The Biggest Problem of the Breed: Nerves - Page 1

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by DDRshep on 05 December 2007 - 06:12

What is the biggest problem of the breed today in terms of traits or characteristics? It seems that headway has been made in terms of hip dysplasia and some other health issues. When it comes to temperament, my hypothesis is: The biggest problem, therefore the biggest breeder problem, today, is producing GSDs with sufficient or excellent nerves. Agree or disagree?

I think there are enough GSDs today with sufficient to excellent drives and aggression, enough with sufficient to excellent athleticism and physical ability but the element most wanting in terms of working ability or just solid temperament is nerves. Agree or disagree?

How do we define what solid nerves are? How are shyness, spookiness, fear behavior, avoidance related to nerves? How do we identify when a dog does not have good enough nerves? What examples can you name that show good nerves and bad nerves? Examples in the area of dogsports, breed tests, puppy selection, working activities, daily life? How do you breed for it? How do you lose it? Does focus on breeding in other characteristics, for example, extreme prey drive compromise the balance in terms of solid nerves?

by DDRshep on 05 December 2007 - 06:12

How are fear aggression, reactive aggression, defensive aggression and sharpness related to nerves?


by SchHBabe on 05 December 2007 - 08:12

DDRshep, thanks for starting this discussion.  It's an excellent subject.

However, I'm sure you'll get various interpretations of what constitutes "solid nerves".  Just like the guy who says, "My dog has super high drive!"  Well... maybe.

Your post made me think back to some comments made by the old timers at my old SchH club down south.  They loved high drive working dogs, but the message they preached was, "If you have to choose between breeding to drives or breeding to nerves, always breed to nerves."  As such, it was made clear to me as a novice that solid nerves are more important than just high drive.

Unfortunately high drive can cover up iffy nerves, to a point.  When I was training with those guys I had a WGR/Dutch GSD that was all prey.  High drives, not so stellar on the nerves.  He would hit the sleeve hard, with a nice grip, but it was all prey.  He made for a nice picture on the field, and the guys agreed that he could be titled, but I wanted a dog that was balanced and strong.  In my heart I suspected that he would never have the stomach to protect me in a "real threat" situation.  I sold him to a lady who does Agility and AKC Tracking, where he would be better suited.

I've got some other thoughts on the matter, but I'll sit back for the moment and listen to what some other folks have to share.



by Puputz on 05 December 2007 - 08:12

The biggest problem of the breed is its people. I don't think the German Shepherd has enough people who can truly read a dog, truly take account a dog's strengths or better yet accept a dog's weaknesses. Too many still believe in the Disney dog image and can't possibly judge the breed because they can't even see what they're looking at. Too many labelling dogs off as having "bad nerves" just because it won't act like a Labrador, while on the same page breeding to a dog who is weak but because it was SO NICE to them and it hit the sleeve so impressively it HAS to be a good specimen! Plus all the people who will threaten a dog, see a nice defensive display, and think the dog has power. And it goes on and on... I think you'll have a hard time getting people to describe solid nerves, too...I don't believe just because a dog doesn't react to a situation means he has solid nerves. It simply means he isn't bothered by it. I think solid nerves is a dog that, when he has reached his threshold and becomes stressed, does not easily panic and you can still get through to him and get him to work.

by Gustav on 05 December 2007 - 12:12

This is a good topic. Solid nerves are like other traits in that they tend to manifest with certain lines. You can strengthen nerves often by increasing dogs of these lineage and you can decrease nerve by introducing dogs with "genetically weak"nerves. This is one of the reason that the seeing eye foundations have moved away from the GS in general because nerve strength is rarer because people don't breed for it and most breeders don't know or care about the lines that are known for good nerve. Still other factors such as drive and some aggression can confuse people as to real nerve strength. Popputz, you post is onpoint. When we finish with this topic we should evaluate what the main contributing factors to this lack of nerve problem. (Hint: It starts with breeding)smile! 

by Domenic on 05 December 2007 - 13:12

COME ON OLD TIMERS,JUMP IN AS THIS IS AN IMPORTANT TOPIC OF OUR LOVELY GSD.Now,I was under the impression that schutzhund was to be a BREED WORTHY TEST.After being involved for aprox 3 or so years I have realized that this is NOT about the breed worthiness but about points (a sport).How does the GSD governing body-SV allow these breeders to breed dogs that are NERVY,all prey etc.Is this not there responsibility as well?I  can only imagine  how the breeds father must be turning in his grave.Its disgusting when you see what some people are breeding.I own 2 showlines and they can do the work but i have owned another one bred by a money hungry  crook  in BC Canada,and she knows who she is that had a very very poor temperment and nerves along with other health problems and several biting incidents which yes i did provide all medical documents and still got NO RESOLVE as she used the dog being euthinized as an excuse not to replace the dog when she had already agreed to do so. Sorry but i still feel angry having to put down a 1 year old dog. .Also,my mentor at my old sch club told me that a little nerviness could be good for a dog in the sport and i never really understood that.Another thing that is confusing is a dog with handler agression.Is this considered BAD NERVES?Is'nt training methods also part of the equation?Some people like dogs that can not even be around people for fear of getting bit.I always thought that a dog that is a sch3 should be CLEAR IN THE HEAD but it seems that it is not the case.Dont the judges pick up on this?How are such dogs beneficial when they are so UNPREDICTABLE?Looking forward to read  some more views on this topic.I hope i did'nt stray to much away from the topic earlier in my post and if i did i do appologize.Good post DDRshep


by gsdfanatic1964 on 05 December 2007 - 14:12

I completely agree that nerves are the biggest problem with our breed today.

I also agree with above posts and that a majority of people do confuse drives with nerves. 

To see a beautiful, healthy  specimen of a GSD shy away from a new person on introduction or back off when a sudden, loud noise occurs and not come back around is not only embarrassing but sad.

If I had to pick between nerves and drives, I'd most definitely go for the nerves.

You would have to be totally honest with yourself in your breeding practices and demand the most of the dogs you breed when it came to nerves.  If the dog or bitch did not have rock solid nerves, they should be neutered and taken out of the breeding program.  If you're breeding, it would be your responsibility to the breed to research lines and look for the best nerved dogs.  In the end, if everyone did what they should regarding this, there would be solid nerved dogs in everyone's breeding program.  But then, everyone knows that "everyone" will never follow this all the time due to how many dogs you may have to go thru to get to this point. 


by MI_GSD on 05 December 2007 - 14:12

In the opinion of the "oldtimers" what lines (working) seem to carry for strong nerves?  Which for weaker nerves?

Last question:  Can a pup that genetically should have good nerves be ruined by poor upbringing and imprinting or should that pup be able to bounce back?


by iluvmyGSD on 05 December 2007 - 14:12

i've also wondered about this stuff, but didnt know how to ask....


In the opinion of the "oldtimers" what lines (working) seem to carry for strong nerves?  Which for weaker nerves?

some of us are really still tyring to learn here..

something i wanna ask.....Say someone takes a swing at a dog, and the dog ducks to avoid the swing, but comes right back up and at the person..never turning away, just lowers head to avoid the hit..thats not nervy is it? if the dog had tucked tail and backed up- that would have been nervy right?

and i admit that i prob don't know what 'nervy' actually means.....if someone could give examples of a dogs reaction to things...good or bad......

and if/ how can there be to much nerve?


the Ol'Line Rebel

by the Ol'Line Rebel on 05 December 2007 - 14:12

Puputz:  "I don't believe just because a dog doesn't react to a situation means he has solid nerves. It simply means he isn't bothered by it. I think solid nerves is a dog that, when he has reached his threshold and becomes stressed, does not easily panic and you can still get through to him and get him to work."

Great summary, Pup.

Do you know my basically wimpy submissive hypersensitive dog today has never been afraid of "noises" per se?  She's never been "gun-shy".  Generally loud cracks, etc, don't bother her - unless they're tied in with a visual which scares her (she was afraid of "ghosts" - things that "moved by themselves", if you will).  (She's matured where things rarely bother her, but I credit myself with modifying her and toughening her - it's certainly not genetic.)  This dog has no guardian instinct, no care to protect.  I know I cannot trust her to ever help me.

My old dog was "gun-shy" - from 3 mos old or so.  She hated those cracks and so on.  Would act distraught around fireworks (and later thunderstorms, which never bothered her as a pup until she associated them with firecrackers).  But she was dominant and generally fearless, always protective - I had no question she would fight for me; she even was a bit unnerved by my playing around "roughly" with my parents whom she loved too.  She was not afraid of just about anything, pit bulls, horses, people, nothing.  Just gunshot type noises.  (Since she never did a "bad" thing in her 11 years, but had superb hearing as evidenced by hearing the UPS man a mile away and knowing when someone touched her property although she can't see it in the house some 1000 yds away down a hill, I now suspect the gun-shyness is half oversensitive hearing.)

The gun-shy thing as a test for nerves (I think?) seems a bit dubious.  My old dog would kick my new dog's butt every time.


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