Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Breed Differences

Waylon suggested that I write about the breed differences between the German Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd and the Malinois.  I can only tell you what my experience and observations have been. I have handled individuals from each of those breeds to multiple SchH3/IPO3 titles.  I have earned an FH with two Dutch Shepherds.  I handled one GSD police service dog, and a Dutch Shepherd earned DPO titles. Two malinois have titled to Mondioring1. I have trained and handled a Dutch Shepherd and a Malinois as Urban Search and Rescue Dogs.

My breed choices have come via the circumstances of my life. The only one I actively sought out and selected was the German Shepherd.  Still, there are those herding breed similarities that I am drawn to, and the dogs I enjoy working have very similar temperaments, no matter the breed.  Some people love a particular breed and will do what they can with that breed, accepting that it may not be the fastest, most skilled animal or take a place on the podium.  They make the journey together, enjoying that and not expecting more than the animal can give.  These people I respect.  They do not abuse their dogs for the sake of their own ego, demanding accomplishments beyond the capabilities of the dog.  Their dogs may be compared unfavorably to breeds that excel at certain sports or activities, but it's okay.

There are others who select the breed according to the sport they wish to pursue.  In general, you will find more success and happiness with a dog who enjoys the activities you want to engage in with him.  To do this, you must understand the sport and what type of dog does best.  Even within the breeds, certain types of dogs and specific bloodlines perform better or provide differences you may wish to consider such as handler aggression. Your own temperament (and temper!) as well as handling skills also contribute to making a good choice. A reactive dog does not need a reactive handler.

Breed comparisons that I make are between the working varieties, not pet dog/AKC types. Just because a dog is of one of those three breeds does not mean it has the drive and temperament for work.  I prefer the German Shepherd Dog for new K9 handlers, as they tend to be more forgiving of mistakes.  They are also less reactive than the malinois and so make a good partner for an officer who is, himself, learning the program. For an officer who thinks with his muscles and has a need to prove he is the boss to his dog, or who is highly exciteable, a malinois can be a dangerous problem. I love my malinois, but they need to be worked from a calm place.

The sport of schutzhund was developed for the GSD.  The full, calm grip that is a trademark of the sport, is also more naturally occurring in the GSD.  If you choose to compete in schutzhund with another breed, you should recognize the natural qualities of those breeds and understand how they affect your training.  I have spent months and months working grip with dogs of other breeds who prefer to prey-shake and loosen the grip. If you enjoy certain sports you should also check and see which are available in your area, and whether they are open to your particular breed.  The German Shepherd is less body-aware and therefore, does not always jump as dramatically as a malinois and when we work them against obstacles it is less concerning to them to come into contact with the obstacle, whereas the malinois will spring away.  They are somewhat slower to mature as puppies.

If you are interested in ringsport, the Malinois is your first choice to be competitive.  Nerve strength can be an issue in some lines, but I think dogs who trial in Mondioring require more stability and are a good choice.  The French line dogs are smaller and extremely fast, as the decoy steals points from them by evading (esquiving) their moves.  Grip is not so important as getting there and holding on.  The Mondio dogs are larger and the grip more important, as accessories provide pressure, not the movement of the decoy.  So, your choice should be determined by what you want to do.  Choice poorly and you will be penalized for, and struggling with a grip issue forever.  Malinois puppies also need more exposure to the world, in a positive manner, when they are young.

I love my Dutch Shepherds, but they fall a little under the "I love the breed" category, even though they aren't winning championships.  However, when they are cross-bred with malinois then you cannot use them as an example of what a Dutch Shepherd is, to suggest a temperament or drive type.  I find them a very willing, medium sized dog that is not a reactive as a malinois but has a tendency toward defensiveness if this is worked in an immature dog.  They seem to have more ability to "turn off" and not be active all the time.  I have spent more time working grips with them in order to compete in schutzhund, as they prefer to prey-shake and fight. Calm has to be a shaped behavior.  Dutch Shepherd pups are similar to malinois in that they need to have a good foundation and exposure to environmental issues as a youngster.

The breed you choose should ideally be one that shares your enthusiasm for the sport you wish to pursue OR you must be willing to adapt the vision and find something you both can enjoy together.  To pound that square peg in a round hole will be unsatisfying and unfair.  Your own skills and personal attitude also affect which breed would be a good choice.  And sometimes, you make an emotional choice that has nothing to do with what breed would be best... and you love it, anyway. 
Use the following guide:
1) describe yourself as a handler/ dog owner.  are you exciteable? subdued? hate training and just want to hang out? short tempered?
2) describe your preferred method of training:  compulsion or motivational
3) identify the activities you wish to pursue with your dog.
Now match those things with the breed descriptions and within the breed, those individuals or lines that most closely correspond to your answers.  

And, if you answered "compulsion"  as a teaching method for #2............get a fish.