Below is an article that I wrote as part of one of our newsletters back in 2010.
It’s an interesting article and I felt it is important enough for it to take place on the website as a stand alone page, and a feature article that we provide to prospective “puppy” and “dog” buyers, as an educational piece on the dogs that we breed.
The article remains unaltered, however I have added some photos and video to enhance the reading experience.
Interestingly I have now re-read the article a few times to ascertain if my views are still same; many times over the years when I have revisited texts they seems to take on a “new’ or “different” meaning… not this time….. the article still resonates my thoughts and views! I do remember contemplating and thinking deeply when I originally penned this piece; some (7) years later I can say I did it justice then, because it still applies today.
Dogs have come and gone…. but the ideology remains!
I do hope you enjoy reading this piece and look forward to your thoughts and feedback (you can make a comment below)
“Sharpness and its place in the Modern Rottweiler”
written by Laurie Boutzetis, Seeuferhause Rottweilers; 2010
PHILOSOPHICAL DISCUSSION – In the previous newsletter edition I posed a question on “Sharpness and its place in the Modern Rottweiler”. I would like to thank the people that have contributed to this discussion either directly or via the Specialist K9 Forum.
Please take some time to read the article and if you are inclined provide some feedback.
IS THERE A PLACE FOR SHARPNESS IN THE MODERN WORKING ROTTWEILER?
A paper to provoke thought and discussion within the canine community by Laurie Boutzetis of Seeuferhause Rottweilers, Australia.
In order for us to truly examine this interesting topic, it is first necessary that we have a clear understanding of exactly what sharpness in a dog means. To these ends the Compact Oxford English Dictionary contains the following definition(s) of ‘sharp’:
1 having a cutting or piercing edge or point.
2 tapering to a point or edge.
3 sudden and marked: a sharp increase.
4 making a sudden change of direction.
5 clearly defined.
6 producing a sudden, piercing sensation or effect: a sharp pain.
7 quick to understand, notice, or respond.
8 quick to take advantage, especially in a dishonest way.
9 (of a food, taste, or smell) acidic and intense. (of a sound) sudden and penetrating. critical or hurtful. informal smart and stylish. (of musical sound) above true or normal pitch. after a noun (of a note or key) higher by a semitone than a specified note or key.
1 precisely: at 7.30 sharp.
2 suddenly or abruptly.
3 above the true or normal pitch of musical sound.
1 a musical note raised a semitone above natural pitch.
2 the sign (♯) indicating this.
3 a thing with a sharp edge or point.
I have highlighted the definitions that I feel are most directly applicable to this discussion. In order to further understand the topic I shall share a practical example of how sharpness is manifested in a working rottweiler, and how it can be both useful and potentially hazardous; a double edged sword if you like.
In 2008 I received a visit from a photographer employed by our local paper. He was there to take some pictures for a story the paper was running on our kennel, Seeuferhause Rottweilers. After our initial introductions he requested to have my daughter and a puppy pose for photos.
My daughter Angelina, who was 6 at the time, was holding an 8 week old Seeuferhause Delta. A few snaps later the photographer asked for me to bring out one of our adult dogs to take a ‘family” shot, so I brought out Doc (Siegertal Urri). As Doc and I reached where Angelina was sitting with Delta, Doc gave them both a quick sniff and an affectionate lick on the face and I placed him in a ‘drop’ next to them, with me in between to balance the shot.
The photographer was busy fiddling with the camera, and all was calm, tranquil, the birds were singing and the bees buzzing; I busied myself fixing my daughter’s hair…and Doc exploded like an atom bomb! Doc was aggressively launching in full flight across the front of Angelina and Delta; I felt my hand being crushed by the pressure of the leash as I squeezed my grip with all my might, and in an instant I popped the leash and brought the dog under immediate and total control.
Whilst all this commotion was happening (I perceived it in slow motion, like a movie) I heard an horrified shriek and a deep groan, followed closely by a bodily thud, and realised that the photographer was sent reeling backwards by Doc’s protective behaviour, subsequently landing heavily on his back on the ground.
My quick reaction to Doc’s behaviour had been quick, and not perhaps not surprisingly I reacted equally quickly at the lip; “What are you doing?!” I exclaimed at the now horizontal and ashen faced photographer. After what seemed like minutes the guy gathered his breath, picked himself up, brushed himself down, and mumbled sheepishly “Errr… I was just trying to bring your daughter closer to you for the shot….”
So here we have the essence of sharpness:
-sudden and marked;
-a sudden change of direction;
-quick to understand, notice or respond;
-sudden and abrupt, and….. my favourite….
-producing a sudden, piercing sensation or effect, a sharp pain!!
The dog’s reality; a stranger was acting inappropriately, and potentially aggressively, towards my daughter. The greater the instinctive value of an object, the more protective a dog will be towards it. And for the record Doc and Angelina share the very closest of relationships (see the video below).
The human reality; it was a harmless photographer doing his job by putting his hand on Angelina’s shoulder and moving her closer towards me, in order to make a better photograph.
Despite the possible ramifications of this scenario my view is still an overwhelming yes in regards to the question of whether sharpness has its place in the temperament of the modern rottweiler.
A rottweiler is a guarding breed, despite its boundless utility and ability to track, herd, draught, etc. My firm belief is that a rottweiler cannot perform the duty of guarding and or being a family protector without a level of genetic sharpness present in its character or temperament.
Now for all the dogsport oriented rottweiler fans out there, yes, you can have an extremely powerful working dog without these levels of sharpness. You cannot however realistically expect a dog lacking in genetic sharpness to perform so instinctively and intuitively in real world scenarios such as the above account describes, especially without specialised training. Certainly, there are other elements of temperament at play, but that is outside the realms of this paper.
There also comes with these more extreme working temperaments a greatly increased personal and social responsibility for breeders and handlers alike; dogs with levels of sharpness like that possessed by Doc and his half brother Allgemein Kai are not for inexperienced handlers. This style of dog typically makes an excellent family dog, in the right circumstances and with appropriate leadership, management, training, and understanding of canine behaviour. Clearly, it is the human element that makes the difference in these animals having a productive place in society.
This noble breed, the Rottweiler, along with other working breeds such as the Doberman and German Shepherd established themselves as superior family protectors over the years through the presence of genetic sharpness in their character.
In addition to this, the breed suitability (ZTP) and advanced BST (Korung) tests went to protracted lengths to measure and capture within these breeds the correct degree of sharpness present in every great working dogs’ temperament.
Dogs with pronounced sharpness, where it is accompanied by the other necessary working qualities such as thick nerve, courage, high drives, social dominance, and hardness, were traditionally the preferred breeding options in all the working breeds. This was the basis of the true Rottweiler character; the very character that created the breed’s reputation.
Below is a table of the characteristics that used to be evaluated in ZTP’s and Korung’s in 1971, 1983, and the present day; for comparative purposes I am providing the Korung evaluation for the famous Kai von Tengen; sire of the even more famous Falko, Graf and Gary vom Gruntenblick; Bulli vom Hungerbuhl, and also the current day champion Balco aus der Espenstatte. This is not a comparison on which dog is the best of the 3, rather a comparison of their breed suitability evaluations.
BULLI VOM HUNGERBUHL – Korung 1971
Medium sized, powerful, compact, spacious movement, strong body frame, very attentive, self confident but low excitability, a pronounced fighting drive, very hard.
Evaluation of Personality
1. Personality and Disposition
a) Personality: strong, high spirited
b) Alertness: quick
c) Frame of Mind: slightly over reacting
d) Ease/Calmness: sufficient
e) Manageability: present
f) Indifference to shots: present
2. Courage and Sharpness
a) Fighting Drive: pronounced
b) Courage: pronounced
c) Sharpness: pronounced
Comments from 2nd qualification test (for Eza) 1/10/71: pronounced protection and fighting drive, courageous, hard, pushy; stroke and stick ready.
KAI VON TENGEN – Korung 1983
PERSONALITY LOW MED HIGH V. HIGH
Self Confidence X
Attentiveness / Alertness X
Handling / Manageability X
Fight Drive X
Protection Drive X
Male highly suitable for breeding, as in his appearance, so in his utility dog characteristics.
BALCO AUS DER ESPENSTATTE – Current day (2010)
Try to escape – Very Good
Attack out of movement – Very Good
Grip Behaviour – Very Good
Readiness for use – Very Good
Endurance – Very Good
Relief – Very Good
Manageability – Good
Ability to Take – Very Good
It is interesting that ‘grip behaviour’ was not something formally evaluated in days gone by, and in my personal view is one of the more valuable innovations in temperament evaluation of working dogs. ‘Grip behaviour’ reveals a great deal about the dog’s frame of mind during engagement of the decoy, and that insight is an absolute necessity.
In practical working terms a chewy or restless grip is typically going to cause more damage than a firm, calm grip in a ‘real life’, scenario based, live bite situation. This being so, a calm, full grip signifies superior frame of mind, confidence and stability under stress.
In reviewing the above Korung / ZTP results you will notice a significant shift in the elements being assessed by the judges over time, and an even more significant shift in the specificity of the terminology/language used.
Sharpness along with other temperament elements must not be assessed on its own – it must be understood and read in context with other elements of working temperament as mentioned above. Many people’s view, including my own, is that the ideal mix was that embodied in Kai von Tengen; high levels of fearlessness, self confidence, confidence and sharpness with moderate levels of excitability and suspicion.
The language used in evaluating temperament in days gone by seems to be simpler and more reflective of the cultural/social attitudes of that era. Political correctness and social responsibility had not yet taken hold in the 70’s so use of terminology such as:’ pushy’, ‘stroke and stick ready’, ‘pronounced protection’ and ‘fighting drive’ were the norm. These terms have been replaced with ‘ability to take’ and ‘readiness for use’ – much more sterile and less emotive language. Can you imagine the uproar if you used a term like ‘stroke and stick ready’ at a dinner party? You could bank on not receiving an invite next time.
I have drawn on several sources of information in collating this article. Breed standards, Korung reports, as well as my personal points of view and those of other working dog enthusiasts and trainers. The general consensus is that sharpness is a highly desirable trait so long as insecurity, fear, volatility, weak nerve or excessive defence drives are NOT present in the sharp dog. Conversely, social dominance and self assuredness are typically considered very desirable when combined with sharpness.
As stated in my opening paragraph, understanding the definition ‘sharpness’ is the key to answering the question regarding its place in the modern Rottweiler temperament. A good friend of mine, Mr Brad Griggs expressed it this way “Sharpness describes the speed of the dog’s reaction to a given stimuli; fight, flight or freeze, sharpness only concerns itself with the speed of the reaction itself. The nature of the reaction the dog displays is based on the other elements of the dogs’ character/temperament.”
A socially dominant or aggressive dog with thick nerve will react with aggression and strength and engage any threat with great self belief. A fearful dog may flee or shy away. Both dogs with the exact same level of sharpness react totally differently, even though the speed of their reaction to the same stimulus is exactly the same.
Now, as per my earlier example, a dog with high levels of sharpness in the wrong hands can be a definite social liability. This is due to their propensity to react very quickly. Combine the sharpness with high levels of social dominance, aggression and fight drive and you have an explosive package that is definitely only suitable for the experienced handler.
So, dogs with this level of reactionary speed are not likely to suit the average family looking for a ‘pet’; I must qualify this assertion at this point by stating clearly that most of the dogs of the past of this type were in fact family dogs but, it would seem society and attitudes were different then. People seem to have been harder, more robust in nature, stronger in their leadership and discipline, and more personally responsible in days gone by (and also less litigious)…..but that is another discussion all together.
Unfortunately the general public are not inclined towards these types of dogs, and with the current social attitudes towards animal control, over regulation, and political correctness, there seems to be no room for this type of animal. This is a great tragedy for the modern working dog, as the same elements of the character that brought these breeds to prominence as our guardians and protectors are the same ones that are now being frowned upon and labelled as undesirable and unacceptable.
Should this trend of misrepresenting, misunderstanding, and failing to breed towards these great traits continue it will be a very short period of time until we will see these working type breeds become nothing more than a tragic caricature of their former glorious selves.
Working dog breeders must exercise the utmost caution to ensure that sharpness is one of the traits that are preserved in their bloodlines – once it is gone it will most likely be gone forever, and remain irretrievable. We should all be extremely concerned when we see descendants of the once powerful working lines, a mere 2 or 3 generations removed, that are in no way representative of those lines in any way other than the head type, angulation or other conformation expression.
For the Rottweiler today, these attitudes have manifested themselves as a clear, very German Shepherd style delineation within the rottweiler community between working dogs and show dogs.
Working rottweiler breeders are few and far between, despite many claims by show breeders to the contrary; even in Germany you can count the number of working rottweiler breeders on your fingers (without using them twice), and this is the situation in the home of the ADRK!
Sure, today’s lifestyles, income earning activities and social structures require less working dog numbers (in the minds of the masses at least), but if we do not preserve the working Rottweiler it will soon disappear. It would be shameful for this to happen. We must take a leaf out of Japanese culture and their return to the martial arts (banned for a number of years prior to WWII) and their preservation as cultural treasures in the post war era – without this significant change in mind set, all those wonderful disciplines would be nothing more than drawings and writing in books of history.
Do not let our wonderful working dogs become extinct…..preserve the traits that make a good working dog!!!
Yes, an overwhelming YES; sharpness definitely has a place in the character make up of the modern rottweiler and working dog at large – it’s not the only trait but it is a very important one.