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The Kuvasz is a large to giant purebred from Hungary also known as the Hungarian Kuvasz the plural form being Kuvaszok. It was bred to guard livestock, mostly sheep belonging to Hungarian nomadic shepherds and is a very old breed. Today it is more commonly kept as a companion there but requires some experience as it is used to thinking for itself, it is dominant and hard to train.
|The Kuvasz at A Glance|
|Name||Kuvasz (Kuvaszok is the plural version)|
|Other names||Hungarian Kuvasz|
|Average size||Large to giant|
|Average weight||70 to 115 pounds|
|Average height||26 to 30 inches|
|Life span||9 to 12 years|
|Coat type||Long, dense|
|Popularity||Not that popular – ranked 165th by the AKC|
|Intelligence||Average – should understand new commands after 25 to 40 repetitions|
|Tolerance to heat||Moderate – not good in hot or even warm weather|
|Tolerance to cold||Excellent – can handle even extreme cold climates|
|Shedding||Moderate to high during seasonal times|
|Drooling||Moderate – will be some slobber and drool|
|Obesity||High – prone to weight gain, very important to monitor its food and exercise|
|Grooming/brushing||Moderate to high maintenance|
|Barking||Occasionally to frequently – needs training to control|
|Exercise needs||Quite active – needs active owners|
|Trainability||Hard – needs experienced handling|
|Friendliness||Moderate – socialization and supervision is essential|
|Good first dog||Low – not a good dog for new owners|
|Good family pet||Very good to excellent|
|Good with children||Low – not a dog best suited to being with children, socialization and supervision essential|
|Good with other dogs||Moderate – socialization and supervision essential|
|Good with other pets||Moderate – socialization and supervision essential|
|Good with strangers||Low – introduce new people carefully|
|Good apartment dog||Low – needs space and a yard or land|
|Handles alone time well||Low – does not like being left alone, can suffer from separation anxiety|
|Health issues||Fairly healthy breed, some issues include hip dysplasia, OCD, bloat and von Willebrand’s disease|
|Medical expenses||$485 a year for basic health care and pet insurance|
|Food expenses||$270 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats|
|Miscellaneous expenses||$665 a year for grooming, toys, miscellaneous items, license and basic training|
|Average annual expenses||$1420 as a starting figure|
|Cost to purchase||$800|
|Rescue organizations||Several including the Kuvasz Rescue|
|Biting Statistics||None reported|
The Kuvasz’s Beginnings
The Kuvasz once called the Ku Assa comes from Hungary and is believed to descend from ancient giant Tibetan dogs. Its name may come from two Turkish words, kawasz meaning soldier or guard, and kawasz means protector. It was first bred to be a guard dog of flocks of sheep for the nomadic Turkish herders. It therefore needed to be intelligent, fierce and bold, brave, loyal, independent and intimidating. It is similar in appearance to the Polish dog the Tatra Mountain Sheepdog and the Slovakian Shepherd Dog.
This breed is likely thousands of years old and for a period was also favored by royalty and nobility. In the fourteen hundreds it was used for hunting large game and as guard dogs of large estates. The King of Hungary from 1458 to 1490, King Matthias Corvinus I kept two with him at all times even when traveling, and had a large pack in his kennels. The dog at this time became one just for royalty and those he favored. When he gifted one of his Kuvasz this was considered a huge honor. It is said that Count Dracula was given a puppy Kuvasz by the King when he was let out of prison and married a member of the royal family.
After his reign there came a time when commoners took back the dog and used it to guard their, farms, flocks of sheep and cattle once more. It was first shown in a dog show in the Vienna show of 1883. Its first standard was written in 1885 and the first registry for the breed was started in 1905. In the 1920s and 1930s in Hungary and parts of Europe the Kuvasz was a very popular and fashionable large breed. With the arrival of World War II though this breed faced serious problems and even extinction. Food shortage was a huge problem and German and Soviet soldiers actively killed the dogs when they found them and some were taken home by the Germans. At the end of the war there were less than 30 dogs left in Hungary, possibly as low as just 12.
New Lease on Life
At this time as well as being low on dogs the country was also low on breeders and fanciers. Hungary was occupied by Russia and dog breeding was viewed less favorably, with breeders being punished for it. Despite this, and the continuing food shortages attempts were made to revive the breed. Its size made it difficult though and with the genetic pool much reduced there is a possibility some turned to other breeds to help. After the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 more interest in the breed arose, the breed standard was revised in 1960 and it was recognized by the FCI in 1963.
The Kuvasz actually came to America in the 1920s and was more popular with ranchers as a working dog, used to patrol and guard livestock. In 1966 the Kuvasz Club of America was started and the AKC recognized it in 1974. Today it is ranked 165th in popularity by the AKC.
The Dog You See Today
The Kuvasz is a large to giant dog weighing 70 to 115 pounds and standing 26 to 30 inches tall. It is a muscular and sturdy dog but not too bulky and even though it is large it is still agile. Its tail is carried low with a lifted tip but when excited or alert it will life its tail a bit. It is a little longer than it is tall and it has padded feet and dewclaws on front and back legs, though the ones on the back legs are removed in some places. On its head, ears, paws and muzzle the hair is smooth and short. Around the neck and chest the hair is thicker like a mane. The fronts of the four legs are short and smooth but the back of the front legs are feathered. On the body and thighs its hair is medium length, the feathering is 4 to 6 inches. Its coat developed to make it better at its job, to blend in with its sheep. It is white or ivory, thick and a double coat. It can be wavy to straight and the undercoat is fine and the outer is a little coarse.
Its skin is black or grey and it has a black nose with big nostrils and black lips. Its muzzle tapers at the end a little and is in proportion to the the size of its head. That head is half as wide as it is long. Its eyes are almond shaped and dark brown and are set wide apart. Its ears are pendant and V-shaped, set back and thick with a tip that is rounded.
The Inner Kuvasz
Kuvaszok are very alert and come from a background of guarding so will bark to let you know of any intruder, and will also act to protect you and the home. It is fearless and brave and can be aggressive when a threat is perceived. This is a dominant and strong dog with its own mind so is not one for new owners, it is best with someone with experience. With the right owners and care it is gentle, intelligent, loyal and social. It barks occasionally to frequently and that bark is very loud. Since they are most vigilant at night this means you and your neighbors are going to be dealing with a booming bark at night and training it to stop on command will be needed.
The Kuvasz is a determined dog, very sensitive though so needs to be in a house that is calm and with people who do not scold, yell or use physical punishment. It is suspicious of strangers and socialization is important to make sure it knows friend from foe and what reactions are appropriate. This is not a dog for any home. It has a curious nature and is very territorial so needs a firm owner who can stay in control. With meek owners it is less likely to bond closely but with owners it respects it can bond very closely and becomes very devoted. With its family it is likely to also reveal that while it can be aloof it actually can also be playful and has a sense of humor.
Living with a Kuvasz
What will training look like?
The Kuvasz’s training can be difficult and this is another area where that experience is so important. This is a dominant dog with an independent mind and it is physically very strong too, so you need to be firm and in control, consistent and confident at all times, and start its training and socialization from an early age. It likes to be the boss and you need to make it clear it is not, that you are the alpha. This is why passive, new or meek owners are not going to have great success. It is an intelligent dog and it needs to think that what you are asking of it has a purpose. Be positive still, using encouragement and treats to motivate and reward it. Early socialization is just as vital with this dog so that it knows how to deal with visiting guests and make sure that wariness does not turn to aggression and defensive biting
How active is the Kuvasz?
It is important that prospective owners themselves are active and enjoy being that way and this is a very active dog and it needs a high level of physical and mental challenge. It is not suited for apartment living, it is too large and needs a large yard or even land to romp on. It can handle cold climates but will need support with water and shade when the weather is warmer. As well as a couple of good walks a day it will need opportunities for off leash time somewhere safe. If it does not get enough exercise and mental stimulation it can become out of control, destructive, loud and hyperactive. Any land or yard should be well fenced and it also loves to play.
Caring for the Kuvasz
Maintenance and grooming will involve some attention from you but it is not high maintenance like its Komondor cousin. It does shed a large amount so be prepared for hair around the home that will need cleaning up on a daily basis, and its coat should also be brushed daily using a rake or pin brush to help reduce the loose hair, and to also remove debris and move its natural oils around its body. To get the mats out and keep the coat looking good you could also use a conditioning spray and large tooth comb. When the weather gets especially warm that coat will shed even more. Thankfully this coat does not smell and does repel some dirt and water so bathing only needs to be done when absolutely necessary. Bathing too often will damage those natural oils and cause skin problems. For the same reason it is important to only use a proper dog shampoo.
Other grooming needs include making sure its teeth are brushed at least two to three times a week to keep its mouth healthy. Check its ears weekly and then give them a clean. You are looking for signs of infection like redness, irritation, wax build up or discharge. When cleaning you should never insert anything into the ear, just wipe the parts you can reach with a damp warm cloth or dog ear cleanser on a cotton ball. Then its nails need to be kept short. If it does not wear them down with its physical activity you can trim them, or have them done by a groomer or vet. Be careful, their nails are not like ours, they actually have nerves and blood vessels in the lower section so do not cut through that, it will hurt your dog and cause bleeding.
In terms of a good quality dry dog food your Kuvasz will need something like 3 to 5 cups a day, but that should be split into two or three meals to avoid problems with bloat. How much it needs exactly can vary depending on how large your dog is, its rate of metabolism, its level of activity, its age and of course its health. There was a time when it was suggested that puppies of large breeds should bit be fed a lot of protein or a lot of calories because of joint disorders. However this has now been dispelled, make sure as a puppy it has a diet that is balanced. Do not feed it cooked bones as the splintering can cause serious mouth injuries.
How is the Kuvasz with children and other animals?
Most Kuvaszok are good with children with socialization and it helps when it has been raised with them too. It will be very protective of them, tolerant of even small children and gentle. Some will be happy to play, some might be a bit more serious in nature, though at puppy and adolescent age most will make great playmates though at that age it may be too rambunctious for small children. It may not approve of rough housing and rough play between siblings and with visiting friends. It would be a good idea to supervise when children come around or have it away from them. Make sure the children are taught how to touch and approach dogs nicely and also that they are confident in handling it, so it knows if they give it a command it has to obey.
With other pets when they are part of the household it has grown up in it is friendly and protective of them too. However with strange animals it can be aggressive, after all its job was to chase away animals that came too near its flock. Keep it on a leash when out walking. It also has dominance issues with other dogs especially ones that are the same sex. Socialization, training and strong handling is important.
What Might Go Wrong?
The life span of this dog is 9 to 12 years and there are a few issues it can be prone to so make sure you are prepared for that. They include hip dysplasia, deafness, eye problems, CCL or ACL, hypothyroidism, osteochondritis dissecans, bloat, von Willebrand’s disease, allergies and skin problems.
In reports of dog attacks against people that caused bodily harm in the US and Canada over the last 35 years, the Kuvasz is not mentioned, but it is a rare dog in North America so the chances of it being involved are a lot less. This is a dominant breed and it does have strong protective instincts and it can be aggressive. It needs the right care, a good level of physical and mental activity, experienced and confident owners who make sure it is well socialized and trained. In Romania it is one of the breeds that is named as having to be muzzled when out in public.
Your Pup’s Price Tag
A Kuvasz puppy will cost around $800 from a good breeder and for something more pet quality then show quality. If you are looking for show quality and want to use a top breeder of such then the price will likely double at least. Being an uncommon breed outside of Hungary you will probably have to be put on to a waiting list. It can be tempting to turn to quicker options like backyard breeders, pet stores and other puppy mill sourced options but avoid these, they are not places you want to help fund. The other option when wanting a dog is to look into local shelters and rescues. While the chances of finding a Kuvasz are slim, it is possible you could find a mixed dog, or fall in love with another dog altogether that is desperate for a new home. Rescues can cost anywhere from $50 to $400 for adoption.
Once you have your puppy or dog you need to get some things at home for it, and you need to take it to a vet for some initial medical concerns. It needs a crate, collar and leash, bowls and such and these will cost around $200. At the vet it will have a physical check over, blood tests, deworming, spaying and neutering, micro-chipping and vaccinations. These will cost around $290.
Then there are ongoing costs that will need to be prepared for. Just the basic health care of things like check ups, shots, flea and tick prevention along with pet insurance are going to cost about $485 a year. Feeding it a good or better quality dry dog food along with dog treats each year will cost $270 at least. Then other costs like licensing, toys, grooming, basic training and miscellaneous items are at least $665 a year. This gives a starting figure yearly cost of $1420.
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The Kuvasz is not going to be the best dog for just anybody. It needs experienced owners, it will shed a great deal, it needs to be active, it has a loud bark that it uses often and especially at night and it needs good socialization and training. Well bred and raised Kuvaszok are mellow, steady, usually serious, dedicated and loyal. If you are ready for this dog it could be a great addition to your home.
Featured Image Credit: La Su, Shutterstock
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.
- The Kuvasz’s Beginnings
- New Lease on Life
- The Dog You See Today
- The Inner Kuvasz
- Living with a Kuvasz
- Caring for the Kuvasz
- How is the Kuvasz with children and other animals?
- What Might Go Wrong?
- Your Pup’s Price Tag