More on the companion temperament
My favorite subject the AA temperament! To help you understand the background of what we have arrived at today – the Companion Temperament; I will give you a comparison throughout this writing of Hunting and Herding/Flock Guardian Temperaments.
The American Alsatian first and foremost was developed for it’s temperament and longevity. We want a dog that is easy to be around, and easy to keep. A dog that will not cause hardship on their owners or neighbors. There are several characteristics that make a dog hard to keep. These are barking, digging/chewing/destructive, wandering, aggression and ill health leading to costly medical care or upkeep. These are the five main reasons dogs are surrendered/abandoned or neglected.
And THAT - my dear is the entire goal of our Project – to keep dogs from being abandoned and/or neglected.
Now take for instance, most bird retrieving breeds. For hundreds of years, dog s have been selected that are best at flushing or retrieving without harming the quarry, bred together, progeny selected and on and on – until you have dogs that are BORN with the instincts to be good at birding. Bird dog breeders select for traits such as a good point, a soft mouth, or a body type that is good at swimming in cold water.
The founder of the American Alsatian Breed, Lois Schwarz recognized there are several temperament traits that make a dog a “Good” companion. These include how a dog eats (sloppy or dainty?), how they treat fences and barriers (with respect or is it something to be conquered?), how they manage their feet and heads around people (do they throw their head and feet around regardless of your personal space?). All of the tiny nuances are present in most of today’s working breeds. However, the dogs with temperaments we prefer – eat daintily and slowly, don’t push barriers and are careful with their bodies – these dogs make terrible dogs for the work they were bred for. Most of these characteristics are selected AGAINST when choosing a pup to develop into a good working dog.
The GSD is a very ancient breed, and it comes with very ancient temperament. It is a flock guardian primarily, so to be a good guardian the dog needs a keen intelligence that will allow it to think for itself. A good guardian needs to be able make decisions on it’s own about the threat to its pack. To do this, the dog needs a strong will, quick reactivity, and the ability to respect but disregard barriers and boundaries as it deems appropriate to protect it’s flock (pack). To achieve this particular blend of genetics, the breeder has to recognize the need for a certain amount of nervousness. The more nervous the pup – the more hyper vigilant the adult will be. Generation after generation selected for the right type of nervous for a guardian can lead to a very skittish and hard-to-calm German Shepherd Dog, pet.
Most GSD’d I know have a problem rushing doors. They will just bust into something; stepping on feet and knock everything out of their way – it appears to us – to simply get on the other side. If I were breeding a line of search and rescue or cadaver GSD’s, this would be a desired personality trait. It means the dog would be willing to get to the person in need, no-matter-what.
For a companion dog, I would NOT desire this personality trait. The American Alsatian has a tendency to behave itself around doors and fence lines. They would not make a good search and rescue dog. They enjoy a hike WITH YOU. But having the drive and push to find a person in distress would be hard pressed.
One of the personality traits often found in GSD’s, is the bright sharp look with a head-cock, ears erect. Seeming to listen intently, and at the same time reply in conversation. With that simple gesture a GSD can communicate volumes. This personality trait is something I would look for. This dog is “interested” and is actively reading you. HOWEVER – too much of this can be like a nervous tick, if you breed too much of it into the dog. Yes, even THAT is genetic. I have met some GSD’s like this, and these dogs are over-communicators - In your face and constantly wanting interaction. THESE are the dogs that can be prone to separation anxiety. A GSD with SA is a force to be reckoned with.
Now, I want to veer off from the GSD to mention some of the other breeds in my AA’s. The Irish Wolfhound is notorious for laying at it’s master’s feet. It is also notorious for it’s tendency to break out of it’s yard and go on chicken or cat killing sprees. Toodles is five generations away from an Irish Wolfhound outcross, and we have brought forth her desire to lay at my feet, being my own personal bear skin rug. She does not have any desire to leave her yard, and placidly observes wildlife from a safe quiet distance. We have brought the companion dog trait forward and left the prey drive behind.
Malamutes, given proper socialization during formative months, are not prone to separation anxiety. This makes sense when we consider that for hundreds of years, only dogs with the ability to live for days at a time away from human companionship, have been selected to develop the malamute. August West, with a high content of Rainier, the original Malamute outcross, has ZERO problem being left alone. His puppy scores reflected this at three weeks. We have brought this very desirable trait forward from the malamute, leaving behing the breed’s tendency to wander and reputation for being hard to contain.
One last thing that can vary from GSD line to GSD line, that marks a big difference between our breeds. The GSD’s heritage requires it to be a powerful, quick and agile dog. It needs a high adrenal response and quick metabolism. Our AA’s have heavy, solid bones and their metabolism has a slower pace, as they themselves are slower paced. They DO play, with toys…but it is never obsessive ball fetching and rarely to they insist by making a nuisance of themselves with wet balls dropped in your lap. They will fetch as long as you seem interested. Maybe. Some just do not fetch. I’d prefer that over interest in chasing anything. My 2 AA’s will amuse themselves by tossing stuffed toys around or chewing on a toy, but it is short lived and quiet. Quiet is a must. Any vocality – barking whiny ect – we select against. They will warn of intruders, but even that is short lived and quiet.
Are they fun and quirky?
Yes, I would say so. I’m going to compare them to humans for a minute. In the games of life – you have golfers and you have skate boarders. Our dogs are more “golfers” than boarders. They like to be outside, enjoy a good game – but please no rush, let’s not go fast. They like to think about their game, then go relax at the country club. I view GSD’s as more the skater kind – YEAH! LETS GO! THIS IS EXTREME!!!! And to relax they take a 4 mile hike. So, yes, they play. Yes they are fun, and you’ll have so many things to talk about what they do (I can just see it now – “Do you know what my dog did today? The most incredible thing…”
There is a popular catch phrase we have “I’m watching You!”
This is double fold in meaning. 1st – the breeders want to make it clear that we are watching what you do with our dogs. If we find out you have abandoned the dog – we will go get it. We are watching to make sure you have a good fit in your home with our dogs. The last thing we want is to cause hardship for you and yours. So we watch as much as we can.
Secondly – the American Alsatian has a reputation of learning by watching. No one believes it until they experience it for themselves. These dogs (of te appropriate temperament for an AA – some outcrosses do not have this yet) – can watch what you show them to do, then just – do it. You don’t have to shape behavior, or treat-reward the dickens out of something. They just “get it”. Here’s a magnificent example. Toodles got excited one day and knocked a dish of dog food out of my hand. Before I could react or even scold her to calm down, she hit the deck and was remorseful. How did she know that was wrong? After some thought – it must be because earlier that week, “I” knocked the dog food of the counter and was quite upset with myself. Mmmmm.. I cussed a little. Toodles has ever since then – been extremely careful around human objects. We have low tables and she does everything she can to make sure she doesn’t hit anything. Now, this does have a draw back. You’ll have to be careful what you show them. You may come home to find they’ve laundered your whites with your colors.