Training Your Pyrenean mastiff
A Pyrenean Mastiff is very similar to most Livestock Guardian Breeds in the sense that they are independent thinkers and have to be motivated to work. They are a very smart breed who can be very biddable if worked with and taught how to learn from a young age. The best approach to working with a Pyrenean Mastiff is starting off with Positive Reinforcement training. Teaching a Pyrenean Mastiff through positive reinforcement techniques from a young age creates a strong bond between handler and dog that can last through maturity, and causes the dog to figure out how to communicate with their handler. Once Pyrenean Mastiffs are older, and have been taught how to communicate with their handlers, they are pretty eager to please, and enjoy training. Not every Pyrenean Mastiff is the same, and some may need harsher corrections as they mature, but that is not the standard for the breed.
Pyrenean Mastiffs are just like other dogs when it comes to fear and adolescent stages. So as they grow and mature, taking training slow and making it fun will help your young Pyrenean Mastiff learn how to be a rock star in their older years. But don’t move too slowly! Or you miss your openings for learning.
Things You Should Teach Early On
The Pyrenean mastiff grows quickly! It is important to teach your Pyrenean Mastiff basic obedience from a young age so that they are easier to work with as an adult. Commands that should be worked on while young are sit, stay/wait, down, heel, walking on a leash (some puppies tend to be more resistant than others), and leave it. These commands will come in handy quite often when going to the vet, park, and in dangerous scenarios. Find a trainer who does group classes and is well versed in canine behavior. Group classes will teach your puppy or dog how to follow commands even around other dogs and distractions. Training is all about teaching the owner/handler how to teach their dog, so keep it in mind that you are learning how to communicate with your dog to get the results you want.
Socialization is important with any breed and it is no different with a Pyrenean Mastiff, being a livestock guardian breed means they need a little extra socialization from a young age. The Pyrenean Mastiff is already a great judge of situations but to improve this it is important to have your Pyrenean Mastiff meet a variety of people, hear a variety of sounds, and see a variety of things. You should introduce your young Pyrenean Mastiff to people of all ages, races and genders while they are young, so they do not become guarded around different people. Sounds are so very important when socializing your young puppy, the reason you want to expose your puppy to a variety of sounds is so that they do not become fearful of loud noises such as a thunderstorm, fireworks, items dropping or falling, etc. You can do this by playing these sounds or mimicking these sounds and giving your puppy something extra exciting such as a high value treat – think human food like cheese, deli meat, hot dogs – or you could give them a bone or chew that they absolutely love and cannot resist. This will teach them to associate exciting and happy things when they hear scary sounds. Whether you are on a farm or your Pyrenean Mastiff is just a companion it is important to let them experience different situations they may encounter as an adult. The first 4 months of life are the most important regarding socialization. Everything after 4 months becomes desensitization and you have to work on overcoming things your dog is uncomfortable with.
Common Behavioral Issues with Pyrenean Mastiffs
Barking- Pyrenean Mastiffs are a Livestock Guardian Breed, which means that they are meant to be alert to new and strange things and tell those things to go away. Barking is a Pyrenean Mastiffs first defense in protecting their stock, so barking is a very common thing in the breed. You may never get your Pyrenean Mastiff to be quiet for life, but you can work on teaching them how to stop barking on command. Starting from a young age, reward your dog the moment they stop barking for more than 5 seconds. After working on that one small task for a little while, add a command to get them to stop such as “Enough”. As you work and practice your dog should begin to understand “Enough” means that if they are quiet they get a reward!
Resource Guarding- Another common issue in Livestock Guardians is resource guarding. These dogs need to have a sense of what is “theirs” so they can have a desire to protect and watch their stock. This in turn can move into resource guarding. To avoid resource guarding, play a game with your Pyrenean Mastiff while they are chewing on something yummy. Switch out the chew with something that tastes better than what they were chewing on and then let them be. Play that game a few times a day so they learn that a hand means something yummy is coming. If your Pyrenean Mastiff is trying to guard their toys/chews from another dog, always take the toy/chew away from the dog who is guarding it and place them somewhere to hang out away from the family for 2 minutes.
Jumping- Jumping is something all dogs do for attention. They want to make sure you know they are there and ready to interact with you. So play a game with your dog where every time they sit without asking they get a treat. Never ask your dog to sit, or else it becomes a command and not a natural response to seeing you. The goal for this is that they learn that they get your attention by sitting instead of jumping.
There are many training tools on the market and it can be very overwhelming when looking to see what your dog may need to help them with training. Always start with the training tool that has the softest correction. We highly recommend starting with a head halter and one of the best ones on the market is the “Perfect Pace Head Halter” by Bold Lead Designs. Most head halters connect to the leash under the chin, when you have a very large resistant dog, pulling the neck sideways can cause injury. The Perfect Pace connects behind the head to prevent injury to the neck.
Other training tools on the market include harnesses, it is highly recommended to avoid any harnesses that are no pull and clip to the front of the chest while your Pyrenean Mastiff is young. Such harnesses as the Easy Walk can cause damage to growth places as they cross in front of the chest and shoulder to restrict movement which in turn cause the dog to not pull as much. If you plan to use a tool like this, we recommend waiting till at least a year of age. Other harnesses may teach your dog to pull more and while you will have more control over your dog it will not help with teaching your dog how to heel.
The Prong or Pinch collar can be an amazing tool but just like with any tool it can cause injury if not used properly. It is imperative to teach the dog what the pressure of a prong collar is before using it. If they do not know what the pressure means they could easy cause injury to their neck. Another thing to consider is the type of prong collar you are using. Most Pyrenean Mastiffs would do just fine with a 3.2 mm prong. Do not be cheap when buying a prong collar, many box stores or online shops sell prongs, but the prongs have flat rigid edges and can cause injury when being used. The absolute best prong collar on the market is the Herm Sprenger brand, the prongs are rounded and smooth. If you do not have knowledge of how to utilize a prong collar properly you MUST find a trainer who does know how to use this collar properly. If the trainer just puts the prong on the dog and starts using it right away without teaching the dog what it means… find another trainer.
Remember that training tools should only be used when actively training, your dog should not be wearing these tools while playing or resting. Always start with the most positive training tool before moving up to a training tool that provides more correction. If you are not familiar with training tools you will need to find a trainer to assist you so that you can use the tool to the best of its ability.
In regards to conformation and show training we recommend that you reach out to your local AKC or UKC club to see if they offer classes. Until we have local chapters we are unable to hold classes for the public. Another great option to learning how to train your puppy or dog either alone or in conjuction with a local class is Puppy Culture. Puppy culture offers 3 video series for conformation training - Demand to Win Puppies: Killer Free Stacks, Demand to Win Puppies: Stack and Deliver, and Demand to Win Puppies: Winning in Motion.
Canine Behaviorist, Dog Trainer