Socialization, Training and Subordination Exercises

By Diane Spisak

I believe the single most important aspect to living successfully with a Livestock Guardian Dog is for the dogs to understand that ultimately, the humans are in charge. Humans are the members of any dog-human group or pack who make the major decisions. In order to communicate this effectively to their dogs, Akbash Dog owners should have a better than average knowledge of canine behavior. This information, these rules for communal living, must be presented to the puppy right from the start in a clear, firm, fair and consistent manner.

Akbash Dogs have been bred for centuries to evaluate a situation then make decisions concerning their flock’s safety. It is their nature to take charge of their environment. When this is allowed to expand to also taking charge when interacting with their humans, problems develop. Dogs don’t mind knowing they are number three behind the Mister and Missus, but when owners send inconsistent signals the dogs naturally see the humans as wishy-washy and will try to take control. Consistency and leadership is what the dog needs and prefers to see.

Every time you interact with your dog you should be training or reinforcing some aspect of training. Subordination exercises should be part of this daily routine.

Subordination exercises are interactions all family members practice with their puppy which, without force or drama, show who the pack leaders are. The basic idea is “nothing in life is free”; the dog will do something for you the owner, then you will do something for the dog. If pup wants to be petted, then he must first sit before you pet him. If pup wants to eat, then he must sit and wait for an “OK” and you will feed him. These are subtle ways of letting the dog know that you are in charge. You control his resources and the things he desires.

A dog who has confidence in the stability of his owner will want to please, obey their commands and happily allow leadership. If the dog clearly knows his position, he will be happy there and the owner will never have to fear confrontation.


The following are some training suggestions and subordination exercises that I feel are critical to raising a happy, well-adjusted Akbash Dog.

Every dog needs to be able to interact with people, so good basic training is an important start. Each time a new puppy sees his owner he will likely start to approach in greeting. Use this opportunity to begin training.

Always say the pup’s name first to get his attention, then give the command.
Say " Puppy, come!" in a happy voice when the pup sees you and starts coming. When he reaches you, say "Sit" and either push his tail down or raise his muzzle up by luring him with a kibble or small treat while you repeat "Sit." When the pup’s bottom goes down say "Good dog" and then you may pet him or give him a treat. Tell him "OK, go play" to release him from the sit, and then play with him. Practice Sit, Down, Come, Wait, Off, Back. Start by luring him or physically putting him into the desired position with the command and then praising him. Be firm and consistent.

“No" does not fit into a puppy’s vocabulary until he is shown the correct behavior frequently enough that he knows right from wrong. Your best puppy correction is a startle correction. A good sharp and gruff "Ehh!” buzzer sound (and not a "NO”) should be your reaction when you do not approve of a particular behavior. Follow this with praise a few seconds after the undesired behavior stops.

Dogs want to please us. We just need to be adept in communicating to them in a clear and well-timed manner that they clearly understand.

Dogs learn when you reinforce good behaviors with praise, and correct inappropriate behaviors. Ideally, a good startle correction should be given when the pup just begins to misbehave, or while he is in the act of misbehaving. A correction given a minute after the fact does not clearly tell the pup what he did to displease you. Timing of corrections is critical.

The most important time in a pup’s training is during the first sixteen weeks when they learn at an incredibly fast rate.

A puppy obedience and socialization class is the best and most efficient way to socialize and do general training. You can also train and socialize on your own if you have the experience and will make the effort to get the pup out to town or to a park to do that training and socializing.

The puppy should meet at least a few new people of different ages every week and should be exposed to just about everything in the first sixteen weeks that you will expect the pup to deal with in his life. So lots of animals, people, places, car rides etc. The wider the exposure and education the pup gets, the more likely he’ll respond appropriately to other new things and experiences later in life. He’ll be better equipped to make good decisions and not over react to new and possibly frightening stimuli.

Subordination Exercises

Once the puppy knows come and sit, then every day or two make that pup sit quietly allowing you to look in his mouth, ears, handle his feet and trim nails. Roll him over on his back for a few seconds. If the puppy fusses or struggles, you need to get firmer and insist that he allow inspection before releasing him with an "OK" command. Go as slowly as necessary and in small increments. At first you may only be able to lift his lip for a second, but as soon as you do, say "Good dog" and release him. Try to get a few more seconds next time.

Remember, if you let him go while he is struggling then you just taught him that if he struggles long enough he will get his way! This puts you on a course for disaster, so always end on a good note and with you winning.

Next ask your pup to sit for his food. Make him sit until you place the food bowl on the ground and give him an "OK" release word, and allow him to start eating. At least once a week, after putting the food bowl down, walk away from the bowl for a moment and then walk back to the bowl, put one hand on the pup’s shoulder and the other into the food bowl. If the puppy ever growls, take a handful of scruff and jerk him hard away from you and down with a roaring “Ehh!” The pup will usually submit and then you must let up with an immediate release. Don’t say anything and go about your business without further fuss, and then try the exercise again another time.

If you are trying to do subordination exercises with an adolescent or larger dog, forget about setting the food bowl down or trying to jerk the dog to the ground to correct him. There is no effective or safe way you can take a large dog down with a jerk. If your older dog has been disrespectful, show him where the food comes from by holding the food bowl in one hand and feeding him with the other hand.

Another time to reinforce your control is when going through a gate. Most dogs want to rush through ahead of you. Once in a while make the dog wait at the gate, open the gate and you go through first, then give him the OK to follow.

Same thing if you dog solicits attention. I often sit on the edge of the stock tank and observe the sheep, dogs and scenery. Often a dog will come up and paw my leg or nudge my elbow for attention. I’m not saying your dog can never do this, but when they are continually pestering you on their terms, they are being rude. The best thing to do is to ignore the dog until he moves away and lies down. Only then should you call him, have him sit in greeting and then give him some attention and affection. This tells the dog you are in control of the situation, not him. Pet the dog for a few minutes, but when you say “OK, enough, go lie down”, he needs to listen and go. These are all subtle things--most people don’t even realize that the dog is manipulating them. This may not seem like a big deal to you but in the dog’s mind he is establishing some control over you. It is natural behavior within dog packs, but is not appropriate for human-dog groups, and can be dangerous.

Finally, if your puppy or dog insists on walking ahead of you or if he pulls on the leash, in his mind he is leading the pack. Plant your feet and stop stone still. Then take a step back bringing the dog back to your side and start off again with a loose lead. If he pulls forward again, repeat and repeat until he figures out if he pulls or goes ahead of you, you stop. He will soon figure out that you only go forward if he is at your side and on a loose leash.

So the basic principle is that you initiate activity, and the dog needs to earn attention by doing something usually as simple as a sit or waiting.

If you have a dog that sits in greeting, will sit and wait for an OK to eat, allows you to take a prized possession from his mouth, waits for you to pass through a gate and allows you to handle him in any fair way, then you have done a good job and your dog will be very happy to have you as a leader. A dog that clearly knows his position, and knows that you will be consistent in your demands and behavior, will be a happier, more obedient and certainly a more trusted dog.

A great number of the dogs we get in rescue would not be in rescue with serious behavior and respect issues if their owners had been given buyer support on how to train, socialize, and practice subordination with their pups.

There are a number of excellent, easy to read and informative canine behavior books. I have referenced several good books for further reading below.

At the Other End of the Leash by Patricia B. MCConnell
The Dog Listener by Jan Fennell
How to Teach a New Dog Old Tricks by Ian Dunbar
On Talking Terms with Dogs, Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas