Hungarian Kuvasz

Anna Cherry
Dr Anna Cherry (BSc Hons, BVSc, MRCVS)
 
Photo of adult Hungarian Kuvasz

The Kuvasz is a large breed of dog, native to Hungary and is believed to date back to the middle ages. This breed is known for its courageous, protective and gentle temperament and striking thick white coat. Despite their large size, this breed is unexpectedly elegant and agile, earning them a reputation for being ‘light-footed’.

The name Kuvasz, pronounced ‘Koo-vahss’, is believed to originate from the Turkish word ‘kawasz’, which means ‘armed guard’. This is befitting, given that Kuvasz was traditionally used as a guard and herding dogs – working alongside shepherds to protect flocks from predators or thieves. They were also reportedly used for hunting large game and are still used for this today. Legend has it that this fearless and intelligent dog can even see-off mountain lions and bears!

They are recognised by the UK Kennel Club and are listed in their ‘pastoral’ group, alongside other herding breeds of dog. As well as being a working dog, this magnificent breed is now a loyal and affectionate companion dog in Hungary and around the world.

About & History

The exact origins of the Kuvasz is not clear and although many consider it be an ‘ancient’ breed native to Hungary, whilst others speculate that it may have originated further afield – from Tibet. The age of this breed is also steeped in mystery with some claiming it dates back to around 1100 to 1300 BC and others saying they were introduced more recently by the Magyar tribes who invaded Hungary around 1000 years ago.

During the 15th century, the Kuvasz was held in the highest esteem, thanks to their royal admirer, King Mathias I of Hungary. He is believed to have used these dogs as his very own ‘bodyguards’, keeping them by his side day and night. As well as acting as protectors, it is thought that he also used them to hunt wild boar. This royal influence is considered to have been a key part of the development and rise in popularity of this magnificent breed.

Sadly, following the death of King Mathias I, there was a steady decline in this breed’s popularity. This led to the Kuvasz being mainly used for herding and guarding. This remained the case until around the 1920s when this breed became ‘fashionable’ and soared in popularity once more. However, following two World Wars, like so many breeds, the Kuvasz became on the brink of extinction, as food became scarce and many breeding kennels closed down. Thankfully, this breed did survive and numbers have continued to improve.

Despite the ancient origins of the Kuvasz, it was not until 1884 that the breed was recognised by the Hungarian Kennel Club, and in 1935, it was finally listed by the American Kennel Club.

Appearance

Hungarian Kuvasz Large Photo

The Kuvasz is an alluring looking large breed of dog. It has distinctive almond-shaped eyes, a pointy jet-black nose and floppy v-shaped ears, which they carry held forwards. This is framed by a magnificent dense white coat, which is in stark contrast to their pigmented skin around their eyes and nose and black pads.

Body wise, this breed is slightly longer than they are tall with a broad straight back. They carry themselves with an easy-elegance that belies their great size. In fact, this breed is often described as ‘gliding’ when moving at full pace. Being strong, agile and well muscled makes them a natural athlete. They are renowned for their endurance and are said to be able to cover over 15-miles without even breaking into a sweat (or getting sweaty paws at least!).

The white coat of the Kuvasz, as well as being striking, is believed to be a purposeful breeding choice to help shepherds easily distinguish them from any predatory wolves. Their thick double coat provides excellent insulation against the cold weather, making them ideally suited to working outdoors. It is a medium-coarse texture and can be straight, wavy or curly. Finally, they have a long tail that is well feathered and held with its tail-tip curving slightly upwards.

Character & Temperament

The Kuvaszok (this is the plural for Kuvasz) are fun and playful as puppies and remain young at heart well into their adolescence, before finally maturing into calm and gentle adults at around two years of age. Like so many herding breeds, they are intelligent, patient and loyal. They enjoy using their brain and thrive when set to work guarding or herding livestock.

However, because they are an independent spirit, they are best suited to an experienced dog owner, who will quickly gain their respect - it is not uncommon for them to ignore a command if they deem the person giving it as ‘not-worthy’ (perhaps this is a nod to their royal heritage!). Aside from acting slightly superior at times, they are said to have a ‘good sense of humour’ and enjoy playing and having fun.

The Kuvasz adores being in the company of people and dislikes spending time alone. If they are properly trained and well-socialised from puppyhood through to adulthood, they can make a gentle and loyal family pet and integrate well with other pets. However, due to their inner ‘guard dog’, they can also be aloof, suspicious or even aggressive towards strangers and visitors to the home! For some individuals of this breed, this trait will be stronger than for others, which means that not all Kuvaszok are suited to being a family dog.

When introducing this breed to children, care needs to be taken. Although they are gentle and loving towards children in their own family, they can misinterpret other children’s rough play, as a threat to their ‘own’ child. Because of this, they are not suited to being a child’s companion and close supervision is recommended at all times (and especially when around your child’s friends). Also, Kuvasz puppies are prone to underestimating their own strength and may accidentally bowl over a child in their eagerness to play

Because of their intelligence and athleticism, this breed can quickly become bored if not given enough exercise and mental stimulation (or if they are starved of human contact). This can lead to unwanted behaviours, such as excessive barking and destructive tendencies, for example, digging. Also, this breed, despite their independence, thrives in the company of people and do not do well if left alone for long periods of time. If confined to kennels or tethered, they can become aggressive.

For the above reasons, this breed is not ideal for first-time dog owners and would be best suited to someone who is a confident, firm and an experienced dog owner. You need to have plenty of space; be diligent with training and have time to exercise them regularly.

Trainability

Photo of Hungarian Kuvasz puppy

The Kuvasz can be a challenge to train due to their strong and independent nature. You will need to be firm, patient and consistent when approaching training this breed. Ideally, this should be started from young and continued throughout adulthood. Due to their protective nature, extra time will need to be invested to ensure obedience.

However, all this hard work is well worth the extra effort, as once you have this intelligent breed’s attention, they will quickly pick up new commands and master house training rapidly (this does not mean there won’t be a few puddles along the way!).

Health

The Kuvasz is a fairly robust and healthy breed of dog and has a lifespan of around 9-12 years. However, like so many large breed dogs, they are prone to certain health problems, including:

Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

This is a developmental condition that can affect the elbows, shoulder and/or ankle joints of large and rapidly growing breeds like the Kuvasz. It is caused by the deterioration of the bone that underlies their cartilage in the joints, which results in fragments of cartilage breaking off. These can then trigger inflammation of the joint and leave the underlying bone exposed.

This condition usually presents itself in puppies around 6-9 months of age. It can be very painful for those affected, causing limping and exercise intolerance. Excess weight can further exacerbate this condition, so it’s important to feed Kuvasz puppies on an appropriate diet for their age and breed.

Hip Dysplasia

This is when the thigh bone does not fit into the socket on the pelvis (hip bone) properly, leading to excessive movement of the top of the thigh bone (femur) in and out of the hip joint. Over time, this can damage the bone and cartilage within/surrounding the hip join and increases the risk of early onset of osteoarthritis.

Depending on the severity, this can be a painful condition, causing lameness on one or both hind legs or may cause no symptoms. Excess body weight can exacerbate this condition, so it’s important to ensure they are maintained at a health bodyweight throughout their lifetime.

Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV)

Because of this breed’s large size and deep chest, their stomach has more room to move around. GDV occurs when their stomach ‘flips’ over and becomes twisted. This results in gas becoming trapped inside the stomach causing it to rapidly swell up like a balloon. If this condition is not treated immediately, it can be life-threatening

Weight Gain

This breed is also prone to weight gain and needs to be fed on the correct amount and type of food to keep them at a healthy bodyweight. This combined with plenty of opportunities to exercise will help keep them slim and trim.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Kuvasz is an active breed and that needs space to stretch their legs and run-free. Therefore, having a decent sized house with a good-sized garden is imperative. You also need to have time in your life to take them out for plenty of exercise. Ideally, fully-grown adults should be taken on at least one long walk a day with the opportunity to go off lead. If Kuvaszok are confined or not given the chance to exercise properly and run-free, this breed can become frustrated, which could lead to issues with aggression.

Because this large breed of dog is prone to joint problems, whilst they are growing, exercise should be moderated to avoid abnormal joint development. For example, repetitive and uncontrolled exercise, such as chasing balls or Frisbees and jumping-up should be avoided. Several short walks on the lead with some playtime that doesn’t involve chasing is perfect for these pups.

Grooming

The Kuvasz has a thick white coat that is surprisingly low-maintenance, its coarse texture allows any dirt to be easily brushed off. They do need regular grooming to keep their glorious coat in tip-top condition and should be brushed every 2-3 days (and given a thorough brushing once a week). This will need to be increased during the shedding season, which happens in the Spring and Autumn.

However, if you decide to invite this breed into your home, be prepared for lots of vacuuming, as thanks to their double coat, they are prone to leaving clumps of fluff all over your home!

Famous Hungarian Kuvaszok

This charming breed hit the big screen and captured our hearts when a Kuvasz named Delilah, featured in the 1996 hit Disney movie Homeward Bound II: Lost In San Francisco. Also, famous in his own right is, Canil Kuvasz Prince, who is a Kuvasz that features on Instagram and has over 17k devoted followers!

Cross-Breeds

This breed is not commonly included in crossbreeds.

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