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.


1 comment:

schutzhundgirl said...

I enjoyed reading your lengthy description of aggression. It’s funny how although people are speaking and reading the same language, words can so easily be mis-interpreted.

I thought it was quite clear in my post that my discussion of aggression was based on the way it was described by the conference speaker, not my own understanding of it.

I agree that some SchH people like a certain type of aggression in their dogs, and that some say the best dogs are those with balanced drives. I can assure you this was not the type of aggression the speaker talked about, and I believe I made that quite clear.

The point of my post, which I believe you missed entirely, was that for one, SchH trainers do not own dogs that are a menace to society. Secondly, they do want aggressive dogs, as they were described by the speaker, not as described by you…

Dianne & Dogs