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Interpreting The WAE

Question from Michelle Santana, Foxfire Dobermans
Hi Ray,
I hope this post isn’t too tedious for you but I think there are a lot of beginners and oldies too, who are maybe taking their first dog thru the WAE, that are on this list who are just beginning to grasp what you guys and gals are trying to convey to us with your posts about utilizing tests/observations to make better breeding decisions. I hope I can convey what I’m asking you about on this ‘flat’ surface, so here goes…

You both have spoken about the WAE and what it means to breeders and owners in its use as a “Tool” in evaluating their dogs’ temperaments in a basic way. By no means do you indicate that a breeder or owner stop there but lets face it, most breeders and owners aren’t going to flock to the Schutzhund field or to the Utility ring to further test their Doberman. So, focusing on breeders and owners utilizing the WAE as a way to make better breeding choices temperamentally, as they pertain to the dog they submit to the test makes me wonder how the test information is to be assimilated by the average Joe Blow breeder.

For example, when we submit our Doberman to the vWd test, the results come back with ‘breed your Clear to ABC, breed your Carrier to EF, breed your Affected to Y’.

When we go through the WAE we don’t get a little booklet telling us what ,specifically, to do with the information we are handed on the  score sheet. (hint, hint) For instance, although I don’t have a test sheet in front of me so I’m pulling obstacles randomly out of memory … the WAE starts out with the:
friendly and neutral strangers. What should this tell an owner about their dog? Then there is the shaking can and umbrella. What should this tell an owner about their dog? The can and strange surfaces and gun shot? What does this tell the owner about their dog? And finally comes the aggressive stranger. Pass or fail, what does this tell the owner about their dog?

Upon scoring completion of the WAE test, how should the information given be utilized in making a breeding decision? If a dog fails a particular obstacle what does that mean in terms of selecting a better breeding mate?  i.e: only breed to a dog that passes this obstacle?

If a dog fails several obstacles of the WAE, how does a breeder decide which obstacle’s reaction/failure is more important to focus on when making a breeding decision for that particular dog. Let’s say a breeding companion is not available to strengthen everything required and you as the breeder had to make a choice … how does a breeder pick what weakness to strengthen? (i.e. : a dog fails the can/gunshot and the  aggressive stranger. Should the breeder focus on finding a breeding companion that helps strengthen the can/gunshot reaction or a breeding partner that helps strengthen the protective/courage/drive reaction?

I sure hope this makes sense to you.

Answer from Ray Carlisle, Cara

Hi Michelle,
Yes, your questions make a lot of sense and need to be very carefully answered! For most, it is much harder to understand mentality than it is to understand structure. A dog’s reactions or responses to various stimuli give the educated eye a good idea at the genetic make up of the dog. HOWEVER, it is impossible to know, what, if any, the effect training or the environment has had on the reaction. When a dog has been trained to react to the stimuli rather than have a natural reaction, the difference can be extreme. Training is not genetics! A trained dog reacts much different from an untrained dog. A breeder can see and discuss the AKC Standard of the breed and compare it to what they see in their dog with some guidance from the experienced breeder. This is not the same when speaking of mentality and reactions to stimuli. This requires years of experience and the average person is not going to have the interest much less the expertise!

Regarding your basic questions: How would a breeder take the results of a WAE and use it in the whelping box? Let’s start with some basics! The WAE is divided into 2 basic behavior categories, “Approach” and “Avoidance.” Reactions to the stimuli are scored according to the response from a +3 to a – -3. The + 3 being a strong approach reaction and -3 being a panic avoidance reaction! In general a good breeder, when selecting breeding partners, would never double up on an “avoidance” reaction, but rather would try to double up on the stronger “approach” reactions. This compares to a good breeder never doubling up on structural faults like breeding 2 long soft back dogs, but, would breed 2 short back dogs with strong top lines. This same logic holds for the other parts of the test with some variation! When a breeder is faced with the decision of what is more important the question must be asked! What is the purpose of my breeding? If the breeder is breeding for a more confident stable dog, they sure would not want to breed to anything that was not a +2 or +3 score on the “Threat,” especially on the approach and confrontation part. Then it is equally important to have a
stable dog that can calm down and return to a “Normal” state after the stimuli. A stable dog will not have a problem regaining a calm, confident, attitude after the stimuli but a nervous unstable dog will! If a dog fails SEVERAL parts of the WAE, IMO, it should not be bred. But, if it fails one part and it is a part that my male or female has scored a +2 or +3 and I really need other things this dog has to offer then I might take the chance depending on what I have seen produced in other litters. We don’t need to go into a deep discussion of mentality and evaluating the good and bad reactions to things but, I hope people understand the “WAE” can give us a lot of basic breeding information. Those who really care about preserving and protecting our breed and don’t have time or the interest to do more advanced testing will put there dogs through the WAE test. I really hope every one of you will do your best to help improve our breed and test your dogs! The future depends on it!

Question from Michelle Santana, Foxfire

HI again Ray,

Thank You very much for your candid answers this is really a great thread! I have one more question if you don’t mind. You wrote: HOWEVER, it is impossible to know, what, if any, the effect training or the environment has had on the reaction. When a dog has been trained to react to the stimuli rather than have a natural reaction the difference can be extreme. This is a very key difference as you state.

I’m wondering, if you are a Breeder with a bitch, and in fact, you do want to breed to a Stud that has been through a WAE and scored a  particular way on certain stimuli, is it important to know, if the stud owner is candid enough to share, if the stud you are considering went through the WAE  ‘honestly with  no prior training to the stimuli or is it significant to know that the potential stud went thru the WAE a prior time or two in some cases and failed certain stimuli that you are interested in strengthening and had that he had to be trained to react properly to that stimuli?

The long and short of it is, does it really make a difference In breeding better temperaments if a dog reacted properly from the gut with no training or if the dog reacted properly because of training (i.e; prior training/exposure to ensure a pr
oper reaction (i.e sleeve/threat work prior to testing)

Is it enough to know that if a dog fails, for example, the aggressive stranger stimuli the first time (gut reaction) but was capable of doing some homework and to be resubmitted to the WAE and passed. Should both these situations be considered as a ‘good’ pass, because even though the dog failed the first time, it was capable of being trained to respond properly for the second attempt? Should breeders start asking how many attempts did it take your dog to pass or did you do any training before your first attempt through the WAE?

Thanks for your time Ray, I know you’re a real busy man and it’s very kind of you to share your knowledge with us!!

Answer from Ray Carlisle, Cara Dobermans

Hi Michelle,
Good questions! Breeding a dog requires us to examine both breeding pairs and consider as many aspects of their physical and genetic makeup as possible. The physical components can be seen with the naked eye and compared to our understanding of the standard. We all know that what you see is not always what you get when you breed. This is where understanding of the genetic makeup takes over. Line breeding or doubling on the same genetic structural components is more likely to reproduce similar components versus breeding different or opposite structural components which will result in unpredictable reproduction of these components. When we consider breeding for mentality we need to understand both “Natural” and “Conditioned” components or traits. Living with a dog and knowing it’s makeup is more of an understanding of “Conditioned” responses. We normally do the same things daily and react the same way to things daily, etc. This creates a conditioned response! If we train our dogs we see conditioned responses.

A “natural” response starts with the original “imprinting” of the puppy through normal experiences, usually during the first 8-20 weeks of it’s life. If the owner or breeder properly imprints the puppy to various stimuli, rewards good behavior and responses, and inappropriate behavior is not rewarded nor punished, rather redirected so no imprint occurs, a natural conditioned response develops. This sounds more complicated than it really is, but, everything mentally starts when the dog is a puppy! The genetic makeup of the dog will not change! However, the way we condition our dogs will have a marked effect on their responses to stimuli. If we condition our dogs not to bark at strangers and command them to keep quite most of the time, it is not a “natural” reaction for the dog to bark when a stranger acts weird! However, if the stranger acts in a threatening manner the dog should show a natural protective response, an approach behavior and not an avoidance behavior! Training will not make the unstable dog pass the test! Training may get the dog through parts of the test but when the build up of stress related to the other portions of the tests develops, the unstable dog will break and have an “avoidance” reaction no matter how much training you have done.

The example you gave of the dog that failed the threat, your words “aggressive stranger” portion and followed by the comment that some homework was done and the dog passed the second time. You ask if this is a good pass? In general, Yes! But it also depends on if the first pass was because the dog did not perceive the test as a threat and had no response! Remember the “Threat” part of the test requires a +1 reaction which means it must show “approach” behavior. Training that brings out the approach behavior is fine, but training will not make a “strong approach behavior” if the dog does not have the required confidence to start with. “Flight” is a much stronger response than “Fight” so it requires a dog with self confidence to fight back at a threat rather than run away! I hope this helps!