Impressive in size but surprisingly agile, the Kuvasz is a rare dog breed with ties to Hungarian royalty and, interestingly enough, Dracula. She's known for her unerring loyalty to her family—and her natural suspicion of literally everyone else. This double-coated white dog requires early training and socialization to make sure her watchful nature is balanced with confidence and trust; otherwise, she may be wary around everyone and everything outside her own clan.
No, the Kuvasz is not a cross between a Labrador retriever and a polar bear, but you'd be forgiven for thinking so. With females weighing between 70–90 pounds and males coming in at 100–115 pounds, the Kuvaszok (plural for Kuvasz) size is often the first thing people notice—but the fur isn't far behind.
That striking white double coat, those dark brown eyes, the large black nose and mouth, and the furry mane make her stand out from the crowd (unless she's next to a Great Pyrenees or a Maremma sheepdog, in which case you may have trouble telling them apart!).
That gorgeous fur is as functional as it is fashionable! The double coat repels water and sheds dirt easily, and the bright white color traditionally helped shepherds differentiate their livestock guardians from wolves at a distance. A weekly brushing with a pin brush should take care of any dead hair most of the year. But come summer, most of her longer hair will loosen and shed.
"They can be lovey-dovey, solicit affection, and lean in for pets, then turn around and leave you alone for hours," says Erin Askeland, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, animal health and behavior consultant at Camp Bow Wow. "They're not going to stick to your side and look to you for guidance all day, and they don't always need to be in the same room. You'll want to teach them to look to you for more instruction; they don't do that naturally."
A good way to encourage this while respecting the independent nature of the Kuvasz personality is by giving them choices that set them up to win, Askeland says.
"A great thing would be to set up a scavenger hunt for treats," she says. "That way, if they go off and do their thing (in a safe, secure place where they won't get into trouble), they can discover prizes along the way."
Keep in mind that this is a very large working dog and not a breed for a first-time dog owner, says Maggie Brown-Bury, DVM, past president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Veterinary Medical Association.
"They need lots of regular exercise and mental stimulation, and have to be well-socialized and trained from the outset to be good dogs to have in a household with children and other pets," she says. "They can be excellent companions if you are purposeful, but can be [difficult] if a casual dog owner adopts one without doing their research."
Much as she loves her work, the Kuvasz is also known for her playful nature—and that's one of the things Jamie Nila, who lives in Los Angeles with her two Kuvaszok, 2-year-old Rózsa and 14-year-old Abby, loves most about the breed.
"The best thing about living with a Kuvasz is the daily comedy routine," Nila says. "Rózsa's favorite silly things to do are to sit pretty and clap her paws together, lay flat out on her side on the floor then run full speed, and sit on the couch like a human would."
However, Nila is quick to point out that the breed can be challenging, too, if you're unprepared.
"They need a ton of socialization with people and polite dogs if you want them to be more than just a livestock guardian dog," she says.
Keep in mind that the Kuvasz is slow to mature, which means her impressionable puppy years may last a while. And, even with early and consistent socialization, she's not likely to buddy up to anyone beyond her tight inner circle; polite indifference is probably a good goal for strangers.
"They can be really good at different dog sports, so venturing into some of the outside- the-home type of sports can be really useful for them," Askeland says. She adds that you can provide a similar experience at home by teaching your Kuvasz more advanced obedience or complex tricks to keep her stimulated and active.
Because the Kuvasz's coat sheds hair right along with dirt, it requires regular care. But it's less labor-intensive than you might assume.
Brushing her weekly with a pin brush will keep her skin and coat healthy the majority of the year. And because her fur naturally repels dirt and water, baths are a rare necessity. But when summer arrives, be prepared for her to shed much more thoroughly. Make teeth brushing, regular nail trims, and trimming the fur on her feet part of her regular grooming routine to keep her looking and feeling her best.
The Kuvasz is a sensitive pup and, like all dogs, does best with consistent positive reinforcement training.
"They love their families and want to learn, work, and train, but they can push boundaries a little bit, too," Askeland says. "They're very independent."
Because they were bred to guard livestock on their own without human supervision, "it's important to develop a good relationship with boundaries early in ownership," Askeland says. She says it's important that your Kuvasz learns to look to you first before heading out to do what she wants, like going outside.
- Eyes and ears: "Progressive retinal atrophy, which can cause blindness—there is a genetic test available for this," Brown-Bury says. "They are also predisposed to distichiasis (abnormal eyelashes), persistent pupillary membranes, corneal dystrophy, and cataracts." She adds that congenital deafness also occurs in the breed.
- Orthopedic: Other inherited diseases include hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and patella luxation. These can all lead to arthritis and lameness. Brown-Bury says if you're bringing home a Kuvasz puppy, ask about the hips, elbows, and knees of parents and previous puppies. "Other orthopedic problems they are predisposed to include humeral osteochondritis dissecans and hypertrophic osteodystrophy," she says.
- Other concerns: "They are predisposed to hypothyroidism—twice more likely than the average canine population," Brown-Bury says. And, she adds, "they are a breed in which we will see degenerative myelopathy … which causes progressive weakness and deficits in the hind legs."
It's also worth noting that as a large, deep-chested breed, bloat—or gastric-dilation-volvulus (GDV) complex—is a concern. Owners should know signs to watch for and talk to their veterinarian about prevention methods, as bloat can quickly turn fatal.
The Kuvasz is an ancient breed with a long and illustrious history. It's believed that, in the late 9th century, the Magyar tribes conquered the region we now know as Hungary—and they brought along a mastiff-type dog called the Ku Assa, or "dog of the horse."
The version of the flock-guarding breed we recognize today originated in Hungary in the mid-15th century, where the dogs were bred for guardian work, hunting on great estates, and as King Matthias I of Hungary's personal protection detail. Matthias reigned during a turbulent time and it was said he trusted his Kuvaszok more than his human guards, according to the Kuvasz Club of America (KCA). He would occasionally give Kuvasz puppies from his kennels as gifts to noblemen.
The breed's popularity soared among those in noble and royal circles while Matthias sat on the throne. In fact, the only people allowed to own a Kuvasz were those given royal favor. But, after the king's death, those families became less interested in the enormous white dogs.
Kuvaszok became a staple amongst farmers and horsemen due to their ability to protect livestock, and in the late 1800s, Kuvasz breeders took note and began to standardize the breed. By the 1920s and 1930s, Hungary and Western Europe abounded with the fashionable Kuvasz.
However, the pendulum swung the other way when World War II began, according to the KCA. The Kuvasz guardians became a nuissance as Nazi and Soviet soldiers invaded Hungary, where they were eliminated. In some cases, the invading soldiers would take the dogs with them. By the time the war was over, less than 30 Kuvaszok could be found in Hungary. But thanks to devoted breeders, the breed made a comeback, particularly in her home country.
The first Kuvasz was registered in the United States in 1931 and then Kuvasz Club of America was formed in 1966. Today, the dogs can still be found working on farms and living as family companions.
- Kuvasz vs. Great Pyrenees: Can you tell the difference? At first glance, the Kuvasz may be easily mistaken for the Great Pyrenees, but the Kuvasz is more nimble and agile than her doppelgänger.
- Ever seen the movie Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco? You might recall Delilah, who was a Kuvasz.
- One recipient of Matthias' puppies was none other than Vlad the Impaler, the nobleman who inspired the famous vampire Dracula.