Titles and breeding

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A few days ago I received a call from a very sweet woman who was looking for a puppy. She said that she would like a “sharp” dog… the high drive type that most people do not want to take. Well, well. Music to my ears- ears of an individual who loves German Shepherd as Max von Stephanitz intended it, and not just a good looking dog.

She would like to have a puppy in the next two months. Oh no! She was disappointed, as was I that I would not be having puppies in the near future. She asked if I could recommend another breeder. In fact, there were a couple of breeders that I know with this type of dog, and I encouraged her to contact them.

When I mentioned the stud dog belonging to one of these breeders – a dog, sparkling with working titles – she politely listened as I listed the achievements of the dog. When I finished, she said: “Yes, but is the dog good?” Very clever woman.

There is a common saying, “clothes do not make the man.” As Marquis de Sade, one of the fathers of modern democracy pointed out, the qualities of a person are more important than aristocratic titles. And even though we all understand this with our fellow humans, how many of us have heard of, or seen a dog plastered with titles, but have been wise enough to ask if the dog is good or not? Are we judging them on their “clothes” or in this case their titles? And if we talk about a dog that hasn’t yet earned titles, do we dismiss this dog for not having them, and deem this dog not worthy of attention?

Fact – there are great dogs without titles, mediocre dogs with titles, and even poor dogs with titles. What is more important and more relevant to the topic of our conversation, it is this:

• Excellent dogs would not be better with titles;
• Mediocre dogs remain mediocre, even if they receive titles.

Of course, all this would mean nothing if we looked at the titles simply as a reflection of the performances of dog and the handler on a particular day. But most of us are looking at at the working titles differently. So let’s start with a review of the most common methods of viewing titles:

1. Assessment of the best sports performance, for which the team “dog -handler ” is capable of in the competition;
2. Decision-making related to the breeding:
· you are the breeder who is looking for the most suitable dog for your bitches. In this case, a lot of people will base their decision on the fact that “this dog” fits best as it earned titles and was on the N-rated place in the championship;
· you are the buyer of a puppy, and want the most promising puppy from “this dog,” because he performed well at the championship;
3. A decision on training methods:
· in training, I will use the methods of “John Doe” (read his book, hire him so that he can teach me), because he did great at the championships with his dog; or;
· when I choose the club’s training director, I vote for “John Doe” because he always performs very successfully at competitions with his dogs.

Of course, any title – SchH, Ring, KNPV – tells us something about a dog. At the very least it shows that the dog possesses the characteristics necessary to pass this test. But keep in mind, when competing in the trial, two parties equally must perform on the field: the dog and the handler. My experience has taught me that the title actually says more about you as the handler than a dog.

There are nine types of dog and handler teams:

• Excellent dog – great handler
• Excellent dog – average handler
• Excellent dog – poor handler
• Good dog – great handler
• Good dog – average handler
• Good dog – poor handler
• Bad dog – great handler
• Bad dog – average handler
• Bad dog – poor handler

In general, if a dog or the skills of the handler are awful, it will be impossible for them to receive a title. An excellent dog with high motivation, but a clumsy handler will look like a wild animal – no control, no discipline and therefore no title. On the other hand, a dog with a vicious temper is likely to be disqualified over and over again regardless of the skills of the handler. No skills will help hide the fact that the dog ran away from the field because of the sound of the gun or from stick hits from the helper.

So, again, when we talk about the award-winning dog – we are talking about “dog-handler” team, which belongs to one of these four categories (selected from among the original nine):
• Excellent dog – great handler
• Excellent dog – average handler
• Good dog – great handler
• Good dog – average handler

A great handler can get good points with a dog from both categories. But an excellent dog can receive excellent scores only when working with a great handler. In the hands of the average handler an excellent dog often seems uncontrollable: the handler does not have enough skills to steer the dog’s potential in the right direction.
As you can see, in any event, only one type of handlers can get the best results with the both of these types of dogs – a great handler. Therefore, people who only value titles and points to decide whom to hire as coaches responsible for their training make informed decisions.

Decisions to buy/use in breeding

We can see that the highest scores in the competition tell us a lot about the handler, but what they say about the dog? As I already acknowledged, indeed, any title – SchH, Ring, KNPV – says something about the dog. The dog has certain temperament and qualities to pass this test, but does it tells us enough about the dog so we can know whether it will be able to pass those qualities on to their offspring? The answer is simply – no.

Decisions on which dogs to use in breeding should be based on the inherited qualities, those qualities that puppies may inherit from the parents. Puppies can inherit only the qualities that are genetic in nature. If they will inherit certain components of courage, or a tendency to bark, or the length and quality of the coat. All these characteristics are determined either partially or entirely by one or more genes in the genome of the dog; but, training is not inherited. Excellent points in SchH are not inherited. Inheriting divine healing is impossible. These additional characteristics are not the result of a combination of genes but wholly caused by environmental exposure to the skills of a handler.

Making decisions about breeding qualities of a potential stud dog or bitch, who are the product of the impact of the environment is a waste of energy.

Dr. Malcolm Willis in his books “Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders,” “Genetics of dogs” and “German Shepherd: genetic history,” discusses the success of breeding, which was conducted on the basis of points in SchH 1. The study showed that “the level of inheritance of standard Schutzhund components (tracking, obedience, protection, and courage) was practically zero.”
Pretty sad, but not surprising. If points in Schutzhund, or Ring or the KNPV could serve as a basis for effective decisions about breeding, the art of breeding would become an exact science. In the formula like “take ten males and ten females with the best scores in the world and breed them “; yet, any knowledgeable breeder will tell you that, as a rule, this formula brings only disappointment.

Successful breeding of working dogs have always been and will be not only a science but also an art. Science undoubtedly lies in the object of genetics. A good breeder will understand the genetics of the dogs but also be able to read deeper into it and be able to distinguish between a great genetic base and excellent training.

As you can see, an experienced breeder does not rely on the dog’s titles to manage their breeding program. Instead, they observe the training process. By the time the dog gets to the testing stage, if the handler has at least some knowledge, the dog will be “done” and will look good. If the dog has a problem, a knowledgeable handler will build training in a way to compensate for this weakness, making it invisible on the field. In other words, during a trial, a dog with a moderately decent temperament will be indistinguishable from a dog with a strong character in the hands of a good trainer.

If you were able to travel around and look at these future working champions while they were still at an early stage of their careers, you could easily see their strengths and weaknesses. Was this dog bred with the understanding that the helper is the bad guy? Or did they just learn to perform convincing escort? In trials this does not matter: in either case, the dog will get the highest score. But for a breeder or a puppy buyer, this difference is very important. Some of the qualities that make a dog a real winner are inherited. However, none of the excellent training which made this mediocre dog look great will be inherited to their puppies.

If you rely on the titles, then how do you know what you get?
Kenzie at 5 month-first time before the helper 

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Showing 2 comments
  • Michelle Giguere

    Excellent article Isabella! Thank you for sharing you insights. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed the works of Dr. Malcolm Willis and the genetics of the German shepherd. As you know, I do not trial and title my dogs myself. This is not the ideal situation, but it is my reality. I breed, but have to rely on breed surveys and titles put on by some else, somewhere else, usually for money. Not the best combination…
    Over the years I have owned SchH3 dogs that had obviously been carried through their titles by a very skilled handler (retired early…), I have seen excellent dogs which were sold to me as ‘unfit for work’ by inexperienced or clumsy handlers, and many dogs who had been trained for a quick and dirty minimal breed survey who could have been excellent working dogs but never had a chance.
    As breeders we have to see through all this and make out what behaviors are genetic or environmental. And then we have to observe to see what a dog actually passes on to progeny. In the selection of breeding partner, I find that the overwhelming importance of the dam’s temperament and behavior is often overlooked and undervalued. A nervous, insecure or jumpy dam can ruin a good litter! She may be the best on the field but not in the whelping box.
    Indeed breeding is so much more complex then simply using the ‘flavor of the day’ sire hoping he will give you little copies of himself 🙂
    So I agree with you, one cannot build a breeding program based on titles and scores alone.

  • Carla Simon

    Thank you Isabella, for your thoughtful coverage of the topic. I look forward to reading more in future.

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