I recently got a copy of Controlled Aggression by Jerry Bradshaw which I’m very excited to start reading. I’ve been a listener of the Controlled Aggression Podcast since it started. As I work my way through the book I’m going to make summary posts of different chapters as reminders to myself and hope they can be of use to others as well.

Temperment Evaluation

In each section I’ve made notes of Jerry’s goals for police / protection (sport) training. In general, Jerry describes these evaluating these temperment traits somewhere between the age of 10 monts to 2.5 years for green dogs. Also, in general, better sociability = better nerves and weaker nerves = less influence of drives on temperment. We’ll get a closer look at this when I talk about my dog Dean at the end of the post.

The following temperment characteristics are covered:

  • Socialization: Interaction with people / animals in public (different than trainer / handler / owner relatoinship)
  • Nerves: Adaptability to change
  • Drives: Genetic motivators present in all dogs, but to differing degrees
  • Hardness: Resilience to adversity (or correction)
  • Focus: Relationship to traininer
  • Attention Span: Relationship to environment

1) Public Sociability (not personal / pack sociability):

  • social dog = confident and forced greeting (though, sometimes to submit to dominant dog)
  • neutral dog = “no fear is registered, and the dog simply ignores the stranger (to avoid conflict)”, can be handler dependent or defensive
  • unsocial dog = refuses to approach or allow anyone to approach

Goal: Social or (confident) Neutral

2) Nerves (Adaptability to Change):

  • Fluid (adaptability) = no hesitation and immediate acceptance of change
  • Studied (adaptability) = initial concern, but able to investigate and confident enough to negotiate without lingering
  • Cautious (adaptability) = dog adapts, but takes “shepherding” through changes by trainer
  • Incomplete (adaptability) = dog is funcitonal in new environment, but never to same degree as familiar landscape
  • Halted (adaptability) = dog is minimally funcitonal in new environment and never improves from this level
  • Accelerated (adaptability) = dog who cannot function at all in new environment and shuts down despite trainer’s efforts

Goal: Fluid or Studied adaptability

3) Drives:

  • Prey (hunting and retrieving) = desire to chase, catch, and / or kill
  • Social (pack) = very imporant for (competitive) obedience; “willingness to please”, tactile / verbal reward
  • Defense (of prey, territory, self) = dogs with low defense threshold = poor candidate for compulsive training methods

4) Hardness:

  • Hard = “dog can take a stout correction”
  • Soft = “dog becomes upset or overly submissive after mild correction”

Goal: “…soft enough to respond properly to crrection, but not so hard that we will have to abandon positve punishment (all together).”

5) Focus and Attention Span:

  • Outwardly-Focused = “responds to distractions more than the attractions of the handler”
    • can result from low defense threshold (concerned with threats), lacking social skills, or very high prey drive
  • Inwardly-Focused = dog is “unconcerned with environment” and “always looking to the trainer.”
    • could be because of good socialization or over-dependenmce on handler
  • (low) Attention Span = “usually referrs to younger dogs who may have a high capacity for attentiveness, but who are still experiencing their environment, and are distracted but will return focus.”

Goal: Inwardly-Focused, but not unablt to work independent of handler.

Let’s look at my 3 year old GSD / Malinois mix, Dean:

Social. Nerves Drives Hardness Focus / Attn. Span
Social Fluid Prey (high) Soft Outward
Neutral Studied Social (medium) Hard Inward
Unsocial Cautious Defense (medium)    

  • Socialization: Dean is pretty chill in a neutral environment and around neutral dogs / people. However, he is very (defensively) confident when provoked either through prey or defense.
  • Nerves: Dean’s behavior is soemwhere between Cautious and Fluid adaptability. At a minimum he is cautious of performing a task in a new environment or slight change in task, but with a little guidance to remind him what we’re up to , it’s business as usual. I’d actually say his adaptability is pretty fluid and any hangups are related to drive and focus / attention span (below).
  • Drive: Dean is a bit of a prey monster. He will chase and bite pretty much anything that you wave in front of his face, moves fast, or makes loud noises. So his prey drive is high. I’d say his defense drive is medium since he is unusually quiet (for a shepherd) around the home and other people. However, he is very defensive of himself and me against other dogs. As for pack (social) drive, he definitely has a strong desire to please, but only moderate response to tactile / rewards (not none, as food / toy rewards have become variable in our trianing).
  • Hardness: Dean is a rescue, and denfinitely had a lot of submissive reactiveness when I first picked him up about a year ago. He was, and largely still is, a soft dog. However, I have noticed that his “hardness” is highly dependent on his state of drive. Chilling at home, a harsh word might cause him to slinking body posture. On the other hand, if we’re out for a walk and training off lease and a stray cat give chase and springs from under a car as we’re passing by, it might take a very stout leach or e-collar correction to bring his attention back to me and he thinks nothing of it.
  • Focus and Attention Span: Dean is more outwardly focused (see above on drive and socialization), though it is not too difficult for me to recapture his attention depending on the level of distraction (e.g. a jug of rocks or can curtain at home vs. heeling through PetSmart during active cat adoptions; video on Instagram). Given Jerry’s description of short attention span, this seems just the case for Dean. He is more focused on the environment, but can be redirected to attentiveness with practice. See also when I talked about Dean’s “hardness.”

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