Inherited Companion Dog Temperament
In this second post within the American Alsatian Temperament unit, we will discuss the founder's work of finding ten specifically inherited temperament traits, how these polygenic traits are held on a sliding scale, and what specific traits we strive to consistently achieve in our large American Alsatian companion dog breed.
First of all, we must again begin by defining terms. The word "temperament" can have several different meanings, but the Dire Wolf Project uses the word in a very specific way for a specific purpose.
Even among researchers and animal behaviorists, the term "temperament" is not used consistently. For one person, temperament simply means an animal's personality, regardless of inheritance. Others insist that the term "temperament" should only reflect the inherited aspects of one's total developed personality, using character for all other environmentally shaped personality traits. Still others use all of these terms interchangeably. One's personality is the same as one's temperament is the same as one's character. In this regard, both inherited and learned behaviors work together in an inseparable melange. Still others contest that temperament is not inherited and only learned and shaped by one's environment.
When American Alsatian breeders speak of temperament, we always mean the inherited traits that manifest early on in one's life before environmental influences. As Temple Grandin asserts, these inherited temperament traits would only be able to be seen in an older individual in response to a significant stressor that was able to take away any learned behavior, thereby showing only the innate response. It is for this reason that we put a higher degree of importance on the first and second formal temperament tests (birth and 2.5 weeks old respectively) so that we can experience the response to stimuli from our puppies before the environment around them has time to truly shape behaviors. It is also for this reason that we do not put as much stock into "temperament tests" that test a dog after it has been trained. One never knows (and can never tease out completely) how the environment has shaped an animal's response to any testing procedure after that animal has significant experiences in its life.
That being said, the early temperament tests do NOT and cannot predict adult behavior. It is precisely because of a dog's ability to mold to its environment that an early temperament test should never be used to predict how a dog will act as an adult. Breeder's can state a dog's potential and recommend a dog for certain home environments based on early temperament testing and observation, but a breeder can never guarantee a dog's specific behavior in response to stimuli in its environment as an adult based on its early temperament testing results.
Through consistent temperament testing work with all puppies bred from all of the different crossbreeds and American Alsatian dogs throughout the years, Lois Schwarz has found ten separately inherited temperament traits. This work has not yet been verified by third parties with special degrees in animal behavior or animal psychology, but nonetheless, she humbly presents her work to the world in the hopes that this work can begin to shift dog breeding into a more productive emphasis on breeding for temperament over looks.
The ten identified temperament traits are extensively described on the temperament page of the Dire Wolf Project here: www.direwolfproject.com/temperament
Each separately inherited temperament trait is held on a sliding scale because we believe each of these traits is likely polygenic in nature (meaning they are held on more than one gene, and likely on many). Because of the complexity within the dog's inherited DNA code, we must show the dominant versus recessive inheritance on a continuum. Depending on just which parts of the code have been inherited for each specific trait, a puppy will show a different degree along the sliding scale for that trait.
American Alsatian dog breeders use the scores revealed through early temperament tests to make decisions about which puppy should go on to improve the breed in temperament. We choose for temperament above looks and do not compromise. Many of our dogs still do not look like the prehistoric Dire Wolf, as the outward appearance goals of the Dire Wolf Project are last on our list of achievements in the breed.
American Alsatian dog breeders consistently work to achieve a stable companion dog temperament in each and every dog bred within the program that includes: intelligent (learns new tasks easily), calm, mellow, loyal, devoted, quiet, confident, aloof, not sound sensitive, balanced (not overly submissive/dominant), bonded, alert, low drive (prey/play), touch sensitive, and high pain threshold (doesn't cry out unless in real pain). With the recent crossbreeds, we do still have some variation in these areas. Moving forward, however, we will be breeding more within the breed working diligently to shore up the diversity of temperament in some lines within the breed at this time.
In the next lesson, we will discuss this unique large breed companion dog temperament and how some of these traits manifest themselves in the real world... in pet homes, as assistance dogs, and as therapy dogs.