back on at the end of the walk, the fun is going to end; you have taught him not to come back. This sort of thing is usually to do with correct lead training and of stimulating or motivating him.

Hovawarts will always stimulate themselves somehow in order to gain the attention that they crave, so give your hovawart quality time and quality training. During the walk call him back to you at least three or four times. Put him on the lead and reward with a brief game or a tasty titbit, and then, let him off the lead again. He will then learn that coming back to you is good and fun, and that being placed on the lead does not always mean the end of the walk and the end of fun! Play hide and seek behind trees etc, your hovawart will not think you are hiding, he will think you are lost, so he will search for you. When he finds you, with or without the need to call him, reward him lavishly with praise and a game with a much loved object. This type of game is especially important for the pup or young dog. Play games, be inventive and stimulate your hovawart, aim to make yourself the center of his world and he will have no reason to wander off or not want to return when called.

The Hovawart was bred to be an intelligent guardian of the home

Originally bred to be intelligent guardians of the home, the inhabitants, its surrounds and livestock the hovawart retains his guarding instinct today. The hovawart is an aristocratic dog being balanced but also sensitive at the same time; base your training relationship on friendship and partnership and your hovawart will respect you and your commands, his achievements will be both fascinating and rewarding. Conversely, he will react negatively, and stop communicating with you if treated poorly so give him the respect his character demands. They are alert, faithful, trustworthy, extremely intelligent, fun loving, sometimes stubborn and the hovawart will make his own decisions. The guarding instincts of the hovawart should be managed and capitalized upon; extensive socialization and exposure to a variety of situations and stimuli from a young age is the most advantageous way. It helps him to learn and understand how each situation should be approached utilizing his intelligence to assure a measured response. It is paramount that the dog understands how you want it to make decisions and not rely on his own instincts alone.

A hovawart needs to be educated, so for example always greet a friend at the door, and do not allow the friend, or anyone else, to just walk in and surprise you both. Give the hovawart the message that this person is a friend through your actions and tone of voice, let him know he does not have to protect you from this person. The hovawart is not an aggressive guard dog, he may simply put himself firmly between you and your friend defensively (you will know and recognise it if this should happen). "Their way" of doing things can highlight some of the hovawarts inherent traits: one day an electricity meter reader (yes it had to be , but this is a true account) decided to come through the rear entrance to our property instead of knocking on the front door, which was far easier to do in the first place. Anyway the first that we knew of a 'problem' was when we heard someone calling for help and a couple of deep serious sounding barks! The meter reader was standing backed up against the wall with one of our hovawarts in front of him. There was no biting, no lunatic barking frenzy, the dog had quietly intimidated the reader, and was ' holding' him there until we arrived to investigate; he had never received any training for this. As can be seen, and from their history, the inbred guarding instincts of the hovawart predispose them towards defensive guarding behaviour without resorting to attack.

The obvious correlation between their character and their name; real guardians of territory, even when not trained, and if necessary ready to take action sets them apart from many other breeds. They are able to evaluate a situation, not barking without reason, they may appear to pay little attention to strangers on their territory when the owner is there, however they are aware and alert.

Towards strangers the hovawart is often reserved, perhaps diffident, but they are naturally bound to your family; he regards them as his pack therefore he will guard and defend them. Hovawarts do not like their pack being separated; for instance, if you all go down to the woods for a walk and the family spreads out over a large area, the dog will start running from one person to another to ensure that everything is alright. Only being content when you are all get back together, the pack is complete again.

The outstanding reputation of the Hovawart as an individual companion with defensive guarding abilities remains as valid today as it always has been. One of the most important criterion for determining the eligibility to breed, is that each dog should pass a temperament or character test. Breeding only with hovawarts that have a sound temperament, and never from aggressive dogs is prerequisite. Most official hovawart clubs have and use temperament or character tests/assessments. In the past the growing demand for better working dogs led to the development of Schutzhund training, that demand has continued and made ever more sophisticated tests and training necessary, similarly the need for good trainers also increased. In the 'bad old days' many trainers were ex military or police and many worked on the premise (the bully tactic) that the dog will do as it is told or else. That sort of approach with a hovawart, or any dog, is both cruel and pointless and is not good enough in today's more enlightened times. The use of positive reinforcement is demonstrably far more successful and less stressful than any regime of force, coercion, yanking choke chains and submission. The days of dog breaking are thankfully long gone.........

The Hovawart matures very slowly, but they do not require any special training. They do need a thorough socialisation or education; the puppy and young dog are uncomplicated pets they are very inquisitive and are very social with people and other dogs. As they are slow to mature your approach to all training must be consistent and full of fun for the dog. Let them enjoy their youth concentrating on the basics of obedience, and possibly tracking for the first year of their life, and train only through willingness and play. Later you can begin with more specific and difficult training, but be very careful not to apply pressure to learn too early, keeping sessions short and positive. It is important to bear in mind that hovawarts go through "phases" during their adolescence, where they can become unsure or "afraid" of things and situations they previously were used to, seemingly to have forgotten commands even though they have an excellent memory; rather like human teenagers really. Success is mostly based on befriending, and that requires kindness, self-control, composure, sanity and consistency all at the same time from you. In short, a reliable and resolute alpha in whom they can put their trust and rely upon. Typically these phases occur between 7-12 months, and then again later between 18-24 months. Any mistakes you make during these phases may be difficult to eliminate later. At approximately 3 years old some hovawarts may become aggressive towards other dogs, or perhaps they will develop issues about rank and try to take over the household if they have not been properly socialised and educated.

Slow maturation may be a disadvantage for competitive Schutzhund people who want to see early results. Do not expect a hovawart to achieve a Schutzhund 3 title before 3 years of age for example, dependant upon the training intensity. Significantly the Hovawart has the ability to compete in the sport for a long period of time. In France for example some have successfully competed in Hovawart-Schutzhund championships at 6, 7 and 8 years of age. Whilst in tracking championships Hovawarts of 8, 9 and 10 years old are not uncommon. With a solid foundation of good training you can have a great deal of enjoyment with them in all dog sports. An area in which the Hovawart can really compete and excel with other working breeds is with tracking and Search and rescue work. Hovawarts have an excellent tracking ability; even pups and young dogs love playing 'hide and seek' with their family, so its not hard to end up with very good results and in a surprisingly short period of time. They are also very capable Agility dogs and many have earned titles over the years.

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