While this article will for the most part cover one breed - this is a sad state of affairs in many breeds.
What follows is a great educational read for both pet owners and breeders — and trainers as well!
We quote the famous Max Von Stephanitz as he is where it all began
“The most striking features of the correctly bred German Shepherds are firmness of nerves, attentiveness, unshockability, tractability, watchfulness, reliability and incorruptibility, together with courage, fighting tenacity and hardness”.
I encourage every breeder to read this. The man who created this amazing breed kept this noted.
Honestly, I can name very few, perhaps two, German Shepherds I have met in the last few years that I would apply this description too.
What does this mean in real life?
Firmness of nerves would ensure your dog is not going to spook easily, they will disregard loud noises, not fear new surfaces easily, adjust very quickly to any environmental stimulus.
A shepherd should be handler-focused and not care much for others, especially people not in his family. He should be trustworthy and not react with fear or aggression under any circumstance unless the handler requires protection.
Hardness? This dog does not seek attention from strangers but rather simply a quick meet and retreat confidently. If you are breeding anything less than this I would encourage you to take a step back and regroup. If you are looking at puppies whose parents are anything less than this, I would walk away. If you are training a dog who does not display these characteristics — tread carefully.
Only Breed Well-Tempered Working Dogs
‘Breeding should never be made with animals that are not in work. The proof of the education of the dog for work is a necessity for admission for breeding, rather than Show honours, which afford a very misleading idea of a dog’s value for breeding.’ - Max v Stephanitz.
After attending the Canadian German Shepherd Nationals and watching so many specialties, as well as being in the show ring with this breed, I hold this criteria as extremely important.
We are so lucky to have such stunning dogs in the rings these days. I have noticed the dogs have become more balanced with not so much extreme angulations and roach backs. Most of the dogs showing, including some of the tops in the Country, are without a single working title.
The explanation of ‘He’s a show dog’ is the lamest excuse for such an intelligent breed like the GSD. We know this dog can pass a Canine Good Neighbor exam, achieve a Rally or Obedience title, and best a herding title — since they are indeed a fence line for sheep. Take that beautiful gate you strive for and show us what it can do.
The times I’ve been in rings with dogs who have lunged aggressively at others, bit judges, shied away and even urinated out of fear, shaking from stress, is well double the amount I see of rock solid, happy stable dogs entering. The saddest part is judges allowing these dogs to continue in the ring.
There is much scientific evidence proving that temperament is absolutely hereditary, up to 60% can be relayed directly to your dogs pedigree. Yet we see so many who continue to breed dogs with poor temperament, knowingly prepared to crush the wishes of puppy buyers, wreak havoc on families and possibly have devastating effects on anyone coming into contact with this growing animal.
To the Puppy Purchaser
Meet the Dam
If you are a puppy buyer reading this you want to meet the dam of the puppy you are buying and if she displays one single personality trait you aren’t happy with, leave. This dam is raising your puppy: if she is fearful she will teach and create fear in her puppies. If she resources guards, her puppies will likely follow suit.
While of course what you do with your dogs and how you raise them absolutely plays a profound effect on them for their lifespan – 60% speaks for itself!
In the 1970’s, Murphree and colleagues began to study the difference between normal and fearful lines of Pointers. In cross-fostering experiments, puppies from fearful parents were raised by normal mothers. These puppies still turned out fearful, in spite of proper socialization and a confident role model.
Have a Temperament Test Completed
When looking for a puppy, I don’t recommend getting one without a full Volhard puppy test or temperament test completed. While of course with maturation there are other factors, this will give you a good prediction for what you have for a personality type.
If your puppy is quiet and not engaged with the handler this could indicate possible fear issues or shut-down behaviours as an adult. If the puppy is high-drive you may have a dog who likes to herd, nip or become highly aroused with snow throwing etc. If the puppy is engaged and willing to work, you may have an excellent companion dog.
These tests are not completed by the breeder and preferably done in a new space away from mom and done individually. Don’t ever feel bad for a shy puppy, this is your companion for the next 12 plus years – you want to pick him carefully! This also applies to any rescue dog as well!
Raising Your Puppy Means Training Your Puppy
‘Training must give us dogs of the right sharpness, produced by intelligent keeping, careful training, purposeful schooling, which complete the work of the breeder, but the foundations must be already there’.
The lack of time training puppies has the most significant effect after temperament. When puppy people contact me with a dog reaching sexual or social maturity the time, commitment and work will be profound, so much so that some dogs will never recuperate due to the level of commitment on their handler.
The second your puppy arrives they are learning, take advantage and start training immediately with the help of a professional you trust!
Your Dog Should Meet the Breed's Standards
‘We have already agreed that our shepherd dog is a service dog and that he must only be bred as a service dog. He must, therefore … only be judged as a service dog. With service dogs, suitability ranks higher than beauty.’
That being said - should your dog not meet the standards of a German Shepherd Dog then your breeder should hear about it. If you have completed your part and worked with commitment, then your dog should meet the breed standard for temperament.
If you have purchased a dog without papers then not only is your breeder not tracking possible medical faults but would also have very limited records of temperament issues and so on. So while many say ‘I don’t need papers’. They do provide more importance than the beauty of the dog.
Everyone who loves the GSD needs to focus on this defect, it is taking over our beloved breed in large numbers; more than ever before. If you are judging this breed, please follow our standard, be bold and hold temperament as the most important factor.
Breeders, you hold it all in your hands, don’t ruin the love for our breed by creating dogs with distasteful personality traits you’d hate to have yourself.
Buyers beware, get help from trainers, breed clubs and references from others to ensure you are buying from the best breeder. A show record with a magnitude of wins shows you nothing but a pretty dog that has been trained to show off.
Do you need trustworthy professional canine services references, contact April - she will be happy to help!