The ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of the Working Group
Not only is the German Pinscher a very old breed, possibly dating back to a 15th-Century breed called the Ratter whose job it was to guard German farms, but several breeds owe at least part of their existence to it, including the Dobermann, the Rottweiler and the Miniature Pinscher. The Standard Schnauzer was also once the wire-haired German Pinscher until that particular variety of the breed was designated as a separate breed, which means the German Pinscher was a significant figure in the development of the Giant Schnauzer, Miniature Schnauzer, Black Russian Terrier and possibly the Dutch Smoushond.
There was a reason why the German breeders and others used the German Pinscher as the foundation for so many breeds. The breed was used for a variety of tasks including as guardians for coaches, vermin control, companion dogs and versatile farm dogs. It is a breed that loves to work, as German Pinscher owners can attest. They are successful guardians and companions; as herders, doing draft work or long distance tracking; in agility, lure coursing, and search and rescue, and they are excellent therapy dogs.
Chevelle (GChb Spirits Ceriinan Enebys Chevelle CD BN RE NA NAJ TT THD RATN CGCA CGCU TKN,) owned by Valerie Vihlen Schluter, has an interest in herding.
“Most German Pinschers that I’ve worked with are very loyal to their owners, aim to please and have a dedicated work ethic, but they are also very independent. They seem to love to accomplish the mission. They are very upset when they are not allowed to do what they are trained to do, and they are quick to let you know it,” says Jennifer Redfern, whose current performance dog is Winston (GChb U-Ch Intl Ch Immer Treu V Oakwood Braveheart BN RI FDC DCAT SWN SCA SIA SBA RATN CGCA TKN ATT). “But they are also independent thinkers, and it can be a challenge to make things like doing obedience and rally seem like it’s their idea because there is no instant reward. When these events are in an outdoor area or a livestock arena it can be an even bigger challenge because their nose is being teased by so many interesting smells. While many are successful in barn hunt, the fact that they get to find the rat but never get to do what comes naturally – kill the rat – makes any long-term participation in this sport a challenge. It’s easier if the dog has never caught a rat.”
Before he caught numerous rats under the storage shed, Winston (GChb U-Ch Intl Ch Immer Treu V Oakwood Braveheart BN RI FDC DCAT SWN SCA SIA SBA RATN CGCA TKN ATT,) Jennifer Redfern’s German Pinscher, was interested in barn hunt.
A new home, a new marriage and the loss of her last Doberman led Janet Oatney to look for a similar breed with fewer health issues and greater longevity. Her search led her to German Pinschers, and she says what’s really good about the breed is that they have all the drive and energy of their larger counterparts but in a more compact body.
“We call them ‘portadobes,’ and their size made them easier to manage as we get older. What we really like about the breed is their personality, independence, biddability and their overall good health,” she says. “Their high level of intelligence makes them ideal for a variety of sports and they are quick learners that enjoy challenges and figuring out the ‘puzzle’ in a dog sport. Most are highly motivated by food, toys or a combination of the two and they live for praise and play.”
Winston has had more success in scent work since there is no live quarry involved.
Oatney adds that another advantage for the breed is that they are generalists as opposed to being a specialist breed. “They were used by the less affluent farmers because of their versatility. They can hunt varmints, which makes them ideal for barn hunt and scent sports. They kept predators away, which helps them succeed at lure coursing. They tended livestock so they’re decent herding dogs. They pulled light weights or a cart, which makes them capable weight-pull or carting dogs, and they accompanied the farmers to market as well as protecting their homes, which means they had to be obedient. Because of their smaller size, they needed less food than the bigger dogs, which was a significant consideration for people who probably were struggling to feed their families, and they fit in smaller homes. The only sport I can think of where German Pinchers compete where they haven’t excelled has been dock diving because a fair number of them aren’t overly fond of water.”
Bentley (GChb Diamond Bay A Chevelle Bentley Tribute PCD BN RI FDC CAA BCAT SBA SIN TT THD RATM CGCA CGCU TKI,) one of Valerie Vihlen Schluter’s German Pinschers, “stands watch” while Schluter takes a breather from providing the propulsion for their paddleboard.
Two of Oatney’s current dogs are Bibi (GCh UWPV AP3 VPA USA UFR UWPCHX Aritaur Bibi Dahl NW1 BN RN FDC CAX FCAT3 ACT1 NJ SWN SEA RATI RATO CZ8G CGC ATT SPOT-ON), who also has multiple BIS in UKC shows as well as many group placements in AKC shows and was imported from England; and Eddie (GCh U-Ch UWP Davney’s Something to Talk About! NW1 N1C RA URO3 FDC HCTS SWN SBA SIA RATI RATO TKI TT).
Valerie Schluter, whose dogs are Chevelle (GChb Spirits Ceriinan Enebys Chevelle CD BN RE NA NAJ TT THD RATN CGCA CGCU TKN) and Bentley (GChb Diamond Bay A Chevelle Bentley Tribute PCD BN RI FDC CAA BCAT SBA SIN TT THD RATM CGCA CGCU TKI,) became a German Pinscher person more or less by accident. She was asked to evaluate one for re-homing when the dog’s owner was diagnosed with terminal cancer and had no family or relatives. During the evaluation, she fell in love with everything about the breed and wound up buying a sibling to the re-homed dog sight unseen. That dog went on to earn her AKC, UKC and international championships along with titles in obedience, rally, agility and barn hunt, and was a therapy and disaster stress-relief dog as well as BOB at Westminster.
“I think what makes German Pinschers capable of excelling at so many different dog sports is their anatomy. They are strong, square and medium sized,” she says. “Most love food treats, which makes them easy to train. They are intelligent, willing partners with someone who treats them fairly but firmly. They love people and are willing to go and go whatever you do all day long. Most take their job of ridding your home and property of rodents, rabbits and even birds and bugs very seriously. They are natural protectors of both people and property, but not generally aggressive toward other dogs.”
Bentley has been successful in several different sports. The key is to keep things interesting and be more fun than the distractions.
Schluter notes that German Pinschers seem to love any type of nose work. “But probably because of their natural desire to eradicate vermin, distractions can be a real problem when you are working outdoors,” she says. “We have had them lose focus when there were squirrels, cats and rabbits around, but this is something you have to work through with rewards and also being more fun than chasing these other animals.”
For Sharon Asher, the “conversion” to German Pinchers came more than 20 years ago, when she and her husband were seeking a smaller dog that didn’t shed as much as their Labrador. She gave her husband a choice of three different breeds, and he picked the German Pinscher because he liked the red color and the sleek coat. But he wanted natural ears, and at that time only pet-quality dogs had natural ears.
“Then I caught show fever and had to have a GP that was show quality,” Asher says. “That’s when I discovered that they are also very intelligent, agile and independent. They are thinkers that have a strong work ethic and like being challenged. They’re willing to collaborate with you, but they can be a little wily at times and they get bored very quickly with repetition.”
Ashers says this breed isn’t just for anyone, as it can be challenging to own at times. She ticks off the three sports that resemble the skills they were originally developed to do: barn hunt (“it brings out their strong prey drive and we really see that around squirrels and rabbits”), scent work (“they need to use their noses to find the odor, which is similar to using their nose to find vermin”) and lure coursing (“which satisfies their desire to chase something”).
Asher adds that German Pinschers always like to be “paid” for their work. “When working on rally titles, once Ace (Ch Oakwoods Celebration RI SWN SWA SCE SEE SBE SHDN CGC TKI) reached the point where he wasn’t getting ‘paid’ for his work – no treats – he became less cooperative. I found that the blame for this fell on me for not being more disciplined with him. This problem surfaced again in scent work as he began to false-alert on any container because he wanted to be paid. He would watch for my hand movements and then false alert.”
Asher went back to basics, working just one hide and progressing from there. “I think part of the problem was that we started our training with pairing and once he was retrained without pairing, he became much more interested and has been successful in that sport,” she explains. “I also had to improve my handling skills, which came as no surprise. It seems like that’s an ongoing process in every dog sport for virtually every handler.”
Once Ace (Ch Oakwoods Celebration RI SWN SWA SCE SEE SBE SHDN CGC TKI), Sharon Asher’s German Pinscher, reached the point where he wasn’t getting “paid” for his work – no treats – he became less cooperative and this issue resurfaced when he started doing scent work and began to false alert on any container because he wanted payment.
According to Oatney, this is a breed that thrives when training is accompanied by positive reinforcement, but it also needs boundaries.
“The arrival of my first German Pinscher coincided with my interest in doing a different type of training, not totally positive but also not the 1980s style of training that was in vogue when I started obedience,” she says. “I’ve become a much more nuanced trainer and I incorporate behavioral modifications into my repertoire when it’s necessary. What seems to work best with this breed is putting a good foundation on them when they are very young. My current young dog is a year old and we participated in online ‘tiger puppy’ skill-based training from three to seven months and focused on nosework, barn hunt and other instinctive sports from seven to 12 months. We’ll restart competition training when he’s about a year and a half. I’ve learned to be patient and work with dogs through the developmental stages rather than trying to bulldoze through them.”
Eddie (GCh U-Ch UWP Davney’s Something to Talk About! NW1 N1C RA URO3 FDC HCTS SWN SBA SIA RATI RATO TKI TT,) owned by Oatney, is just getting started in herding but clearly enjoys this new job.
Schluter notes that outdoor rally, obedience and agility can be challenging because of the breed’s natural prey drive. “Some have more prey drive than others, but I have had to spend many hours working on proofing and focus and to make myself more fun than the distraction. I found that occasionally letting them clear the yard or the perimeter can be a really good reward. The surefire way to make a German Pinscher go sour on a dog sport is to lose your patience. So, if things are not going well in one activity, I just move on to something else where they can be successful.”
Redfern says that it can be “interesting” working with a German Pinscher off leash. “Any movement will catch their attention and their natural instinct is to go investigate. We also have had issues with barn hunt. My dogs catch rats frequently at home. The rodents live under our storage shed and are attracted to the neighbor’s chickens or, I should say, to the grain the neighbor’s chickens spill. They are quick to dispatch these rats, so hunting for a rat they can’t kill is of little interest to them. Winston, sadly, caught the bag on the first turn coursing and discovered it was empty. That ended his interest in coursing. He does have a natural talent for pushing cattle. Unfortunately, he is so into it that he doesn’t listen. So, we are working on communication skills and hoping to get him to move the stock where my nephew wants them.”
At a weight-pulling event, Bibi (GCh UWPV AP3 VPA USA UFR UWPCHX Aritaur Bibi Dahl NW1 BN RN FDC CAX FCAT3 ACT1 NJ SWN SEA RATI RATO CZ8G CGC ATT SPOT-ON), one of Janet Oatney’s German Pinschers, carries on the tradition of the old German farmers who used the breed for carting.
According to Oatney, the greatest issue the breed faces, aside from limited numbers, is that German Pinscher people are not recognizing and capitalizing on the fact that theirs is a working breed and has the aptitude, health and longevity to perform successfully into their teens.
“The breed is relatively easy to finish in the show ring and while that is a worthy endeavor, owners and their dogs are missing out on the benefits of the other dog sports,” she says. “We don’t market this breed to the larger sporting community and we should. They are the ‘Swiss Army knives’ of the Working Group. They can be successful in agility, weight pull, obedience, rally, scent work, barn hunt, lure coursing, herding and virtually any other activity. They have minimal health problems, they can jump modest heights, the live long productive lives and are infinitely rewarding for those that choose them as teammates.”