Many people have experienced the frustration of trying to work with a dog who simply does not have correct temperament for the task at hand. But with a dog of good temperament, training for a given task becomes almost easy.
Years ago when I was looking for my first Search and Rescue dog to train, I learned that many dogs are simply not suited to the work. The average dog does not have the focus and work ethic to continue the search off leash with many distractions. For Search and Rescue, an off leash Scent Specific Wilderness Search Dog must be able to hold a string of several behaviors from one command. Many dogs started in Search and Rescue wash out. Few dogs have the balanced temperament to do the sort of multi-tasking required. Finding a dog with the high drive necessary for tireless motivation–yet without unpredictable aggression towards people or other dogs and little animals–is not easy. The dog must find only the person whose scent you have shown to the dog; then, after finding the subject, the dog must return to the handler; and then, yet still another task, the dog must take the handler to the lost person. There is no point in spinning your wheels training a dog that will never excel at the task at hand, especially when it comes to saving lives. Since those days, I have trained several Search and Rescue Dogs: first Tag, then her son, Max, then Hero, and now Trace, Kuma, and Sonar. Having a dog with the right temperament is key to success in having a dog who will save lives.
The same is true in Schutzhund. Many dogs do have the power needed to do the sport and would break down under the pressure of multiple commands. Before a dog is even permitted to enter a Schutzhund competition, that dog must first pass a Temperament and Obedience test called the BH (Begleithunde). For obedience, the dog must heel on and off leash, do a sit and down in motion while the handler walks off, recall off leash from a distance, heel through a crowd, and stay in a long down (15 minutes) with handler away while another dog is working nearby. That is the obedience phase. In the temperament phase, the dog must not show any aggression when tied out with the handler out of sight, while a jogger runs past, then a bicyclist, and finally a dog. The test varies according to the judge, but there is also a part which shows how the dog behaves around people, with people crowding around, and so on. A dog with improper nerve cannot handle it and is thereby weeded out.
Looking over the pedigrees of our breeding pairs, you will notice many titles following the dogs’ names. These are the schutzhund titles, SCH I, II, III, FH I, II; ZVVI, II, III, and the IPO I, II, III. These titles indicate that the dog accomplished on the same day, the three phases: tracking, obedience, and protection. Only a dog of balanced drive can achieve this as in the tracking and obedience work different drives are used than in the protection work. The dog must be able to shift readily from active to passive drives and back again. The FH titles are tracking titles requiring supreme obedience and concentration. When looking at a pedigree, it is the working titles after the dog’s registered name which indicate good temperament for work.
Because our breeding program is driven by the work we do with our own dogs, it is driven by the desire to have the best dogs for our own work. As you have already read from our front page, “We want sensible dogs, gentle around children and other pets, friendly to guests, yet with the courage to offer security to our family and to handle work with confidence: loyal, loveable, legendary–the sort of dog many of us grew up only dreaming about.”
I want a dog with the drive to do work; a dog with the focus to look me in the eye even as a puppy so that in training he will not be distracted from listening to me; a dog with the inner calm to handle the responsibility of lifesaving tasks. Though our dogs vary with some being more suitable to Schutzhund and protection work and others being specially intuitive for Therapy and Medical Alert, these traits of focus and a solid core are characteristics we strive for in each puppy.
When our puppy families write back to update us on their Candle Hill Shepherd puppy, we are looking for the words, “This is the best dog I have ever had.” Our great reward is that, over and over again, these are the exact words people are saying.