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Form Follows Function

by May and Arnold Jacobson, USA
A Discussion of the Doberman Pinscher As A Working Dog

There are more than 140 different breeds of dogs and many of these breeds have specialized functions.  A border collie was designed to herd sheep. Some of the sporting dogs were developed to hunt and some to retrieve. Many of these dogs have sub-specialties, such as Foxhounds bred to specifically hunt only foxes.  Some functions, such as dog fighting, are now illegal, so today some of these functions are no longer practical or possible.  Breeders want to maintain both the physical and mental character which defines their breed and we are fortunate as Doberman fanciers that we have a breed that was meant to serve man as a guardian and companion.

The original purpose of the Doberman was to serve as a loyal companion, personal protector and guard dog.  In today’s society, many people will not tolerate biting dogs.  In a situation where a human being is in danger and the companion dog bites the assailant, and even in instances where the Doberman has exhibited heroic character in defending his master, the expense of mounting a defence in court is very costly.  Many home insurance companies will not write insurance if one has a Doberman.

Two children were killed so far this summer by Rottweilers; others were injured in a number of other dog attacks.  In all cases these were untrained, untested dogs, owned by the unknowledgeable.  All dogs should have the basic instinct to bite because they are carnivores.  In an ideal world all dogs would be character evaluated and owners would have to be educated in minimal training.  A well-trained Doberman with a courteous responsible owner is a delightful companion and a responsible member of the society he shares with mankind.

Schutzhund is a sport whose purpose is to evaluate the character of the dogs under stress and in controlled situations.  It is a team sport wherein a handler, working with the dog, who must perform at a far distance from the handler, still has his dog under his control  The character of the dog participating in the sport can easily be observed and evaluated.  With experience, one can determine a large number of genetic character traits and the impact of these traits on the behavior and performance capability of any dog.  One can actually anticipate certain behaviors from certain dogs — positively and negatively.  We will call this activity dog sport.  As in other sports the aim is not to hurt but instead to test the limits of performance and refinements of the competence under predetermined rules.  Sport dog activity is not protection training.

The performance of an animal in the sport provides the breeder with feedback which can indicate soundness of character.  It reveals as well, unstable dogs and dogs which will not respond to good training — those dogs which turn out to be dangerous dogs.  Low energy dogs, those dogs which lack focus and drive, nervous dogs, dogs which are regarded as overly sensitive, fearful dogs, or animals which are insecure or soft canines can be classified. Dogs that bite indiscriminately never make good sport dogs or any other kind of companion.  In this sport they are not tolerated and are dismissed early for improper character.  All these character flaws lead to problem dogs which haunt the breed like cancer or other well known genetic disorders.

Many people who are breeding do not know what character flaws their dogs possess, nor do they have the knowledge base or information to correctly evaluate temperament.  This void of evaluation more often than not leads to poor breeding decisions.  The lack of stability leads to problems that are sometimes breed related.  Gareth Jones states from a 1994 Canine Chronicle article “the preservation of breed integrity and type is one of those human endeavors that requires understanding, commitment, and above all knowledge. Knowledge of a breed’s history, its function it’s past and present.”

Many of us started out as conformation enthusiasts and in order to be winners we began to examine how the function of dogs should determine the conformation of our breed.  “What is the dog supposed to do?” One might prudently ask.  This is a basic problem of engineering.  What are the expectations of this particular entity?  The dog must jump over a one meter wall carrying a dumbbell.  He must also climb over a 1.8 meter inclined wall with the dumbbell.  In order to perform well he must be agile and strong.  Medium size with muscle mass is most desirable.  A taller dog needs more bone and muscle mass to go along with his height, and becomes less agile or he becomes more refined.  If the dog is too small or refined he doesn’t have the strength to grip and hold the man firmly.  How the dog is structured in the forequarters, or as breeders say, “the front assembly” becomes critical since the forequarters have to absorb the impact of striking the ground. Straight forequarters is somewhat like a car without springs.  The shock of landing takes its toll after a period of time causing avoidance due to pain or injury.  The pasterns that are too straight also are a problem since straight pasterns do not absorb enough energy when the dog strikes the ground.  A dog with better angles, strong bones, good muscles and strong ligaments in the pasterns and elbows can more easily absorb the impact.  The toes should be a cat-like foot of good size to spread the pressure of the landing impact over a larger area.  Tiny, little ball feet, or flat, hare-like feet are not functional and could lead to injury over time. A proper layback of the upper arm can mean smooth action, greater ability to cover ground with less effort and less wear and tear on the animal.  It can most definitely prolong the working life of the dog.

In the first exercise of SCHIII or man-work, the dog must search an area the size of a football field with energy and speed to find the hidden bad man.  Thus a dog must have good angles – relationship of bone to bone, in both the front and rear in order to have maximum drive in the rear quarters and reach (extension) in the front quarters. This means he must have a strong top line  or back for the task at hand, as the energy is transmitted from the rear to the front by way of a solid top line.  The top line that bounces up and down is an energy waster.  A back which is too stiff or roached restricts full  extension and rear drive while in the gallop.  The croup should be slightly rounded, for too high a tail set flattens the croup, changes the angle of the pelvis and causes the rear legs to waste energy by lifting too high in it’s rear motion.  The upper and lower thigh bone should be of equal lengths.  Too long a lower thigh especially if weakly muscled causes instability in the rear.  The point of the toe should be under the hip.  The rear end should be as wide as the front to maintain balance and power in rear drive.  The front elbows and pasterns should not flip in or out as this can be a big energy waster, and cause instability.

For endurance, he must have a deep chest with ample room for heart and lungs.  The dog must not waste a lot of energy by running inefficiently in the search to get ready for his confrontation with the bad man. When he finds the man in a hidden blind he must hold him in position by sitting close to the bad man and barking to alert his handler.  He must epitomize what those in football refer to as the “iles”.  Agile, hostile and mobile.  This is a position of not biting but controlling while the handler is about fifty yards away.  In the next situation the dog is in a down position and the helper/bad man tries to escape with a fast run.  Our hero must have great acceleration, catch the man, grip an
d hold him. Medium size is important;  too big and clumsy, he may not catch him.  Too small and he can’t hold him.  This requires substantial strength and a strong powerful neck that is not too refined or long.  The dog must have a broad wedge head with a full jaw which brings strength for a full hard grip, because dogs with narrow heads and/or lack of under jaw cannot hold the man or he can be shaken and lose his hold.

In the next exercise, the man is walking about 5 paces in front when he suddenly turns to attack the dog and handler, and man and dog have close hand to hand combat.  This is where a strong neck flowing into powerful shoulders becomes critical.  The man charges into the dog and the neck and shoulders of the dog must absorb the collision with the man.  Dogs can get their necks jammed in this exercise.  The long elegant neck going into straight shoulders could lead to cervical injury problems due to the man-dog impact. When the neck flows into a well laid back shoulder there is less chance of vertebral injury, because the impact is spread over a larger area rather than being concentrated in one small area.  Heavy bone is necessary to withstand the contact of the charge between man and dog.  If we use a football game as an analogy our dog would be a linebacker, and the man would be a fullback charging through the line to be tackled by the forward moving linebacker and bring him down.  The Rottweiler, who is slower and stronger, in this analogy would be equivalent to our lineman.  We certainly don’t want our Doberman to be built like an elegant and refined long distance runner, as he would be easily struck down by the charging fullback running into him.

In the final part of the test, the dog must pursue the helper/bad man who is running away.  He turns and charges the dog.  The dog continues the pursuit and makes contact with the helper; like two moving trains coming head on.  The dog must grip the sleeve with his powerful jaws and hang on while he is spun around.  This is the most difficult problem for the dog, because it tests his courage, hardness, fighting drive and will.  A Doberman with good strong character and correct temperament will always take the fight to the man.  A strong powerful neck, head and shoulders are required for this physical challenge.  Good bone and substance, and powerful musculature area must to prevent injury.

As the Doberman standard states “The appearance is that of a dog of medium size, and a body that is square.  Compactly built, muscular and powerful, for great endurance and speed.  Elegant in appearance, of proud carriage, reflecting great nobility and temperament.  Energetic, > watchful, determined, alert, fearless, loyal and obedient. Conformation breeders select a stud dog by looking at two dimensional pictures or watching the dog trotting at a show or looking at a video.

The character of our breed has already evolved into a low energy, sensitive and somewhat insecure canine.  We need more knowledgeable breeder/fanciers to gain knowledge of character and change this degenerating spiral.  Conformation fads that are not held in check by functional requirements lead to a slow erosion of breed type.  If we go too far in the evolution of breeds from their original purpose, both conformation and character, we will have created (although gradually) a different breed; perhaps a generic show dog.