Komondor

Peter Richards
Peter Richards (BVSc, MRCVS)
 
Photo of adult Komondor

The Komondor is a large, pastoral dog which is best known for sporting the heaviest fur of any canine. Like their close relative the Hungarian Puli their fur is organised into about 2000 dreadlocks, or cords, giving them a distinctive appearance. They are a rare breed with a global population of only several thousand, with the majority living in the United States.

The Komondor was bred to protect livestock from predators such as wolves and bears. As such, they are a physically strong, intelligent and independent breed. While these traits may have been desirable for life on the Pannonian steppes of their homeland, a Komondor would be a handful for an inexperienced owner. The breed is known to be territorial, protective and distrusting of strangers who might be greeted by 50kg of mop barrelling towards them. However, in the right hands and kept under the correct conditions, a Komondor can make a calm and affectionate companion. The Komondor is a generally healthy breed with a life expectancy of between 10 and 12 years.

About & History

The Komondor has a long history of guarding Hungarian sheep and cattle against attack from predators. It is thought that the breed was brought to Hungary around the 12th or 13th centuries by the Cumans, a nomadic Turkic tribe who were granted asylum after fleeing from the Mongol invasions. This is supported by archaeological evidence of Komondor remains in Cuman gravesites. The Komondor was first mentioned in Hungarian texts from 1544 and again in 1673 as a fearsome guard dog used to protect livestock from the wolves and bears which roamed the countryside. The dogs were often raised outside with the flock, imprinting on them to activate their natural protective instincts. Their unique coats were developed for aesthetics, but rather to help them in their work. Not only do their coats protect them from extremes of cold and heat, they also provided a natural armour against bites which they might receive in the line of duty. It’s also been suggested that their coats helped them to blend in amongst the sheep, helping them to ambush predators!

For hundreds of years, the Komondor was used as the principal sheep-dog in Hungary but their loyalty was to be their downfall. Allegedly, many Komondorok (the plural of Komondor) were killed during World War II as the invading Germans could not capture a farm or home whilst the guard-dog was still alive. The breed’s population has not recovered and with fewer working dogs around, the Komondor remains a rare breed.

Appearance

Komondor Large Photo

The Komondor is a large, muscular dog with an average height of 80cm, although females are smaller at 70cm. A full grown male should weigh between 50 and 61kgs with females weighing in at 36-50kgs. Underneath their coat they are well built with a strong bone structure and powerful conformation. This solid build is carried forward to the Komondor’s head, which is slightly shorter that it is wide. Underneath their locks of hair they have dark brown, almost black, eyes and a black nose. This pigmentation is also noticeable in the mouth where the lips, gums and palate are black or dark grey. Their ears go mostly unnoticed since they’re medium sized and are folded down.

Also hidden behind the cords is a deep chest and broad body which tucks up at the belly. They have a long tail, which reaches down to the hocks with a slight curve at the tip. When they’re excited the tail is raised up in line with the body. Their limbs are solidly built and muscular with a long stride, giving them the appearance of effortless movement.

As puppies, the coat is soft and fluffy. Their distinctive coat appears between 6 -9 months old and develops during their first two years of life. They have a soft undercoat, which is overlaid with a long, coarse outer coat. The hairs of the outer coat are curly and tend to matt together with the undercoat to form cords. The cords should be strong and heavy, about 20-27cm long, with a texture similar to felt. An adult Komondor can have as many as 2,000 cords, which, if left to their own devices, can further matt into plates. To prevent this, regular grooming and separation of the cords is needed. The coat is white but will become discoloured with dirt unless washed.

Character & Temperament

Like a lot of other guard dogs, the Komondor has a strong protective instinct. They are known to rest in the day while patrolling for intruders at night. Consequently, they often bark loudly at night in response to noise. They don’t take kindly to strangers and may act to defend their territory. This defensive action can be sudden and occur with great speed as the Komondor knocks the intruder to the ground.

Their independent and wilful characters combined with their physical size make them unsuitable for inexperienced owners. However, in the hands of an experienced owner, with good training and socialisation protocols, they can be calm, gentle and affectionate. Socialising as a puppy is extremely important to expose them to new situations, people and other dogs at an early age. An adult Komondor might react aggressively to an unfamiliar situation or person.

Trainability

Photo of Komondor puppy

Komondorok are intelligent and can be trained providing that they start early. However, this intelligence means repetition bores them so training sessions need to be diverse and entertaining. Constant correction of behavior and positive reinforcement is often required as a Komondor can quickly acquire undesirable or aggressive behavioral traits.

Health

In general Komondorok are healthy, however, there are a few conditions which owners should be aware of:

  • Cataracts – These are opacities which form in the lens of the eye. They can occur for a variety of different reasons and most are associated with old age. In the Komondor, cataracts can form earlier at 2-3 years old and are slowly progressive. This is suspected to be an inherited condition. Although not painful, cataracts can cause visual impairment and blindness if left untreated.
  • Entropion – Entropion is a hereditary disease affecting the conformation of the eyelids. In affected individuals, the eyelid is folded inwards causing the hair of the eyelid to rub against the eye. This constant friction can damage the cornea and cause ulcers, which are liable to become infected. It is a painful condition that often affects both eyes. Luckily, there is a surgical treatment that corrects the entropion permanently. Affected individuals should not be used for breeding.
  • Bloat (gastric dilation volvulus) – This is a condition associated with large, deep chested breeds like the Komondor. The stomach expands with gas (dilation) and twists around on itself (volvulus) preventing the gas from escaping. This cuts off blood supply to the stomach and can also prevent blood from returning to the heart. GDV is a life-threatening condition that should be treated as an emergency requiring immediate surgery. An underlying cause has not been established although there may be some association with large meals followed by intense exercise.
  • Hip dysplasia (HD) – HD is caused by abnormal development of the hip joint leading to the development of arthritis. This is a progressive condition which will eventually lead to hind-limb lameness and pain.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Although a Komondor tends to be inactive during the day this shouldn’t be mistaken for laziness! In keeping with their guarding nature, they will often follow their owner around the house but they still require outdoor exercise. A brisk walk of about an hour a day is enough to keep them happy. Their temperament makes them more suited to country settings with few neighbours and plenty of space to roam around in.

Grooming

The Komondor is often recommended as a hypoallergenic pet since they rarely shed hairs once their adult coat is established. This means that they should never be brushed or combed. But don’t let that fool you into thinking they are low maintenance. Caring for a Komondor’s coat takes time and organisation.

Their cords need to separated by hand to prevent them from matting together and forming plates. This should be done at least once a week to keep them looking tidy. Naturally, the cords are white but dirt will quickly discolour them. Komondorok need to be cleaned regularly to prevent dirt building up and becoming a problem. This is a major undertaking and provisions for thorough drying such as fans should be available since a wet Komondor can take days to fully dry. Some owners elect to trim the coat for easier maintenance, but this removes the Komondor’s defining characteristic.

As will other floppy-eared breeds, the ears should be monitored for infection and wax build-up. Additionally, Komondor puppies should be introduced to tooth brushing as early as possible to establish a dental hygiene regime that will prevent future problems.

Famous Komondorok

The Komondor is considered a national treasure in its native Hungary. However, outside of Hungary they are not well known. A photo of a jumping Komondor was used on the cover of Beck’s 1996 album Odelay.

Cross-Breeds

The Komondor has undoubtedly been crossbreed at some point in time, however, there are currently no known well-known crossbreeds. This could be due in part as its status as the national dog in Hungary where the country strives to preserve the breed, protecting it from any modifications. Also, given the scarcity of the breed elsewhere in the world, it is quite unlikely that anyone seeking out the Komondor would then want to alter it in any way.

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