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Attack Dog Training

German shepherds are one of the most common breeds in the world. I am not opposed to people keeping them and breeding them. Some of these dogs are wonderful family pets. Others are superior law enforcement dogs.

But what I do oppose is total hypocrisy in providing analysis about different breeds of dog.

I have not mentioned on this space before, but I am deeply skeptical of the research put out by Merritt Clifton of Animals 24-7. Not only does he get a lot of breed history wrong– his sloppy use of the term “molosser” is enough for me to question anyone’s expertise about dogs– but he actually engages in pseudoscientific claims about the behavior of breeds he happens to like.

Most people know Clifton for his tireless campaign to prove to the world that “pit bulls” are walking time bombs that are just about to explode at any moment.  Anyone who questions him has been targeted as a “pit bull apologist” or a “pit bull nutter.”

But Clifton himself is one hell of an apologist. Just not with pit bulls.

In his analysis of dog bites from 1982-2014,* Clifton makes some interesting claims about German shepherd bites:

German shepherds are herding dogs, bred for generations to guide and protect sheep. In modern society, they are among the dogs of choice for families with small children, because of their extremely strong protective instinct. They have three distinctively different bites: the guiding nip, which usually does not break the skin; the grab-and-drag, to pull a puppy or lamb or child away from danger, which is as gentle as emergency circumstances allow; and the reactive bite, usually in defense of territory, a child, or someone else the dog is inclined to guard. The reactive bite usually comes only after many warning barks, growls, and other exhibitions intended to avert a conflict. When it does come, it is typically accompanied by a frontal leap for the wrist or throat.

Because German shepherds often use the guiding nip and the grab-and-drag with children, who sometimes misread the dogs’ intentions and pull away in panic, they are involved in biting incidents at almost twice the rate that their numbers alone would predict: approximately 28% of all bite cases, according to a recent five-year compilation of Minneapolis animal control data. Yet none of the Minneapolis bites by German shepherds involved a serious injury: hurting someone is almost never the dogs’ intent.

There are several Clifton’s claims. The first is he conflates herding dogs with livestock guardian dogs. Herding dogs really don’t guard sheep, and the German shepherd’s ancestors were herding dogs. Instead, they engage in predatory behavior that is modified through selective breeding and training. Everyone who lives in a rural area knows that untrained collie-types are a major problem for people keeping sheep and goats. With no training to modify their behavior, they often surplus kill stock. Livestock guardian dogs, by contrast, bond with the stock and protect them. They are selected against exhibiting predatory behavior, and although these dogs sometimes do become predators of livestock, it is not something that anyone would breed for or tolerate within those strains. With herding dogs, though, it is often a tricky balance between herding and hunting.

Note that I said the German shepherd’s ancestors were bred for herding. The modern GSD has not been bred exclusively for this behavior for over a century. If you want an idea of what the original GSD was like, you will have to go to eastern Germany’s Harz Mountains and look for a mid-sized herding dog called Harzer fuchs, which means “Harz fox.”  GSD were partially developed from the Thuringian sheepdog, and the Harz Mountains extend into Thurginia. This dog is actually an active herding breed, but Germany itself has many regional variants of sheepdog. This one just happens to look a lot like the standard German shepherd and is probably similar to the Thuringian type of dog that was crossed into the GSD.

The dog we call a German shepherd dog today, though, has undergone a radical transformation from the sheepdog. One cannot ignore that the dog we call the GSD today was largely the brainchild of a German cavalry officer named Max von Stephanitz. Stephanitz used prick-eared sheepdogs from southern and Eastern Germany, and very quickly began to standardize them and develop them as generalist working dogs. He founded the  Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde in 1899, and his club began developing the breed as the ultimate working dog. There was a heavy emphasis on breeding the dogs for personal protection and military purposes, and a strong selection away from bite inhibition behavior.

German shepherds bite people. His decision to arbitrarily create three categories of German shepherd bite is just weaseling. No credible ethologist or animal behaviorist would recognize these distinctions. GSD have been bred for personal protection and law enforcement. When they bite, it has nothing to do with herding.  I bet there aren’t 200 GSD in all of North America that are used for herding stock, but there are thousands that are bred for protection work and sport and for law enforcement purposes.

What Clifton has done is really good example of legitimizing violence. German shepherds are generally thought of as dogs belonging to the police or a good conservative family, while pit bulls are the dogs of the nonwhite underclass. When a pit bull bites, it is a thug dog. When a German shepherd bites, it is the good shepherd.

In essence, the German shepherd is the equivalent of ” the good guy with a gun” we often hear right wing extremists talk about.

Clifton is treated as an expert on dog bite issues. I don’t know why. I will leave it to more qualified people to make analysis about pit bulls, but I can tell you that German shepherds should not be given a free pass when it comes to dog bite issues.

I am not an expert, but I do know enough about dogs to know when someone is just making stuff up.

Clifton is not giving an intellectually honest answer when he gives his German shepherd apologetics.

I write this not as someone who wants laws against German shepherds, but I can tell you that everything Clifton does is about making law on pit bulls and other “molossers,” which, I’ve pointed out, is actually bogus term.

All I am saying is consult the ethology literature on herding behavior, and read the actual history of German shepherd dogs. They are derived from herders, which is true, but they haven’t been bred exclusively for that behavior in well over a century. A German shepherd is a dog that has been bred to bite people, preferably under control and training. But an untrained, reactive GSD can do a lot of damage to person, just as any big dog could.

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*Clifton, Merrit. “Dog bites and maimings, US and Canada: September 1982 to December 31, 2014.” Animals 24-7.

 

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Source.

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DSC02691 

The problem with snow is that makes a dog’s scent marks less distinct, and they must be reapplied.

 

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bassano pointers

I had an interesting conversation a few days ago:

Why is that people who keep fish and exotic pets are so open to new scientific knowledge about their animals?

Why is that the innovative ways of keeping these animals quickly gain acceptance among their owners, while in the world of dogs, the bulk of the culture has stagnated around a bunch of tired ideas (particularly dominance behavior models and the closed registry system)?

I think the answer has two parts two.

People have been keeping dogs for longer than we’ve cultivated fields, while fish and exotic pets are often only just a few generations removed from the wild.

The best ways to keep these animals are often in a somewhat experimental state, and it’s not always guaranteed that the ways that those who came before had the best way of caring for them.

Caring for dogs is pretty much cut and dry, or at least, that is how it seems.

But the world of dogs, unlike the world of exotic pets or aquarium fish, is very much caught up in some sort of tradition.

When you buy a breed, you buy into a  breed history, which may or may not be true, and you also buy into a culture that pays a lot of homage to those “greats” who came before.

Now, maybe those greats had some insight about the animals at hand, but there often gets to be a sort of cult based upon that great’s ideas– even if what that great happens to believe absolute garbage.

Take German Shepherd dogs and the worship of Lloyd Brackett and his cute incest formula. Brackett was an anti-Semite eugenicist who happened to win a bunch of dog shows, so in the world of show GSD, his ideas are treated as if they were wonderful. Of course,  I doubt that very many people in GSD’s share his views that the Jews were a “superior race” because they were inbred, but many people who show GSD’s hold onto that same logic.

Of course, it’s garbage.

But if you follow Brackett, you might win a few dog shows. Never mind that the bulk of the show GSD population is slowly deteriorating into a bunch of ataxic-gaited hyenas.

This never gets questioned, of course, because Brackett leads to success within  the culture.

And when you buy a dog breed, you’re buying into a culture. You’re also buying into a brand, and within a brand, there are all sorts romantic ideals about what that brand should be.

It is not just within show dogs  that people get caught up in the branding. One of the things I’ve always found amusing about the border collie is a belief that this is a traditional farm dog and that its abilities as a farm dog have been made better through trialling. Except that the original collie-type farm dog was not nearly as strongly-eyed or obsessive as a border collie, and in my part of the world, this sort of “collie” still exists in the form of English shepherds and farm collies, neither of which would ever be able to win a border collie trial in the first place.

A border collie is actually a dog created to manage very large flocks. It was never a dog for small farmers, and what’s more, it exists in its current form largely to win sheepdog trials.

But if you buy into the culture, then you accept that sheepdog trials are “traditional dog work,” when they really are something pretty new in the grand scheme of pastoral dogs.

If a dog person wants to think as an aquarist or exotic pet owner does, then one must be willing to go against the grain.

To accept new ideas is blasphemy in much of the world of dogs.

At some point, you almost have to deny the breed brand and also deny much of the wisdom that came before.

Because science tells us that dogs are organisms. All dog breeds are part of the same species, and special beliefs about dogs– like those that deny heterosis exists within crossbreeds– simply aren’t true. No matter what misrepresentations or jun science studies people come up with, the rules of population genetics still work in the world of dogs.

Further, we don’t now everything there is to know about dog behavior, but it is pretty clear that we were wrong in assuming that dog societies and behavior can be modeled on decades-old and somewhat discredited studies on captive wolf packs.

But if you’ve bought a breed where the people most successful in training it in the past have all adopted some form of  what might be called dog abuse axioms, then to question the way the dog is trained is also to blaspheme the breed.

But if we are to do what is truly right by dogs, then we have to be willing to blaspheme.

And if you blaspheme, there are countless numbers of people who will come after you. If your breed exists only as a specialists’ dog, then you might very well be run out of it– just for questioning shibboleths.

The sad thing about the world of dogs is that rationalists and skeptics exist in a very small minority within the various dog subcultures.

To question is to deny.

And to deny is heresy.

We have allowed our relationship with the domestic dog to stagnate.

Modern science has been relegated only toward a celebration of health testing, as if breeding out genetic diseases within increasingly inbred populations is the best way to manage them. As soon as someone who knows better points out that this is not a good long-term solution, it is automatically denounced as animal rights issue or “socialism.”

It’s very sad that so much of the world of dogs resembles a religion, and in the past, I’ve actually called much of the world of dogs a series of ersatz religions.

One of the things that religion often does is it puts mental blocks when understanding is not complete or when accepted truths are contradicted with obvious facts. In the former case, dogma will fill in the gaps, and in the latter case, facts will be denied or dismissed (often in a vast conspiracy theory).

I have had very stupid people post things to my blog and to my Facebook page like “If every time you breed it’s a crap shoot, then shoot the crap you breed.”  The “if” in this case is what you have to accept if you allow for a certain amount of genetic diversity in a breed– some dogs aren’t going to be winners or have the preferred conformation or temperament one wants in a breed. But if you inbreed, you will get lots of dogs that look and behave alike. Of course, such animals might be fine or even quite healthy, but if an entire population of a breed gets subject to such consanguinity, then the chances for higher levels of genetic load will be heightened and the chance of a real inbreeding depression is almost certain.

But no one cares about that when you’re winning the prizes.

You will be rewarded for pissing away the genes, and it will be successive generations who will have to deal with the consequences.

And it will continue up and until one of two things happen:

The real animal rights agenda comes to power and pushes upon dog breeders a ton of regulations.

Or there is rationalist revolution in the world of dogs.

My hope is for the latter, but I am not holding my breath.

There just isn’t enough blasphemy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One of the great shibboleths in the dog world is that there is a creature known as the “responsible breeder.”

Each person has a definition about what one is, but for many years, the biggest defining point was the adherence to blood purity cult. Usually this would be mixed in with all the delusions of preservation, as well as the delusion of improvement.*

The unfortunate thing is none of these things have much to do with the real world.

In the real world, crossbreeding isn’t evil. It’s innovation.

Take this nice post by Suzanne Phillips over at the Hoof &Paw blog.

In her part of Oregon, it’s not unusual for someone to breed this:

Photo by Suzanne Phillips.

Photo from Suzanne Phillips.

This dog is a German short-haired pointer/Labrador retriever cross. It’s basically a purposely-bred cross that mixes the ruggedly versatile German HPR wit the always popular, hard driving Labrador. Suzanne mentions that when a friend of hers bred such a cross people drove from hundreds of miles to pick up one.

Such is the reputation of this cross.

She mentions another variant of the cross in the post as well. This time the retriever in question is a Chesapeake, but she has been bred to a German shorthair.

Photo by Suzanne Phillips.

Photo from Suzanne Phillips.

It’s hard for anyone in that old way of thinking to say that these were not well-bred animals.

Chesapeakes, Labs, and German shorthairs are all very useful animals. Not a single one of them was created through maintaining closed registries until very recently.

And even now, many people who want a useful dog don’t pay much attention to the old blood purity rules.

That’s because these blood purity rules are way outside of the average person’s experience with dogs. Almost no one owns a dog that is very tightly bred, and virtually everyone in the public would be repulsed by the idea.

Many people talk about the reason why the American Kennel Club is in such terrible financial straight. Animal rights activist get the blame. The puppy mill paper mills get their share, too.

But I think the real problem is that the American Kennel Club, though it is headquartered in the United States and always has been, is really a foreign institution.

Its values were imported from Great Britain at the height of its imperialist glory. As strange as it sounds today, most Americans were very anti-British during most the nineteenth century. Britain had burned down our capital. It allowed the Confederacy to have the delusion that it was on the side of their rebellion.  It was also a major competitor in the Northwest. Plus, tons of Americans were Irish famine refugees.

As America grew wealthier, wealthy and upper middle class Americans began to emulate the British Empire. Some of the first retriever trials in America were held on Long Island. Labradors were the breed of choice, and they were run almost exactly as they were in the mother country.

Meanwhile, American market duck hunters were blasting away with punt guns and heavy shotguns at vast flocks waterfowl. Their hardy “Chesapeake duck dogs,” water spaniels, and retrieving setters were earning their money. The backwoods market hunters were treeing grouse and turkeys with curs and feists. And very few of these people gave a rat’s behind about the pedigree of the dog.

In fact, most Americans didn’t care for this nonsense at all. The most common dog in much of the country was the generalist farm collie, usually called “a shepherd,” which did some light herding work and hunted everything it was asked to.

None of these dog were maintained within a concept of a “fancy.” There might be shows for foxhounds, coonhounds, and beagles, but every single dog in those shows was also a performance hound. And none of these dogs was kept in a true closed registry, and even now, pack hounds are still crossed on a routine basis.

But they are outside the AKC, and they are also outside the UKC.

Americans bred dogs to perform. In the early days of settlement, vast numbers of dogs couldn’t be imported from Europe. Our dog culture became based upon what can survive and what could do multiple tasks well.

The British dog culture was about specialization and arbitrarily classifying things based upon color and coat and size.

It became well-established among “learned circles” that American dogs, like our livestock, were in desperate need of improvement. From the 1870’s onward, there has been attempt to bring America the glories of canine improvement through closed registry breeding.

And it’s been a colossal failure.

It came closest to success in the middle to late part of the twentieth century, when the burgeoning middle class that had grown up out of the Second World War began to own purebred dogs as status symbol. It’s at this time that my own family got their first AKC dog, a registered rough collie named “Cam.”  Cam produced more than a few litters of collie-foxhounds, which were then quite in demand in West Virginia as varmint dogs.

I’ve noticed that when most laypeople watch dog shows, they only want their favorite breeds to win. They want to see the golden retriever go BIS at Westminster. They don’t care about the rare breeds. They are curiosities, novelties to be looked as if one were looking artifacts in a museum.

And that may be too charitable for some breeds.

I’m sure the untrained eye sees many of the really exaggerated dogs as creatures best belong in a freak show.

And of course, one really can’t argue with them.

Many progressive people rightly complain about how Americans have never adopted certain European ideals, but the notion of a national kennel registry to tell us how to breed dogs is one I’m glad we’ve never fully accepted.

So long as a dog fancy remains this insular, very foreign, and reactionary clique, the American people are going to ignore what these people say.

And buy gun dogs like these.

And doodles.

And Texas heelers.

After all, this culture produces good dogs.

And the dog fancy continues to produce freaks– many of which are unhealthy and very hard to care for.

This is how market economies work. There is failure, and there is success. The dog fancy has been a failure in the United States– and our dogs stand a much better chance because of it.

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*There will be a post on this at some point,

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Here’s Miley the deer-taming retriever trying to whisper a foal. She is doing everything to show him that she’s not a threat. She’s lying down and smelling the grass– just to show him that she’s not a predator out to kill him!

Of course, horses evolved on this continent with dire wolves nipping at their heels, and somewhere in his brain, a golden retriever is a fell beast that seeks to do nothing but evil to the horse kind.

Source.

I think this may be where she learned to tame deer. LOL.

Golden retrievers have a lot of social intelligence. That’s why they are so popular as pets and working dogs.

This is why I like them.

 

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Both of these breeds are pretty intelligent dogs, but they respond to this problem in very different ways.

Source.

Some people are commenting that because the border collie is faster in its retrieval, it therefore must be the more intelligent animal.

But look what’s going on here.

The golden retriever is being very judicious and deliberate. It’s that same sort of behavior that would allow a golden retriever to bring in a wounded pheasant or duck without giving it further damage.

Border collies are great Frisbee dogs. Golden retrievers almost always suck at it. They just aren’t as nutty about jumping up and grabbing things.

Border collies have been bred to move things and make things move.  If a border collie needs to use its teeth on stock, it is allowed to– though this is faulted in the border collie NASCAR events. Border collies are a very much a sporting dog that have been bred for almost neurotic behavior.  Everyone knows that border collies are smart, but they have another side to them, which actually makes them almost entirely unsuitable for general family pets.

I think one of the byproducts of breeding for a soft mouth is that you get a dog that is deliberate in how it relates to the world. This is why golden retrievers, even those from working lines that have a lot more energy than most family dogs, still make very good pets as well as working dogs. This is why both Labrador and golden retrievers and the crosses between them have proven to be the ultimate assistance dogs. They are biddable and intelligent, but they are deliberate and gentle as the work.

Border collies are geniuses, but they have not been bred with the same sort of “nous” or “sagacity” as a retriever.

And I should note here that as much as I complain about how breeding for a particular conformation in bulldogs has essentially ruined them, breeding for extreme behavior in border collies has had almost the same effect.

The border collie is just too much dog for the typical dog owner– and it’s also why I don’t think the solution to the dog fancy’s problems is to adopt the solution that working border collie people have embraced.

A trial that rewards extreme behavior and popular sire selection is just going to produce a dog that is just as genetically compromised as the show dogs and is going to have behavioral problems that are just as questionable as the bulldog’s health problems.

Now, if border collies were bred more like English shepherds, things might be very different. English shepherds are a real farm dog landrace– not a sporting dog at all. They vary in temperament, but many of them are sort of golden retrieverish in temperament. Others are are more like Chesapeake Bay dogs that are docile and intelligent, but they are good guards.

But they are not trial dogs. A better term for an English shepherd would be “generalist collie.”  Because they were always used to do a lot of different things on the farm, they were intentionally bred for sagacity.

And border collies might be canine geniuses, but in some ways they are very limited in their utility.

They have almost gone down the bulldog path, but they have gone along a side road.

This is the over-selection for an extreme temperament in order to win a particular kind of sheep dog trial.

American trial Labradors have undergone a very similar selection, which is one reason why some might prefer a golden retriever or British working Labrador for general gun dog work. In the end, the best retrievers are a balance between docility and sagacity and a strong working drive.

Border collies are all drive and biddablity but are often lacking in docility and deliberation.

That’s why they aren’t my kind of dog.

I don’t care how smart they are.

 

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