Nickelsberg's Farm

German Shepherd Herding

From HGH To Schutzhund

Schutzhund and Herding

Ellen Nickelsberg

Willy off to start the day by getting the flock in order.

How can one really get to know and become comfortable working with the dog’s instincts and the array of drives and behaviors that come out of those instincts? How can one selectively breed for those qualities, including character traits, if one does not get to know them?  I want my dogs, which were genetically selected for this work, to teach me — that is what they were bred for and that is why I work them in large flock management every day.  I trust my GSD herding dogs ─ they have never let me down.

So what happens when HGH herding becomes more of a hobby and a sport?  Will the HGH dog still retain the genetic balance that the old HGHs brought to the breed?  Will today’s HGH still be suitable for real herding work?  Or are those days and those genetically endowed GSD HGH dogs a thing of the past?

These are very interesting questions.  They bring attention to something that can easily be overlooked when trying to select and breed dogs for specific work like herding.  They are questions that should be seriously thought about when breeding for genetic working characteristics.  The questions bring attention to how the dog can get lost in man’s enthusiasm to train ─ where training somehow takes on a life of its own or becomes an end in itself, especially when competition enters the equation.

No doubt training is an essential tool.  A tool that can be used to enhance natural behaviors appropriately in the dog ─ behaviors that can serve man such as police K-9, guide dog, SAR, therapy dog, drug & bomb detection, sheep herding.  So it follows in the case of sheep herding that when training is used as a tool to help encourage, improve, strengthen and develop ALL the natural genetic talents the dog brings with it to this job, then training serves to enhance what is already in the dog.  Proper training should not distort the expression of those instincts.  Proper training should make those instincts and behaviors serviceable ─ I call that “education”.  However, when training serves instead to put into a dog those same behaviors that are not naturally in that particular dog to perform, then training becomes more a means of demonstrating the trainer’s ability to train than the dog’s natural, genetic ability to work.

The properly “educated” dog which has the genetics necessary for performing its particular work will be much better suited to perform this work willingly, independently and reliably than the trained, command/control dog which may, or may not, have the genetics.  It has been my experience that the properly “educated” dog by virtue of its genetics is far more likely to be able to perform successfully on its own in any new or unique working situation that might suddenly arise unexpectedly than the trained, command/control dog which has been taught to rely on commands ─ especially under the stress of a new situation.

When HGH herding dogs are bred more for their “trainability” than for their genetic herding ability THEN we risk losing the HGH dog that inspired vonStephanitz ─ this holds true for both professional shepherds and for hobby herders.

When HGH herding dogs are trained to perform on command more than they are “educated” to develop and appropriately use their own genetic herding instincts, abilities and behaviors to serve the shepherd, then we, as guardians of the breed, lose our ability to see and understand just what these genetic qualities and characteristics are that we should be conserving and selectively breeding for. The same goes for every line of work the GSD is selectively bred to do.

The genes will always be there.  However, our ability to help produce or conserve meaningful genetic combinations is 100% dependent on our skill and ability to clearly identify and define exactly what the genetic attributes are that we need in our dogs in order for them to perform the desired tasks we selectively breed them for.  We need to be specific and we need to prioritize the value of each specific genetic attribute needed if we expect to have any hope of breeding what we need in our working dogs.  If we aren’t clear about what we want and need, how can we produce it?  Full-time work proofs the quality of the dog’s genetic working characteristics which trialing tests for.



More Alike Than You Might Think

How do large-flock herding and the herding dog relate to Schutzhund?

Let me offer a few thoughts on the subject.  Think about your Schutzhund protection exercises and the large flock HGH  exercises.  Up close, the HGH must hold its ground, hold the boundary, against the pressure of hundreds of hungry sheep wanting to get to the good crops on the other side.  For this the dog must have the temperament, courage and sound nerves to command the respect of the flock by showing that it can and will use its bite to grip when and where necessary. When challenged or charged by sheep leaving the graze or on the road, the HGH must have the temperament, nerve and courage to fight back and to teach the sheep a lesson with a punishing grip.

The Schutzhund bark and hold requires the dog to find the man in the blind and to hold him there without biting him as long as the man stays in the blind — the HGH herding dog is required to hold the sheep inside the graze without gripping them as long as they stay inside the graze.  Also, the Schutzhund escape from the blind requires the dog to bite the helper as soon as the helper moves to escape and to hold the helper as long as he struggles, fights and hits — the HGH herding dog is required to grip the sheep if a sheep tries to leave the graze and to release the sheep as soon as it stops struggling or heads back into the graze.  In fact, the Schutzhund escape and attack exercises can all be compared to the duties required by the properly bred and educated large flock HGH herding dog.

Consider Schutzhund obedience during the protection phase.  The Schutzhund dog must be under the control of the handler in a high-drive situation and so must the HGH.  Yet in both disciplines the dog must perform on its own initiative out of instinct.  In both Schutzhund protection and HGH the foundation of obedience is “STAY” and “OUT”.  Without them you have no control over the dog in a high drive situation.  For control and obedience in a high drive situation, these commands must be obeyed in a high drive environment whether that environment is the protection field or the sheep graze.

Those are some of the similarities.  What would the difference be?  It seems to me that the main difference between Schutzhund protection and HGH work is in the nature of the work itself.  The HGH dog must work independently at a great distance from the shepherd while the Schutzhund dog must work closer to the handler and much more on command.

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