TEMPERAMENT, CHARACTER and BEHAVIOR
The SRO is one of the large, longhaired, white life stock guarding dogs. These kinds of dogs can be found in many countries in a variety of types. Their historical utility corresponds en all of them have the tendency - more or less - to defend and guard the things they consider being theirs. They perform this duty by themselves, without human guidance and this makes them very self-willed dogs.
A lot of owners are
proud of their impressive powerful dog and the feeling of safety that the
dog gives them. But there are unrecognized potential dangerous instincts
inherent to this type of dogs. These instincts are not always - or too
late - perceived by their owners, out of inexperience or unbelief when
people who *do* know, warn them.
No matter how well bred for temperament and character the dog is or how high his bite inhibition, the true nature of the Southrussian Ovcharka is one of a guarding, defending dog. Some day a trigger mechanism will reveal this instinct.
People who want to own a SRO have to realize that -as responsible owners- they have to fulfill certain qualities: ascendancy, experience, know-how about the nature of their dog as well as the willingness to spend a lot of time in educating and training their dog.
For many years, the
export of Russian breeds such as Caucasian, Central Asian and Southrussian
Ovcharka was forbidden by the State and only a handful of people outside
the former USSR had the opportunity to meet an Ovcharka. Tourists who visited
the USSR and came across an Ovcharka, were impressed (to say the least)
by the sharpness of these breeds. The Ovcharkas that were shown at international
dog shows were trained for guarding abilities; most of them were coming
from military kennels.
A dog at an exhibition or behavior test that accepted food from anyone
else than the owner was disqualified. Show training consisted of being
sure that the dog wasn't going to remove his muzzle and make sure that
the dog wouldn't like anyone except his owner well enough to accept food.
During some time various (military) kennels selected and bred the Southrussian
Ovcharka for extreme aggression.
But this has changed. New times, a new country, new rules. The new standard from 1998, already recognized by the RKF [the Russian Kynological Federation - Russian Kennel Club] but not yet recognized by the FCI describes the temperament as "even"; uncontrolled aggression is now a disqualifying fault. However, Russian breeders will never breed for a "soft" temperament. They will not breed and own guard dogs that can't perform their duty. But most of them socialize their puppies in a more modern way and will not likely provoke their dogs to uncontrolled aggression anymore. Therefor most of the SROs that came to Europe in the early 1980's were more aggressive than the younger generations who have been socialized.
The behavior and character of the SRO is strongly influenced by the quality of its socialization. I have noticed that the socialization process varies from country to country: a SRO in Russia or another eastern European country gets a different socialization than a SRO in the Netherlands. The selection of breeding stock also plays an important role. Russia and eastern European countries have a greater acceptance of sharpness and aggression in dogs while in the Netherlands a very sharp dog will be excluded from breeding. Our breeding criteria simply differ. This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to describe the character of the SRO. There is no such thing as *THE* Southrussian Ovcharka. Each description of behavior, temperament and character will only fit most of the dogs in the breed, not all of them. There are exceptions to every rule….
A very characteristic
feature of Southrussians is that it seems as if they are two dogs in one.
This is caused by the fact that they have "two faces" to show to the world.
They divide the world in two separate parts: "my family" and "*not* my
SROs are guarding, independent, intelligent, stubborn, dominant and loyal dogs.
Their guarding ability is a quality to consider thoroughly. A lot of people think that these guarding instincts can be trained away by a proper education. It can't. The instinct to guard and protect is a substantial part of the nature of this breed. It is deeply rooted in their essence. But training controls these qualities because it makes the dog more controllable. Training gives a layer of civilization. A well socialized and trained SRO will not show aggression without provocation but will be always, in all circumstances, be a guarding dog.
An Ovcharka is not
a shepherd dog in the common sense of the term but he is a working protector
of flock and premises. In the first four months of their lives these dogs
learn to distinguish who is family and who isn't. "Family" are those -
human and animal - with whom he has close physical contact and with whom
he shares the same territory day-in-day-out. Visitors who come by only
once a week and then go away again, do not belong to the family. They are
and will remain visitors, even if they are your family or closest friends.
Most SROs accept visitors only when their owner is present and takes over the responsibility for the situation. A SRO who grows up with (young) children will protect them. It is possible that the dog wants to interfere in a harsh game between your child and a friend if he gets the idea that "his" child gets threatened. Or that he wants to interfere if an unknown adult plays too rough with the child, even if the adult is your favorite uncle Toby who visits once a year. In the dogs opinion this is an attack at a family member and he will not accept it.
Generally a SRO does not accept other unknown dogs at his territory. Males are more aggressive towards other males than they are towards females; females are less tolerant towards other females than they are towards males. In general SROs do not play with dogs that don't belong to their family and most SROs can't walk off-leash. They are dominant towards other dogs and want to defend their family and territory, even during their daily walk. Even if your dog is well trained, listens to your commands and has learned to walk off-leash, it will be necessary nevertheless to call him to come to you when you see other people or dogs approach. Do take this in careful consideration and don't take it light. For some SROs this means that they can never walk off-leash.
very little "will-to-please": they accompany their owners but they will
not just do anything that's asked of them. The breed has been carefully
selected for it's independent guarding, defending and herding abilities.
It was also their duty to survive the season without human help and to
maintain order when the sheep drank water. The dogs made sure that the
sheep drank in small groups, because the whole herd in one time would destroy
the well. This provides the SRO with a combination of unique qualities.
He combines a guarding and a herding instinct; the ability to guard gives
him inborn distrust and defense against strangers, the ability to herd
gives him a high sensitiveness and an obvious talent for situation control.
These qualities give him psychological ascendancy and a great deal of independence.
Southrussians are used to work as an independent individual. They will not always comply the orders of their owner without hesitation but they will value it: is it useful, what's in it for me? They will not repeat the same training and exercises over and over again: follow-halt-sit, follow-halt-sit, follow… By the second time "sit" the dog will most likely refuse and wait until you made up your mind about what it is that you want from him.
A well-trained SRO will come when he is called but he won't respond immediately. First he has to sniff here and mark there…
Dogs are social beings
and they need a social structure. The social structure that is suited for
a dog is a group with an explicit hierarchy. The leader of the group is
the Alpha, the absolute Boss, the Top Dog. The SROs group is your family.
Some dogs adapt to a low group position without problems. They do what
they're told and they don't challenge the Alpha. Others adapt less easy.
Some of them are leaders by nature and they will challenge their human
Alpha's time and time again. Others are "climbers" in the social hierarchy
ladder, always searching for possibilities to climb to a higher position.
Alpha dogs often appear to be good pets. They are self-assured, smarter
than average and affectionate. The relationship between the owner and his
dog looks great - until something happens that the dogs doesn't like or
the dog has to do something he doesn't want.
Dogs need leadership. They have an instinctive need to live in a group. They want to have a security about their position and what's wanted of them. If people do not fulfill this need for leadership then most SROs will claim this position.
(see: ALPHA DOG article)
Even young Southrussians
- males AND females - have a tendency to try to gain leadership. A young
puppy can show this behavior in defending his food bowl. When a puppy stands
at his food bowl, legs apart, growling at his owner, there is nothing else
to do than correct him firmly. But it´s better to try and avoid this
behavior. From the very first day the pup makes his entrance in the family,
a good way to explain the hierarchic order to the pup is the following:
Prepare your dog's food, sit on the ground with the pup's food bowl with you on the ground, or squat down with his bowl in your hands. Invite the pup to come and eat. Talk to him, caress him and ask all the family members to do this one by one. Let him get used to the idea that his food and human contact are indissoluble attached to each other. After doing this during the first few meals you let the pup eat without disturbance, but once in a while you take away his food when he is eating, stir it, and give it back. Do this a few times every week until the pup is an adult. This way the pup will learn that it is a normal procedure when human hands touch his food and that they are no threat for him.
Another way of learning is to give the pup an empty food bowl, take it away and return it with a hand full of food. When the pup has eaten the food you remove the bowl again, add some new food and return the bowl. Do this as long as it takes until the pup has eaten his portion. This will teach the pup that removing the bowl means he gets food, not that food is removed.
Give the pup explicit rules about his position from the very first day he enters the family group. It will prevent problems when the dog matures. I know this is something very difficult. A cute little furry puppy of 8 or 10 weeks old is something we only want to caress and play with and love. But it is of the utmost importance that you are very explicit to him. A SRO pup needs this. If you are not explicit enough, you can expect a lot of problems if the dog is growing up and becomes an adult.
SROs are intelligent dogs and they are opportunists: they will take advantage of every situation possible to climb a bit higher in the hierarchic structure. Explicit rules and a consistent approach from the beginning prevents a lot of problems and conflicts and shows the dog what his place in the social family structure is.
From the first day the pup comes into the family this means:
I already mentioned before that SROs are intelligent dogs. In order to perform their original job - guarding and herding - and their independent duties they had to be smart or they would not survive. Their intelligence provides them with alpha capacities and they need an owner who is able to deal with this quality. SROs learn quickly: good AND bad things!
In spite of the fact that Southrussians are very willful dogs, they can be educated to be good companions. He needs to acquire positive impressions as much as possible with other dogs, people, visiting others, car rides, crowded places and a visit to the vet and, most important, he needs to be a part of the family.
Even young puppies have a strong opinion of who is family and who is not. They usually dislike people, animals or things that are not familiar to them. Once they have learned to know it, they will accept it. That's why you have to treat your pup as if he was of royal blood. Life and his acquaintance with all that belongs to it should be only joy and happiness for a SRO pup. Try to exclude negative experiences as much as possible. A great deal of good, positive socialization gives your pup the possibility to expand his "own" family. Going to puppy class obedience training together will establish a good basis for a great relationship with you, his owner.
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