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What is the ideal Shiloh Shepherd Temperament?

Unquestionably loyal to his family, calm & stable when dealing with the rest of the world. Gentle and loving toward all children, and compatible with all other creatures. Extremely intelligent and a pleasure to train. Easily adaptable to a variety of environments and lifestyles. Those are the characteristics that were so endearing in the "old style" German Shepherd, and what the Shiloh has been bred for. Nevertheless, there are many degrees/variations of these traits, for a more detailed explanation please read our BREED INTRO.

What kind of Temperament "Problems" Should I be Concerned with?

Although certain temperaments (personalities) may not be compatible within some situations, they cannot be classified as "bad" temperaments. A dog with an extremely high prey drive could make a great SAR/SCH prospect, but become a problem if he was expected to live in a big city apartment. All such situations can be corrected through altering his/her environment and applying the proper training techniques. On the flip side, if a puppy was raised in a very secluded "country home" without proper socialization (like trips to the pet store, shopping mall, playground, etc as well as a good puppy kindergarten program) you may notice signs of "fearfulness" "lack of confidence" in large groups, etc. Depending on the dogs’ age, temperament, and length of seclusion, a proper training program can also correct this "insecure" behavior. A good trainer can correct nearly all (acquired) temperament "problems." Those that cannot be corrected by anyone, and were not caused by extreme abuse, are most certainly of genetic origin. The Shiloh is NOT the only breed that these symptoms can be seen in. They are prevalent in many herding/flock guardian breeds!  Since our dogs are descended from dogs such as the Anatolian, Kangal, Karakatchan Shepherd,  Maremma,   Ovcharka,  Sharplaninec, Tibetan Mastiffs, just to name a few, we need to get better educated about the temperaments EXPECTED from these breeds. They were bred to "distrust" strangers and protect their "turf." When this "instinct" is passed on to a dog that lacks the COURAGE needed for proper discernment; the "fear" factor takes precedence!

  1. The first signs of "cowardice" can be seen in the litter at a very young age. The pups act perfectly normal in their own environment, but when severely stressed (taken away from their littermates into a totally new surrounding) they will start to shake (as if they were freezing, even if it’s 90 + outside). This behavior can start as early as the 5th week!

  2. As this puppy grows he starts to display symptoms of being "overly cautious." Each new situation has to be examined carefully. If he is taking a walk in the park, and something different is on the sidewalk (chair, baby carriage, etc.) he will not walk past it! His first reaction is to stop--backup quickly, then possibly he will "hackle-up" (hair raised on the back of his neck, usually with his tail tucked) and bark at this strange intruder. This is NOT a sign of a courageous-protective instinct! It is a sign of FEAR! Normally this fearful behavior will continue through puppyhood, then "explode" around puberty!
  3. If this dog is expected to live in a stressful environment, he may end up a "Fear-Biter" possibly even causing harm to family members. The best place for such a dog is to be placed with a single person that can give him undivided attention at all times (like a truck driver, that needs a road companion ;-) With minimal stress in his life, he can learn to adapt. Otherwise it is best to put him to sleep, before someone is seriously hurt.

What assurance do I have that the puppy I select will possess the temperament I want?

There are many variations of "temperament tests" that you can read about in books & magazines, but NONE of them have been specifically designed for the Shiloh Shepherd breed. These "one size fits all" types of "tests" can be very inaccurate if the results are improperly analyzed/examined by an inexperienced tester. ISSR breeders use a test designed, and taught to them, by the BREED FOUNDER. The only assurance you can have of purchasing a properly tested puppy, is to seriously investigate the experience of the tester & type of test being used. For a sampling of the type of testing done by ISSR breeders, please read this reprint of one of  the temperament articles, written by the breed founder, for the March ’98 SSDCA, Inc. Newsletter.

Can the Shiloh Shepherd compete in Schutzhund?

Many of the dogs bred by "Shiloh Shepherds" (kennel) in the 60’s, 70’s & 80’s not only competed, but also (especially during the 70’s) were titled! All of the dogs trained & titled by the breed founder were affiliated only with NASA. Today those same dogs, within the newer clubs, would be classified as being very soft. Only a few (like Pax, Paco, Bullitt) would be rated as having "pronounced prey drive." During the 90’s many breeders were focusing on the lovable "teddy bears" and most of our lines have now lost many of the qualities needed for a good working dog. Nevertheless, with proper training & a lot of dedication a few of the (properly selected ISSR) pups born now could still compete in this fun sport, and do quite well! For more information, or to locate a club near you, please visit Working and Sporting Dog Events.

What other areas do these dogs excel in?

Depending on the specific puppy selected, many can do a great job in various SAR programs!

What sort of temperament does your puppy have? Is he heading for a life as a couch potato or a working dog? Have you ever considered search and rescue? You've seen dogs on the news searching for lost people in the woods or under the ruins of buildings. Did you know that most of those dog handlers are volunteers? If this sounds interesting, let me give you a quick overview of search and rescue (SAR).
    Almost every state has SAR groups and every group has a K9 handler to help you train your dog. It's really best to start with a puppy but older dogs can be trained if they have the drive for it. The process can take as long as three years to train the dog properly so an older dog would really have a limited time to actually do SAR work before they would have to retire.
    There are four areas for SAR: Area Search (wilderness), Cadaver, Urban (disaster) and trailing. You move the most (and often the quickest) in area search, followed by trailing. In cadaver you don't have to rush to the victim so the pace is slower and there is more demand for this service than any other. In urban, a dog has to work well with any handler and work long hours.
    The internet is a good place to find information on SAR groups. You could contact your state police for the group they use or contact the USAR or ARDA for their affiliates. The yellow pages is also a possibility. There are a few books on SAR training that would be worth your time to check out.
If you think your dog may have the nose (air or ground scent) and the drive for search and rescue, try this test.

The SAR Test

Test 1

Prey Drive Using age appropriate teaser, tester gets dog's attention and throws the teaser a short distance away. (Note: roll teaser with          younger puppies.)
EXC Puppy runs to teaser and immediately snatches up, perhaps shaking to "kill" it.
OK Puppy runs to teaser and checks it out. May pick up toy if thrown repeatedly.
IND Puppy doesn't run to teaser or shows no interest.

Test 2

Retrieve After puppy gets teaser, tester encourages puppy to bring back by jogging backwards and calling.
EXC Immediately brings back and spits out toy for more play.
OK Brings back but doesn't give up toy.
OK Brings back but darts out of reach, wanting you to chase.
IND Doesn't bring back.

Test 3

Hunt Drive (Persistence) Hide teaser under foot or in hands (just barely showing) and encourage puppy to find.
EXC Digs, mouths, and whines for toy.
OK Nudges and uses paws for toy.
IND Tries halfheartedly or not at all.

Test 4

Tug Response Using towel, booda, or rag, tease puppy and allow to grab.
EXC Immediately grabs and tugs vigorously.
OK Grabs with repeated teasing and/or encouragement, lets go.
IND Grabs only if repeatedly teased. Won't hold on.

Test 5 (P&S)

Possessiveness Tester lets go of tug while in puppy's mouth.
EXC Shakes toy to "kill" it, tries to engage tester to play again.
EXC Shakes toy to "kill" it, runs away with toy.
OK Runs away with toy, drops soon after.
IND Drops immediately.

Test 6

Follow (puppies 3 months & under)--Tester calls puppy and jogs backwards while clapping softly.
Recall (puppies over 3 months)--Helper restrains dog while tester jogs backwards and calls dog's name one time.
EXC Runs to tester, ramming shoulder into tester's leg or jumping up.
EXC Runs to tester and solicits affection.
OK Jogs to tester, nudging or looking for attention.
IND Jogs to tester & leaves, or doesn't come at all.

Test 7

Attention Span Using age appropriate teaser, get dog's attention and bring teaser to tester's face level. Use teaser sparingly to maintain eye/    facial contact with puppy for 30 seconds.
EXC Willingly looks at tester's face and toy for duration. Cocks head to listen.
EXC Watches tester for duration, looking away briefly if background distractions interfere.
OK Watches tester but needs to be re-engaged a few times.
IND Easily distracted or unwilling to look at tester's face.

A few people have had great results working their dogs in herding, agility, and of course OBEDIENCE competitions! This is a very versatile breed! Some people prefer to "work" them as THERAPY dogs visiting hospitals, nursing/veteran homes, etc. Just as their ancestral GSD forefathers were known for their multitude of talents, so is the Shiloh of today. A companion, YES; but one with superior intelligence and confident enough to become even more! A true partner; be it for the police officer, the skier-hiker-camper athlete, or the mom that runs a daycare center!

I just want a good family companion, what type of temperament should I look for?

First of all you need to understand the terminology used by the Shiloh Shepherd Dog Club of America, Inc./ISSR breeders. In the world of "dogs" there are many people that see the same things very differently! A "Shiloh" person may consider a 120 lb. Male, as small, but a GSD owner would think he was huge! A Great Dane owner may think that a Chihuahua is tiny, but a toy breeder may think of that particular one as being "large." The same holds true when different people label temperaments! Is the cup half full, or half empty? Be sure you understand the breeder’s perspective, and exact type of past experience being utilized for their evaluation!

For example; "soft" to a Fila breeder could describe a dog that may sometimes allow a stranger to pet him. "hard" to a Golden breeder could mean that the dog might bark at a stranger! Both of these breeds have very different dispositions, and their personalities are described within their own (established) temperament parameters.

The Shiloh Shepherd temperament types (written by the breed founder) have been published many times over the past few decades. A condensed version is available in our breed intro.

We have several children ranging in age from 2 months – 12 years; what temperament "type" is best for our family?

Within the stable variations of the Shiloh Shepherd temperaments, all can be FULLY trusted with children! Even the "hardest" dogs that were not raised with children can be extremely gentle & patient with the worst offenders! They posses a natural instinct to nurture & protect "little ones." You may have heard stories of GSD’s "herding" a small child away from the road, or some other danger. This instinct has been passed down for generations, and actually enables these dogs into becoming amazing babysitters although the various temperament types may react differently in certain situations.

For example: Your children are playing in the yard, uncle Joe stops over and notices that your 3 year old is about to knock over the BBQ grill, he lets out a loud yell as he quickly grabs the child swinging him away from danger.

The Soft dog would probably run over to Uncle Joe, watching to be sure that the child was returned to the ground safely! If Uncle Joe insisted on holding on to the child, he may start to get a little upset with Uncle Joe. If the child was upset or calling for help, he may even jump up on Uncle Joe in an attempt to get the child released from his grip. If he felt the child could be in danger, then he would get a little more insistent about having his child "returned" to the ground!

The Medium dog would react pretty much the same way, only he would be a lot more persistent! He would be "grabbing" at Uncle Joe’s arm (or clothing) in an attempt to instigate a quick release! He may even challenge him with a controlled (warning) display of barking.

The Hard dog would not tolerate such behavior from a semi-stranger! He would let out a warning bark to let Uncle Joe know that he has but 10 seconds to drop that child, or face the consequences! If his warning went unheeded, he would take the appropriate action needed to insure the immediate release of his child!

The question is, could someone kidnap your child while in the care of a soft dog? Probably. What about a medium temperament dog? Maybe, but NEVER when in the care of a really hard dog J The same holds true for your house, and other possessions! But, what if the "hard" dog makes a mistake and thinks that the mail-man is stealing your property? The type of dog you need should be determined by your lifestyle and ability to properly train/control that dog.

What is the best training method for this breed?

Each dog is an individual and responds better to some types of stimuli then to others. Positive re-enforcement works well in most situations, although a "harder" temperament type will need some firm corrections, just to prove you mean what you say! A good place to start would be to purchase some dog "behavior" books that can help you better understand certain instincts that your dog posses. After that, go straight to child psychology! By treating your puppy the same way you would a toddler, he will learn to understand your expectations, and you will be able to develop that "special bond" you have always dreamed of having with a dog. If you treat him "like a dog" then he will act like one! If you can really dedicate yourself to raising a "genius" then you should purchase a copy of Chuck Eisenmann's book STOP, SIT & THINK. You can contact him directly by calling (541) 679-6667. (He also has a training video available, starring his famous Littlest Hobo dogs, including the original London!)

But the best training method for your Shiloh is the Shiloh Training Method, developed by the breed founder specifically for this breed.

Should I send my dog off to be professionally trained?

Most "professional trainers" that are not experienced with this breed could end up doing more harm than good. Since these people earn their living by training dogs, the more they train and the faster they get their job done, the more money they will make! You need to understand that the Shiloh is basically a very sensitive-loyal family dog. When taken away from home (kidnapped) and brought to some (what they will consider to be) abusive stranger, their first instinct will be to escape! If you found yourself in a situation like that, would you willingly "obey" your oppressors? Not unless they had a gun pointing at you, right? Well, that is what the trainers will need to do, "show that dog who the boss is"! If your dog is very soft this could easily break his spirit! A harder dog may come back only a bit psychotic. Rarely, if ever, does the dog’s behavior improve. Even if he does learn to obey certain "robot" commands, it will not last long, once he realizes that you will not enforce those commands! It is far better to search out a good group class that you both can attend regularly, maybe even more then one, so that you can get different "pointers" from a variety of trainers. Purchase several books, go to some obedience trials and talk to the owners, join a local club that does agility or other types of training. Get involved with your dog, and you will both benefit from it!

Publication History

These FAQs are one of a series written by Tina M. Barber in 1999 for the Shiloh Shepherd Learning Cneter.