DO YOU WORK WHAT YOU BREED? by Red Star Kennel

Breeding Selection ( temperament) Part 2

I briefly talked about the importance of selecting for breeding suitability based on in-depth temperament testing in combination with working your breeding stock and their resulting offspring. I have yet a few more things to say about “breeding quality Presas”.

Observing some latest trends in the breed, I can see that “working” as a term is getting interpreted in so many different shapes and forms that it ends up loosing it’s original meaning. These days a phrase such as “I work my dog” can describe anything from a recreational activity such as Frisbee-catching and jogging all the way to the so-tough-sounding but almost always spontaneous and misleading “sleeve hitting”.

Every time I see breeders bragging about their dogs’ “working/protective qualities” while supplementing their excitement with pictures of dogs biting a running by or running away decoy, a certain picture comes up in my mind – that of a lazy obese recreational fisherman waving a twelve pack of Budweiser and a big old cigar about, proudly calling himself a SPORTSMAN. What a shame!

I understand that the above picture is ways better than that of an adult man or a woman dressed after a Barbie-doll, proudly prancing around the show ring with their sloppily-build overweight pets under a well noticeable sign of a “WORKING GROUP” , but nevertheless I take offence when I see dogs being addressed as “working protection dogs” during some kindergarten attempts of catching a running away prey.

When I write an article, as a rule I try to express myself in a language that is easy to digest and comprehend. I’ll try to do so now, but please bear with me if it gets a bit too complicated.

There are several misconceptions that people tend to develop when observing a dog’s behavior.

First and most common:

HE IS AGGRESSIVE AND VERY PROTECTIVE!

Aggression always comes way too close to fear. Fear-biting behavior, when the dog is trying to protect himself from an outside intrusion, often has very impressive display and therefore gets confused with “great protectiveness” way too often. These dogs are easily tested for lak of confidence – just keep coming straight at them, and they will brake away in panic. These dogs I would classify as sharp shy.

Unfortunately such dogs are often portrayed as outstanding natural guardians, because no one has yet pushed them outside their comfort zone.

Second, better but not by much, is the category of sharp dogs with “thin” nerves. These dogs are easy to agitate; they hold their ground quite well in prey mode but will become hectic and chewy under slight pressure. Dogs like these often have problems with foreign articles above their heads (sticks, canisters, large stuffed bags…) and will brake in panic with slight frontal pressure. You can train this kind of dogs to hold on under moderate pressure, but will never be able to get them to the level of full confidence in a confrontation.

Third category, higher then second, but not anywhere near Rank (I explained what I mean by “Rank” in the article linked above). Sharp with strong nerves. These dogs are relatively easy to agitate. They handle moderate pressure relatively well, but still have some problems, mostly with environmental stress.

I.e. you can see them being very confident on the bite and under the pressure of foreign objects and obstacles like sticks, canisters, stuffed bags, water … But they still will brake under continuously rising environmental stress. For example, they will easily go over foreign surfaces (some wreckage, for instance) but will brake while working on top of it for an extended period of time.

Next and last is the “Rank” category. Stable nervous system with strong nerves. These dogs are the best of the best of the best of the protection dog world, and are VERY hard to come by. They can take any amount of pressure with a smile and, given proper drive combination, are unbeatable on the working protection field. Sometimes they take a while to agitate, but once they are “on”, then, watch out – they make for a cold-blooded executor!

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All these “profiles” here are very simplistic and basic. I would be foolish to think that I can address all different types of nervous system and drive combinations in so few paragraphs. To me describing them is a separate science and an art – I’ll leave it for the later time and another article.

My major purpose with this one is to emphasize, however, that if you want to refer to breeding “working dogs”, you MUST understand all these differences – subtle and unapparent to the unprofessional eye. And if you are a breeder of a working breed like Presa, you need to test thoroughly to know your dogs’ weaknesses and strong points – test to understand as to what they are really, truly “made of”.

I hope breeders will realize someday that breeding a dog that “hits the sleeve” to another one like that, doesn’t mean you can claim to breed a working protection dog!

Another question was asked not so long ago on this forum; one about wild boar hunting and whether it should be a relevant test for checking Presa’s temperament. I do not do wild boar hunting myself, but from my experience with dogs that have done it, I can tell you that catching a boar has very little if anything to do with the dog’s protecting its master or its family.

I understand wild boar hunting in its nature as being very close to dog fighting. Protection work is not. Best dog fighters were never selected or suited for protection work.

While Hog-catching is a great test for physical ability and a serious check of the Prey drive, it cannot be considered a breed specific test to determine breeding quality of any given Presa Canario. Same is with weight pulling or agility (I believe I talked about it already in a previous articles).

I know some people will be offended by my point of view but my opinion is based on first-hand experience. I have tested some great hog-hunters and dog-fighters, only to see them hide away from an angry man who is assaulting their owner.

At the same time, as a performance breeder, I can’t say enough about how sour it feels, you guys, to see a young dog you have produced, that is a great looker with good hips, built like a machine, that fires up easily, comes full speed at the decoy with good commitment and full bite becoming panicky when getting jammed with “frontal driving ” with hit sticks over a strange surface.

That is the tough time when you realize that something went wrong in the selection and breeding, that genetic material you have in front of your own eyes is only good for being a stable, protective pet, but will never make Rank.

And even knowing the fact that most people will be more then happy with a dog like that, still costs you in countless efforts and sacrifices in the quest for better combination, the one that will result in the majority of the litter being as good as the third and some, maybe, as the Rank category! Those are the times when you know you are really lucky – when you as a breeder get what you want, and then you know that all the hard work and all the good quality specimens discarded aren’t wasted for nothing – it happens when you find a litter that gives you pleasure and a sense of pride after you worked it.

I can tell you that such times leave a deep imprint on a breeder, and that is when I begin to feel truly sorry for those who, in hopes for the best, eagerly justify breeding junk to junk by saying that the gene pool is too shallow and we need to breed sub par to sub par quality to further the breed.

Breeding crap to crap for the most part will produce more of the same – CRAP. And if someone is happy to get a pick of the crap litter to use for future breeding, I hope they understand that they got a pick of the CRAP.

So my question stands:

DO YOU TRULY WORK WHAT YOU BREED?


Ewa Ziemska

Ewa Ziemska

Breeder and researcher of Presa Canario. Lived in Poland, London UK and presently stays in Kentucky, USA and traveled through whole Europe and 22 States discovering the breed. Speaks Polish, English and Spanish. Master of Science of Management and Computer Modeling and Engineer of Production Engineering of Kielce University of Technology. Avid traveler, photographer and dog book collector. Instagram @reygladiador