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NOTE: There are many ill-tempered dogs being bred.  Do your research and define what you are looking for in a dog as many breeders may have a different definition of good temperament. 

Excerpt from a post I made on Feb. 3, 2007:

"As a biobehavioralist and not a breeder, basic genetic temperament is pretty easy to spot. In humans, we have the typical type A/ type B, now formally called the behavioral activation system and the behavioral inhibition system. In dogs, you basically see the same - is the puppy confident or is the puppy insecure? Then you have other broad personality (NOT the same as temperament) variables, such independent, biddable, alpha, dominant, submissive, fearful, high energy, low energy, soft, hardy, etc....

A dog can be a combination of all those things, and none of them are the same. An alpha is NOT the same as a dominant dog. A dominant dog is not necessarily an aggressive dog. An aggressive dog can be dominant or fearful.

Anyways, I just got back from a Pat Hastings seminar, and getting back to the original question. She states that in her work, she's found that basic genetic temperament is pretty easy to test, and yes, there are some puppies that are very aggressive from the start. She has had 8 week old puppies lunge and bite. Pretty scary to see that coming from an 8 week old puppy.

I also thought I'd pass along a few more words of her wisdom while it is fresh in my mind. Genetic temperament is what gets passed on through breeding. Training and conditioning can change behavior, but it will never change the genetic temperament that is passed on through breeding. Temperament does have a genetic component, in dogs and humans no matter what breeders might tell you. There is an entire body of science called behavioral genetics. Pat Hastings stressed that temperament is absolutely imperative, and that as a judge, she would not put up incorrect temperament. If we don't hold temperament in high priority, then one day we may lose the right to own dogs."  End excerpt.

    Temperament is critical in a 130lb dog.  If a 130 lb dog wants something, hes going to get it unless he is well trained and has a decent temperament.  By decent I mean that a dog should tolerate being handled by all humans.  The dog should tolerate other dogs.  This is not to say that male posturing or squabbles over toys and food is a bad temperament.  Those are social interactions, not stable dispositions.  My point is that dogs should not lunge or attack another unjustly (and there are Swissies with that type of temperament being bred).  A well-tempered dog should be able to bounce back from negative events. 

   For example, a plate smashes on the floor and a dog is startled.  A well-tempered dog will be curious and then return to business whereas a not so well tempered dog will react negatively and/ or freak out.  For more information about temperament, read the other article.

Mouse and Mommy


    In most species, humans included, temperament is conceptualized with 2 components: the behavioral activation system (BAS) and the behavioral inhibition system (BIS).  The BAS posits that creatures with this type of temperament tend to be more outgoing, tend to improve relationships, and is usually less neurotic.  Creatures, whose temperaments are more BIS tend to be more reserved, show more fear, try to maintain the status quo of relationships, and are typically more neurotic. 

   Now contrast these two general temperaments, and you will find that the proper Greater Swiss Mountain Dog temperament is the BAS.  This should be kept in mind when doing the Pat Hastings temperament test.  Not only is it easier to deal with a BAS temperament, it is the correct Swissy temperament.  Swissies who obviously do not have the BAS temperament do NOT have a correct temperament as defined by the standard. 

    In my opinion, a Swissy without the CORRECT temperament should not be bred.  Even pet homes do not want a dog with a poor  temperament.  If we, as a group, cannot preserve the correct working temperament, there's no point in breeding at all.  Breeding incorrect temperaments will lead to a group of giant tri-colored dogs that cannot perform the functions they were originally bred for and possibly pose a threat to the public. 

European (FCI) Greater Swiss Mountain Dog Standard describes temperament as:

"Confident, alert, watchful and fearless in everyday situations. Good natured and devoted towards those familiar to him. Self assured with strangers. Medium temperament."

AKC Standard describes temperament as:

    "Bold, faithful, willing worker. Alert and vigilant. Shyness or aggressiveness shall be severely penalized."

    Neither of these standards describe a fearful, shy, aggressive, or unfriendly dog.  Many breeders take liberties to tweak the description of their dog's temperament to fit what they think the standard describes.   Take descriptions of temperament with a grain of salt.  Make sure you get many opinions from many people regarding a particular dog's temperament to get an accurate picture of what is going on.  Following are some examples of how breeders candy-coat their dog's temperament problems. 

1. Dominance is NOT aggression.  Aggression is NOT dominance.  Do not confuse the two.  Do not believe breeders who candy coat aggression by calling it dominance.  Without getting into a thesis, Swissies are dominant dogs.  They strive to be the alpha.  They may challenge their owners in many non-aggressive ways (i.e. not sitting in the position commanded, being stubborn, having selective hearing).  Dogs that are aggressive however do it for many reasons (i.e., out of fear, neurological problems, ill-natured).  Swissies should be dominant and should NOT be aggressive. 

2. A breeder will describe a bitch as being happy to see you when the bitch is actually trying to jump out of an ex-pen with teeth bared.  Let me tell you - that's the scariest thing to see is a 100lb dog snarling.

3. Dogs that are dog aggressive might be more than just dog aggressive.  I have actually had a bitch that was described to be "sweet towards humans and a little dog aggressive" bite my forearm.  This was no accident.  The bitch had been growling and snarling at people in general and finally decided to go for my arm.  This type of unprovoked aggression is unacceptable.

4. Dogs that growl at people have something wrong with the dog, not the people.  A breeder had a very young dog with food aggression issues.  After a while the dog started to growl at me for no apparent reason.  The breeder quickly pointed the finger at me saying I had done something to offend the dog.  Later, the dog began growling at all humans.  Littermates of the dog all exhibit the same problem.  It was a perfect example of kennel blindness and time to stay away from that line.  

5. A breeder might describe a litter as having insecure personalities or as being hand shy.  Insecure means they have fear, and being hand shy means they are shy.  Neither of these temperaments are desired in Swissies. 

6. Breeders will candy coat severe temperament issues by calling it "food aggression" or "leash aggression."  Its just an easy way to tell potential puppy buyers that there is a temperament problem, but hiding the truth of the matter.  

7. A breeder will call a shy dog "sweet" when in fact the dog is quiet and moving slowly because it is fearful of its surroundings.  It hides behind its owner.   This is called SHY, not sweet.  One must watch all body language to be able to discern what a dog is actually doing and feeling. 

8. Some breeders will say that temperament isn't genetic.  I say go back and talk to Mendel about it. 

9. There are dogs out there with a history of serious neurological disorders in the pedigree who also display erratic, aggressive temperaments.  They are being  bred.  The breeders deny this, but beware. 

    Dogs will be dogs however and natural dog behavior is acceptable.  Male dogs may posture other male dogs, female dogs may become edgier during heat.  But for a dog to repeatedly posture (to people even) or for a female to always be nasty may not be acceptable.   Prey drive is a normal behavior for a droving breed, but chasing and attacking children is unacceptable.  We  need to set a hard line where acceptable behavior ends and unacceptable behavior begins.   

  Acceptable behaviors should be categorized as behaviors that have social meaning with dog culture such as play bowing, licking of the face, and posturing.  This is not to say that posturing is a good behavior; the point is that posturing is a normal social behavior, and we must curb it for the safety of animals and other humans.  Its like two teenage boys getting into a squabble over who's the bigger man.  Also, Swissies are by definition dominant dogs.  They will challenge you.  They will be stubborn, and they will try to run over you.  Before considering a Swissy, make sure you have enough are emotionally and physically ready to bring a large dominant dog into your home.  And dominance is NOT aggression.  The two are separate concepts and are exhibited in different ways.  Do NOT confuse the two. 

Unacceptable behaviors should be categorized as behaviors that are not a normal part of social communication or unwarranted aggressive communication.  Rage syndrome, growling or snapping at humans, or fly biting are all unacceptable behaviors.  Aggression without posturing is unacceptable.  These behaviors are typical of those dogs that might have some type of underlying neurological problem (tumor, epilepsy, brain damage) or severe temperament issue. 

  If you are thinking about breeding, please consider correct temperament as a must. If you are questioned by a potential puppy buyer for a reference, tell the truth.  Do you honestly want other people to be stuck with a problem dog? Do it for the sake of the dogs and for the safety of others.  



Copyright 2002 Jennie Chen, M. S. All images and articles are copyrighted.  Unauthorized use is strictly Prohibited.[/nav/analytics-include.html]