Updated: Jul 23
Renzo 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 Kathy 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 are able to find their way through challenging times.
If you really study this photo it is easy to appreciate the profound partnership Kathy has with this dog. What I see is this: Renzo has positioned himself as closely to Kathy 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 Kathy is standing on one leg while resting the other. She knows she can trust Renzo to respectfully snuggle with her. The eye contact between the two is beautiful to see. Many people feel that LGDs are independent dogs and difficult to train, but now take another look at Renzo's expression. Kathy 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 (photo 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.
So let’s talk about what Renzo isn't doing.
The obvious place to begin is that he doesn't have his feet on Kathy. What is noteworthy about this is that Renzo 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. He has been taught a behavior that is incompatible with getting in trouble with his feet. By the way, it is lots of fun to visit Renzo. He lives a couple of hours from me so every few months I get to give him a hug. When he sees me, or most people truly, he will come at a flat out charge, skid to a halt, and sit quivering in front of me. His whole body is charged with the delight in playing with a visitor, and yet he keeps it all in check because he has learned that is what people like. I don't think Renzo 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.
Renzo is giving Kathy 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 Kathy 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 big point, and here's why: Renzo 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 Kathy'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 Kathy had eighteen inches of snow he didn't hop 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 Renzo. The photo below shows a field on my property that is more than twice the size of the field Renzo 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 Kathy has with Renzo is completely within your reach if you are using the right language with your LGD and you keep his needs - all of them - high on your list of priorities. You will be richly rewarded. I know Kathy feels every minute of Renzo's training was worth the effort. She has asked me to share with you that Renzo is the first LGD she has raised, so words of encouragement from a newbie. Training is lots of fun! Go forth!