I just LOVE seeing Game develop and thinking back to Grit at the same age. They are the same breed, after all – but from two very different lines, and two very different personalities. It’s fascinating how much variation there can be within one and the same breed!
Let’s look at them through the categories Denise Fenzi developed in Train The Dog In Front of You:
Grit (Igrit vom Heustadlwasser)
Austrian IPO line
Grit as a puppy
In many respects, Grit is exactly what I’m looking for in a dog. I’ve never had a dog I found as much fun to train and live with, and I honestly can’t imagine I’ll ever love a dog as much as her. She has four qualities the person and trainer I am today loves in a dog: she’s a serious dog (as opposed to a goofy one), she is a one-person dog (as opposed to a very social one), she’s got a perfect balance between handler focus and environmental focus, is biddable and has lots of working drive, but medium energy (the perfect combination), and she is able to think when under stress (which can be eustress or distress – she can problem-solve even if her arousal is high because of a toy, and she is able to listen to me even if she’s in a situation she is overwhelmed by). She is extremely smart and learns well by shaping. Puppy Grit really was perfect. The one thing I’m not so happy with in Grit today is the fact that she developed a fear of people. She had one bad experience at a highly impressionable time in her life (when she was 6 months old), and having the wrong experience at the wrong time triggered a general weariness of people. We’re working on it, and it’s slowly getting better – but at this point, it’s hard to imagine her being happy in a trial environment (and I wouldn’t want to take her there if she felt bad). But we’ll see what the future brings. Step by step, I’m trying to help her re-discover her confidence.
Game (Ygame van’t Merlebosch)
Dutch KNPV line
Game as a puppy
Grit was a self-confident puppy – Game is even more self-confident. She is fearless when it comes to new people and dogs. Unlike Grit, who would challenge new dogs even as a puppy, Game is open and friendly to new dogs and people. Game is also my first environmentally focused dog since Snoopy: Phoebe, Fanta, Hadley, Grit – none of them are environmental. Game is interested in everything around her, particularly all these interesting sights and smells! Currently, the world is more fascinating than me – but we’re working on it, and I can see that she is able to engage better and better. I also haven’t had a nose-driven dog since Snoopy! Game loves to follow her nose and explore the scents of the world. I’ve promised her she’ll get to do nosework! She has more trouble learning through shaping, and learning in general, then Grit had at this age. But we’re getting there and improving a little bit most days. Game is higher power than Grit. That is to say, she is determined to get what she wants – and she’ll complain or fight back if she doesn’t get it. I also suspect that Game is what people call a hard dog (which is not unusual in KNPV dogs). She has a high pain threshold, and she works for the reinforcers rather than in order to please me. She’s still a puppy, so these qualities aren’t written in stone. I believe that biddability is at least partly built by means of the relationship we develop with our dogs. Since I’m plannin gon building a great relationship, I’m positive that her biddability will increase, and her hardness will not. She has already started caring more about my opinion than when we first met. For example, she will now let me redirect when she’s puppy-biting my sleeves or tugging on my pants: unless she’s overly tired and overexcited, she’ll be like, “Oh, I see, you don’t want me to tug on that or bite that? What can I bite or tug on instead?” And I respond by offering an alternative. Her attention span and her rate of auto check-ins has already increased, and I am starting to see her happiness to play and work with me awaken.
I see two training challenges in Game’s future: her environmental focus, and her lower biddability, which – unless I change it – will make it hard to work when I don’t have access to classic reinforcers. Again, she’s a puppy, so this may well change completely in the course of the relationship we develop! Most of these categories aren’t really suited to be applied to puppies anyways. But it’s fun to do all the same: I’m taking a snapshot of the puppy in front of me right now.
I’m excited about this new training challenge, particularly the environmental part. When I had Snoopy, I really struggled with his environmental focus. I’m excited about tackling the same challenge with the knowledge and greater experience that I have today. I’ll keep blogging about how I work with it, since I think the approach I’m taking is non-traditional (and, like so many things, inspired by FDSA).
It’ll be interesting to see if and how both dogs change in the course of time. Personality traits are a result of both genetics and environment. There is a STRONG genetic component – it sets the frame of what is possible for a given dog. That frame is always a lot smaller than the entire scale – but it’s still a frame, not just a point. What point within this frame the dog falls on can change depending on her environment and her experiences. Think of human traits like introversion and extroversion. You’re usually born an introvert or extrovert and stay that way all your life. However, it’s entirely possible to start out as a strong introvert, and get more and more social in the course of your life. You’ll still be an introvert, but you’ll have moved away from extreme introversion and more toward the middle of the scale. You’ll surround yourself with people more often and need a little less time to recharge.
In Grit’s case, you can see that two values have already changed between her puppyhood and now: both her confidence and her handler hardness decreased. I’ve lots to say about these two factors and how and why they changed – but that’s a post for another time.