Temperament & Behavior: Breeder's Tools

by Vic Monteleon, Montwood Dobermans

INTRODUCTION

A terrorist bomb has just exploded in a car outside a large federal building. Amidst the rubble and carnage are people buried alive. SAR teams…people and their dogs are called in to locate the survivors and cadavers.

Across town a suspicious looking man in a vehicle seen moments ago trailing that bomb car has just run a red light. The Police/Canine unit gives chase. The man jumps out of his car and runs. The man sends his dog, who chases, catches, and slams into the fleeing suspect, bringing him down. The dog grasps the man´s arm and holds him in a vise-like grip until the policeman arrives and arrests him

Dogs, such as those depicted in the vignettes, are BORN with the aptitude to do the work, then they are TRAINED to excel at it.  The behavioral traits necessary to achieve such dogs can be strongly influenced by breeding…selection for specific instincts and drives, which have been demonstrated to be genetic in nature. They can be selected just as carefully and with forethought as we select traits for outstanding conformation.

First some myths and facts:

Myth: High-drive dogs are impossible to live with. They are too hyper.

Fact: Drive only applies to dogs when engaged in work to satisfy those drives. A high drive dog can either be hyper or laid back when not working…depending on his genetic predisposition

Myth: Dogs trained to do protection work are vicious and untrustworthy.

Fact: A dog trained to reliability in protection work must be anything BUT vicious. In my scenario above, a dog chases, takes down, and holds a suspect. He doesn´t attack him, try to kill him, or savage him. A dog who´s vicious by nature could never be trained for this work. A protection, or police dog is a high drive, an under control dog, not a savage killer. 

WHAT TRAITS SHOULD A WORKING DOBERMAN POSSESS?

  • Strong prey drive

  • Strong pack drive/social attraction

  • Strong play drive

  • Strong defense drive, but moderate threat/suspicion threshhold

  • Tenaciousness…especially when engaged in mock combat

  • Stability

  • Bounce-back…or rapid recovery from stressful situations

  • Solid nervous system…almost no sight or sound sensitivity

  • High degree of alertness to the environment…with an almost innate ability to recognize things that are “out of the pattern”…that don´t belong.

  • A dogs personality can be aloof to outgoing. A mild distrust of strangers is also allowable. Preference here depends on the owner´s lifestyle.

  • Strong desire to use paws and mouth when investigating things

  • Keen scenting desire. This leads to a “deep nose” in tracking/trailing.

  • Willingness to work…sees work as fun, not stress

The Breed Standard says “energetic, watchful, determined, alert, fearless, loyal, and obedient…with no trace of shyness or viciousness”. It goes on to say that a belligerent attitude toward other dogs is not to be deemed viciousness. BUT, let me state unequivocally…dog aggression is UNSATISFACTORY in a working dog. Intolerance for other dogs seems to show up in families, so be on guard for this. There is also a strong environmental/training influence on this.

SO WHAT TOOLS DO WE AS BREEDERS HAVE? 

PUPPIES

  1. The primary tool is observation over time…especially from 6 weeks to 3 months 
  2. Puppy Tests
  •             Social Attraction

  •             Following Attraction

  •             Tug-of-War

  •             Fetch Test

  •             Separation/Dependence … the “V barrier”

  •             Various dominance/submissiveness tests

  •             Novelty tests…sounds, sights, smells

ADULTS

The best tool for determining temperament in adults is what they teach you when you TRAIN THEM. Obedience, Agility, Tracking, tricks classes, protection work, Schutzhund. Of them all, Schutzhund, or the other protection sports are probably the best.

Adult Tests

The primary test we have in DPCA is the WAE. It tests
stability, reaction to novelty, bounce-back from stress, defense drive, suspicion level, and degree of outgoingness. If one takes a dog through without conditioning/habituation to the stimuli, valuable information can be gained as to what you´re working with. If you attempt to habituate the dog before the actual WAE, the responses during that process will give you information on what you have as well. What you DO with that information is the critical reason for the existence of the WAE…NOT THE TITLE!!!!

The WAE is scored on a sliding scale based on the strength of either approach or avoidance to specific stimuli. A strong avoidance reaction is scored -3. A strong approach reaction is scored +3. No measureable response gets a zero. People often ask…what reaction is best, and I tell them, it depends on the test. On the gunshot…the best response is a very mild acknowledgement, or no discernable response. We´re looking for the absence of gun shyness. On the hidden clattering, we´re looking for curiosity and a willingness to investigate. Same with the umbrella test. On the neutral and friendly strangers, we´re looking primarily for absence of aggression…and anything from aloof/distrustful (mild) behavior to very outgoing. On the footing test, we´re looking for a willingness to step on and cross both of them. On the threat the ideal response is curiosity at the crossing stranger, becoming alertness on approach, which then becomes self-defensive upon the threat presentation. In other words…here, a +1/+2/+3 would, to me, be more desirable than all +3´s. Not that all +3´s is a bad response…it´s not! Any minus response on any test save the neutral and friendly stranger is not desirable…and on the non-threatening strangers, the avoidance must be very mild.

I have seen dogs that were tough as nails show mild avoidance to neutral and friendly strangers. The avoidance isn´t shyness. It´s more like distrustfulness… or more appropriately, distastefulness. They don´t give their friendship away for free…you have to earn it. Many early dogs of our breed were like this. 

BREEDING STRATEGIES 

  • Double up on virtues

  • Breed away from faulty behavior…once you´ve ascertained that the behavior is likely genetic. How do you suspect genetic involvement? Tendencies run in families…littermates, regardless of environment.

  • Get involved in TRAINING your dogs! This is, perhaps, the most important thing. Just showing and training for the breed ring isn´t enough. The characteristics of a good show dog are common to all breeds. We´re talking DOBERMAN here.

  • Put egos aside…and take the WAE COLD…with no prior conditioning. If you want, condition for the next WAE.

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