Temperament

2006 DPCA National Breeder´s Seminar

Nancy E Christensen/Renejade Dobermans 

  You cannot breed for correct temperament if you a not sure what exactly, constitutes correct temperament.  

You cannot know the strong and weak points of a dog’s temperament unless you test drive levels, resilience, compliance, nerve costume and the like; any more than you can breed for correct conformation without knowing exactly what correct conformation is and how to evaluate the strong and weak points when choosing breeding pairs. 

Would you trust luck when breeding for a correct head? That is exactly the method that is too often employed with temperament. You have all heard “Of course he will protect me/my house/my car; he is a Doberman!”

So many breeders have no idea how to properly define and evaluate the aspects of temperament and character. Because of this, they are often fooled into thinking a dog has a “good” temperament- out of ignorance or delusion. 

Example: 

Dog “A” is fearful of gunfire (gun sensitive)

Dog “B” has never been exposed to gunfire 

Does this mean Dog “B” is not gun sensitive?

Does knowing that Dog “A” is gun sensitive mean that you would not want to breed to him? Would you choose Dog “B” instead, since he is not known to be gun sensitive? 

There is no way to know if Dog “B” is gun sensitive or not without testing. 

Would you be able to make a better breeding choice if both dogs were tested?


Define “temperament”.  

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Main Entry: temoperoaoment

Function: noun

Etymology: Middle English, from Latin temperamentum, from temperare to mix, temper 

1 obsolete a : constitution of a substance, body, or organism with respect to the mixture or balance of its elements, qualities, or parts 

3 a : the peculiar or distinguishing mental or physical character determined by the relative proportions of the humors according to medieval physiology b : characteristic or habitual inclination or mode of emotional response

Temperament implies a pattern of innate characteristics associated with one’s specific physical and nervous organization temperament>. 

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What does the Standard say? Energetic, watchful, determined, alert, fearless, loyal and obedient.

Main Entry: enoerogetoic

Function: adjective

Etymology: Greek energetikos, from energein to be active, from energos

1: operating with or marked by vigor or effect

2: marked by energy 

3: of or relating to energy

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Main Entry: watchoful

Function: adjective

2: carefully observant or attentive: being on the watch

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Main Entry: deoteromined

Function: adjective

1: having reached a decision: firmly resolved <determined to be a pilot>

2 a: showing determination determined effort> b: characterized by determination

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Main Entry: alert

Function: adjective

Etymology: Italian all’ erta, literally, on the ascent

1 a: watchful and prompt to meet danger or emergency b: quick to perceive and act

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Main Entry: fearoless

Function: adjective

: free from fear: BRAVE

Main Entry: 1brave

Function: adjective

Inflected Form(s): bravoer; bravoest

Etymology: Middle French, from Old Italian & Old Spanish bravo courageous, wild, probably from Latin barbarus barbarous

1: having courage

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 Main Entry: loyoal

Function: adjective

Etymology: Middle French, from Old French leial, leel, from Latin legalis legal

1: unswerving in allegiance: as a : faithful in allegiance to one’s lawful sovereign or government b: faithful to a private person to whom fidelity is due c : faithful to a cause, ideal, custom, institution, or product

2: showing loyalty

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Main Entry: obeodioent

Function: adjective

Etymology: Middle English, from Old French, from Latin oboedient-, oboediens, from present participle of oboedire to obey

: Submissive to the restraint or command of authority: willing to obey

Obedient implies compliance with the demands or requests of one in authority <obedient to the government>.


There are many methods of evaluation. You must know the parameters of correct temperament. You must test. You make time for what is important to you. If correct temperament is really important in your breeding goals, you can find/make the time to test and evaluate.

Levels of testing range from simple observations in the home to the highest levels of competition, again, you must define the parameters that are important to you, while still remaining within the definitions of correct.

 Departing from the Standard in temperament is not only incorrect; it has a profound effect on breed type.

Testing will help to identify levels of compliance, resilience, focus, concentration, attitude, learning ability and learning retention. For those willing to commit to the highest levels, testing can also include evaluating the grips (full? calm? hard?), response to pressure from the environment, the handler or the helper. Response to pressure includes displacement behaviors, recovery from stress and clear-headedness.

The WAE is a baseline method of testing and gaining information. The observations made during the test are more important than if the dog should pass or fail. Different parts of the WAE test sociability, sound sensitivity, sight sensitivity, recovery from stress, compliance and recognition/response to a threat.

Training towards the goal of a defined title provides more information. The *real* reason (aside from personal enjoyment) for working a dog in any performance event, is not “can the dog title?” or how many titles you can attain. The *real* reason is so that the BREEDER can learn about temperament and drives within a consistent set of performance requirements.

The higher the level of training, the more information will be gained. If a dog is never trained to jump, you cannot know what the response and recovery is when the dog hits a jump. Until a dog falls from a dogwalk, you don´t know what his reaction will be, the effect it will have on attitude, recovery time and willingness to continue working.

A dog that is never tested will never show weakness. However, it will never show strength.

The key to training is not what titles the dog/handler team accomplish or how quickly, nor are the scores of highest importance. The real key to training in the higher levels (CDX and UD levels, advanced Agility, protection sports) is what the handler learns about the dog through the training. Until the training advances past the basics, it is difficult (if not impossible) to separate and identify the drive levels in order to really evaluate temperament. Many trainers have no idea of the difference between a dog working in prey or play, or the difference between a dog challenging the handler through displacement behavior or through rank drive.

In training, it is important to learn about more than just one´s own dog. Attending a class or club situation is one of the best ways to accomplish this. A group situation gives the handler a great deal of information. The handler has the opportunity to see a variety of dogs (usually different breeds and ages) in a working environment, thus being able to observe some of the many combinations of drives and training methods that work (and don´t work) on each. Usually the handler is far less biased in evaluating the drives of someone else´s dog than their own! Eventually, the handler realizes that it is far easier to understand what the dog is and deal with it, than to make excuses for it. At that point, the breeder is able to begin to know what they want and do not want to accomplish as a breeder in a far more precise manner than before they were training, and they have the tools to make more precise evaluations.

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