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I know Great Pyrenees are known to be very stubborn with the recall and can rarely be trusted off leash. If you've successfully done this, how did you do it?

Many people have used e-collars effectively but I wonder if they have a chance of working on a Great Pyrenees.

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I have a dog that is not a Great Pyr but is of similar looks, size, working class, and stubbornness.

Many people have used e-collars effectively

The e-collar really has very little effectiveness for my dog. I once caught my dog running away with the collar on, and had to issue a surprising number of max-intensity shocks (which were only of minor inconvenience to him) before he would come back. Further training with the e-collar in more controlled settings produced unreliable results that had surprising and undesired behavioral side-effects.

can rarely be trusted off leash.

Just for other readers, I would like to state here that not all dogs are off-leash dogs, no matter how much we the owners may want them to be, or how much we may work at it. Also , off-leash has its own dangers and unpredictabilities.

very stubborn with the recall

We had two gigantic break-throughs: check-ins and scratches.

A "check-in" is where you ask your dog to come to you, acknowledge him, but then he gets to go back to what he was doing before. This is instrumental in training recall, as most recall training consists of obeying the command and then the fun (say, the park) being stripped away. So, a check-in might be to get your dog to come, praise, and then he gets to go about his business. First train at home, then in gradually more distracting scenarios.

Our second break-through is probably more personal, this dog loves being scratched. He loves it almost more than food itself. So, I use that as a reward. Big praise, lots of love, and lots of scratching. In some forms of advanced training, they don't use treats, but rather other forms of reward, like playing tug-o-war, a special treat, etc. So try to find something that your dog really loves (but not to the point where he loses his mind).

For added cuteness I also incorporated the child-like arms-outstretched motion into the body cue for 'come'. It works great.

Levels of reward

A lot of owners don't realize that dogs are picky and choosy like humans are, getting tired of the same old things. Here are some tips for rewards:

  • BIG praise. "G'boy" is one thing, "GOODBOYGOODBOYOHYOURSOGOOD!!!" is a whole new level

  • SMILE. Dogs read faces and your expression heightens their reward

  • Smelly. The smellier the reward, the better it is. This is why cheese is better than a biscuit. This is why microwaved (warm) cheese is better than normal cheese.

  • Portions. Each reward should be of a good portion, not too big, not too small. Big enough so that it is actually rewarding, stimulates their appetite, but small enough so that they're still hungry. Basically, imagine the size of a ravoli for humans shrunk down in proportion to your dog's weight

  • Variety. Dogs get tired of things. If the buscuits aren't working, put them away and take out the chicken. Then the tuna. Then cheese. Etc.

  • Take breaks. Dogs still get tired. Take a break and just have unstructured play. For a puppy, maybe 5-10 minutes of training at a time, for an adult dog, 20-40 minutes at a time. Every dog is different.

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As a rescuer of a Great Pyrenees with behavioral issues that no doubt stem from his ruff past, I can say with true sincerity I feel your pain.

My background

My wife and I rescue dogs, so we have had to rehabilitate dogs from various states and deal with issues that most owners would have just given up on their dogs. For this reason, we tried almost any training or management technique you can imagine so please understand this when reading the rest of this - I don't want people thinking it's a good idea to use advanced forms of behavior management like remote training collars as a "try this first". There have been some times that I have been able to use a remote training collar effectively, but it's a device that I find I use only for short while during handling a specific behavior then it's put away. To give some detail, I would say I've used ours maybe a couple of times in the 5 or so years we've owned it.

How to approach training in general

When you say training to some people they think about making your dogs do tricks, to other people they believe you mean house training... the reality is, to a dog there is basically no difference between the two. To be successful at training - particularly in difficult cases, you have to learn the dog and pay keen attention to trying to discover why the behavior is happening. As humans we like to project our feelings on to dogs, so when we see them look "guilty" we think they feel guilt for doing something bad for example. The reality is, often times the dog is actually just aware that you will be upset and that is why they are acting "guilty". Merely knowing that you will be upset does not mean the dog understands why you are upset, and it's very important that you understand almost every time a training failure comes down to a dog not understanding, or being medically unable to comply. If we approach training like solving a problem, it becomes much less personal and more productive. It's always best to start off with the simple proven techniques, then work our way up to more advanced techniques when the basics aren't working. We never want to go right to the "strongest" training technique, but sometimes the strongest technique is what's required and is best for the dog. We have to make sure that when we get there, we are doing it for the dog and we have a very specific reason for trying that technique and aren't "winging it".

Do remote training collars work on a Great Pyrenees?

In my experience, the answer is a resounding NO. I don't say this because I am against the use remote training collars, used correctly they can be a very effective tool. I say this because I've used remote training collars on different dogs, and the single one that it was least effective with was our Pyrenees.

Why?

Great Pyrenees are -particularly- stubborn. They were bred specifically for being independent minded and strong willed, and anyone who has one can testify to that. It's completely normal for a Great Pyrenees to be difficult to recall and a training collar offers no effective tool against their stubbornness. Here are some specific reasons why I really believe you shouldn't use a training collar on a Great Pyrenees

  1. They have long hair, so if you're using a "shock" type, even with the long probes it's very likely to not contact at all
  2. In my experience using negative re-enforcement causes Great Pyrenees in particular to shut down and stop listening to you at all, so don't be surprised if it makes the issue of not responding to a recall much worse.
  3. Great Pyrenees have an amazing resilience and tolerance for any type of pain - negative enforcement is not a good motivator for this breed at all

Then how?

Each case is different, but this is how we were able to overcome it. First to learn how to train your Pyr in general, you need to learn what makes him tick - what brings him joy. In our case, he likes being with our other dogs and he likes direct 1 on 1 attention. He isn't very food motivated, and he's really not toy/play motivated either which makes him a real challenge. We also know he loves going outside, and doesn't like coming inside when called. Armed with this knowledge, this is the technique we used

  1. Put the other dogs away so the training session is as free of distractions as possible
  2. Take the dog outside for a short enough time that he would be most resistant to want to come in, in this case about 3-4 minutes. Sooner than that he hadn't gotten engaged enough that coming in was easier. After that and he may have "had his fill" and be ready to come back in.
  3. Call him, if he comes praise the heck out of him and give him direct 1 on 1 petting and attention - over the top, you want to feel embarrassed if you find out anyone is watching (maybe also give him a treat - in my case he often wont eat a treat).
  4. If he does not come back when he is called, keep calling him until he comes to you, then gently lead him by the collar into an area of isolation (in my case, we used the crate but you can use a bedroom or anything). In the case of my dog, this is because he gets his happiness from being around others and it's merely used to give him something to contrast with his reward for doing it right. It's important to understand we're not using the crate as a form of punishment - you should never associate a crate with punishment. I would leave him there for about two minutes and then continue. Keep in mind that if you have a problem with him acting out while in isolation that issue should be handled before this training can work - you don't want to take him out of isolation while he's acting out, as it will re-enforce that behavior and make it worse
  5. Let him continue playing for another time interval and repeat the process until he succeeds 3 times in a row, or he is no longer interested in playing. If he succeeds 3 times in a row, give him a "lottery" reward which is like a whole bunch of treats and 3x the praise and reward as before. If he stops being interested, that's fine just try again some other time but no lottery reward unless he gets it right 3 times in a row.

Is he ready?

If your dog isn't responding to any type of training at all, he may not be ready for it. This was the case with our Great Pyrenees for about the first 6 months after we rescued him. As is the case with many rescues, his past is completely unknown - he was found abandoned by his original owners. He also traded hands a few times before we got him, and when he first arrived at our home he was not the most pleasant dog to have around. It took us a while to learn his needs, and for him to learn that he can trust us. While this process was happening, there was very little if any productive training happening. If this is your situation, the only way to get through this is to provide tons of positive support and trust building and avoid negative encounters - even just firmly saying "no" was enough to make our Pyrenees totally shut down during this time. We had to just praise him when we 'caught' him doing the right things, and do our best to ignore him acting out. Now that it's behind us, we are able to treat him like any other dog and saying "no" doesn't make him shut down, but he's still just as stubborn as he's ever been!

Sorry for such a long reply. As I'm sure you can see, you managed to ask the very question that aligns with what was a huge barrier I had to overcome. Hopefully what I've learned from my experiences can help you and your Pyrenees out too!

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Babou, aka 'My Patou' ...   My Patou                             Do I hear the Skippy whistle?  Make no mistake ...


I'm the (proud) owner of an amazing Great Pyrenees also, for over 12 years already, and yes they are known to be very stubborn (so is "My Patou", aka mine). However, to do what this question is about, you may want to experiment with an approach that I started over a decade ago, and which worked extremely well:

  • I had noticed that whenever I went to feed the chickens (in the back of my garden), My Patou would often follow me after about 5 mins. She would be waiting for me to return, and sometimes I would reward her then with some tiny piece of old bread (that the chickens seemed to not want anymore).
  • Sometimes however, she wouldn't be waiting. Simply because she hadn't noticed (I guessed) that I went to the back of the garden. But in case I did have some old bread left, I wanted to discretely "call" her (without shouting too much, e.g to not disturb the neighbors). So I thought about the sound of the whistle of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo (checkout the first 10 secs of this video if you don't know it) and whistled something similar (no tools needs, just a short whistle with 3 variations in the tone of it). And sure enough, each and every time My Patou would react to it. I.e. come find me near the chickens (and of course she'd get the bread-reward).

  • After a little while (about a week or so when I first tried this whistle), I started to use the same whistle in other variations/occasions. As a sample, when she (not me) was in the back of the garden (without a leash of course), and I wanted her to come to me (e.g because I was leaving the house), I just used the very same whistle (without calling her name or anything like that). Whenever she heard the whistle (rarely I had to do it twice ...), she would show up (= come back, as in the question here ...) and at least come to about 10 meters from me (the back of the garden is over 50 meters or so). And if I would then lift my hand (with or without bread in it ...), she would come to me (and even sit in front of me if I would then ask her so). Of course, so now and then I had prepared some (old) bread then also (to ensure that she would keep doing so).

Sadly enough though, about 8 months ago 1 of her legs (front) was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. To give her a few (2, possibly 3?) more months, the recommendation was amputation of that leg. Guess what: it must be because of her stubbornness that these days she is still jumping around in our garden (with my support as an alternative for the missing leg), about 3 times a day. Often times that jumping reminds me about Skippy, though I rarely use this whistle-trick anymore ... But if I occasionally do, her ears/eyes still react in a similar way.


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