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great article. I can not count how many times people have come to this forum claiming their dogs are so "protective" (god I am really beginning to hate that word) because they put on a viscious threat display to strangers. These people could not be more wrong. The article was written with the GSD in mind but the same theory applies to the bullies.

http://www.dogstuff.info/elements_of_temperament_nerves.html

“Such shy animals are in all circumstances an encumbrance to their owner, who must be ashamed of such a dog, and a disgrace to their race. Under no circumstances whatever must they be used for breeding, however noble and striking they may appear outwardly.” Max von Stephanitz, The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture (1925)



The essence of the German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is character. By far, the worst possible temperament fault in the GSD is weak nerves. Unfortunately, this problem is rampant. Von Stephanitz himself warned us about this long ago. In fact, he told us that the production of weak nerved dogs would be nothing less than the degeneration or destruction of the breed.

Captain von Stephanitz believed that the cause of weak nerves is kenneling, but not in the sense of kenneling an individual dog so as to create kennel shyness, but rather the process of “ . . . keeping animals that have been torn away from their vocation and their natural conditions of life have been going on for some generations . . .”. In other words, the net effect of breeding and keeping dogs, without regard to preserving temperament and working abilities yields weak nerves and the inevitable destruction of the GSD.

Which is, basically where we find ourselves today.

Nobody said it would be easy. Von Stephanitz recognized that the GSD should be exceptionally tuned in to the environment if he is to fulfill his obligations as guardian and protector. The tricky part would be maintaining this heightened alertness and sensitivity without crossing the line into over-reactiveness. Which is why there is a system in place to help screen dogs with faulty nerves out of breeding programs.

As with everything else, look at nerves on a continuum. The degree of nerve strength will vary across individual dogs. But, there is a minimum that must be set. The breeding requirements under the German system are set up to help ensure that dogs who fall below that minimum standard are not used for breeding. Is it a perfect system? Not at all, but it’s the best one we’ve got.

What is a weak nerved dog? Simply put, a weak nerved dog shows avoidance or aggressive behaviors in response to non-threatening people, situations or objects. This includes the shy dogs and the fear biters. Nothing is more difficult for a breeder or dog owner to hear than that her dog has a nerve problem. People will go to great lengths to bend reality around and deny the problem. All the alarms should go off in your head when you hear a breeder attempting to blame the environment for a dog’s behavior. For instance, the shy pup who cringes and skitters away from you when you crouch down to pet her. I’ll bet the breeder told you not to worry, she’s just a little shy and needs time to get to know you. And I’ll bet the breeder told you that is perfectly normal for a puppy. Or the young adult dog who lunges and snaps at a neutral stranger you see walking down the street and you decide it’s because the stranger was wearing a funny hat or that your dog is just incredibly perceptive and recognized some evil trait in the stranger from which she was bravely protecting you. (Actually, if your dog did this only once or twice in a lifetime, I’d be inclined to buy it). A dog’s reaction to neutral strangers is always significant. By neutral, we mean the stranger walking down the street who pays no attention to you or your dog. Does the dog ignore the stranger? Fine. Some curiosity is well within normal range as well. Avoidance or aggression are signals of a serious nerve problem.

Understand that nerve problems are not fixable. Skittering away from a scary object or noise is not a training problem, it is a temperament problem. With enough training, you could teach a dog to inhibit his response to a particular stimulus, but you will not fix the nerve problem. For example, you could teach a weak dog not to run away from a moving wheelchair. But suppose the wheel chair user dropped a book on the floor. You can be certain the dog would panic all over again. Training can, to an extent modify specific behaviors, but it cannot change the dog’s genetics. Weakness in temperament will always resurface under stress. And it requires stress tests to weed weak nerved dogs out of the gene pool. That is why Schutzhund remains the breed suitability test of choice. The training itself provides numerous opportunities to evaluate the dog’s overall nerve strength. Not only during the gunfire test or protection phase will the dog’s nerves be tested. How well does the dog focus and concentrate on the track with a bunch of strangers around, in an unfamiliar location? How does he handle his obedience routine in front of a large crowd on a strange field with someone in the parking lot honking his horn? There are plenty of opportunities for the dog to get rattled.

Not that Schutzhund is the perfect test, there are far too many weak dogs being dragged through a title by talented trainers. But, it’s better than nothing! Too often, dogs are being used for breeding without being tested for anything. In the US, breeding has become entirely subjective, as in “I know what I like, so I’ll breed it!” It’s astonishing how many GSD breeders there are who have no understanding of nerves. They see their dogs, on their own turf looking confident and assume that the dogs are just great. And puppy buyers fall for this, too. The typical scenario is, puppy buyer goes to breeder’s home to see a litter of pups. The buyer is presented with six adorable puppies, all happily playing together. They look great. Unfortunately, this is the worst possible scenario in which to choose a pup. All puppies look more confident than they are on familiar territory, surrounded by littermates and familiar humans! It’s not until you’ve isolated the pup from the littermates and human friends and preferably, taken the pup to a yet unexplored area that you can even begin to see what you’ve really got.
Sound Sensitivity

Sound sensitivity, that is a fearful reaction to loud noises is not a synonym for weak nerves, but is generally a symptom of a lack of overall nerve strength. Which is why the gunfire test remains a part of Schutzhund. The ideal response to a sudden, loud noise is indifference.

However, it is possible to find cases of sound sensitivity that are learned rather than genetic. For example, the novice trainer who issues a harsh correction just as the gun is being fired could induce a phobic response in a sensitive dog. You’ll be able to tell the difference, however, because if it is learned behavior, it will be specific. As in the case of the dog who had a bad experience in training which he came to associate with the gunshot, if the dog shows a fear reaction only to that specific noise, in that specific setting, the chances are that the behavior was learned, rather than genetic. It will take a lot of work to train this out, but it can be done, if the dog is generally sound and stable. Dogs who are exposed to large amounts of live gunfire, such as police dogs can develop phobic reactions which are genuinely learned, not inherited. Again, you will know by the narrowness of the reaction, the avoidance behavior will occur only in certain circumstances. The dog who can easily ignore a car backfire or firecrackers on the Fourth of July, but panics on the training field may have learned a negative association.
Life With a Weak Nerved Dog

It’s no picnic. Weak dogs are unpredictable. Combine weak nerves with a high defense drive and low threshold and you have a genuinely dangerous dog. Who knows what is going to set the dog off? Owners are always stunned when their dogs show fear aggression. They find all sorts of excuses for it, they especially like to define it as “protection”.

The owner of a seven month old pup from who-knows-what breeding contacted me about training for her pup. She had no prior dog experience and was bent on breeding this male as soon as possible. Nothing I said could talk her out of it. She believed she had the world’s best natural protection dog. Why? Because when invited guests come to her home, the pup plasters himself next to her, leans up against her and growls at them.

The reality is, the dog is a nervebag and should never be used for breeding. It’s easy to understand how this owner mistook her dog’s behavior for protection because she didn’t understand what was happening, from the dog’s point of view. The dog is scared silly of welcomed visitors. So, he glues himself to the owner. Her close proximity gives him just enough confidence to vocalize his anxiety by growling. I absolutely guarantee you, that if she wasn’t there to protect the pup, he’d be hiding under the furniture when guests arrived. Nobody wants to hear this about their own beloved pet. But, we all need to hear it, in hopes that these dogs will not be used for breeding. This seven month old pup is exactly the kind of dog we worry about most as he is likely to mature into an unpredictable fear biter.
We Just Felt So Sorry For the Poor Thing

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that! Puppy buyers fall for the shy, timid puppies. We feel sorry for them. The breeder feeds right into our delusion that we can offer them a wonderful home and then they will be just fine. Baby puppies often demonstrate their weak nerves by acting shy. They show avoidance to anything unfamiliar. Some pups will remain avoiders, others will mature into fear aggression. Either way, they are risky business. Imagine a weak nerved, low threshold dog being confronted by his first toddler tantrum?

It’s a little different for adults. Shyness in a pup is always cause for alarm. Puppies should be into everything, curious about everyone and pretty much a royal pain. As the pup matures, it’s perfectly normal for him to stop jumping all over everyone. Aloofness is not the same as shyness. It is entirely correct for a mature GSD to be reserved with strangers, showing neither avoidance nor aggression. A certain suspicion of new people is also acceptable in the GSD. Far too many breeders want their GSDs to welcome any and all onto their property with tails wagging. They actually don’t want GSDs, they want Golden Retrievers wearing GSD uniforms.

My first GSD was a two year old rescued former police K9 named Jet. Jet was in a foster home when I went to meet her, accompanied by a friend. Her foster owner brought her out and gave me her Frisbee. Jet grabbed the Frisbee and flopped down on the grass, making believe I wasn’t there. At no time did she take her eyes off of her foster owner. I petted and talked to her. She ignored me. I asked if I could have her and was thrilled when the foster owner said yes. My friend was disappointed. She acknowledged that Jet was exceptionally pretty, but she didn’t like her temperament at all. (My friend is heavily into Golden Retrievers). I thought Jet’s temperament was great. She surmised quickly enough that neither my friend nor I were threats, and proceeded to ignore us and focus on the foster owner to whom she had begun to bond. Jet had plenty of faults, but her initial aloofness toward me was totally correct for a GSD. She showed neither aggression, nor avoidance to us, just a complete lack of interest. (Of course, I eventually turned her into a social butterfly and messed the whole thing up).

Jet gave us another impromptu seminar on GSD suspicion of strangers shortly thereafter. My then boyfriend was out of town when I got Jet and he was eager to come over and meet her. She woofed at the gate, but allowed me to let him in without a complaint. She then placed her self on an extended “watch him”. When he was in the kitchen, she laid down and kept her eyes on him. He went outside to install some new lights, she went along, laid down and watched every move he made. Eventually, she decided he was ok and relaxed. They became good buddies. Again, she showed no untoward aggression and certainly no avoidance. She didn’t instantly pounce on him to make friends. She conducted herself like a GSD. (For more about my adventures with Jet, visit my web site http://www.dogbehave.com).

Thus, we expect puppies to let their curiosity get the better of them and investigate all strangers with enthusiasm. With maturity comes suspicion, and some aloofness toward strangers is perfectly acceptable and not a symptom of bad nerves.

Symptoms

What does signal bad nerves is avoidance of a non threatening human or object or inappropriate aggression. Remember what a dog in defense drive looks like? When you observe that behavior in the absence of a legitimate, identifiable threat, you’re looking at a nervebag. Nervous dogs are often very vocal, you’ll hear a machine gun bark or growling.

By avoidance, we mean the dog will attempt to get away from the imagined threat by physically moving away or freezing in place. Rolling over is avoidance behavior you will observe in extremely submissive dogs.

Again, remember that there is a range here. Some nerve problems are worse than others. One of the worst cases I’ve seen so far was a 12 week old Siberian Husky pup. I went to her home, crouched down and turned sideways to meet her (crouching and turning sideways is, in canine language a universal signal of friendliness). The pup raised her hackles, growled, barked and backed up, releasing a huge trail of urine as she escaped. She stayed about twenty feet from me for a full twenty five minutes before she was willing to approach me. (I completely ignored her). Recovery time is always important. When a pup skitters away from you or an object, take note of the amount of time it takes for the pup to recover and decide to approach and investigate. Some pups will startle at an unfamiliar object, but almost immediately regroup and check it out. I’m a lot less worried about those pups. Twenty five minutes is a very long recovery time. Fortunately, the owners of the pup aren’t going to breed her!

Watch out for growling! That is never good news. Confident dogs don’t growl at people or objects. Hackles up is another giveaway that the dog is frightened. People are always telling me they’ve got good watchdogs because every time the dog hears a noise, the dog growls at puts his hackles up. They’re dreaming.

No matter how impressive the display, you can never rely on a weak nerved dog for protection. The only reason they haven’t run and hid is because you’re right there. They can talk much tougher when mom or dad is holding onto the leash.

Dogs are so much more confident on their own turf that a lot of nerve problems get covered up. Imagine the purchaser of an adult dog going to see the dog. The seller may even put on a sleeve and give the dog a few bites, to really impress the purchaser. Be forewarned: playing sleeve tag with his owner on his own property is not a stress test! It tells you nothing. Get that same dog out on a strange field, with his owner out of sight and see what happens.
But We Only Wanted A Nice Pet!

To paraphrase Max von Stephanitz, GSD breeding is working dog breeding or ceases to be GSD breeding.

There are already far more pet dogs being born than there can ever be homes for them. There is no excuse for intentionally producing pets.

Prospective puppy purchasers must understand that if they go to a breeder who breeds “pets”, the odds are astronomically high that they will find themselves stuck with a weak nerved, unstable, untrustworthy pet. Breeders who breed out of sentiment, ego or greed do not concern themselves with the complexities of temperament. Nerves seem to be especially sensitive to sloppy breeding. A truly strong dog with good nerves is getting harder and harder to find. You’re not likely to stumble upon it by way of pet breeders.

The best pets come from breeders who breed strictly to the SV standard. In the best of breedings, not every pup is going to have the same amount of drive and some will be placed in pet homes. You’re chances of getting a sound dog are far better by seeking out a real GSD breeder.

Even if your only goal is to have a companion dog, you still need good nerves! A nervous, high strung spook dog makes a lousy companion. Imagine having to lock up your dog every time company comes over? Or a dog you can’t trust with children? How about a dog you can’t even obedience train reliably because the dog is too busy freaking out every time you leave your own property?

Do not fall for big promises from pet breeders. If their dogs truly are stable, sound, trainable and protective, let them prove it on the field.
But, My Dogs Do Work!

A few notches up from the breed-for-pets crowd, there are breeders who resist the standard and argue that since their dogs do some other type of work, they are suitable for breeding. SAR, detection, K9, agility, obedience, assistance and other dog jobs are wonderful and we would expect GSDs to excel in these areas. But, they do not sufficiently stress test the dogs. Herding, under the German system is the only exception, as herding dogs are expected to demonstrate protection abilities and courage. Thus, the HGH can be used in place of a Schutzhund title. Do not confuse German style herding with AKC herding.

The other problem with relying on some other type of work is that the plan lacks consistently. For example, suppose the breeder has a working SAR dog who has demonstrated courage and confidence in training situations. That’s good. But, what evidence to we have that the dog can reproduce those traits in his offspring? How would we test that dog’s courage, hardness and fighting instinct?

It gets really ridiculous when breeders decide it’s okay to substitute an AKC obedience title for a Schutzhund title, breed survey, conformation rating and endurance test.

Also, keep in mind that not all nerve problems manifest as plainly as the dog who shies away from a strange object or puts his hackles up and barks at it. Nerve weaknesses can be very subtle, which supports the value of a balanced breed suitability test. Consider the drug detection dog who falls out of a search when her handler gets too far away from her. A lack of drive? Could be. But it could also be a nerve problem if the dog is falling out of drive due to her anxiety when her handler isn’t close.

This is why so many dogs are washed out of law enforcement, not only for patrol work, but even for detection. Think a drug detection dog doesn’t need strong nerves? Oh yeah? A weak nerved dog is not about to go away from his handler into a strange warehouse with noisy machines to look for drugs. This is the wrong time to find out that the dog’s nerves aren’t as great as the breeder claimed.


Finding the Good Ones

The puppy buyer can avoid a lot of heartache by only considering pups from Real GSD breeders. The ones who breed to the SV standard and understand what nerve strength looks like. The breeders who are willing to stress test their breeding stock and accept an objective evaluation, even when it hurts.

A dog with good nerve strength is a joy. He can be trusted with children. He is never a bully, he’s got nothing to prove because he knows he can handle any situation that should arise. And only a well bred dog with solid nerves is the dog you can rely upon to keep you safe.
 

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Thats long Lisa! Could sombody read that for me and give me the cliff notes?????? J/K Great post and I totaly agree. A display is just that a display, now if it keeps the bad guy out then good, when takin to the next level of acutally a dog doing something about it is a whole new ball game.
 

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That was really good, also really long.

I know that when the Hackles are up that means the dog is in defense mode. The other day, some loose dog came up to our fence and Dozer and Lucy were outside, I saw the dog going up to the fence so I went out side. Lucy was trying to play with dog through the fence of course. But Dozer Kept going in between the fence and Lucy he had his hackles up, and he looked very threatening, his stance, he wasn't trying to kill the dog like I expected, it was weird. So was he scared of this dog if his hackles were up, cause he sure didn't look scared?
 

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Bremner53 said:
That was really good, also really long.

I know that when the Hackles are up that means the dog is in defense mode. The other day, some loose dog came up to our fence and Dozer and Lucy were outside, I saw the dog going up to the fence so I went out side. Lucy was trying to play with dog through the fence of course. But Dozer Kept going in between the fence and Lucy he had his hackles up, and he looked very threatening, his stance, he wasn't trying to kill the dog like I expected, it was weird. So was he scared of this dog if his hackles were up, cause he sure didn't look scared?
I was wondering the same thing.......Harley does this when he see's other dogs.... and I don't think he is trying to hide when this happens.

On the other hand, maybe he is scared? You know how when something startles you, you get goose bumps and your hair stands up on your neck.......same thing???...kinda???? :?:
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
hackles

When a dog raises it hackles it is in conflict. I do not care for raised hackels in any situation. When a dog raises its hackles it is trying to make itself appear larger to what is threateneing them. IMO a confident dog doesn't raise its hackles because it is already confident in itself.

Taken from the "Components of Strong Working Dog Temperament" by Dominick Donovan

Irritablility Threshold (Defence Threshold)

The irritability threshold is the amount of physchological stress (not physicial stress) the dog can withstand while in reactive (defence) aggression before exhibiting signs of conflict or flight behaviour.

Conflict is the crossover stage between fight and flight behaviour. The ordinary signs of conflict include:

Raising of hackles
Low tail carriage
Obvious high pitch tone of bark indicating stress

Any signs of withdrawl or retreat on the part of the dog


http://www.workingdogs.com/dom1.htm
 

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Re: hackles

Lisa said:
When a dog raises it hackles it is in conflict. I do not care for raised hackels in any situation. When a dog raises its hackles it is trying to make itself appear larger to what is threateneing them. IMO a confident dog doesn't raise its hackles because it is already confident in itself.

Taken from the "Components of Strong Working Dog Temperament" by Dominick Donovan

Irritablility Threshold (Defence Threshold)

The irritability threshold is the amount of physchological stress (not physicial stress) the dog can withstand while in reactive (defence) aggression before exhibiting signs of conflict or flight behaviour.

Conflict is the crossover stage between fight and flight behaviour. The ordinary signs of conflict include:

Raising of hackles
Low tail carriage
Obvious high pitch tone of bark indicating stress

Any signs of withdrawl or retreat on the part of the dog


http://www.workingdogs.com/dom1.htm
So when Chassis and Torco are playing and Chassis is whooping his butt pretty good, at times not all the time, his will come up during the battle they have. Torco is not scared of anything, he never is, no matter what the situation is. He has never tucked tail or raised his hackles outside of playing whith Chassis. Nor does he ever back down to her!
 

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I read the whole thing, but Im not going back and doing it again. BUT I think it stated that the dog who holds his hackels up when encountering other things-such as noised, trees blowing, funny hates, etc is the weak nerved dog. But I THINK it did not refer to a dog seeing another dog.

Maybe Im wrong, it was long, but that would catagorize everyones dog-just about....if they hackle when seeing another dog. Lord knows Dixies go up, ON END!!!
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
A dog who raises its hackles is in conflict. I think that is a little different than being "scared" but a scared dog will also raise hackles if that makes sense.

Conflict is the crossover stage between fight and flight behaviour

Raised hackles is ONE sign of conflict. How it reacts to that conflict is the important thing.

I am no expert but I have to admit I HATE raised hackles ANYTIME and I beleive that a dog can show fear based aggression to other dogs as well as people, object, and sounds. Many times weak nerves can even go hand in hand with dog aggression (but not always).

None the less, raised hackles never impresses me no matter what the situation. Every dog I remember seeing who has raised its hackles has been a WEAK dog. Never saw what I consider a strong dog raise its hackles but I guess there is a first time for everything. :D
 

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Lisa said:
Many times weak nerves can even go hand in hand with dog aggression (but not always).

I believe that, I think the only reason Dozer is Dog aggressive is because he isn't very confident. The more OB and stuff I do with him, I can see him getting more confident in me and himself and I have noticed that his dog aggression has lessened. I am always prepared for anything though.
 

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I have never really worried about my dogs raising their hackles, now you got me thinking about it. And I have to tell you I disagree, I think it's a sign of excitement and can happen in many different situations. Lilly has raised hackles all the time, playing with the other dogs, when we come home and she greets us and wile being agitated. She has been worked by lots of different trainers and they all agree on the fact that she is extremely stable, confident and hard. She has never backed down from a fight, or shown any signs of weak nerves. Just easily exited, I think.
The other two raise their hackles on occasion, usually when they bark at the neighbors dog or play with each other. The only one that never raises it's hackles is my hybrid who in fact has weak nerves.
Anyway, I'm no trainer but looking at my own dogs I would say it should be interpreted depending on situation and dog.
 
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