The Akbash Dog as a Companion Dog

by Diane Spisak


The Akbash Dog is a serious working breed that is most happy in a semi rural or rural setting and with a job to do. The breed’s primary purpose is to live with livestock, patrol fence lines and intimidate potential predators by barking at or confronting them, often making these decisions independently of humans.

In order for these dogs to be good livestock guardians they must be inherently submissive to their livestock. They are highly intelligent, independent and potentially very dominant. This unique combination of characteristics enables the dog to be good with livestock and yet aggressive with predators.

The Akbash Dog can be an excellent companion dog in the right setting with the right people.

The Akbash Dog is ill suited to life in towns or cities, or as an apartment dweller, and is definitely not the breed for the casual owner wanting only an amiable pet.In order for an Akbash Dog to succeed in the semi rural or rural environment as a companion dog, owners must have the time and dedication to provide intensive and continual training and socialization for their dog.

As an owner it is necessary for you to have a better than average understanding of how the dog’s mind works, in other words, canine behavior. The pup needs to be well socialized in a variety of settings and raised by people who can be good pack leaders. Owners need to practise subordination exercises with the dog during the formative months and years, and need to be firm, fair and consistent trainers and leaders.

Some of the Akbash Dog characteristics that can be a problem in a companion environment are as follows:

  1. They can be expected to bark and patrol fences if left outside. If they can see the coming and going of people and other animals outside their fences, barrier frustration and redirected aggression can be a problem.
  2. Akbash Dogs will be wary of people not in the company of people they know.
  3. They are typically aggressive against dogs they don’t know, particularly other large dogs.
  4. Akbash Dogs can be food protective, as well as dominating to owners who are not consistent and confident in their training and pack leadership.
  5. Akbash Dogs are highly athletic and need to be confined behind very secure fences. They can become escape artists; they like to dig and can easily climb or jump 4 foot fences.
  6. They expect people to understand subtle canine behavior inflections and to communicate appropriately with them.

Most of these potential problems can be overcome if owners have a good understanding of canine behavior and are committed to making the time to socialize and train the dog.

Training starts the moment that you get your Akbash Dog puppy. It is purely your responsibility to shape that puppy into the dog that you want him to be, and one that will be able to live happily in a companion situation. Puppies have an intensive learning curve in the first 16 weeks of age. This is an excellent time to get your puppy exposed to a lot of different things in a calm and non-threatening manner. From the very start that cute white, cuddly puppy must learn to respect all humans in the household and recognize them as leaders, not litter playmates.

Basic training involves shaping the dog’s behavior, praising good behavior and responses, and correcting the wrong… continually. You show the puppy what you want him to do and then reinforce that action with a praise word. “Good boy” or “good girl” is an excellent choice to reinforce a good behavior. Similarly, you use another command to show disapproval. The best correction that I have found for Akbash Dogs is what we call a startle correction. Once you perfect your gruff-voiced and sharp-sounding “Aaahh!” for your startle correction, this becomes an excellent way to get their attention and to relay your disapproval. Later, once he has a good idea of right and wrong, you can introduce the” No!” command to his vocabulary.

A caring breeder often starts the puppies’ training as soon as they are mobile. I always call my litters to greet me with a “Puppy come!“ When pups approach in greeting I have visitors gently push them into a sit while saying “Sit!” By the time they go to their new homes at 9 weeks of age they already have a good start on “come” and “sit” when greeting people. Dogs that come and sit on command are less likely to jump up on people as they first greet them.

As soon as the puppy arrives at your home, continue the training. Always use the puppy’s name first to get his attention, followed by the command. Call him in a high and happy voice, “ Puppy, come!” As he approaches, reinforce the appropriate action with a “Good boy!”

If you establish the “come” command in the pup’s mind now while he is young and impressionable, then you will have that command ingrained in him he is older and more independent. Otherwise, you cannot expect to ever have a reliable recall when he is older.

When the pup comes up to you, push his tail down and say “sit”. Or if you have a treat in hand, guide his nose upward above his eyes and as his rear goes down to a sitting position say “sit”. Remember to reinforce the behavior with praise as well as the treat. Within a couple of short sessions your pup already knows to come on command and to sit in greeting.

Your pup should have at least a vocabulary of the commands Come, Sit, Down, Stay, Off, Back, Wait, Easy and No, and he can easily learn many more words. If you practice for only 5 to 10 minutes a day the time will be well spent by having a well behaved and mannerly companion.

companionI strongly encourage all people raising a companion dog to find a puppy socialization class and follow that up with at least one regular obedience class. I suggest this mostly for the socialization aspect, but also for getting a good foundation for training, and building a trusting relationship with the dog.

Akbash Dogs are generally quite dog aggressive to other dogs as adults and continual socialization with all sorts of dogs in a variety of situations will help override this tendency. Canine behaviorists tell us that the first 16 weeks is a critical period for puppy development and learning how to deal with the world. This is the time when pups should be exposed to just about everything you think they will be run into later on, including all sorts of people, places, animals and objects. Classes can be a good place for puppies to meet children of varying ages. Just because the pup is used to 10-year-old children it does not mean he will be comfortable with 3-year-olds or teenagers, so expose the pup to lots of well behaved children.

A dog with a lot of varied experiences is more likely to make good decisions when confronted with challenging situations later on. In today’s world of litigation-happy people, a companion dog needs to be as well adjusted as possible and able to make good decisions under stress.

When training also keep in mind that your pup should not be allowed to do anything that you won’t want him to do as an adult. For example it might be tempting to allow the pup to ride in the car on your lap when you are driving. How will you convince your dog when he weighs 90 pounds that he can no longer do this? Start right off with him sitting quietly on the seat or floor boards.
Perhaps equally important to training and socializing is for the family to practice what I call subordination exercises with the puppy. These exercises, without stress or trauma, convince the dog that humans are the pack leaders. A dog who knows his place will be a secure and happy dog, and a happy dog is less likely to ever bite inappropriately.

Here are a few subordination exercises and other training tips you can try:

  1. A couple of times a week have the puppy sit still while you touch and handle different parts of his body. Open his mouth, look at his teeth, play with his feet, trim nails, roll him over on his back. If at first, for instance, he won’t let you look at his teeth, start by just lifting his lip up for a second then praise him for allowing this, and continue working a little at a time until you can see into his mouth. I the pup really struggles and resists, use a sharp startle correction to show your disapproval. One sharp “AAHH!” will usually get his attention and cause him to stop. Once he has settled, try the exercise again. Take baby steps but make progress and always end on a note with you winning. If you are trying to trim his toenails and he is pulling away and jumping around, and you give up at this point, you have just taught him that if he fusses enough he can make you stop, and he has just trained YOU. An Akbash Dog who knows he can win against humans can become a dangerous dog when he matures.
  2. Have him “sit” and then “wait” for an “ok” from you to start eating. Then walk away and return to the pup, placing one hand on the pup’s shoulder and the other into the food bowl. Practice this at least twice a week for the first 10 months. If the pup ever growls or snaps immediately grab his scruff and jerk him to a down, with a booming “Aahhh!” If you made a good sharp startle correction he will immediately submit, by averting his eyes, or turning his head, yelping or urinating. Immediately release him and walk away with out fanfare. Return and try the routine again.
    **** Never, never reprimand the pup past the point when he submits. If you do that you often give him no other option in his mind than to fight for his life, and his only recourse then it to bite you and try to escape.
  3. Have him occasionally sit and “wait” at the door for you to go through first. If you get any resistance with any of these exercises correct the dog and try again. Always end with you winning.

    **** If the dog repeats an unwanted or inapparopriate behavior a third time, this tells you that your corrections were not understood, meaning that your corrections were not well timed or not strong enough. Corrections must be made within 5 seconds of the act so fast and firm enough to get the point across. And the correction should last maybe only a few seconds, not “Bad dog, what did I tell you, don’t you ever think of doing that again, for heaven’s sake…”. Use a fast, firm and simple “Aaahh!“ which makes the pup submit or stop immediately, so you know he understood the correction.

  4. When you visit the veterinarian, have the dog sit quietly on the floor or exam table. If he jumps and wiggles around don’t say, “It’s ok, it’s ok, there’s a good boy.” What you are doing is telling him that it’s okay to jump around! Rather, give him an ”Aahh!” or “No!” and then tell him “sit”, help him into position if need be, and praise him for sitting.

    ****Always correct the wrong and praise the right.

  5. The same applies to crate training. If you let him out while he is crying, he has learned if he cries long enough you will let him out. Instead, give him a correction or a “quiet” command and only after he is quiet for 5 seconds or longer do you allow him out. Again praise good behavior and correct bad behavior.
  6. Sleeping on the bed. It is an honor for the dog to be allowed into your bedroom, your “den”, but you give him equal status by allowing him to sleep on the bed with you. A dog who sees his humans as littermates is generally not going to be a respectful dog, so make him sleep in his own bed.

    **** I also highly recommend that you spay or neuter your dog at the appropriate age. Intact dogs are often too much dog in a companion setting.

And finally I suggest that you purchase your companion puppy from a reputable breeder. A quality breeder will make sure that the pups are socialized and exposed to a range of experiences in their first 7 weeks of age. This gets the pups off to an excellent start in life. It is also very important that puppies stay with their dam and littermates for at least 7 to 9 weeks of age. Staying together that long allows them to learn valuable social skills, including the critical one of bite inhibition. A good, responsible breeder will help you select a puppy whose temperament and characteristics will be best suited for a companion setting.

Ask questions of the breeder. For instance, ask how they socialize their puppies, how they would describe the temperament of the parent dogs, are the parents certified free of hip dysplasia, do they perform puppy aptitude tests on each pup, and can they pick a puppy with characteristics most suitable to your needs. Most of all, will they give you buyer support and help you with questions, problems, and help with re-homing your dog should the need arise? Buyer support is often the key to success in raising a happy, well-adapted companion Akbash Dog.