(Reprinted from Komondor News, Vol. 17 No. 6, November 1990)
At one point I started a list of questions people ask when they call here about the Komondor. Perhaps you would like to comment on what I usually answer. Joy C. Levy
How do you pronounce the name?
KOH-mohn-dor, with accent on the first syllable. The ok-ending Komondorok is just the Hungarian plural.
What is the dog like?
This is a livestock guard dog (LGD), bred in Hungary for centuries, originally to guard large flocks on the Hungarian plains. Other Old World breeds with similar temperaments are the Great Pyrenees in France, the Maremma in Italy, the Tatra in Poland, the Sar Planinetz in Yugoslavia, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog in Turkey, the Tibetan Mastiff in Nepal, and, of course, in Hungary itself, the Kuvasz. The Komondor originally lived day and night with his flock, and his coat mimics the coat of the large (Racka) sheep he lived with. He was bred to take responsibility for keeping the flock safe from 4-legged predators, primarily the wolf, and from 2-legged thieves.
How does this temperament differ from the more usual guard dog, like the German Shepherd, the Rottweiler, or the Doberman?
These breeds were developed as personal protection dogs, and they look to their master for instructions. They excel, for example, in formal obedience trials, and they may be suitable for attack training and schutzhund work. Komondors, and other LGDs, have been selected to take responsibility and make their own decisions in the absence of a master. This means they want to make up their own mind and decide for themselves how to deal with a potentially dangerous situation. To give examples: They are likely to think the garbage man is stealing from you; they may think a plumber with a tool in his hand plans to attack you or your property; they may think your Uncle Bob who is a stranger to the dog is accosting the children if he grabs one suddenly to hug her. In other words, to live easily with a Komondor you have to be able to foresee situations which look “potentially dangerous” to your Komondor. We recommend also that you have a place to put the dog out of harm’s way if someone the dog does not like has to be in your house. This can be a room, a dog run, a fenced yard, or a crate. The Komondor is NOT suitable for attack training.
Are the dogs affectionate with people they know?
VERY!!! – and very physical about it. They want to know where all family members are and to be close to them. The dogs lean on you, paw you — some even want to hug you or nibble you affectionately. They do not fawn on you, and certainly not on strangers, for attention, but they demonstrate their deep devotion to their intimates.
Is this dog suitable as a family pet?
The Komondor never considers himself a “pet”. He is a working dog and needs a job. If he is to be in the house with a family, he must be heavily socialized from the time he is a small puppy. A puppy should be outgoing and friendly with everyone, but his rowdy behavior needs controlling — after all, a 10 months old puppy may weigh 100 pounds! He must also get used to meeting strangers. By the time he is two years old, he will be less outgoing with strangers and may even decide he does not want ANY stranger to touch him or his master or his property. If you get him used to being handled by many friendly strangers when he is young, he will not present problems with well-meaning strangers, like your housecleaner, your baby-sitter, or a new vet!
Will a Komondor be good protection for my family?
Oh yes, this is his primary role, and he is an incomparable guard dog. This guarding is instinctive and needs no training. The problem is rather that the Komondor can guard you too much, or can guard your neighbors as well as your own family. Again the key to living comfortably with a Komondor is socialization. You must introduce the baby-sitter and be sure the dog accepts her; otherwise the dog may feel it is necessary to protect “his” baby from this stranger.
How is the dog with children?
Komondors love babies and small children. With older children or adolescents they will not tolerate anything they construe as teasing, and they object to strange children being physical with their children. They enjoy playing with well-behaved “doggy” children.
How about other animals?
The Komondor lives happily with other dogs and other animals — indeed, this is what he was bred to do — provided only that he is the boss. Two males can be difficult to handle if both insist on being dominant. Komondors truly love cats, and cats respond to them. They also readily accept other dogs, birds, and any livestock, especially liking goats and horses. They have almost no hunt and chase instincts, though initial encounters with other animals should be carefully supervised. A playful Komondor puppy can hurt a baby goat without meaning to, and a cow can hurt a Komondor puppy.
How big is a Komondor?
On the average, males are larger than bitches and average 27 1/2 inches and 100 pounds. Bitches are perhaps 85 pounds and average 26 inches. Dogs can be over 30 inches, and the current minimum for bitches given in the standard is 23 1/2″, so the variation is great.
Are they easy to train?
Housetraining is usually extremely easy; Komondors are unusually clean dogs in the house. A crate is extremely useful for house-training, and it is helpful to have the dog used to being in a crate in case he has to be confined at any time. Obedience training is a necessity with any dog of this size. You cannot easily carry a grown Komondor out of the way! We recommend starting a puppy early. At 4 or 5 months they learn readily and with pleasure. Later they are not quick to respond to a command, mainly because they feel they should decide for themselves when and where to sit, lie down, or stay.
Do they chew, dig, or bark excessively?
Puppies are both curious and physical, and their energy has to be channeled. If you provide things they are allowed to chew on along with firm indication of what is off-limits, this is not too hard to control. Barking is more difficult. Your Komondor never barks without a reason, but if he is confined where many strangers pass by, it is very hard to keep him from announcing the passage of each one.
What about housing?
It is usually a waste of time to build a doghouse for a Komondor. He wants to chose his own place, which will be a place where he can watch all entrances to his property. All he needs outside is shelter from rain. He is sensible about heat. He will find shade from summer sun and hates to be in the rain, but no amount of cold bothers him.
What about exercise and space?
Puppies grow best if they can move freely. Grown dogs require less exercise. If you live in a city or in the suburbs, exercising should be done on a lead.
Are there any specific health problems in the breed?
Komondor are still generally sturdy and healthy dogs. They require the usual preventive shots for distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, and parvo, and yearly boosters. Rabies shots are also required in all states. Like all dogs they should be on heartworm preventatives appropriate for the area they live in. There is some hip dysplasia (HD) in the breed, and we recommend buying puppies only from parents that have been x-rayed and certified as free from HD. Like many of the deep-chested breeds, Komondors can get bloat. Like other LGDs they are sensitive to anesthesia and some worming preparations, and they often react badly to tranquilizers like Ace Promazine. One should be careful with flea and tick sprays, mainly because so much can remain in the dog’s heavy coat. Before any medication is administered by body weight, allowances must be made for the heavy coat as well. In general anesthesia should be administered only to effect.
What do you recommend about formal obedience training?
A dog this size requires obedience training. Classes are useful for this as well as for socializing the dog. As independent thinkers they are rarely candidates for high scores at obedience trials, though a few have successfully obtained advanced obedience titles with patient and determined handlers. It is best if you work with the dog as a team. A dog working with livestock must have his introduction to his stock overseen. He must also be taught his boundaries. An older dog usually teaches a younger one.
How do I find a reputable breeder?
The club maintains a list of breeders they can recommend. We urge you not to buy from a pet store and not to buy from a breeder who does not x-ray his stock. Some breeders offer contracts and guarantees, others do not. Some offer more help than others with the dog. All reputable breeders will supply a health certificate with a record of wormings and shots. They will replace a dog with a congenital fault. A pedigree should be provided, as well as a registration slip, unless registration is to be withheld by mutual consent. If conditions are involved in the sale, these should be stated in writing and signed by both parties. Some breeders co-own dogs, others do not. Be sure you ask questions if you have them. It really is best if you have a lot of confidence in your breeder, and some opt to wait for a puppy until a breeder they have chosen has one for them. While this sounds good, it may mean an inordinately long wait, as there are enough breeding problems in this rare breed to make it uncertain if and when a planned litter will actually appear in the whelping box.
Are they hard to get and how expensive are they?
This is a rare breed, both here and in the dog’s native country, Hungary. They are not easy to breed and raise, and litters are not as large as in many other large breeds. The average litter has 5 1/2 puppies, and only approximately 50 litters a year are registered with the American Kennel Club. We do not recommend puppies from unregistered litters; unless both parents are really Komondors, as attested to on a registered pedigree, no one can guarantee that they will behave like Komondors. Price varies, but usually is between $500 and $900. A very special puppy or older dog could be even more. It depends on the quality of the parents and the litter, and the reputation of the breeder. You may well have to get a dog from a breeder far away from you, and you may have to wait to get a puppy.
How about that coat!
The coat of the Komondor must be white, and this means it is hard to keep spotlessly clean. It is thick and has a shorter softer or woolly undercoat which sheds seasonally, and an outer coat that is coarser and curlier and grows without ever shedding. This outer coat catches the shedding undercoat, and with a process much like making felt, the cords are formed. The coat is never brushed or combed. It forms more or less naturally with the owner aiding the formation of cords by separating into clumps with his fingers any parts that form big mats instead of ribbon like tassels. The dog is usually corded by the time he is two years old, and after this, the cords are just checked and separated at the base as they grow. This is most easily done after a bath when the coat is wet. Washing is done as for any dog; we suggest a dog shampoo for a white coat. Care should be taken to rinse the dog thoroughly. It dries faster if you wring it out with towels and if you use a dryer. A mature coat takes a long time to dry. Cords do not come out when you wash the dog. It is easiest if you can take your dog to someone who knows how to cord a coat; they can show you in minutes what cannot be written in many pages, mainly because each coat is a bit different. Once you see how to help the cording along, it is not a difficult task. The dogs have less “doggy” odor than many breeds. The clean coat smells pleasantly like freshly washed wool. A full show coat is a job to maintain. Some owners keep dogs that they do not show clipped; others prefer to keep the dogs corded but to trim the coats to about 4 inches once a year. This last is recommended as very easy and retains the characteristic look of the dog.
What type of owner is best?
If you are a person who requires instant unquestioned obedience to commands from your dog, don’t buy a Komondor. If you are a person who does not have a generous amount of time to spend with your dog, don’t buy a Komondor. If you are a person who lives in cramped quarters or has neighbors who would object to a dog barking, don’t buy a Komondor. If you are a person who has expensive, fragile, irreplaceable possessions, don’t buy a Komondor. If you are a person who has had prior unsuccessful experience with Komondors don’t buy any Komondor except a puppy. Love for your Komondor or admiration for the breed is really not enough.