Our "Typical" Giant By Giant Owners/Breeders/Lovers
By Cathi Crompton
Reprinted From 1984‑85 Yearbook Volume Iv 1985
When first researching the Giant Schnauzer as a possible addition to our family, my questions concerned behavior and maintenance of the breed. In the 9+ years that I have been involved in the breed I have read a lot of pertinent material on grooming and care of show coats and methods of stripping, but hardly anything beyond the breed standard refers to the breed's “peculiarities” or anticipated/expected/accepted behavioral reactions. Each person seems to interpret our breed standard just a bit differently, sometimes based on. just one or two Giants they know or own, rather than objectively. I have based my interpretation of the Giant's Standard for the Breed on years of listening to Giant owners, observing many dog's behaviors in various surroundings, reading varied articles written by people who make it their business to understand behavior and working abilities, and attending seminars on all aspects of the dog’s mental and physical capabilities. But it seems just when I have our breed figured out, a new situation arises which shows yet other aspects of our breed's behavior. It was easier when I had just one Giant and thought he was the perfect representative of Giant behavior!! There does appear to be more extensive coverage of working dogs in relation to Schutzhund training, and I have found many well put together articles on this topic by very sensible, knowledgeable and intelligent people.
It seems difficult for Giant fanciers to generalize on the breed, as in different situations the dogs demonstrate apparently conflicting patterns of response and behavior. While serving as Information Center it became necessary to describe our breed in a nutshell to people who were considering acquiring a Giant. I felt it imperative to point out the facts that the Giant was bred for herding large livestock, thus is usually a dominant and predatory breed; and for protecting home and hearth, thus the breed has a “guardy” behavior. Those are neither bad nor good traits, they just are, and must be placed in appropriate homes. I was personally interested in what type of responses one would get from various Giant owners, breeders, trainers, and lovers, thus this collection of thoughts. From 40 contacts I received 17 responses, all from people who have in the past or are presently working their dogs in obedience as well as conformation. The average length of membership in the GSCA was l0+ years, excluding 1 non‑member who has owned Giants for at least 10 years, so these people are well past the “honeymoon” stage with the breed and can respond with a broader base of experience with which to evaluate the Giants' behavior.
There are many differences of opinion among these individuals, but the few areas of agreement were very strong.
There are several books which try to describe all AKC breeds with categories for obedience, intelligence, trainability, guarding instinct, compatibility with children, etc.. The Giant is referred to as “a dog that learns very quickly, is an alert watchdog, a guard dog by nature, reserved with strangers, quarrelsome with strange dogs, stubborn, bold, a handsome breed with spirited but usually stable personality, too rough and ready for small children or for many adults unless properly trained. If properly trained, fine house pet, devoted, protective, fun loving, highly adaptable. Coat needs lots of attention, and dog needs lots of exercise to curb its restlessness. Should be acquired and socialized while a young pup.” This is a quote from John Howe's “Choosing the Right Dog”. I don't know where this man came by his information, but, excluding differences of opinion concerning coat care and restlessness, this is the most accurate description of our Giants that I have seen in print.
SUE AILSBY: The best and worst feature in the Giant Schnauzer is its versatility and adaptability. They will be what you want them to be. The G. was bred to be versatile, to learn anything without making a fuss. What he lacks in instinct he makes up for in intelligence. The G. must have a set of mind that makes learning fun, makes them look forward to learning new things, and trust the trainer enough to believe that what is about to happen is perfectly ordinary and OK. Giants understand and adjust to new ideas more easily and rapidly than most other breeds. Little changes in routine or even moving from a family doesn't upset a Giant. A Giant will be afraid if you are, or aggressive, or cool. Most STABLE G. do extremely well in Schutzhund as well as anything else they try.
Some people say they want a “sharp” dog, which to them means it attacks anything it is pointed at, and is very hard to turn off. Other people want a more benign attitude and know that a dog can be a reasonable being and still compete successfully in the Schutzhund sport, two separate people, two “different” dogs.
Tracking is something G. are very good at because most people who go tracking are enjoying themselves and are amazed how well the dog is doing. Some who go into obedience don't find quite the reward. Reasonable corrections and lots of praise will produce a cheerful worker, anything else will produce a dog that can't be bothered, he'll sit and tell you to go play by yourself if you're going to play rough! Giants can teach you good obedience habits!!!!
JOAN ANSELM: I was recently exposed to some secondhand information, made by a judge: “ Giants have one of the worst temperaments of all breeds.” Is that a fact?!!? Why is it that some Giants take offense to some people? Why is it that some judges are regularly being bitten or having to excuse a dog from the ring?
We do not have a breed that is immediately and positively responsive to everyone. There are individual dogs that are predictable in their reactions to people/environment. The adult Giant should accept almost any situation, particularly if encouraged by its master. You and I know, to be realistic, that each one of our dogs has some fault/quirk about something (suspicious object on a counter, firecrackers, Halloween costume).
We have to determine as breeders/owners what is acceptable behavior in our animals; a very subjective matter! I would consider an animal who trusts in its owner/family and responds accordingly in a reliable manner, to be acceptable. The communication between man and .dog must be established early in the critical period of a puppy's life (3‑12 weeks) and it must be continued every day of its life. Every human imposes a different set of rules and the dog is forced to be a part of our society. Characteristically, the G. has inherited tendencies which can be polished or discouraged, but it is impossible to create or negate a trait/personality. This is an intelligent, stubborn, excitable, affectionate, aggressive, complicated being.
It is our responsibility as breeders to place our puppies with only those owners that have been carefully screened: owners that are willing to develop the G. to it's potential. Tomorrow's owners are tomorrow's breeders/diplomats for the breed.
To return to the above assessment of the G., I feel that his personality should contain some of the following qualities:
GLORIA BALIUS: A Giant should be gentle, loving of the family, yet protective, willing to try it's best to please in work situations. It should not be shy, as this leads to fear biting, which is totally uncharacteristic of the G. temperament. Our pepper/salt Giants are more people related, and tend to be more energetic than the black Giants.
ELLEN BUCHHOLZ: My Giants are very laid back, powerful, ready when needed, otherwise calm and collected. Can be taken anyplace without restraining, know friend from foe and act accordingly.
(Ellen describes a number of dogs living in a home situation all getting along with an occasional growl to remind each other who is boss. She says these dogs all have the "true Schutzhund temperament, none are sissies".)
KIT BROWN: Bad habits and individual idiosyncrasies are just that, individual problems not typical of the breed as a whole. The Giants do not take kindly to kennel keeping, never developing to their best in such an environment. G. males particularly are too much for many people/home situations. They NEED proper training.
Most breeders want and try to breed a G. which has the disposition which may be described as friendly and non‑aggressive towards people, particularly as a pup. For the usual family situation and with such a large and powerful breed, aggressive behavior at any age is seldom called for (needed) and can be a dangerous liability. What is wanted and generally comes with maturity is the ability to discriminate between people, situations, and dangers, and an attitude of watchfulness and willingness to behave protectively IF it seems needed.
The G., while very much a “people dog” in the sense he likes to be with you, is extremely interested in everything you do, and wants to do it with you, is still an independent, think‑for‑himself dog, and that goes double for the male:‑‑‑and yet can be sensitive and hence easily spoiled, or his energies easily misdirected by the wrong kind of training or the lack of certain kinds of training. If a G. is not given‑something constructive to do he is likely to think up SOMETHING interesting, and it's likely to be destructive. Giants are chewers until completely mature, also diggers. Unsupervised, any dog may become quite destructive and not easy to handle. This same dog, with proper guidance and time spent with, will soon be behaving well. The main problem with most G. is boredom, unused energy and intelligence. In dogs, as in children, it may be the bright and sensitive ones that are easily spoiled and come to grief.
Few breeds are so much what their owners make them. For some of us, who love this breed and have wanted no other since we got our first Giant, some adjustment and sacrifice on our part is worth it. If one is not inclined and able to alter normal schedule or lifestyle as may seem necessary for some months or even a year or two to properly introduce a G. to your way of life.
(* Kit supplied an excellent article about Dobermans by Peggy Adamson, and with some alterations adapted it to our Giants. Peggy Adamson is a respected breeder of Dobermans and judged our National Specialty in 1983 in New York.)
* The ingredient that is the very essence of the G. is temperament, that keen alertness that animates his physical beauty, the tilt of his head. Temperament is distinct from character and disposition. Keenness and steadiness are qualities of temperament; good nature and affection are qualities of disposition, courage, loyalty, reliability, and faithfulness are all qualities of character.
The word temperament is not only the most misspelled word in the dog field, but also the most carelessly used. It is frequently employed as a catch‑all to denote everything about the dog except his physical characteristics‑ no doubt because there is no single word that is completely adequate.
An ideal dog of any breed must be courageous; the temperament of its breed will influence the WAY in which it is courageous. Tenacity, fortitude, spirit, ardor, daring‑all are characteristics of different breeds, yet all are forms of courage. What makes the difference? TEMPERAMENT.
A Giant Schnauzer can make the transition from complete relaxation to complex machine geared for immediate action. True G. temperament is always advancing on a situation, never backing away from it. Yet the dog must not be too aggressive lest it become dangerous. It must be neither lethargic nor excitable, ideally it is steady and calm, yet quickly alerted and ready to meet danger head‑on. A phlegmatic G. does not have any more correct behavior than a high strung one. However, the sluggish or spiritless G., while far from ideal, will never pose the menace to the breed which is present in the highly nervous dog. The latter temperament, if combined either with an irritable disposition or a cowardly character, may produce an unpredictable biter; such animals, few though they may be, are responsible for any unfair G. image in the minds of people unfamiliar with the breed. Such instances are rare and can occur occasionally in almost any breed.
Dedicated breeders who constantly strive to achieve ideal temperament, disposition, and character, inevitably become aware of the fact they are walking a tightrope. There is no simple Mendelian formula. They have to cope with many genes and combinations of the genes and keeping balance on that tightrope is difficult indeed. Because of this, a slight deviation in either direction may be disastrous.
Each pup is born with a certain kind of temperament. In every breed thoughtful selective breeding over many generations will produce litters in which there is more and more uniformity of temperament, but close observation by the age of two months will reveal individual differences, slight as they may be. From then on, especially for the next four months, the temperament of each pup will strongly be affected by a variety of factors. WHILE THE BASIC TEMPERAMENT WILL NOT BE CHANGED, it may be modified and conditioned by health, environment and the person whom the pup is most intimately associated with. The physiological and psychological factors that influence the G. temperament, disposition and character during this most crucial period of his existence cannot possibly be overemphasized. The neglect of what should be done, but is not done, for the pup in the first 6 months is as devastating, or more so, than what is done‑but incorrectly. This is true for the majority of medium to large breeds, but in no such case to such a marked degree as for the Giant (or Doberman). Strength of body, mind and spirit is a breed characteristic, yet despite the G.’s strong will, he possesses great flexibility and intelligence. Therefore, what happens to him in those most formative months, when considered in relation to his individuality and his breeding heritage, will establish almost unalterably the pattern which will become evident in the grown dog.
JAYNE CAMPBELL: I compare the G. to a bonsai tree, where you must have a master plan over long period of time, then through constant application of proper pressure you gradually mold the dog into the dog you want it to be. Giants are notorious thinkers and it is up to the breeder to begin teaching them to think in acceptable ways, then up to the new owner to continue the learning process and to be consistent. The protective streak and loyalty bond are the most fascinating traits that develop in the G. They want to center these attentions on humans. I find that positive reinforcement is extremely effective with the G. from the whelping box onward.
A G. is going to think. They aren't content to sit around and look pretty. That black box between their ears is always going, and it is the breeder's responsibility to work with all the dogs kept in order to teach the dog to orientate himself towards people and to build basic stability and brain power that makes the G. so wonderful.
An especially dominant‑aggressive G. sold into an experienced large‑dog home with lots of attention and discipline, owned by a person with will and determination and constant consistent follow‑through will turn out well. In a lenient home, that same dog will act instinctively and take over, becoming alpha dog, chewing, biting, acting stubborn.
(Jayne recommends short separation when a dog becomes too assertive or starts to take over with the new owner such as kenneling or withholding attention other than routine care for a brief time. This seems to re-orient the dog towards his people as #1 rather than the other way around.)
SYLVIA HAMMARSTROM: The G. was bred for working and protective abilities, takes his work very seriously, and is a one‑person/one man dog. Protection is instinctive; does not have to be trained to be protective. The G. prefers to be in with his family, loves unrestrained work, is impatient with repetition, is easy to work in obedience if the trainer establishes leadership, and is excellent with children if raised with them.
JODY K'BURG: The ideal G. temperament combines loyalty, affection, protection; but I question when is this protective trait too much? The breed is intelligent, perceptive, has a sense of humor, and in an urban/suburban situation the modern G. must have the intelligence and perception that allows him to differentiate between stranger and enemy. He must at times accept, if not include, friends of the family, such as friends of the children who are visiting. There must be the ability to distinguish between play and real threat of danger.
Sometimes G. owners get so attached that they make excuses for unacceptable behavior. A dog that does not adapt to our way of life is a burden. The dog must enhance the quality of his person's life. Unacceptable vs. acceptable behavior depends so much on situation. Male aggression is a natural instinct, but need not be encouraged as acceptable behavior.
SHARON THOMPSON: The breed standard describes the G. so well. This is a spirited dog with love of life and interest in exploring new and different things, an alert behavior which matures into the watchfulness and protectiveness a G. should possess. I expect watchfulness or signs of mistrust when a stranger approaches too closely. The G. is easily trained, but is strong willed and may choose not to remember or abide by things they are taught. They bore easily in basic obedience, but love jumping and independent working.
Giants will instinctively take care of themselves and the ones they love. Some people feel that assertiveness and sharpness are incorrect, as our G. must be social creatures if we are able to live as social humans. Most G. will respond to people according to the way they are treated and tend to want to dominate other dogs.
YVONNE SCHILLA: The G. is a physically active dog but at the same time is calm and has an aura of reservation, giving an impression of power. Instinctively a G. is territorial and will guard its space. The G. is not all that fond of sharing its territory with others of its own sex, so in a pack situation a clear hierarchy rapidly evolves. The breed has been bred as more of an independent worker (as opposed to hounds that work in packs) but works with its master for multi-goals: guarding, companionship, specific duties (as opposed to a setter which works on game, FOR a person, incidentally). The G. knows what is happening in his space at all times. In stress situations he should be steady.
We will often see humor as a character in the G. The most important is presence, the calm power. The G. has a sense of duty; whether guarding or doing other specific duties. The G. seems happiest when he has a job to do, such as a new obedience task, help take out the garbage, being with its people. Steadiness is very important, as with the power the dog has, it must be under control.
SALLY ELLIS: The dictionary describes “temperament as proportionate mixture or balance of proper ingredients, one's customary frame of mind or natural disposition.” Behavior is “the way a person behaves or acts, conduct, manners or muscular or glandular responses that can be observed.” Behavior can be changed, temperament cannot. Most behavior can be modified with varying degrees of effort. Like people, dogs are self indulgent, manipulative, have a real sense of humor, often derive pleasure from doing something which is pleasing to a person, or from intentionally DISpleasing a person!
Temperament is one of the basic building blocks; you can have a good one, one that may be malleable enough to make the dog useful in the right circumstances, or a thoroughly hopeless one. At present, G. breeders may put down physically disabled or defective pups, but very little culling is done for temperamentally incapacitated ones: the incredibly aggressive, uncontrollable, freaky G. There is a big liability involved when one of these G. bites someone.
I have dogs for several interrelated reasons, and expect a multifaceted temperament to match. The dogs must be compatible pets, protectors, must accept my guests but tolerate no uninvited guests and not back down from any threatening situations unless I tell them to. They are for show, obedience and Schutzhund work. Trainability from an obedience standpoint is mandatory. The G. that exhibits the highest interest may not be the easiest to obedience train, but it is nice to see the dogs using grey matter. These G. will question repetitive work.
ENID LAGREE: The breed standard describes what temperament should be, but realistically I have yet to meet the G. who fits. We must accept (and explain to novices) the breed for what it is, not try to make it into something it isn't. I believe the G. is not easily trained, though they do learn certain things quickly. I like the G. because they are bold, alert, ready for action. My own G. had heart and stick‑to‑itivness and was enthusiastic about life in general, as well as loved us with a passion. These traits appear typical of many G. He was never blasé, was full of beans and tricks and loved games, would not put up with male dogs of any breed, liked to intimidate visitors, was not dependable around children, labor intensive and demanding. HE WAS A GIANT!! The average G. owner is more than alert for passing dogs and children at dog shows, which should tell us something. The only G. I have noted wandering on the loose end of a lead for the most part shouldn't be. This points out again that the breed is not for most people. I have listened with interest at judge's dinners to their comments concerning Giants. Many are leery of G. and that is putting it mildly. Yet over the years I have seen only 1 or 2 Giants actually go after a judge. It is far more common to see shy Giants.
DORIS RED MANN: The G. is a family dog with strong territorial instincts which readily adapts to new people and unfamiliar situations with obedience training and love. Giants tire easily of much repetitive work due to their high level of intelligence. The G. may have a higher degree of common sense/intelligence than the owner, causing the types of problems we are seeing so much in the rescue and adoption situation.
The G. has retained natural instincts and we do not ask enough of it mentally or physically.
CATHY ROBINS: Temperament is the product of three components: heredity, physiological condition, and environment. A dog's temperament is expressed behaviorally. When we describe a dog's temperament as “good” or “bad”, we are making a judgment based on our observation of behavior which is the product of these three vectors. Of the three, heredity and environment play more or less equal parts. This is particularly true, I believe, of Giant Schnauzers. All of us as breeders have had the experience of seeing well‑balanced puppies go into homes in which they are allowed or encouraged to develop really extreme behavior patterns that we would never have predicted based on the dog's heredity.
We describe a dog's physical makeup in specific terms such as “black, 95 pounds, 27 inches at the shoulder”, all of which are verifiable. Terms like “sharp”, “loyal”, “spirited”, or “shy” plop us right in the middle of semantic arguments. My “spirited” dog may be your “unruly” dog. My “composed” G. may seem to you “shy” or “dull”.
The G. perfect temperament is extensively described by our Standard for the Breed, with disqualifications for shy or vicious dogs. Decide for yourself how well your own Giants conform to these descriptions. But, realize for yourself that just as no dog is perfect conformationally, so your G. may be lacking temperamentally. At this time, temperaments in the breed are variable and a potential purchaser willing to spend the time can find some real differences in temperament. You SHOULD be familiar with the parents if at all possible, ask to see any results of testing done on the puppies and try to discipline yourself to act rationally and select a pup whose potential best suits your own needs.
As a breeder, you must continually question your own honesty about your dogs' behavior. If your bitch shies at all strange stimuli is it really because she was frightened by a garbage can at 6 weeks? Maybe she is genetically shy. Face it. Love her. Train her. But DON'T breed her!!! That young male who is the most gorgeous thing you've ever bred has sudden rage avalanches and even goes for YOU, who opened his sac and cut his umbilical cord. Is it really because he gets excited about bitches in season 3 blocks away or is it faulty temperament? You are an experienced trainer and may modify his behavior as he matures. But what about the agony of the person who purchases one of this dog's offspring and sees his child savaged? Finish the dog's championship, then neuter him.
Despite our most conscientious efforts, all breeders occasionally make mistakes in placing pups. Frequently we misjudge the home's ability to handle a large dog or their willingness to take the time to do so. When dogs are returned to the breeder, it's usually because the dog's behavior is a problem. It is much easier to explain how to feed and groom a Giant properly than it is to explain how to develop that puppy's specific temperament and resultant behavior to the optimum. As a breeder, you must ask yourself honestly, “Was the home at fault? Did I put the wrong dog in the wrong home?” And, in all fairness you must ask, “Did I breed a dog that should never have been born?”
The pepper‑salt Giant Schnauzers differ just subtly in temperament from black Giants. Our P/S G. are calmer, less aggressive and much less randomly active than the average black G. P/S Giants tend to think things over a bit before reacting to stimuli. On the average they are less interested in other dogs than they are in people. They are endlessly curious about human affairs. No less alert as watchdogs, the P/S seems to have a sense of joy and humor that seems lacking in the majority of black Giants. Some gray G. from German import lines are much more aggressive with other dogs than the average, however. But overall, the calmer, less aggressive, more biddable temperament is most typical of the P/S. This is perhaps one reason why so many P/S Giants are successful in obedience, especially when the small number of dogs in the U.S. is considered. Of six living Champions, only two do not also have obedience titles. There are two living CDX's and a TD, not bad for an active group of about a dozen dogs. Numerous other P/S have finished their CD's and are always in the forefront in carting.
While making P/S Giants a delight as family companions and obedience prospects, the calmer temperament puts them at a disadvantage when in competition with the more fiery black dogs. Many P/S seem a little embarrassed by aggressive displays in the
show ring So if you want a G. with a composed, stable temperament that will be a delight as a family companion, choose a pepper‑salt!
LUCILLE RIGGS: The giant is a loving, intelligent guard and companion. Most temperament problems are more environmentally caused, as by poor socialization. If the G. is the master there are guaranteed problems, so the owner must learn to handle the G. while it is young. The most important thing we have to live with is temperament, not conformation.
CAROL THORDSEN: The Giant should be very bright, capable of working without problems from physical defects. It should be reasonable, able to relate well to humans, their environment and the situation of the moment. A G. should be reliable and a joy to live with, though sometimes appearing a little stubborn as they are independent creatures.
CAROL WEHRMAN: The G. is slow to warm up to strangers, picks up on human's obvious fear and takes advantage of it. He is a loving animal, very attached to his people, TOLERATES some others without so much love. The G. never forgets a friend, really wants to please without falling all over himself, may need extra incentive to do obedience. The Giant is very intelligent and will be exactly what you make him. New owners must be aware of the need to be a pack leader to the dog.
CATHI CROMPTON: Upon completion of this collection of thoughts from Giant fanciers I found myself reconsidering what I personally expected of a Giant. What do I want my dogs to do when company comes, when someone approaches our car, when I am out at night walking and am approached by a questionable stranger, etc. I find myself accepting different responses from each dog as OR, but is that merely excusing borderline behavior? No two dogs will react identically, but that does not mean that only one reaction is proper. I find myself reverting to comparing every additional Giant to my first one, who IS one of a kind. He has never backed down or back from any situation, has never made us uneasy when new people have been invited into our home, can be depended on to make reasonable decisions when away from home and approached by strangers. I know that I would not be as good of a dog as HE is, and I admire the dog's common sense and ability to distinguish between neutral or threatening situations. That is not something he has been trained to do, and I believe it is a rare dog that can make all those correct decisions. We are lucky to own such a Giant Schnauzer.
On the other hand, I am coming to realize that not every G. can (or should have to) tolerate persistent approaches and touching by total strangers who have just come into his home. I can now accept the G. who does not want to be petted by strangers, but who wants to remain in the immediate area to watch the goings on. I can accept the G. who does not want to be hugged and kissed or jumped on by strange children. People don't want to be touched or fondled by total strangers‑‑‑why must our dogs be subjected to the same behavior WE feel uncomfortable with? I am NOT advocating excusing fearful or extremely aggressive dogs, but rather suggesting that we recognize the comfort zone of many dogs. I agree that our G. are supposed to be wise and discriminating, but it is not fair to expect them to be omniscient!!!
For desirable traits in our Giants I like to see:
I believe the undesirable traits in a Giant are:
I have not personally seen an overaggressive G. that was not primarily lacking in self-confidence. Most of these “sharp” dogs overreact out of fear of approach by strangers, lacking in the composure needed to restrain their reaction, lacking self-confidence that would allow them to stand their ground.
We who are producing litters of Giants must keep in mind that we are the guardians of a breed bred for protection AND companionship. Above beauty must come brains, a dog that can cope with the strains of everyday life as it is. That is not to advocate a milque‑toast Giant, but rather the aloof and discriminating dog we all recognize and admire, placed very thoughtfully into homes of people who will appreciate and protect and utilize the characteristics that separate OUR breed from all the others.
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