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German shepherd Puppy, dog Character Traits
Trainability: Trainability is a psychological character trait. It is generally seen in one or both of two ways. The first is the spontaneous attempt to perform the will of the pack leader or handler. The second is the number of behaviors that can be learned. Trainability can be described as a willingness to comply and an eagerness to learn new tasks.

Hardness: This trait is both psychological and physiological. It is a physical and/or mental resiliency to unpleasant experiences. Hardness is easily understood when compared with a pain threshold. A dog with a high degree of hardness can receive a tremendous amount of pain and stress with little lasting negative effect. It also means the dog will need stronger corrections when disobedient. Physiologically, hardness is in direct relation to the thickness of the sheathing around the nerve fibers in the dog’s body; the thicker the nerve sheathing, the harder the dog. High arousal levels in a hard dog will increase its hardness to the point that corrections become almost totally ineffective.

Softness: Softness is the opposite of hardness and is the natural state of the wild dog. Nature has dictated softness as a survival trait. The soft dog perceives pain and stress more intensely than the average dog. A dog with a high level of softness often associates the location of a painful or stressful experience with the experience itself. It may never go back to an area where it received a traumatic experience. For example, if a soft dog stepped on a bee and got stung it may walk around that spot on the lawn for hours if not days before the effect wears off.

Courage: Simply put, courage is the absence of fear toward real or imagined danger. This trait is psychological and wholly based in genetics. A dog is either born with courage or without. Courage has been bred into some dogs or more to the point, fear has been bred out. Since the natural state of the dog is soft and fearful, the hard courageous dog that we breed for goes against the natural order of things and would not survive long in the wild.

Confidence: Confidence is a psychological trait that is environmentally influenced. It is in essence, brainwashing. Confidence is convincing the dog through training that he is more courageous than he was born to be. We build confidence like we build muscle. Take the dog to a moderate level of stress in training and then let him win. This lets him learn that fighting through the stress will be rewarded by the stress being removed. Over time the dog will believe in himself more and more. The important point to remember is that there is a crisis point where it all falls apart. If the dog reaches a level of stress that is beyond what he has been trained to accept, it will revert to its true character.

Sharpness: Sharpness is a trait that is psychological but genetically based. It is the tendency to react to stressful situations with aggressive behavior. An example would be a dog that when startled bites without warning. This same dog would then realize its mistake and return to its normal self. Sharpness is based in fear.

Temperament: Temperament is a trait that is psychological but genetically based. It can be influenced significantly by the environment. Temperament is described by adjectives such as full, moderate or poor. A full temperament means the dog has a zesty attitude and is full of life. A poor temperament describes a dog that is sluggish and lethargic.

Sensory: Threshold Sensory threshold is a trait that is totally genetic. This describes the amount of stimulus that is necessary to elicit a response from a dog. A dog with a low sensory threshold will take very little to stimulate it. It will be more likely to whine and even scream during agitation. It will have a tendency to over stimulate and this can bring out any feral tendency that may be present. A dog with a high sensory threshold will seem somewhat dull and take longer to “warm up.”

Dogfight tendency: This trait is primarily genetic but can be environmentally exacerbated. It can be confused with rank drive or fight drive. Both of these drives can prompt the dog to engage in combat regardless of the opponent, man or animal. Dogfight tendency focuses on dogs only. It is completely possible to have a dog that is totally safe with its handler or strangers, even infants, but will attack another dog as if obsessed. Normally a male will not attack a female or a puppy; however, Dogfight tendency is exhibited regardless of the sex or age of the other dog. Dogfight tendency differs from rank and fight drive in another way. In rank and fight drive encounters the victorious dog will eventually allow the loser to escape. In an encounter that has a victor motivated by dogfight tendency it will end in the death of the loser.

Distractibility: Distractibility is genetically based but environmentally influenced. It describes the tendency to be easily diverted from a task. This becomes a real issue when the dog enters the proofing phase of training where high distraction is introduced. A dog with a high level of distractibility requires an abnormal amount of training to maintain competency.

Agility: Agility is a trait that describes the natural speed, surefootedness and coordination of the dog. An example of agility is the dog that pursues at breakneck speed and can turn on a dime if the suspect tries to sidestep its pursuit.

Physical Endurance: This physical trait describes the tone and general muscle condition of the dog. A dog with good physical endurance expends less energy as it works, thereby enabling a greater quantity of work in a given time. Physical conditioning or exercise will increase physical endurance.

Retrieve: This is the desire to bring prey back to the pack leader. This is often exhibited in the dog that will bring the stick or ball back to the handler over and over and often just drop it at the handler’s feet. This dog gets its satisfaction from the delivery of the prey. The dog that brings it back and doesn’t want to give it up is not showing this drive or is conflicted in some way. Retrieve drive can be very useful in motivating training, especially detection work.
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