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STEVE BARBASH ON TEMPERMENT TESTING

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/Wed. 01/06/2010 - 06:37 — GSDadmin

The following is an article written for the German Shepherd Dog column in the June AKC Gazette. It was also run in the current issue of The German Shepherd Quarterly.

Testing Temperament in German Shepherd Dogs

Temperament – or Character – is of paramount importance in the German Shepherd Dog. In fact, the Standard of the Breed devotes more than 200 words to this aspect of the dog. This is understandable since the breed is used for numerous working functions throughout the world and a dog with deficits of character cannot carry out its jobs predictably and reliably.

For a number of years, Dave Rinke, who has judged many National Specialties, has stated at the Judges’ Education Seminar that judges should always choose specimens that “look like a Shepherd, act like a Shepherd, and move like a Shepherd.” A study of the Breed Standard and pictures can give you a good idea of what they should look like. What they move like requires attending a National or Regional Specialties, which have large enough rings to be able to see the full extension of gait that good-moving Shepherds can attain (without racing!).

But to really judge how the Shepherd should act must be done in the ring by the judge. For many years at the Judges Education Seminar at the National Specialty, the late Bob Penny instructed new judges in the method established by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America to efficiently and effectively determine whether an individual dog demonstrated the desired traits of Character. The judge should not have any contact with the dogs in a class prior to individual examination: no walking down the line greeting the dogs, or having them sniff the judge. A spot in the ring about six to eight feet away from the judge should be indicated by the judge or the steward for the first dog. The handler should stand the dog there on a loose lead. Then the judge should approach the dog in a friendly manner, talking or not, and touch the dog. Then the handler can stack the dog and the regular examination proceed. It will add no more than five or ten seconds to the individual examination, but it will give the judge the opportunity to observe whether the dog is “approachable, quietly standing its ground and showing confidence and willingness to meet overtures without itself making them.”

It is very important that the judges approach the dog and not have the handler bring the dog into the judge; that’s a completely different dynamic and handlers have used that for years with dogs lacking confidence. It is also important that the judge not stalk the dog or try to stare the dog down.
This isn’t a confrontation; it’s a friendly encounter and an opportunity to quickly assess if the dog has a “direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships…”

Through the AKC, The Parent Club has requested that all people judging German Shepherds use this easy form of temperament evaluation, and it is required for judging at the National, the Futurity and Maturity Competitions and with numerous Regional Clubs for their Specialties. Recently, there has been some talk about stopping at that point and not asking all-breed judges to use the procedure. Those of us who feel strongly about this point hope that all who love or respect the breed will place the emphasis on Character embodied in our Standard.

As Strickland and Moses stated in “The German Shepherd Today,” Good character and temperament are just as important to the overall dog as is a strong back, good shoulder, good gait, or some other feature. Unsound temperament, a very serious fault, is a dominant trait that keeps reappearing in each succeeding generation.”

We’re not asking that you make a big show about what this quick evaluation reveals about the dog’s character, or that you excuse him or her unless it is justified by the dog’s action, such as tucking the tail or shrinking behind the handler. But please, do not reward any dog or bitch who lacks self-confidence with placings, or above all, with championship points.

Steven Barbash has been active in German Shepherds since 1967 as an exhibitor, breeder and since 1999 as a judge (also judging Junior Showmanship and Shetland Sheepdogs). He has served as President of the Northern New Jersey GSDC, the GSDC of Rochester, the Iroquois GSDC, and the Genesee Valley Kennel Club.