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September 13, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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Expected Temperament in Dogs - What Works and What Does Not

joanz.jpgSaint Bernard breeder and American Kennel Club (AKC) judge Joan Zielinski, of Auburn, discusses the temperament of purebred dogs.

I've been asked to comment on the expected temperaments of purebred dogs. My husband, Stan, and I have loved, owned and bred Saint Bernards since 1965 so we have had much experience in our own breed along with most other breeds of purebred dogs.

However, I'd like to invite all readers to attend an AKC dog show. They are held on most weekends across the country. You will see up to 3,000 dogs among thousands of adults and children all enjoying the spectacle.

What does this have to do with temperament?

It has volumes to say about that virtue in well-bred purebred dogs. You will neither hear nor see any bad actors among these dogs -- no barking, no aggressive behavior.

The reason is that the breeders focus on creating dogs who meet the requirements of the AKC. On the rare occasions that a dog in a show ring would exhibit any poor behavior, such as biting a human, the dog is disqualified from ever being shown again.

If a dog attempts to attack or threaten another dog, the action is stopped immediately by the handlers of the two dogs. The dogs are only disqualified and cannot be shown again if attempting to attack a human. (Some Terriers are bred to have feisty temperaments and they are supposed to be alert and keen but never aggressive to other dogs or humans.)

So, it is of primary importance to purebred dog breeders to only deal with good examples of temperament when planning their breedings.

None of these dogs at AKC shows are allowed to be spayed or neutered if they are shown in conformation. They must be intact. So, we see wonderful, inherited temperaments on the huge majority of these carefully bred animals.

So, you say, what if a dogfight elsewhere happens? How do I deal with that?

Let's just say that you take your dog to an off-leash park. A dog is running around who wants to establish himself as the top fellow and starts picking on your dog.

First of all, do NOT get your hand or any other of your body parts in between the two dog's mouths.

Secondly, grab your dog by the hind legs and get the owner of the aggressive dog to do the same. Get your dogs separated by some distance, go to a safe spot and examine your dog for injuries. Then deal with any injuries.

What if you have a female dog in season? Would you take her for a walk on a leash? Would you take her to an off-leash park? Would you take her for a ride with you in your car leaving the windows cracked while you go shopping?

The answer to all of these scenarios should be NO.

Keep her confined to your well-fenced yard or indoors when you must leave your house. Otherwise, getting her around other dogs while she is in season can only encourage tempers to flare, with male dogs interested in her scent, neutered or not.

Unaltered females should not display problems temperament-wise whether in season or not. Sometimes if a male suspects a female is coming in season and starts to sniff at her she might bark at him and tell him to knock it off because she's not ready to be bred, but other than that owners should see no difference in the temperaments of their females, spayed or not.

Just a word about the temperaments of neutered versus intact male dogs. It's an old wives' tale that you can alter your dog's temperament by having him neutered.

You'll be disappointed if you neuter him to correct a temperament problem. Instead, you'll need expert training by a professional to work with you to make your dog become a good citizen.

We always expect the owners of our puppies to attend obedience classes starting at an early age so that their puppies grow up to be wonderful family members.

In closing, I would like to say that a dog is a domesticated species. It is not a wild animal. Dogs are expected to become integral parts of the families who own them.

Why would anyone want anything less when choosing a puppy for their family?

A kind dog who will be a nonjudgmental companion and comfort to you on the days when you're feeling down, there's nothing better.

Joan Zielinski

Zielinski has been involved with dogs all her life. She and her husband, Stan, created Stoan's Saint Bernard Kennels in Auburn in 1965. They have owned and bred more than 165 AKC champions along with numerous performance titles. Joan is an AKC judge of about seventy breeds of dogs; she and her husband have judged at dog shows on every continent.


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