DOBERMANNS @ BISWHIZZ
PRIORITIZE FOR SUCCESS
Manifesto for the new TOTAL DOBERMAN
by Vic Monteleon
There is an insidious, lethal disease running rampant in Dobermans, which, if left unchecked, has the potential to destroy our breed. It has been around for awhile, camouflaging the enormity of its damage beneath glossy advertising, behind self-promoting rhetoric designed to protect individual kennel names and reputations, and by a desire to safeguard the enormous financial investments made in campaigning top conformation showdogs. However, because of the information revolution, the consequences of the disease are becoming evident and hard to ignore.
Unfortunately, it is not a disease that the Doberman Pinscher basis. It's a disease in the minds of Doberman fanciers and breeders. It is a disease of PRIORITIES! It is a mindset that states that: THE ONLY VALID MEASURE OF A BREEDING PROGRAM ARE WINS IN A SHOWRING!...It is the belief that breed type, as defined in the Doberman Standard, is the only important goal of a breeding program, and that show wins (especially Breed, Group, and BIS) are the single measure of success.
Back in the early 70's, I coined the term "The Total Doberman" in an article I wrote for Top Dobe Magazine. Then, I said that the Total Doberman was a dog who had a championship, one or more obedience titles, and had passed a temperament test. In retrospect, 25 odd years later, I admit I WAS WRONG! I didn't go far enough....not nearly far enough. I've done some self examination over the years, and have reset my priorities. If I can encourage just a few of you to look at yours, then this article will have served its purpose.
In any event, these are my priorities, and they are in order of importance:
2. HEALTH and LONGEVITY
3. FUNCTIONAL STRUCTURE
4. BREED TYPE
My rationale for ordering the priorities and a discussion of each will form the remainder of this article.
TEMPERAMENT: Temperament is still one of the most misused words in dog vocabulary. It is defined as the "totality of traits manifested on one's behavior or thinking"...in short, an umbrella term. It is analogous to the term "conformation"...which is the totality of physical/structural traits of an organism. For a specific breed, temperament is defined by those traits that set it apart from other breeds, and desireable temperament is defined by favorable posession of those traits. Thus, the DPCA's WAE evaluates a critically necessary subset of the traits required of a good Doberman...but truely good temperament goes beyond even a WAC. Good temperament goes beyond even our Standard's description.
Our breed standard calls for a dog who is "energetic, watchful, determined, alert, fearless, loyal, and obedient...without a trace of shyness or visciousness". This is an excellent description, but it doesn't go far enough. In terms of the "preserve and protect" charter of DPCA, I'd add the following:
Intense and focused prey drive. This is a primary characteristic of a great working dog. It is the foundation for training in many dog sports, from flyball to schutzhund to agility...in fact, any sport in which the dog is motivated to move fast, chase, or run. It is an essential ingredient for search and rescue dogs and police dogs.
Calm and relaxed manner when not engaged in work. This is very important, and relates to liveability in an urban environment. It is also very important for police dogs or service dogs. A dog who's constantly wound up, is hyperactive, or can't/won't relax will either tend to be nervy and overreactive (we call them "nervebags") or be exhausted from the stress when actually needed to work. A good patrol/police dog can just hang out all day, in relaxed manner in the back of a patrol car, yet be instantly "up" and ready to work when required. More dogs wash out of training because they are nervy than any other single cause...and not just Dobermans.
Moderate threat stress threshhold. A Doberman is a watchdog/guard dog/protection dog. A low threat stress is always seeing threats...where there are none. This is the dog who'll hackle and
inappropriately growl and bark at everything. The high threat stress dog won't see a threat until he's practically being beaten. A good protection dog is alert but calm until threatening behavior is evident, then reacts appropriately.
A Dobe can meet the behavioral portion of our standard, yet have none of the three traits described above. Among the working elite, the Doberman is generally getting an AWFUL reputation! Many of the agility dogs lack speed and confidence.Many of our sport/protection dogs lack focus, drive and confidence. Many are too soft to be trained for anything, but will bait and show
just fine in a breed ring. Many are just too easily stressed, and when stressed, don't have quick recovery.
For the "temperamentally"serious out there, there are tools to help us. The DPCA has the Working Aptitude Evaluation, which has all but been ignored by most breeders of show dogs. Roughly 10% of dogs evaluated at any given time are Champions. The United Doberman Club has an even more ambitious set of tools. they have the Youth Temperament Test, the Adult Temperament Test, and the Sport Dog Temperament Test for conformation dogs to pass *before* they're allowed to get a UDC Championship. and last year, they implemented a "Fit for Breeding" (FFB) test aa well as the German ZTP which are both a combination of a temperament test and conformation critique in which breed type *and* functional structure are evaluated. The UDC goes a step further with these tests than the Europeans do inasmuch as the club requires a full set of health tests before they'll award the FFB or ZTP titles
We live in an incredibly litigious society. That society requires us to be ever vigilant to breed specific legislation. NOTHING will cause our breed grief faster than bad temperament. All it takes is a nationally reported incident, and our breed could be legislated into oblivion.Of all the breeds, only the Doberman comes with a ton of negative baggage. Whether deserved or not, the mention of Doberman to the general public is still met with fear and loathing. Had the three dogs that had gotten loose and killed that schoolboy been Dobermans instead of Rottweilers, we'd be in a hole right now that all the Best in Shows in the world couldn't get us out of. When it comes to temperament, our attitude ought to be ZERO BEHAVIORAL DEFECTS. We mustn't breed nervy, gunshy, sight sensitive, skittish, people shy Dobermans. No dogs with questionable temperaments....period! My first priority!
HEALTH AND LONGEVITY: The degree to which many of our "serious" breeders are ignoring health and longevity is shocking! Health should be a major factor in planning a breeding and we owe it to those who buy our puppies to do all that's humanly possible to insure that ther pups we produce live long, vigorous, healthy lives. Health and longevity are not synoymous. A dog can be long lived, yet still have health problems. Dysplasia, late onset cardiomyopathy, thyroid immune problems, and vWD may not cause a dog to be short lived, but they are still health concerns to that dog. I've known dogs of other breeds that get crippling arthritis...and live on Ascriptin, or now Rimadyl. they are long lived thanks to drugs, but they're not healthy, nor do they have the quality of life of a healthy dog.
This is my number two priority because NOT paying attention to it can have disastrous consequences. By the time something is so well established in a breed that it is recognized as a severe problem, it can be too late to be eliminated without a severe reduction in our gene pool. Reduction of a gene pool is almost a "Catch-22" situation. By working to eliminate a single bad trait, we can unknowingly also lose good traits. so it behooves all of us as serious breeders to eliminate problems early...as soon as we know how.. Or at least we should try to before the problem is widespread. But you might wonder, "How can we proceed when we don't know the mode of transmission of the problem?"
Well, the worst case scenario is to assume, in the absence of knowledge, that the mode of transmission is that of an autosomal dominant gene. Evidence is mounting, for example, that Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) follows this pattern. At its best, breeding for health is like walking a tightrope...at it's worst, there's no safety net under the rope. If someone isn't willing to take that risk...they shouldn't breed!
Consider the following:
A well-known breeder commented to me at ringside, that he'd "rather have a pretty dog for five years than an ugly one for thirteen." By what twisted logic does such a person pass off health/longevity and beauty as mutually exclusive characteristics?
A well known stud dog dies suddenly at a young age, and the show folk are there with excuses. "Oh...it was just a heart attack"...or"a stroke"..or it "was due to stress in the life of a showdog". Was an autopsy done? No. Do many breeders care? No! All this DESPITE the fact that dogs don't suffer heart attacks as humans do. Dogs are carnivores. They don't get atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, or occlusions/myocardial infarcts which cause human heart attacks. If a dog has a heart problem...it's most likely a congenital valve problem, a secondary result of infection such as abcessed teeth or a bacterial/viral infection, or dilated cardiomyopathy. DCM is far and away the most common of Doberman heart problems.
An article in the Winter issue of the Quarterly downplayed the existence of a vWD problem in our breed and ridiculed those for whom it was both a concern and issue. The disease is FACT. The genetic test for the mutant gene which is necessary to cause the disease is FACT! That Dobermans are bleeding and some are dying from lack of vWF is FACT! Yet many are taking the position that the disease doesn't exist...claiming that it is some trumped up VetGen conspiracy...or claiming that, because they haven't personally seen it, it can't be a problem.Others think that it's only a "pet" disease, and that our show dogs are somehow immune to getting it. This isn't the case. The disease shows no such class distinctions. I have first hand knowledge of two dogs who've had vWD related bleeding episodes, and know of at least fifteen others where the ONLY identifiable factor was lack of circulating vWF! One of the two was owned by a member of our Doberman club. The other was a Doberman who was in our boarding kennel. What on Earth would I personally have to gain by making this stuff up?
A person whose Doberman died after a spay as a result of post surgical complications due solely to vWD sent me an e-mail, a portion of which I'll reproduce here:
"I don't know where to start or what to say...I'm angry. I'm hurt; I feel frustrated and bewildered and furious all at the same time. I feel dismissed, patronized, insulted-labeled as somehow either overly impressionable, an emotional anthropomorphic sufferer, or just plain not too bright because I think that vWD is worthy of consideration when planning a breeding. HOW MANY of us...people who've had direct incidences with vWD clinically affected dogs-how many must trot out our stories, our 'proof', our facts, figures, and anecdotal experiences before some of these long time breeders (and BOY do I use this term loosely now!) of Dobermans HEAR us?"
This was written to me in response to the afoementioned article in DQ.
You think it's not a problem when people lose dogs and are devastated?
Can you feel her frustration and pain?
Just a few years ago, people were clamoring for a definitive test for vWD. Now that we have it, suddenly it appears that people think that vWD's not an issue...and many are saying that they're not testing because cardio is really the big problem! How will breeders react when that test is finally available? Will they not use it...citing cost, or 'cause "actually CVI is the biggest problem"? It's all about priorities, folks.
FUNCTIONAL STRUCTURE...or DYNAMIC CONFORMATION: This is NOT synonymous with breed type. It has to do with the ability of a dog to functionally perform work. It is...a head that has the power to bite, a body that can do a double suspension gallop, a front that can withstand the repeated shock of jumping...an agility that allows a dog to twist, turn, and pivot with ease. Static conformation is what you see when a dog is stacked in the ring. You can't tell anything about the dog's ability to use his muscles, tendons and ligaments to articulate that static structure...and the gaiting required in the show ring won't show it to you either.
The Doberman is a double suspension galloper. In order to do this, the dog must have flexion of the spine. The backbone must be convex when the dog's legs are under him, and concave when the dog is stretched out. You just CAN'T see this in a trot. The dog has to gallop. A Dobe must be agile, and while his legitimate work doesn't require the hair-trigger changes of direction required of a herding dog, he still must be agile and supple...not rigid. You can't evaluate this in the breed ring, but you CAN on an agility course. A Doberman must be able to absorb shock. That means that on landing after jumping, the front assembly has to have some "give"...the pasterns must flex..the feet must splay slightly...the shoulder/upper arm assembly must flex. You CAN'T see this in the breed ring...but you CAN in an obedience ring, or on an agility course, or on a Schutzhund field. A Doberman must have the facial and jaw structure to bite and hold. A Dobe must have sufficient depth of cheek, sufficient fill beneath the eyes, and sufficient facial musculature for a good solid bite on a sleeve. You CAN see this in the breed ring. A Doberman must have a strong, well muscled, dry neck. Otherwise, the neck will be the primary injury site when doing a long bite, or then absorbing shock from jumping. You CAN see this in the breed ring.
The exaggeration of breed type we often see judges putting up in the breed ring can actually hurt functional structure. A topline that looks rock solid in a stack and in a trot may also be too rigid to allow for efficient galloping. How do you know without observing that gallop, and making it a priority? A set of ramrod straight pasterns and very tight cat feet may not posess the necessary flexion for proper shock absorbtion. Overdone fronts without sufficient musculature in the rear to counterbalance it will bring the dog's center of gravity too far forward, with disastrous consequences to a jumping dog.And if a judge thinks aardvaark heads on swan necks are somehow "prettier", he is mortgaging away our noble breed's birthright as a protection dog supreme!
Having participated in a variety of dog activities over a Doberman career spanning three decades, I'm always amazed at the "know it all" arrogance of some of the closed-minded breed ring only types. I speak here, not only as a Doberman person, but as an ex-handler of many other breeds as well. Few have considered what it means for a dog to be truly athletic...not just standing,and trotting "pretty". Even fewer have worked dogs in disciplines that would allow them to see the consequences of breed type run amuck! Quite a few conformation judges fall into this category. As a result many breeds are split along show and working lines...and many people incorrectly assume that the major differences are only behavioral. They are NOT...they are also structural.
Field Labradors, with their length of leg and hard, muscular bodies scarcely resemble their squat, endomorphic, heavily coated cousins in the breed ring. Working Dobermans have strong, well muscled, dry necks...not swan-like. They have strong, well filled out fronts... not pigeon breasted with a
chest that sticks out so far forward that the dog's center of gravity is between his front legs. A good working dog will be heavily muscled from the rear. Those hamstrings are what propel the dog forward in a gallop.
Limits should be set on breed type by function, and we should strive not to go beyond those limits. You judges out there....wake up! Don't sacrifice function to some exaggerated notions of style.
BREED TYPE: Only when I have paid attention to temperament, health/longevity, and functional structure..only then do I shift my focus to typiness.Please don't misinterpret what I'm saying. Breed type
is important. Without it, our Dobermans would lose the characteristic "look" that makes our breed the envy of all of dogdom.That noble outline and that "look of eagles" would disappear.
The breed ring is what keeps that look alive.
Make no mistake about it. I want type. I want my dogs to do well in the breed ring. I want Champions as much as the next guy. I want type in my breeding program validated. BUT I won't do it at the expense of temperament. I won't do it at the expense of health and longevity. And I won't do it at the expense of the dog's physical ability to work. I will not mortgage away my Doberman Breed's future merely to chase ribbons. But breed type shouldn't be the primary. It should be the icing on the cake. It's up to us as breeders to make damn sure that there's a cake under all that frosting. There's strong indication that we're not doing that, and it's time to look at our priorities.
Socrates said that "the unexamined life isn't worth living". This is the time to examine our priorities, set our courses, and do what we have to do to ensure the future of our great breed.
Temperament, health and longevity, functional structure, and breed type...those are my choices...those are my priorities. A Dobe who has all of the above is now my definition of a "Total Doberman". Anything less is an incomplete package. Look around you. How many complete packages do yousee? Very few? I thought so! Do you or should you care? It should be a resounding YES! Are you willing to take responsibility for and a leadership role to "preserve and protect the Doberman Pinscher and to do all possible to bring its natural qualities to perfection" as stated in the DPCA's charter? The choice is yours.
You are our Vistor
DOBERMANNS @ BISWHIZZ
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DOBERMANNS as they are...
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DOBERMANNS @ BISWHIZZ