Updated: Jan 22
Bruno here is at the age most LGDs are when they are surrendered to shelters and rescue situations. At eighteen months of age, this very large, intact, adolescent male dog could be a handful to manage - and yet he isn't. Why? Because his owner worked hard to build a solid training base with him throughout the first six months of his life and onward. That doesn't mean that neither of them made mistakes; because of the "trust bank account" that they have with each other, they can find their way through challenging times.
If you study this photo, it is easy to appreciate the profound partnership she has with this dog. What I see is this: Bruno has positioned himself as close to his owner as possible. He has curled his whole body around her. He is standing so he can hug the length of her without putting Paw One on her or even putting her off balance. Notice that she is standing on one leg while resting on the other. She knows she can trust Bruno to snuggle with her respectfully. The eye contact between the two is beautiful to see. Many people feel that LGDs are independent dogs and challenging to train, but now take another look at Bruno's expression; she could whisper to him, and he'd give her anything.
If there are problems, they aren’t the fault of the dog but in the language of the trainer.
Puppies can go from this (photo above) to this (image below) in the blink of an eye. By the time a Maremma is six months old, the opportunity to shape his thinking is largely past six-month-old.
So let’s talk about what Bruno isn't doing.
The obvious place to begin is that he doesn't have his feet on his owner. What is noteworthy is that Bruno was never taught not to put his feet on people but rather that he can always get a person's attention by sitting quietly at their feet. When he sees most people, he will come at a flat-out charge, skid to a halt, and sit quivering in front of his visitor. His whole body is charged with the delight of playing with a visitor, yet he keeps it all in check because he has learned that is what people like. I don't think Bruno has ever even truly been scolded for anything; it simply isn't necessary if you train for what you want instead of what you don't want.
Bruno is giving his owner his rapt attention. He isn't charging off barking like a fool, or chasing livestock, or even just ignoring her. He could choose to be an "independent" dog. He doesn't because being near her is always a win; there is no reason for him to avoid her.
......he isn't gone. No sarcasm intended here. This really is a significant point, and here's why: Bruno lives on ONE acre, with a partner LGD and seven springy little pet goats behind a four-foot-high fence, and he's right near his owner's house and that of her neighbor. He doesn't bark indiscriminately, he doesn't chase the goats, and he doesn't hop right over that short fence; even when she had eighteen inches of snow, he didn't jump the fence. One of the keys to his success is that he has a working partner. People often tell me they don't have enough of a job to justify having two dogs. I think of Bruno. The photo below shows a field on my property that is more than twice the size of the field Bruno and Luna guard. My point is that it isn't the size of the field that matters or the number of livestock. What matters is setting the dog up for success by meeting his emotional needs. You wouldn't use just part of the ingredients because you were making a small cake. All the ingredients work together to create success.
A relationship like this owner has with Bruno is entirely within your reach if you use the correct language with your LGD and keep his needs - all of them - high on your list of priorities. You will be richly rewarded.