Giant Schnauzer Temperament

The Giant Schnauzer is among the dogs described as working dogs. His heritage was probably one of the cattle herding breeds, which, during the early portion of the 20th century, was expanded to include police and army work. In 1921 he was officially described as a Gebrauchteshunde or utility dog, and it is clear from that time on, within the Pinscher-Schnauzer Klub (PSK) of Germany, he was a dog to be reckoned with as a protector and companion and participant in dog sports.

The emphasis on the working dog heritage is important because temperament should be derived from those biologically inheritable traits that were sought after during breed standardization. It is thus a similarity of recognizable aspects of behavior that is sought for in a breed standardization as well as characteristics that are physically demonstrable in a breeds' conformation. The former is easily lost or changed since it is not as easy to assess as the quality of furnishing, hair type, top-line, or bite.

It is far more easy to obtain a consensus of what conformation is attractive than what temperament is attractive or desired. I believe, unfortunately, that much of this problem is one that derives from the relatively poor dissemination of information about temperament as well as the almost non-existent evaluation of temperament in present dog showing events. In Germany, the Wesen criteria is used in evaluating animals for breeding stock, as is the Kor evaluation of physical conformation and hip x-rays. For the sake of brevity, this classification grades 1 to 5 with only three acceptable levels of response to be included in a dog for breeding purposes. Levels 1 and 5 are excluded; 1 being a shy, sharp dog, and 5 a dog with zero protective instinct for fighting drive in the presence of threat. Clearly, protectiveness and confidence are intrinsic element of temperament.

The concept of protectiveness derives again from his origin as a cattle driving dog and later police and army dog. Thus, when we are comparing the temperament of the Giant Schnauzer to other breeds, we must clearly compare him to other working breeds within the larger working group. It is not a fair or valuable comparison to try to compare "temperament" of breeds who have vastly different basis for breed standardization. Specifically, the retrieving type animals, sporting dogs, lap dogs, sight hounds, and terrier-type animals all have characteristics standardized to a greater or lesser extent within their breed for an earlier purpose when the breed was defined by those individuals 75 to 100 years ago.

I think, however, we may clearly list those aspects of temperament which are not desirable, those being shyness, instability, fear, and aggressive manifestations of fear called fear biting. This latter term is important, as it is frequently confused with the aggressive behavior. The poorly bred, fearful animal has two manifestations to relieve anxiety in circumstances which would not provoke similar sense of disquietude in a more stable animal. It may seek to shrink from contact, or it may seek to have an exaggerated defense mechanism of baring teeth, growling, or biting. It is this second defense mechanism of the shy or fearful animal which is usually responsible for the bad reputation of the "vicious" dog. The fear biter can bite children, small animals, or its own master for stresses which may or may not be observable to his owner-trainer.

Therefore, extreme shyness has no place in the Giant Schnauzer. It is distinctly contraindicated in the standard which calls for bold temperament that combines "spirit and alertness with intelligence and reliability" Other attributes in the standard are described as "composed, watchful, courageous, easily trained, deeply loyal to family, playful, amiable in repose, and a commanding figure when aroused:" The two faults described as character faults which would dismiss and disqualify the Giant are shyness and viciousness. Again, the concept of viciousness must be viewed as a reflection of the same problem which shyness originates from, and that is often an animal filled with fear and who will react in an unduly frightened manner to sudden sounds and movements and who's timidity is such that he may be "vicious" when confronted by a child capable of acting suddenly either to touch him or run across his line of sight. There is in all attempts of determining temperament, such as the American Temperament Societies, examination including sudden stimulus with the opening of an umbrella or the approach of both neutral and hostile strangers, and the German technique of the "Wesen" study, an attempt to weed out the fearful, timid, cowering and potentially dangerous fear biter. This lack of confidence unfortunately can be seen in some of our dogs. It is too bad that the American obedience system provides only minimal independent activity by the dogs and the often rote memorized routines, such as retrieval and heeling patterns which do not fully expose these problems of timidity and instability. There is, indeed, value in the German sport of Schutzhund from which the great majority of European breeding stock is derived, which allows examination of the dog under stress, hostile behavior and functioning 100 meters or more away from his owner in attempt at both pursuit and defense. This later aspect which is well covered in descriptions of the Schutzhund sport courage test, frankly weeds out many animals who are unsuitable, despite excellent conformation.

These descriptions of temperament in the standard are interesting to compare to the profile of the Giant Schnauzer, published in the book, "The Right Dog for You", by Daniel F. Tortora's, Ph.D. This profile of the Giant Schnauzer is one which highlights qualities of the Giant, both consistent with his working character and sometimes in distinction from those temperaments sought for in the Standard. In Dr. Tortora's publication, the Giant Schnauzer is demonstrated to be a highly active dog, both indoors and outdoors, showing significant vigor which means the forcefulness with which he will pursue and act. It should also be noted in distinction to a less vigorous dog, the Giant's forcefulness of behavior, bounding, jumping or playing, is consistent and there is a magnification of this behavior in human environment because of the Giant's size. He is listed also as a dominant dog, both to other animals and people. This dominance usually is one which may be accentuated in the male and it is my understanding that this is a frequent and potential problem for new owners of the Giant Schnauzer in dealing with the assertiveness of an adult or adolescent which has had inadequate or improper restraints placed upon it during its puppyhood.

The very vigorous quality of his nature, however, is what is frequently also described in terms of a strong play drive. It is a dog who seeks to participate, is active and wants to join along. For the person interested in the sport dog, this can be an ideal characteristic. For the more frail owner, phlegmatic individual or person unable to summon up within themselves the appropriate levels of discipline and control of handling a potentially large, vigorous and dominant dog, this must be kept in careful consideration prior to purchase. It is again here that the distinction must be made that a breed standard cannot be made to be universally acceptable and rather than dilute, change, or rewrite the breed standard, with regard to temperament, selectivity of purchase and ownership is mandatory.

Other characteristics of the Giant that may be addressed are its levels of sociability. Sociability is defined within the definition of rapidity and likelihood of bonding. It is a function of friendliness and acceptance. It is a dog which in its most sociable state would greet everyone as a friend and in its less sociable state would show significant discretion at meeting new strangers. The sociable dog with a ready jump, lick or rub against whomever he meets for the first time is not the type of behavior sought for in working dogs. Though we all seek a lively companion, there must be a sense of discretion and meaning to a dog's affection and loyalty. In the U.S., where gregariousness and friendliness are highly valued, all of behavior or initial standoffishness can be misconstrued as "bad temperament". Thus, in the book "The Right Dog for You", the Giant Schnauzer is not listed as a highly sociable dog, but this aspect of its temperament is consistent with its working heritage and potential role as protector of the household and family.

By Edward Weiss
Reprinted from What You Should Know About The Giant Schnauzer, 5th Edition ©1988