Greta Kaplan, CPDT, CDBC
Our afternoon at the Entlefest involved participating in an experiment: For the first time, a breed-specific European-style working temperament test was administered to Entlebuchers as part of a three-part breeding fitness exam. (The other two parts involve structure and movement.) Because so many owners wanted to participate, we divided the duties. My wonderful assistant Jett judged the second half of the test, while I judged the first half. The club committee had set up the test grounds very efficiently and practiced the choreography to move dogs through as quickly as possible. In the end, about thirty dogs participated (nearly twice the number originally signed up). We quit right after the sun had disappeared below the California horizon.
The test first involves a series of exercises to see how bonded the dog is to the handler and how the dog responds to social pressure. We had the dog and owner walk through a crowd, walk along alone together, play together with and without toys, and sit quietly while a circle of people closed in. We then had a helper hold the dog’s leash while the handler went to hide behind a tree at least 80 feet away. We noted the dog’s responses both when separated from handler and when released to find the handler. Most of the dogs watched intently as their handlers walked away (peering through a forest of knees) and made straight for the handler on being released. It was quite windy and these dogs uniformly followed an arcing path downwind of the handler’s actual footsteps. It was neat to see such obvious nosework in action.
In the second half of the test, the dogs were exposed to a series of visual, aural and tactile challenges. Most of the dogs handled these quite well, with perhaps an occasional startle if a sound came from behind. Last was the defense test: First a scary stranger approached while the dog sat with his person; second, the handler disappeared and scary strangers ran around waving sticks while the dog sat tethered. Again, most of the dogs were remarkably stolid about this. One moved into position between handler and stranger, and one (whose owner has been working on his reactivity for years) did some barking in both situations. These Entles seemed less reactive and more thoughtful and quiet than many herding breed dogs of my acquaintance. I was impressed.
This test was based on the test used by the Swiss Entlebucher club. There, dogs must pass the test to earn breeding privileges. Here, it is being used as a tool to help owners understand and evaluate their dogs. No one passed or failed; each owner got a copy of his or her evaluation sheet with comments including training recommendations. Only a very few dogs displayed really troubling temperament issues (fearfulness). I found myself wondering, “Why is that dog intact?” in some cases, and “why on earth is that dog neutered? He’s wonderful!” in others. Of course owners have all sorts of reasons to neuter or not neuter other than breeding so I kept my questions to myself!
I see a breed club faced, early on, with a choice that has plagued many other working breed clubs. A few of the dogs we saw were real working dogs: high in drive, tough, intense, intelligent and persistent. They are not always the easiest pets! Many were much lower-key and would not make good workers, but were wonderful companions. Should breeders try to breed for versatility? Split the breed into two lines? Give up on working ability since it’s unlikely this breed will be called upon to work in the US? Acquiesce to a split with the Swiss club’s breeding goals? Aussie, Border Collie, Doberman, German Shepherd, Lab, and other breeders struggle with questions of this type all the time and I don’t know that there is any one right answer. I wish these dedicated Entlenuts good luck in figuring it out.
At dinner, immediately after, we enjoyed yummy food and ice cream sandwiches for dessert (I swear, this was just a happy accident). After covering some club business, our hostesses re-introduced us to the gathered Entle fanciers. We were stunned and blushing when polite applause turned into a standing ovation. After that, we went to bed feeling very cheerful!
The drive home was a lot like the drive to Tahoe… minus the police stop. We rested in Tulelake to run the dogs in a schoolyard. There, a group of preadolescent kids joined us on their bikes and after showing some initial timidity, got interested in throwing tennis balls for the dogs. They were amazed by the fetching and had a positive dog experience. When we drove away, we spotted this little “gang” a couple of streets away and we all waved goodbye at each other. I spent the rest of the drive thinking that I could look up the significance of this or that geological formation “if only I had an iPhone!” We ran into some intense snow showers passing over the Cascades and made it home an hour or two after dark. All in all, we had a great time, but were exhausted and we’re still recovering. (The dogs are fine. They do not need any more recovery time, please!)