Back to Basics Part II

Part I appeared here.

My dog is a counter-surfer!

Most of our dogs grow to be eye-level with your counter, so everything you leave on there is an immediate temptation that is literally “right in front of their eyes”. Don’t wait until your dog has his mouth on your ham sandwich. If you see him look towards or approach the counter, say NO! firmly and move your body toward him with a serious look, or call him over to distract him. If he walks away or stops, praise him. (This is a time when clicker training can come in very handy.) If he grabs something that won’t harm him, and goes into guard mode, don’t take a chance of getting bitten. (Never grab a new dog by the collar.) Some dogs will respond to “the trade,” i.e., you offer a tasty treat a distance away and are able to separate him from the forbidden item. Again, don’t take a stand that results in anyone getting hurt. And if he walks past the counter without being interested, praise him. Other options that people have tried, include putting a “yucky” sandwich (lemon juice on bread or other distasteful item) on the counter and hoping he doesn’t love it.

Counter Surfing

Remember that for a dog, seeking food is a primary activity, a basic survival drive. Think about how your dog learns: repetition and reinforcement. In other words, when you feed him treats directly from the table or while standing at the counter, you are telling him that food is often given at these locations. A dog’s mind doesn’t discriminate as well as we’d like; you’ve taught him to pay close attention to these places as sources of food. Put food and treats in the dog’s dish, don’t hand them directly from the counter or table. Sometimes, we unknowingly place a lot of temptation in front of our dogs; control the environment by keeping food and especially, medications, off of the countertops, and make sure garbage cans are locked or impossible to open (and don’t think these dogs can’t learn to step on the foot lever to open the top!). You may have to keep a pressure gate on the kitchen entryway in order to keep him away from temptation when you’re not home.

Like many of the issues we’re discussing, obedience training (including clicker training and “target” training) can be a big help, including teaching commands like “Wait!” and “Leave it!” Teach your dog to go to his “place” while you’re eating or preparing food. Tips for this can be found at:


My Dog is Aggressive/Dominant/Thinks He’s the Boss!!!

Great Pyrenees are a dominant breed that must be independent thinkers in order to do the job of a guardian breed. They are true guardians and you must not underestimate their instinct. If children are roughhousing with friends or family, the dog does not understand that this is not a real threat to his or her “flock.” The dog should be in the other room. Children must ALWAYS be monitored around dogs, especially giant breeds who can easily knock down a small child without meaning to harm them. Giant breeds can also look down on small children as lower members of the pack, which is why we stress the need for a strong leader and encourage all family members to participate in obedience training with the dog.

Great Pyrenees look to you as their “pack leader” and like all pack animals, they find comfort and reassurance in knowing the rules, who makes them and the one who controls the resources. We strongly urge adopters to do the following to establish themselves as pack leaders:

  • Take your dog to obedience classes.
  • Practice “Nothing in Life is Free” training to establish yourself as the one wcontrols the resources—The following website will give you a great feel for the basics:
  • Access training documents from our website such as and
  • Do NOT allow your dog to take over the furniture, especially in the early days. If you are someone who eventually wants their dog on the furniture, then the dog should first become comfortable with his place in the family pack, and then understand that he/she is only allowed on the couch if you invite him up, and when you say “Down!” he has to get off the furniture. (Note: NEVER grab your new dog by the collar to get him off the furniture. Call him to you or get a leash or sliplead to put on him and lead him off.) Your own bed probably is the highest status place in the home: when you allow the dog on the bed where you sleep, he is assuming the role of ruler, and will often growl and even lunge at your spouse or the other dog in the household, to keep them off the bed. You have then surrendered the leadership position to the dog on the bed, and need to take charge again. It’s a matter of starting over; you can do this.
  • Don’t let your dog push past or run you down to get out the door. For a pyr, this can mean an escapee who “disapyrs.” Never open a door to the outdoors unless it is impossible for the dog to get out of the yard by that door. Otherwise, particularly in the beginning, she should be leashed, crated or in another room. Ideally, you should train the dog to sit before she is allowed to go through the door. If you need to close the door in her face, do so. You can teach the “wait” command by holding up your hand in a STOP position and say “Wait!” (Some trainers use a raised index finger.) Whichever signal you decide to use, be consistent. If he tries to push by you, move forward, physically block him and repeat the verbal command. This is where obedience training can be a big help. Practice, practice, practice.
  • Don’t let your dominant dog take YOU for a walk, or worse, for a DRAG! Go to your trainer’s toolbox. Tools such as head halters can help steer and control, while specialty harnesses can establish control so you can direct the action, not your dog.

My dog is a terror on leash!

Dog on Harness

We field lots of questions on leash walking, ranging from reactivity to dragging the owner over the woods and onto their knees. Obviously, control on lead is an essential part of obedience training, but who hasn’t had to deal with the occasional surprise crisis on a walk? Other big dogs (strange or known); delivery trucks and other noisy (i.e., “growly”) vehicles; or simply ignoring the person at the other end of the leash and going in whichever direction their nose leads them? Working with a trainer will help you gain control over your dog, as will proven tools such as specialized items like head halters and harnesses.

There are many different designs out there, but a trainer can assess your dog and recommend and help fit the correct walking gear, such as one that’s received a lot of kudos from our adopters:

This halter/harness is designed to exert pressure under the forelegs, rather than on the dog’s trachea and larynx.

We’ve also received positive feedback on the “Walk Your Dog With Love” harness,>, which leads from the front and puts the leash pull point close to the dog’s center of gravity.

If your dog is a puller, don’t rule out attaching two leashes; you can also get one that attaches around your waist as your second “backup security.

A double-handled leash may also be a good idea when walking near traffic or crossing busy streets and you can loop both handles on your wrist too.

If you have a behavioral (or health) problem with your new rescue dog, please contact the adoption coordinator who handled your application and helped you choose the dog. We are here to help you for the life of your dog.