A Matter of Suitability
(edited version appears in the October 2001 issue of the AKC GAZETTE)
The July column discussed the history of the GSMD as it relates to the functions for which it was bred: driving cattle, protecting farms, pulling wagons, and remaining a loyal family companion. Farmers bred for versatility, looking for intelligence, strength, vigilance, determination and an instinct to safeguard property.
Considering the relatively small gene pool associated with our breed, how do all of these qualities affect the GSMD’s temperament? Temperament can be defined as the dog’s suitability for a specific task or function. As such, there are no good or bad temperaments, simply suitable and unsuitable temperaments. Therefore, if a Swissy, as described by our current AKC standard, is supposed to be bold, faithful, a willing worker, alert and vigilant, then it follows that a Swissy is predisposed to perform tasks requiring fearlessness and an ability to stand its ground in a variety of everyday situations.
A breed with these inherent personality traits is suitable for some companion homes but not for others. An assertive or self-confident Swissy has a strong sense of self and its abilities. He can make an excellent pet when he is under control, but this type of temperament can lead to behavior problems if the dog is a) in a home with an owner who does not see himself as the pack leader and b) not properly trained.
The July column stated, “Sadly, with an increase in the popularity of our breed, we are realizing an increase in incidents described as aggression on the part of the dogs -- debate continues as to whether the described aggression is a result of temperament or behavior management.” The answer lies in a combination of both when a Swissy is placed in a home or situation unsuitable for its personality. Blame need not be placed on the dog, nor should it be placed solely on the owner or the breeder.
Instead of finger-pointing, energy should be directed to the education of the buying public about the nature of our breed. Let’s face it, not every home is appropriate for raising a Swissy. For those that are, it is essential to begin obedience, basic control, and socialization as soon as the Swissy becomes a new addition to his family.
Occurrences of aggression are few compared with the numbers of well-adjusted and well-behaved Swissys living in communities across the country. As is usually the case, it is the tragic episodes that garner the most attention. Disturbing as these are, there is one, and only one, positive aspect to them. They serve to sound an alarm. As a Swissy has historically safeguarded the welfare of its family, it is now our responsibility to return the favor by increasing our vigilance over the breed, ensuring puppies are placed in suitable homes.