Back in the 1980’s I threw myself into the world of dog training. I set off to do a two-month internship in training personal protection dogs. It was there I became acquainted with the importance of puppy socialization. I would also learn – though it would be seven years later—the critical role genetics plays in a dog’s inherent drive and behavior.
I bought my first German Shepherds from that kennel. Skip was 10 weeks old when I met him. He was being raised in a kennel, but we spent many hours each day playing together and training.
Skip’s father was an American-bred GSD with a laid-back temperament. His mother was European, and was a titled Schutzhund dog. He pulled from both – he had the jovial, good nature of his sire and a love for the game of protection work from his dam.
One day we were working a GSD named Utz in an agitation exercise. Skippy was tied up along the fence line yapping out orders to Utz:
“Get’em Utz! Get ‘em! Tear ‘em up, Utz,”
When at last the agitator came within reach, Utz leaped off the ground and the padded sleeve with the full force of his 90-pound body.
Skip’s eyes grew wide. He was speechless. His rear end sunk to the ground and his mouth hung agape.
We finished the exercise and Skippy still had stars in his eyes. He followed Uts around with Hero Worship dripping all over both of them. “Wow, Utz. When I grow up I’m gonna be just like you,” he fawned.
He did too. He always loved protection work, and although we never worked in Schutzhund or Ring Sport or other protection sports, that early memory was always visible – in a good way—in the make up of who Skip was. Needless to say, I always felt safe when he was with me.
I got a second dog from that kennel. Gaol’s damn and sire were Schutzhund III titled dogs, and that breeding produced high-drive dogs. “High-drive” is a term used in the training and breeding world to denote a dog that is committed to accomplishing his goal of pursuing his prey or completing his mission.
Examples of dogs that usually have high-drive include (for example):
- Dutch Shepherd
- Border Collie
- Cattle Dog
You will notice the German Shepherd is not listed among these, but that does not mean that you won’t see that level of drive in Shepherds. In fact, dogs of just about any breed can be the rule or the exception of the rule when it comes to that high-drive obsession. Gaol was one such case, for as I mentioned, both her damn and sire were titled Schutzhund III dogs—bred in Germany for the purpose of excelling in this sport.
Gaols mother was a dog fighter, and years after I owned Gaol, I learned that she had picked a fight with a worthy opponent. She died as a result of the injuries.
And Gaol herself was a dog fighter. She was not to be trusted around other dogs – of any size.
The other thing Gaol did to unleash her pent up anxiety was to dig holes. Tunnels really. And one of those tunnels was so long that it swallowed my riding lawnmower in its entirety. Took a truck to get it out of that hole.
And here we come to the real smacker of this story:
Gaol was 7 years old when we drove up to Canada to the Schutzhund club. We walked over to the bleachers to watch dogs practice bite work. Gaol lunged at dogs. She barked obscenities. She was out of control.
And then it happened – the event that would forever change her behavior.
A dog out in the field was commanded:
The dog shot away from his handler straight toward the decoy (man wearing the armor of a bite suit). Gaol swore and shouted threats as the dog skimmed above the earth toward the man.
Ten feet from the man the dog launched his 80 pound body, and sunk his teeth around the sleeve. The man spun and the dog whirled from the sleeve like the blades of a helicopter.
Gaol stopped in mid-bark. She sank to a sit and gulped. “Oh my,” she said. “I think I’ve made quite an ass of myself.”
“Yes. I’d say that’s true enough.” I agreed.
That event marked the last time in her entire life Gaol ever wasted her energy goading or barking threats to dogs. She never fought another dog and she never reacted to the taunting of other dogs.
Temperament is what it is. You cannot change it. It is our operating system through which we filter Life and all events.
But when you shape your training and expectations around the innate temperament of your dog, then you will be able to bring out the potential of that dog and to help him realize the gifts he was born to bring into the world. And that is what my books on dog training are all about.