Dog trains man

Thursday, February 23, 2012

There Is a Time to Think and a Time to Act

In the previous installment about Hovawarts and Temperament I mentioned how responsible Hovawart breeders have the temperament of their puppies tested. What did this test reveal about Kenzo? And did the test help us understand Kenzo better?

When we visited Kenzo's breeder for the first time, we met both Kenzo and one more Hovawart puppy, his brother "Izak". At 12 weeks old, they were the litter left-overs. The families they were destined to join had regretted their decision.

While Kenzo's brother continued to interact with us, growling, biting my shoe-laces and jumping up, Kenzo had retreated to the garden after a first greet. There he laid down, leaning on a fence, and enjoyed the view he had over the fields. Still playing with his brother, I asked the breeder which one he would recommend, considering we would become first-time Hovawart owners. He nodded over to Kenzo, "That one", he said, and added, "He is more mellow". Would it be my newbie decision, I would have chosen Izak, but I followed the breeder's advice.

When we took Kenzo home, we also got a copy of his temperament test report. Over time I became fascinated by it, as the test confirmed some of the things we started to observe with Kenzo.

KENZO'S TEST RESULTS

In short, Kenzo missed most of the "desired" behaviors in the test that would qualify him as a working Hovawart. He remained cautious in his contact towards the tester during the contact tests. He was interested in the ball used for the prey drive test, but sniffed it before grabbing it. In the fight drive test he cautiously took hold of the object but quickly released again. Overall, his drive was low in these areas. No need to say, that his brother Izak scored high values.

In the social- and stress tests he did very well. He was an active, calm and balanced participant and used most of the time for the test to engage and showed no signs of stress. In the defense tests Kenzo displayed a high drive, he made no flight attempts neither did he respond with aggression. There was a little defender already present in that small puppy.

THERE IS A TIME TO THINK...

We soon experienced, like the test predicted, that Kenzo is a little reserved and craves some encouragement. He needs time to think things over. He remains cautious towards people he doesn't know, even if they would come with his favorite toy. When he gets a new bone or treat, he first takes a short sniff, before he gently takes it. Any new thing we bring in the house, from coffee-machine to doormat, has to be investigated thoroughly.

He chases squirrels but has never hurt one despite ample opportunity. Even when he catches one, he quickly releases. Kenzo doesn't value resources. His favorite toy, or place to sleep, is happily shared with Viva, and before her, with any dog that visited.

In our "Shutzhund" class it also became very obvious. When Kenzo was presented with the "guy with the arm" he grabbed it cautiously and quickly released again. It took a couple of additional sessions for him to understand that this was a game and getting hold of the arm was fun. The day we got a replacement trainer, he didn't bite, as he had to think over this new situation.

In all types of training we did in the past or still do today, like obedience and tracking, Kenzo needs encouragement and some time to solve a problem. I learned not to try to help him, as he will only look up at me for guidance and I want him to do the problem-solving himself. He is quickly labeled as "shy, not confident" but that is not true. He just needs some encouragement and a little more time, and maybe allow him a second or third try. One of our trainers who knows Kenzo since puppy hood takes pride in always giving Kenzo a new puzzle to solve. We both enjoy seeing him go through his elaborate thinking process.

AND A TIME TO ACT...

The test also predicted a little defender. And indeed, Kenzo does not need a lot of thinking when we have an unexpected visitor on an unexpected place. On the contrary, he is as fast as lightning. Kenzo has by now made a number of "arrests" - he stops a person and keeps them on the same spot until I arrive -  in which he judged a person as a threat. Maybe you remember his drugs-bust, but we also witnessed arrests where people would come on our property, or when a "suspicious" person would approach us or other people he knows very well, outdoors.

When we were involved in an outdoors search exercise, the trainer I mentioned before was present in the search area. A Ranger suddenly appeared from behind a mud wall and walked straight to the trainer. She looked at the man while the expression on her face changed, probably wondering what the man wanted. Kenzo was the first of the group to notice this change in her expression. While I looked up to see what got his attention, he was already on his way to make his arrest.

Although the trainer was very flattered and touched when Kenzo jumped in to "protect" her, Kenzo's high defense drive is something which is difficult to manage properly. When I am outside I am always aware of the surroundings, to prevent him from making any further arrests.

If anything or anybody strikes me as odd, it is guaranteed Kenzo will be next to notice. It took a while, but when I let him know it is alright or recall him he listens fine and relaxes. It means a lot to him knowing I am aware of any "threat". The problem is when he notices something before I did and I therefore act too late, and he makes his own decision. Although I am certain he will not bite, people might understandably mistake it for getting attacked, maybe hit or kick him, and things could go wrong from there.

The odd thing is that we also trained arrests on "Schutzhund" training, but on that stage he always refused to arrest any new person he did not know. Clearly he distinguishes between the two and only acts this way when he perceives something as a threat, as that is how he is wired.

I am still grateful for the breeder, giving the advice for Kenzo as he did. For a first-time Hovawart owner, one drive is more than enough to manage.
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26 comments

  1. Sounds like your choice in Kenzo was the right choice! His temperment sounds great!

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    1. Absolutely! I wouldn't want it any different. I have the breeder to thank for it.

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  2. I love that picture of him :) His temperament sounds very similar to Cali (though she is not a Hovawart!) She is very reserved and cautious - even when we give her a new toy! She has to sniff it before she takes it. I love that the breeder took the time to learn the temperaments and made such an excellent suggestion - it makes like just a little bit easier, doesn't it? It's a win-win for everyone involved :)

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    1. Ha! Cali also does that, how funny, I only met few dogs that actually do that :)

      Looking back now I have to admit, I was lucky with the breeder, I didn't know a thing back then. Glad it worked out so well.

      Thanks for the kind words for the picture. It was taken when he was around 1 yr and I started to notice that "meditating" pose he sometimes took. It's when I started nicknaming him "The Thinker" so I thought it was appropiate for the this post :)

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  3. Hello, glad that you come to visit my blog....we are the best for our humans and I´m happy to found you here...welcome and so I hope you will use the translator if german is to difficult for you ;-))
    Wuff and LG Aiko

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    1. Likewise glad to have found you, and it does wonders for my rusty German :)

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  4. Kenzo might not do some hovie stuff but he sounds like a great family dog. I've always wished for a bit more protective instinct from our dogs though I can see how that might go wrong.

    I like that Kenzo was looking at the view instead of buttering you up when he was a pup. He's his own dog, obviously. Mellow...:) Beautiful description.

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    1. Thanks. We are a great fit, I like a little cat in my dog :)

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  5. Fascinating to read more about the inner workings of Kenzo! It sounds like your breeder was absolutely fantastic, that is definitely something to be thankful for.

    Interesting that Kenzo is hesitant about "practice" arrests, but is willing to hop to in a real situation. It seems like frequently, I hear tales of the opposite being true; a ScH dog will train to the sleeve and the sleeve only and have no idea how to handle a real situation. Granted, I don't know if these are true tales, but there you have it.

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    1. That would make a lot of sense. Smart dogs!

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  6. Kenzo has caught a squirrel?! Damn, he is quick! I've had a few dogs in my life and none of them have ever been quick enough to catch anything!!

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    1. K&V corner them when they come in the garden. Viva is actually the squirrel champ, she is relentless. It is usually the younger squirrels that still are clumsy or unaware of the danger.

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  7. Gosh, that's very interesting. Flo behaves in exactly the same way and I find myself being very aware of what's going on around us when we're out for walks so that I can put her on the lead before she spots somebody and bales them up. She's like Kenzo also in that I'm as sure as I can be that she won't bite them - unless they go for me or her. She just gets in their space.

    Kenzo is such a beautiful dog! :)

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    1. It's challenging! What breed or mix is Flo?

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    2. Ah, another independent soul :) I love Rhodesian Ridgebacks, beautiful dogs and awesome spirits.

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  8. I'm so in love with Kenzo - what a remarkable boy he is! And lucky, too, to have someone like you who takes the time to truly understand him!

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  9. Woof! Woof! Interesting! It's great to have a wonderful breeder. Happy BLOG HOP Weekend! Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

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  10. Honey's breeder also had all the puppies temperament tested. But I got the feeling that she knew more about the puppies from observing them in her own home than from the test itself.

    It's wonderful when you can find a responsible breeder who wants what's best for the dogs. Sounds like you were fortunate both with your breeder and with Kenzo.

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    1. Would love to hear more about Honey's temperament test, maybe you'll blog about it one day?

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  11. Have you heard any updates about his brother?

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    1. The breeder retired and we lost contact. We re-established contact with Kenzo's dad (not the breeder) but they lost contact as well. We are a torn family :)

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  12. Sounds like Kenzo was the perfect choice. :)

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  13. Great post! I've been a dog trainer (dog owner trainer) for many years. I love to observe the differences in dogs, when it comes to learning processes. Most of the times, a dog that is cautious and needs a bit more time, is a dog that - once he's learned something - will NEVER forget the exercise. Once I learned a dog like that, a Pyrenean Mountain Dog - to look left on my command. The exercise was only to show the class an example on how to use timing and rewards with clicker training, and was never repeated after that 1 lesson. More than 2 years after this dog finished his training classes I ran into him and his owner. As soon as he'd recognized me he ran up to me, with a sliding stop sat in front of me, then immediately turned his head to the left, while trying to keep his eyes on me to see my reaction. GREAT dog!!

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