Positive Pet Training: Giant Breed EditionHaving a giant breed leads to many unique challenges as a dog owner. Having a giant breed puppy is even more challenging. Did you know that giant breeds typically don’t mature until at least 3 years of age? There’s a saying that’s associated with Bernese Mountain Dogs, but many other giant breeds follow it as well.

Three years a young dog, three years a good dog, three years an old dog.

Mauja and Atka are still in the ‘young dog’ phase at two and one years of age, respectively. Looking at them, you wouldn’t assume they are still puppies as they each have triple digit weights. However they still have ‘puppy brain’, which small to medium sized dogs outgrow around the one year point.

Unfortunately, many people believe that because of a giant breed’s size, force is a necessary training component. I recently read on a positive dog training group that the trainer “had to use force on a 4 month old St. Bernard puppy because of his size”. Sigh. Have I told you about the time I was kicked out of a training class for not using a prong collar or choke chain on a 5 month old Atka? That’s a story for another day.

Most giant breeds are extremely sensitive dogs and this is absolutely true for Great Pyrenees. Atka has been with us since 8 weeks of age and had a wonderful start to life, but any quick movement or gesture toward his collar makes him cower. He’s just a very sensitive boy. Can you imagine how he would be if I had used a prong collar on him as a puppy?

Force-based training is never necessity and a dog’s size is certainly no exception.

Effective training is a partnership between you and your dog. Love, compassion, and a mutual understanding will go a long way.

We’re joining the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop hosted by Cascadian Nomads, Rubicon Days, and Tenacious Little Terrier.

33 comments on “Positive Training for Giant Breeds”

  1. I love that picture! It’s unfortunate that many people just assume because of a dog’s size or job that force is a necessary component of training. You are such a wonderful advocate for your dogs and for giant breeds. Thanks for joining the hop!

    • I just love when Mauja jumps up like that to give us kisses (and thankfully she knows to only do it on command!). I’m always shocked by how many people feel force is necessary for giant breeds.

  2. Dogo’s are sensitive and stubborn as well. I’ve learned to be a lot more patient since bringing him home. You do so well with Atka and Mauja, great post.

    • So true and so frustrating. I get very irritated when a small(er) dog jumps all over me and their person laughs. Then my dog paws at them and it’s the end of the world (even though I intervene).

  3. Love. Love. Love.

    I might even argue that with a large or giant breed dog, force-free training is even more crucial. Because if you reduce training to a competition of strength, the big dog will always win.

    Better to have them follow you because they want to.

    • Exactly. Giant breeds are big for a reason. My pyrs could snap the spine of a coyote, if necessary. Any smart person would consider that before using force.

  4. I completely agree, and I commend you for managing to train two big dogs with positive training. As you said in that training class you attended it’s very common for people to “control” their large dogs with prong collars.

  5. Ugh, I hate choke chains. I think I’ve been seeing them more lately, unfortunately. I also think I’ve seen them on tiny little dogs like Chihuahuas and Jack Russell Terriers more than any other breed lately, which I find bizarre and sad. I’ve never heard of that quote about giant breeds. It makes so much sense but is sad too 🙁

  6. I personally believe force training is the worst thing you can do for a Pyr, at least in my own experience. Pyrs are stubborn, if you are hard on them they will be equally hard or harder on you, if you go easy they will reward you. Now I can’t say some dogs might need it, but I can’t see how it would work on a dog that has been bred to be tough as nails. Seems to me it will just make them resent you, and make life for everyone miserable.

  7. What a beautiful giant! And yes. Giant has also big and gentle heart. You can not hurt him because of his size 🙂 I agree that positive works for giants also! And you are brave! to stand against prong in class!!! Good!

  8. Sampson’s not considered a large breed, but I swear it took him until between two and three before he ‘got it.’

    I was lucky though, despite my trainer not being a positive trainer, she and I had an understanding and I would never do something with my dogs that I wasn’t comfortable with. I wasn’t always perfect, because there was a lot I didn’t know ten years ago, but I did the best I could with what made sense to me at the time.

    Great post!

  9. Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about giant breeds, but I will never understand using force and barbaric “tools” like prong collars, choke collars, or shock collars are considered by so many to be OK to use. All of the giant breeds I’ve known in my work at a boarding/daycare facility have been so sweet and gentle. A Pyr I knew gave the best hugs ever.

    • I think the ‘reasoning’ is that it’s the only way to control such a large dog. Not true at all. The giant breeds typically are extremely sweet, hence the term ‘gentle giant’. 😉

  10. I’m one of those big-dog owners who followed the trainers’ advice to put a prong collar on my five-month-old puppy, and we paid the price. 🙁 Years later I couldn’t believe how much more effective a Halti was to fix her leash-pulling. I know some consider Haltis aversive, but I don’t think that was true in Isis’s case.

    Thank you for this post. I love dogs that are taller than people when they stand on their hind legs!

    • I don’t feel haltis are aversive at all. If you yank or tug on them, I could definitely see the negatives with that, but used properly it truly is great. Especially if you have a large dog.

  11. I can’t count how many positive reinforcement training workshops I have attended where someone with a giant breed had a prong collar on their dog. They all had the same excuse that the dog could injure the human handler if the dog were to pull to hard. How is the possibility of handler injury an excuse for hurting the dog?!? Fortunately many of those wanna-be positive trainers of giant breeds were reformed and had thrown the prong collar in the trash by the end of the first day at the workshop. Sadly, a few of the giant breed dogs with prong collars didn’t return to the workshop after the lunch break. *sigh* Some of the physical excuses in training are used for small dogs too. It is so easy to maneuver them, so why wait/shape and click? I will admit to being guilty of this every once in while with Wilhelm. But there is no excuse for not allowing a dog to think for itself and to be free of pain. Thank you for this excellent post and for joining the Positive Pet Training Blog Hop this month. I hope you’ll join us again!

  12. Can you recommend positive training facilities in the Chicago area or other articles or books I can read? We have a 1 1/2 year old Great Pyr rescue. We have done well with socializing her with daycare, however, not so well with bringing people into our home. Therefore she has become somewhat aggressive when anyone she is not familiar with comes into our home. Thank you in advance.

  13. cute site. I too have a Great Pyrenees/Kangal rescue that is a BIG 7 months old. She is very sweet and docile but so big and powerful. She can Sit and lay down but leash walking is difficult. She pulls so hard and I can hardly keep up with her. She wants to greet everyone and chase the deer and geese. I just have a regular collar on her and she does not flinch at me pulling hard to try and get her to heal. I am in need of some tips or good books on leash walking so it can be a nice and pleasant experience for us all. I heard pinch collars may work but that is a last resort.

  14. This method has been very effective for loose leash walking for my two: http://itsdogornothing.com/how-to-train-loose-leash-walking/

    Also, a Gentle Leader or no-pull harness (one that clips in the front) can be great during the training phase so they don’t drag you down the street 😉

    Age will definitely be your friend with her – she won’t mature until about 3 years of age. That can be very helpful to remember during training so you don’t go crazy, haha 😉

  15. I also have a Great Pyrenees. People need to know the breed, their purpose as dogs, and understand the idiosyncrasies of the breed. If people will just take some time to learn about and understand WHY their dog acts the way it does, they would be happier with the dog. The instincts these dogs have never ceases to amaze me. You can’t control this instinct or try to change the dog. He’s bred to do a job and that’s just who he is. My Gracie is 4, still p,ayful, alert, watchful (doing her job) and very sweet. Best disposition ever! Once I understood her breed, I relaxed and I enjoy my girl more and more.

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