Thursday, February 28, 2008

Aggression and Schutzhund Dogs

Schutzhund Bashing - another view

This post is reprinted with permission from a friend of mine, "Battle On".
Home of the Working Schnauzer

Black Schutzhund Shepherds has an interesting post on schutzhund bashing. Apparently, the author attended a seminar where the speaker (well respected within the GSD community) bashed schutzhund dogs and the sport of schutzhund.

The author, Dianne, was rightfully upset over the speaker’s completely inaccurate description of schutzhund dogs as “a menace to society, a danger to the public, little children, and other animals.” Dianne goes on to say, “I will be the first to point out that my schutzhund dogs are not aggressive in any way, nor do I do ANYTHING that promotes aggression. My German working bloodline GSDs display the most stable temperament I have ever seen in any GSDs. Schutzhund dogs are so skillfully trained that many of them WILL NOT bite a person who does not have the bite sleeve on.”

Although, the author’s defense of schutzhund and schutzhund dogs is admirable, I am not in agreement with her negative assessment of aggression and fear that she is at risk of doing a little bashing of her own.

Since this is a conversation Gregg and I have had before, I asked him to talk about aggression within the context of bite sport dogs.

Gregg says,

Dianne should use more care in her reasoning. When speaking of any character trait, you must define the word and clarify your use of the word. By not doing so, Dianne has played into the hands of the speaker she is addressing. What I gather from Dianne’s blog post is that a dog that displays aggression is a dog of improper character, one with a genetic disposition based upon fear and whose primary motivation is fear. This type of dog is certainly not the norm and does not belong in any man’s world, much less the world of bite sports. Rather, aggression as commonly used by bite sports trainers (and to this particular “Old School” trainer) lies where prey ends but prior to the onset of worry or defense. Some will call it “fight drive,” some say that is an extension of prey drive. To slice it that thin is beyond the scope of this post.

Personally, I look for a clear headed dog that will conform to “fair” training and one that can work in forward aggression. Let me elaborate on what I mean by forward aggression.

I don’t adhere to drive theory and neither does any self respecting psychologist, but it has provided us with a good protection training language and puts most of us, if not on the same page, at least on the same chapter. Some helpers like to break aggression into passive and active. For the sake of this post, I will only speak of active aggression since passive aggression is fear based and has no place in the training of service dogs, schutzhund or any of the disciplines that require bite work.

Aggression in my world, is the dog’s willingness to meet a real threat with forward engagement and if given the opportunity to escape, the dog chooses to stay in the fight. They have learned to view the helper as an adversary and relish the opportunity to take him on. Remove the equipment and the dog’s reaction will remain consistent and the bite will come, unless the handler intervenes.

For a dog possessing this active aggression, the greatest variable is the handler and no, I don’t think that everyone needs a dog like this, nor do I think that it’s a requirement for a schutzhund dog.

But, I think a clear headed dog of this caliber needs to be included in a breeding program. Certainly, possessing such a temperament should not be considered a flaw. To quote USCA training helper Danny Grayson….”You have to keep a little of the gnarly in there”

This type of dog has the confidence to meet a man head on (without equipment) and the good sense not to perceive threat where there is none. If a breeder’s goal is to produce dogs that will only bite the sleeve, then my question (and very logically the speaker’s question too) is “why schutzhund?”

Temperament and drives can be adequately evaluated without subjecting a dog to the most variable factor of bitesport training, the decoy (or helper in schutzhund lingo.) I don’t have to risk jams and broken canines merely for the goal of evaluating prey drive.

Without a definition of aggression, Dianne’s post apologizes for the character traits that some of us feel are necessary for the fulfillment of Captain Max von Stephanitz’s dream. Character traits that, if pursued, will ward off fear biting and the indiscriminately aggressive dogs as described by the seminar speaker.

When I go to watch a trial, I look at the difference between good training and a good dog. Hopefully, I will find both in the same package. A good dog with good aggression is balanced, clear headed and, with a little cross over training, can demonstrate the ability to make a good police service or military dog. I flippantly call this the “knuckle head” factor.

When I talk to an animal rights activist, I make no excuses for my passion for hunting and the possible end results. I talk facts. When I evaluate what I consider a good dog for bite sports, I don’t apologize for the fact that there are many out there, competing and winning at a very high levels, that have the ability to make a good police service dog and will bite for real when the situation demands it.

As for the derogatory “Old School” trainer comments, categorically stating that people who use “force, compulsion, deprivation and fear…..should not even be permitted to own an animal” is hard to take seriously for any experienced trainer. Let me give a very specific example. In my club is a national level trainer with many schutzhund III titles to her credit. Her new dog is a bit of a knucklehead. His training was started with clicker and toy. Once the lessons were learned she incorporated compulsion into the training program. Not fear based and certainly not abusive. Another example, many renowned trainers, including agility competitors, regularly incorporate crates into a training regime. The dogs are placed in crates to calm and heighten desire to work - deprivation according to the basic definition of the word. I think Dianne’s post is excellent when it comes to defining “stewardship” but lapses into inexperienced and ill informed territory when she decided to digress and judge so many within the community she claims to support.


Say what?

The public often has interesting things to say, last night was no different.

"Is that a German Shepherd?"

"She looks like a Pit Bull."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Downward facing dog

Foxy doesn't realize that you must relax when doing your yoga.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Aftermath: Population Zero

The documentary "Aftermath: Population Zero" is finally complete.

Aftermath can be seen in the US on National Geographic Channel, Sunday March 9th. In Canada it will air on History Television, Tuesday April 1st at 8:00.

Both Bullet and Glory had their moment in the spotlight with this documentary. Bullet was shot with the zebra and elephant, as well as in the grocery store. Glory was filmed with live cows, the dead cow and also in the grocery store. I wasn't able to get many pictures because I was busy with them, but here are a few of the filming:

I can't wait to finally see it!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Schutzhund Bashing

This post is reprinted with permission from a friend of mine, "SchutzhundGirl".
Black Schutzhund Shepherds

Recently, I had the privilege of attending a veterinary conference in Toronto. I attended the lecture of one of the speakers whose topic was canine behaviour. This person, who is an active member of the GSD community here in Ontario, and has been for many years, had many good points about canine behaviour. She spoke about positive training methods, understanding your dog's behaviour and motivation, responsible pet ownership, and emphasized responsible breeding and temperament testing for all pet dogs. This person is extremely knowledgeable, has an obvious passion for the GSD, and appears to be well educated in many aspects of current dog affairs, positive training techniques, and behaviour modification in all breeds of dogs. She is what I would consider to be quite an asset to the GSD community, and the community as a whole.

Imagine my shock and disappointment when she openly bashed the sport of schutzhund in front of a room full of conference delegates. From her comments, it was quite clear to me she has a deep misunderstanding of the sport. How this could happen to someone who has been involved in the GSD breed for almost 30 years is astonishing. The sport has a hard enough time trying to change the negative public image it has incurred without someone such as this openly making false statements about it. The public's gross misunderstanding of this challenging and dynamic sport fuels negative feelings about it. I find it shocking and disheartening to learn that someone who has such a passion and love for the GSD, someone who goes to great pains to ensure the breed is viewed in a positive way, would not take the time to learn about schutzhund and the inherent goals and motivations behind the sport. The GSD and schutzhund evolved together. The breed's ability to work was the first and foremost concern of the breed founder. Discrediting this desire and functionality of the breed is a direct insult to the founder.

I will be the first to admit that there are many schutzhund trainers out there who use what could be called "old school" methods of training, relying heavily on compulsion and dominance styles. This could be the root of all the negative images the sport. People that use force, compulsion, deprivation, and fear and call it "dog training" should not even be permitted to own any animals in my opinion. Had I had my first introduction to the sport with people such as this, I definitely would not be involved in it today!!!! Perhaps this is the speaker's only observation of the sport, and hence the reason for such negative statements.

Fortunately for dogs, many schutzhund clubs have adopted more modern and more kind training methods, much like what was discussed by the speaker in the lecture at the conference. Many clubs train using purely motivational techniques, and many top trainers who give seminars world wide demonstrate their use of motivational training styles. In essence, these dogs are having fun! These dogs work for many reasons. For the dog, there is ALWAYS a reward of some kind for doing what we want him to do. This is the heart and soul of schutzhund training as I know it and live it. I cannot speak for other clubs or trainers.

I would encourage the speaker to attend to some training sessions that use motivational methods. I would wish for her to attend to a seminar of a world class trainer who consistently demonstrates that motivational training works using dogs that are for the most part, unfamiliar to him or her.

Finally, I must discuss the issue of aggression. To my horror, this speaker said something even more damaging to the sport than the issue of training styles. She insisted that schutzhund people want aggressive dogs. She said that schutzhund trained dogs are a menace to society, a danger to the public, little children, and other animals. This is where she is MOST wrong. The one main consistency in the sport is the emphasis of control and temperament. Dogs must be under control, and must not display faulty temperament. At each and every trial, a dog's temperament is tested. The judges are continuously looking for faulty temperament, and dogs displaying outward aggression are disqualified immediately. The sport tests a dog's temperament in so many ways, a dog with faulty temperament would not be successful, save for only in the hands of an extremely skillful trainer. One could easily argue that this same dog at some point in it's career will fold under the pressure.

I will be the first to point out that my schutzhund dogs are not aggressive in any way, nor do I do ANYTHING that promotes aggression. My German working bloodline GSDs display the most stable temperament I have ever seen in any GSDs. Schutzhund dogs are so skillfully trained that many of them WILL NOT bite a person who does not have the bite sleeve on. These dogs are social, friendly, stable in temperament, and are no way a danger to the community or other animals. This same thing can be said for the MAJORITY of schutzhund dogs. The majority of schutzhund trainers that I have met are also some of the most responsible dog owners in the community. They have their dogs under control when out in public, do not allow their dogs to run around off leash harassing other dogs, are careful about who they allow to approach their dogs, and generally know a lot more about dog behaviour than the pet owing public. Many, many of these dogs are family dogs, living in the house with small children, and other pets. Schutzhund dogs are not a danger to the community. The real danger is from the pet owning population who do not understand dog behaviour or what motivates their dogs. These people often have a false sense of control of their dogs, hence the reason for so many bite wounds to other dogs and people. Schutzhund trainers are unlikely to have a false sense of control, as their control over their dog in many different situations is tested again and again at every training session. These people often know exactly what type of control they have, and take precautionary measures (such as the simple thing of walking the dog on a leash!!!) to ensure safety. Schutzhund trainers know their dog's temperament far better than most of the pet owning population, and thus would not put their dogs in situations that could end in someone getting bitten.

Dogs with aggression issues have either been raised inappropriately, or have faulty temperament. Neither belongs in the sport of schutzhund. Schutzhund trainers DO NOT want aggressive dogs. These dogs are difficult to work with, and eventually will get washed out. They do not work for the sheer love of it.

Yesterday was a dark day for the sport of schutzhund. If we could get people like this speaker to truly understand our sport and promote it in a positive way, it would go a long way to dispelling some of the popular myths that cloud the image of a "happy, willing worker" ---- the ultimate schutzhund dog.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Live like you were dying.

This is what I want:

Live like you were dying.

A relationship with my animals that is this trusting, pure and simple.

Ribbons and scores aren't worth it if it sacrifices your bond in any way. Some days I feel like I have this, other days it feels so far off. Stacey makes it look so easy.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Remind me why I have dogs again?

Switching an adult dog to a new food cold turkey + an inquisitive puppy = an inquisitive puppy with diarrhea covering her head.

Excuse the lack of pictures, puppy was getting a bath.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

February-March Lunch Challenge

I've decided to take on Krystal's challenge - I will not spend any money on lunch/snacks/coffee/tea during work days from now until March 31st. Check out her blog Give Me Back My Five Bucks for more.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Play with me!

Foxy enticing Glory to play with a smile...

A kiss to butter her up?

Moving in closer:

Swat... swat...

Got'yer nose!

Oh yeah?

Splat.... Glory's turn to smile :)

Outing to the mall

Foxy's been doing great at home, she's been accident free for weeks and handled our small mini outings well. It was time for something bigger, so off to the mall we went where she made new friends:

Monday, February 18, 2008

The perfect Saturday

For once this winter the sun graced us with her presence. She shone through the crispy air and peaceful blue sky. The snow glittered as fairy dust floating on a softly blown kiss. We had the forest to ourselves and the schnauzers were literally dancing in anticipation!

The next day we were back to freezing rain, sheets of ice and damp, bone-chilling depression.

Spring, please come early!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Operation "Quiet as a mouse"

Originally I was taking Glory to agility classes and she was doing well at it... but Bullet comes first since Glory is Kevin's dog. When I decided to take a small break from Schutzhund I thought agility would be beneficial for Bullet and I. Sorry Glory! I've only budgeted one class per session and that means Bullet.

For the dog, agility is good for physical balance and control. It's upbeat and the dogs must remain responsive to you no matter how excited they are or how fast they are going.

You must be very aware of your own body language and how you are communicating to your dog. It trains you to see how much your actions affect them.

We're having a blast, my handling is improving and Bullet is doing great on all the equipment with no issues. His weaves are coming along really well, the teeter is at full height and he's tipping and banging it on his own, his targets at the contact zones are controlled... so far so good, what more could I ask for?

How about some quiet?

Bullet likes to bark. And whine. And just plain breathe heavy. This agility thing is so much fun!

Now I know that barking is allowed in agility, but I've decided to work on keeping him quiet for a number of reasons:

The more he barks the more frantic he gets. The more frantic he gets the less he concentrates. The less he concentrates the more mistakes will be made. We're still building the foundation of this game, now is the best time to nip this in the bud. If I choose to wait I don't know how successful we'll be.

He's loud. Very loud. So loud I'm afraid there will be situations in the future where he'll need to hear a command and won't be able to if the noise continues the way it's going.

We've made "Quiet" the focus of the last three classes and I HAVE seen progress, much more than I expected to be honest. This success has given me hope that if I continue rewarding "Quiet" it will become reality. Bullet has always loved his voice and barking is encouraged and rewarded in Schutzhund so we're working against a noisy foundation. Agility is a very different game though and as long as I stay consistent and clear to him I don't see why we can't succeed at this too. I must stay patient. Wish us luck!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008


Work for the Lord

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Colossians 3:23-24

Baby roar

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Group training session

Featuring Aslan, Foxy, Bullet & Glory.

Aslan is just as food motivated as the dogs. In the past I taught her to target a piece of duct tape using a clicker, I should see what else she can learn.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Flashback to Crispin's first day at work.

We picked 11 month old Crispin up on a Thursday night. The first thing he did in my home was jump up on the kitchen counter, but I blocked him mid-air much to his surprise. The previous foster home had warned us about his surfing habits (among other things) and we were ready for him. The baby gates were already up and he dragged his leash. He didn’t try again that night. We introduced him to our two, let him out one more time and went to bed where he settled in his crate right away. All-in-all we had a good first night.

The next day I brought him to work with me. He was amazing. Brilliant even. He was lazy, slept at my feet, stayed solidly when I went to the printer, etc. Better than any dog I've brought into the office, my own included. I couldn't believe this, he was less than a year old and a lab! So calm! He was happy as could be, this calm wasn't stress related. I figured he was showing me how his foster family had done an excellent job with him. At around 4:00 he was nice and relaxed so I felt it was safe enough to take a quick washroom break.

When I came out my boss was sitting in the foyer.

"Tracy, we have problem." He said in his German accent.

There was a brown long lumpy puddle on the carpet at his feet. My mind was racing as I took action. Because of the colour I wasn’t sure which end it came out of. When Crispin started heaving again I had my answer to that question. Of the two possibilities, I figured that was the best case scenario and more forgivable from an outsiders point of view – the poor dog was sick, right?!

When I went to pick up his leash he frantically tried to re-eat his vomit so I wouldn't get it first. Whatever. It's disgusting but normal dog behaviour and I wasn't too concerned until I noticed it was solid. Ewww. I grabbed his leash and ran him outside. Nothing came out and I still had to clean up that carpet upstairs ASAP. Taking him back inside he suddenly decided to show me something else the previous fosterhome had warned me about - his fear of heights. He slammed on the brakes and wouldn't go near the stairs. Argh! Not a good time to deal with that issue I quickly tied him to the banister in the hallway and left him there. At least it was tiled and easy to clean if necessary.

Once upstairs I saw what he'd vomited in front of my boss, and finally understood why it shaped in a long solid lump...


Yes, underwear.

Underwear that had been sitting in his stomach since before I picked him up.

It was the most disgusting, revolting, awful thing ever. From the sight to the smell to the location and the audience. Could it have been any worse? I nearly threw up myself right then and there. While on my hands and knees scrubbing the carpet I was frantically wondering if there were any agencies looking to hire a senior graphic designer?

It took me a few months to work up the courage to bring another dog into the office again. It's a huge priviledge that I really appreciate and don't take advantage of, incidences like this aren't a good thing.

It served me right for trusting a new dog, for not having him tethered to my desk and for leaving him on his own, among many other things!

On the bright side of things I'm happy to report that his energy was much higher after his system was cleaned out, exactly to the level I would expect from a healthy young black lab.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A day of firsts

Lucky Foxy came to work with me today where she met all my coworkers. It was also the first time she's worn her vest and ventured out into public.

We started off with some quiet nap time.

At lunch we had some water before the big outing.

In her uniform.

It was a busy day, time for another nap.

Friday, February 01, 2008

A life well lived

"Benson" One of the great performance Giants of this time.
June 8, 2000 - January 25, 2008

In true Giant fashion, Benson put his heart and soul into everything he did for Rebecca. The Giant Schnauzer community was inspired by the bond they shared and the teamwork they showed. Benson's spirit was brought to life in his wonderful action shots, you always saw the joy radiating out of him. Though most of us only knew Benson through Rebecca's stories and photos we'll all miss him.

Saying goodbye to a good friend is never easy, it's especially hard when their spirit is still so strong but their body is weak.

"May your spirit run forever seizure-free".

Canine epilepsy – How you can help.

The University of California Davis is currently doing an Epilepsy Study looking for the mode of inheritance. If you have a Giant Schnauzer please participate in this study to help test for, and eventually abolish, this horrible disease. They require affected and unaffected dogs. Find out more and download the forms on their website:

UC Davis Epilepsy Study.