The German Shepherd is a German breed and in its native land there are no doubts about the breed's primary function or the intentions of the standard.
All dogs have a cross section of drives and instincts to some degree, as well as other types of instincts than those described here. Those outlined here, however, are considered the most essential to the mental makeup of this type of dog in obtaining effectiveness at its work within its historical role.
The successful education of a dog is founded on the imaginative utilization of meaningful manipulation of the dog's natural inheritances. As trainers we are able to utilize and manipulate only those natural instincts and traits each dog brings with him from birth. A trainer's own skill and ability is apparent in his capacity to activate and direct those drives into positive actions and reflexive responses. A trainer who accepts the basic differences in the fundamental abilities of each individual animal presented to him will take the time and effort to discover the range and depth of the material to achieve the best possible results.
Specifically then, what should we see in the potential "Schutzhund?"-or translated into English, in the potential "protection dog?"
The word sharpness is commonly misused and abused, to the extent that it creates a negative impression. Sharpness is a dog's constant readiness to react in a hostile manner to all real or imagined threats and stimuli. As trainers, when you analyze this statement, you'll quickly realize that too much sharpness is as undesirable as too little is. An "ideally sharp" dog is one that is far quicker to recognize and react to a REAL threat than one that may have too much or too little sharpness. In the German Shepherd, the medium ranges of sharpness are those most conductive to successful training results.
A key trait of the greatest importance is the disposition towards courage, because when it comes down to it, courage is the most indispensable trait to be found in any good working dog. Canines are pack animals who might not express their courage in quite the same form as humans would. Canine courage is an instinctive reaction and not a deliberate action. It's a reaction to actively confront a threat, and to move if necessary against any danger to himself or other pack members. A dog with a high level of courage needs no prompting and shows no hesitation in taking an active role in a fighting situation.
Dogs with little or no courage, regardless of how much "sharpness" they might
possess, will withdraw from any intense confrontation. Therefore a dog that has
only its "sharpness" to recommend it might make an acceptable watch dog, but
never a trustworthy or reliable Schutzhund.
Then, on occasion, we find a dog that although it displays all the hallmarks
of courage, is only with great difficulty, if at all, stimulated into assuming a
defensive stance. These dogs suffer from insufficient FIGHTING SPIRIT. This
drive can under no circumstances be absent from the mental makeup of a
Schutzhund. Fighting spirit is what it sounds like-the joy of the fight. A
constant readiness to measure and test one's own strength, also under
threatening conditions. This ability to seek to "cross swords" without being
lightly discouraged or distracted can be seen in a passive form in the "hold and
bark" section of manwork. Those dogs with outstanding fighting drive exhibit
great concentration and fierce intensity for the task.
Originating from these two traits is the protection instinct. There is a fine
line between this instinct and its opposite number, the instinct to flee. Those
trainers who lean heavily on this instinct should always be aware of the balance
of the scales. Certainly the use of the protection instinct in the building up
of a reliable Schutzhund is necessary, considering it has the advantage of being
an instinct that does not "wear out." Thi instinct to protect is one of basic
survival in life-threatening situations, therefore its enduring qualities and
its high level stimulation add great dimensions to the quality of the results in
training. Protection instinct can be observed in pack framework, where a dog
will protect himself or other pack members from would-be scavengers or
aggressors. The domestic dog extends this to include human pack members, such as
the owner and his immediate family. Using ONLY the protection instinct in the
training is not farsighted, as the high stress factor results in forms of
A less critical, but highly motivational drive is the PREY DRIVE-a non-aggressive drive, despite all of its explosive hallmarks. This drive is ideal for building up the young dog, and for maintaining a relaxed, learning frame of mind. Its greatest drawback is that it "wears out" if over used. Dogs worked exclusively on their prey drive become jaded and bored. An example can be seen where a dog with a high prey drive is highly motivated to chase and retrieve balls or sticks thrown for it. If the exercise continues without relief though, the interest will wane until the dog shows no further desire to chase anything thrown for it.
In the man work, dogs with high prey drives are early starters that achieve fast and often spectacular results, but its unrelieved use in developing the bite work results in the danger of fading performances and conflict situation breakdowns. Its play oriented rewards do not prepare the dog for any serious or aggressive man work. So it is a drive that is ideal as a learning aid, but in need of support from other key drives in producing a long-term high-level competition dog.
Another important trait in the working dog is temperament-one that is also an advantage in a show dog, particularly in Europe where dogs exhibited must stand free and not be placed in artificial positions.
For the trainer, temperament manifests itself in the dog's willingness to
work. Dogs with high temperament notice and react energetically to things
happening around them. An overly temperamental animal is difficult and
unrewarding to work with. Like those with insufficient temperament, these dogs
display little or no enthusiasm and are difficult to motivate. In the German
Shepherd we would like to see the temperament in the middle range.
One could not talk about Schutzhund and in particular the man work, without mentioning the degree of hardness a dog possesses. Some trainers identify hardness as those dogs which need severe corrections and methods to achieve a response. Others equate hardness with stubborness, found in those dogs that oppose correction. In fact, no dog is "stubborn" or enjoys being punished. There are no canine masochists, only poor trainers, so this understanding of hardness is not correct. A hard dog is one that has the ability to recover from, put behind him and even forget unpleasant experiences and situations very quickly; an important asset in any training program.
It is quite possible for a "soft" dog to display many other excellent Schutzhund traits. However, it's important for the trainer to recognize such an animal's limitations and apply his skill, tact, and patience to compensate for this deficit by utilizing the dog's stronger points. Certainly you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear or a lion out of a coward, but if a trainer is competent, he can make much out of very little. (An advantage if one is looking at a competition dog, but misleading if one is looking for a breeding prospect.)
With a softer dog it's important to give it more time to adjust to unpleasant situations and to go carefully when introducing new or stressful experiences, especially if there might be some pain or fright occurring. The harder a dog is, the quicker it is to adjust and shrug off any negative experiences. Therefore the harder dog is the one most suitable for novices or mediocre-to-average trainers who lack the fine sense needed to fulfill the potential of a weaker animal.
Furhigkeit is a German word for another necessary trait. There's no English equivalent, but what it means is the dog's connection to its owner/trainer and its responsiveness through this. It's a trait that gives polish to the end results.
Such dogs are sensitive, without meaning that they are nervous. Compared to duller animals, they are easy to manipulate and, like all drives, this one is either enhanced or suppressed by the quality of the training. Of course, no amount of training can produce what isn't there. Because of their low status in the pecking order, softer dogs are often "fuhrig," being sensitive to any kind of pressure from "above."
Such dogs make excellent obedience prospects in work that is not apt to take alarming or threatening turns. For the man work though, fuhrigkeit is better utilized when combined with other more robust traits, like courage and hardness.
Basic canine characteristics such as SELF-CONFIDENCE, IRRITATION LEVEL, and NERVE COSTUME also are playing their part in the foundation of a good Schutzhund.
Negative traits, such as shyness or nervousness can completely undermine the structure of the working abilities. Although these unwanted traits are easy to recognize in any day-to-day situation, in the man work they can be identified by the dog's body language and when put under stress. Dogs that "play harmonica" on the sleeve, or have a chewing gum grip, or bite only with the front teeth are (technique aside) clearly broadcasting their insecurity to the world. Also, dogs that growl and vocalize a lot on the sleeve are swimming in a sea of uncertainty. (The exception being the overly aggressive dog, in very rare cases.) Dogs displaying these signs in different degrees are crying out for help with their body language, and will be difficult to get committed to a full-force engagement. Overreaching such dogs is a common training mistake in early workouts, resulting in many soured or ruined animals being for sale from what might otherwise have been respectable "home ground" Schutzhunds.
At the bottom of the pile with no home of redemption is the fear biter. He is immediately identified in the man work by his curved body, laid back ears, and refusal to engage in any form of sustained eye or body contact.
Such dogs are an agitator's nightmare as they exhaust all human skills, and will take only quick, nasty swipes and nips at those points furthest away from the helper's eye contact. These wretched animals are in an almost constant state of stress and ever ready to flee at the slightest threat. Such cowards can only be swindled through their trials (with the help of a blind judge) and invariably never come to anything.
High self-confidence and a thick nerve costume brings stability to the work. It is frustrating to see the dog with well-over-average working abilities that is handicapped by a thin nerve costume. This does not necessarily mean the dog is "nervous." The dog may be one that is highly strung or hypersensitive. They invariably blow more trials than they pass. Once again, trainer skill counts for a lot in the success of these dogs in competition.
The variation in the degree that each animal has these traits will set the limits on its potential and the final results. That is why every trainer needs to make it his business to learn where each dog has its strengths and weaknesses. As every breeder must make it his business to learn also if he wants to improve on these qualities for future generations.