I've been wanting to come up with a alternative method of testing for some time now. Alternative to IGP or sports that is.
The problem with IGP as a testing system (or sports in general), is it no longer tests for the core character traits it was initially designed to test for. Protection is not real protection, and the obedience promotes dogs in highly excitable states of mind. Basically everything is the opposite of what it was intended to be.
The second problem is, it requires extensive training in order to participate. It is testing the training more than it is testing the dog. A good test should allow you to test untrained and green dogs with as much accuracy as a trained dog.
Here is what I've come up with so far:
The testing procedure described below is designed to test green and untrained dogs as well as trained dogs. The minimum age requirement is 10 months. The test should be done (as far as possible) without the help of toys, treats, prong collars or e-collars. We want to see the dog's natural willingness for work, not what he looks like when he is being bribed. It can be used as a method of testing, for proper selection of dogs that need to fulfil a working role such as personal protection or police work. It can also be used in the selection of dogs for breeding purposes, to ensure a minimum standard is maintained in your breeding.
NB! At all times it should be kept in mind that we are testing the mindset of the dog, NOT the behaviors. For instance; a dog my recall perfectly, but upon closer inspection it is found that the dog is needy, co-dependant and nervous about leaving the handler. Such a dog will score low compared with a dog who is stubborn and does not recall at all, but a closer look will show a dog with an independent nature and a strong mind, who just lacks training.
A dog may heel perfectly but excessive panting reveals an anxious dog, as opposed to the dog who zig zags in and out of position, but the overall body language is one of a relaxed dog who is just curious.
The test requires honesty, openness and an ability to look deeper than the surface. It requires that personal interests, preferences, biases and ego be set aside with the sole purpose of promoting and bettering working dogs in general.
The test will consist of 5 parts:
The purpose of this portion of the test is to eliminate dogs that are physically weak, lazy, sluggish or reluctant. We want to promote dogs that are physically robust, strong and powerful; lively with an energetic attitude of vigour and confidence.
It is a test for physicality, but also a test for the mental attitude of the dog. The ideal picture would be a dog that does not shy away from a challenge. One who is an "eager beaver" with a "go - getter" type attitude.
Furthermore, it tests the dog's willingness to navigate obstacles and willingness to cooperate with the handler. It will show to some extent the dog's nerve strength, doverall disposition and attitude towards a challenging situation.
The test should include:
The obedience portion is meant to test the "off-switch" of the dog, ie. the ability to calm down & relax, even under mild distraction. It also tests compliance and co-operation with handler, as well as impulse control.
The aim is to eliminate dogs with excessive anxiety, neurosis, nervousness, insecurity, reactivity, or dogs with an inability to "settle down"; the constantly "wired" or "highly strung" type of dog.
We are looking for dogs that are calm, composed, balanced and stable with self-assurance and confidence.
This portion of the test will consist of;
A 10 minute structured walk. The dog should be walking next to the handler with slack in the leash at all times. We don't want to see pulling, lunging, lagging or reactivity, nor do we want to see a dog that is overly excited, anxious or nervous. The exercise should be performed in a moderately distracting environment, and can include people, other dogs, bicycles, cars and loud noises.
A duration exercise. This can be either a place exercise, or a down stay. The duration should be no less than 20 minutes. The handler may be present. Again the aim is to see a dog that is able to settle down and be calm. We don't want to see anxious behaviors such as constant shifting, whining, breaking or other signs showing that the dog is uncomfortable being still. Dogs will often times use motion to cope with anxiety, so how the dog behaves when asked to be still for a prolonged period of time, will tell you a lot about it's mental state.
Recall. The handler will allow the dog to "wander off", and then call the dog. This exercise can test the obedience to the handler, but more than that it can test the overall demeanor of the dog when away from the handler. The ideal picture is a dog who is confident to explore, showing an independent nature, yet attentive to the handler and responsive when called.
The aim of this exercise is to test the dog's natural protective instincts (not drive), natural aggression, and nerve strength. We want to eliminate dogs with weak nerves, cowardice and weak or fragile minds. We want to see bravery and courage, willingness to engage, mental toughness and resilience against pressure (tenacity), strong nerves that can carry the stress, and resolve in the decision to fight. We do not want to see dogs barking in prey. A dog tested in a prey mindset will not give accurate results as to the true character of the dog. The true character can only be tested in defense, as stress is required to accurately test it! We want to see the real stuff!
This exercise must be done in an environment that is unfamiliar to the dog, with a decoy that is unfamiliar to the dog. Take care to eliminate anything that might queue the dog that something is about to happen ( equipment in the case of dogs who have had training, special agitation collars or any verbal queues). It must be a complete surprise and as real as possible.
The decoy must approach the dog from a hiding place. The approach must be threatening/challenging so as to elicit a fight or flight response from the dog (Do not do the typical decoy movements. We are not training here, we are testing!). The decoy must continue to advance, even when the dog is showing an aggressive response. The goal is to purposely push the dog into a defensive state, with the intent of causing stress.
In the case of dogs who have had prior bite work training, the defensive confrontation should be followed with a grip to see what effect the stress has had on the grip quality. (chewing, shifting or unstable grips will indicate an inability to handle defensive pressure, in a dog who otherwise bites well when working in prey.)
In case of dogs who has had no prior training, no grip is needed. All we want to see is the dog's ability to withstand stress & pressure (hold his ground), and a willingness and resolve to fight if necessary.
If at any point the dog shows avoidance behaviors or tries to flee, the decoy should immediately cease to approach and reward the dog with some prey behavior, as to not "break" or ruin the dog for future protection work.
During this test the evaluator should look for 3 elements to the dog's protective ability;
Sharpness (how quickly/easily the dog responds to a perceived threat), fight/flight response (Is the initial and default reaction to fight, avoid or to flee?), and tenacity/mental toughness/resilience (how long can he stay in it, before he "gives up").
The purpose of this exercise is to test the dog's ability to use his nose, but also to test his persistence/commitment to finding the toy, ie. how long does he hunt before he gives up? We want to eliminate dogs who lack drive (prey & hunt), as well as those who lack motivation. We are looking for a dog to hunt with intensity, eagerness and persistence...a dog who won't quit or give up.
For this test, the tester can either use a ball tossed into the grass or open field, or in the case of no ball drive, the dog can be made to hunt for his owner, who is hiding from him. Either way, we want the dog to use his nose, not his eyes, so take care in how the test is set up. A good method to disorient the dog before releasing him to search, is to spin him around twice, or run him in a circle two or three times before letting him go.
The aim of the environmental test is to eliminate dogs that are skittish, or those with environmental instability, nervousness, shyness (of people), fear or fear aggression, or those that are easily startled & unsettled.
We want to see dogs that are environmentally sound with the ability to adapt easily and effortlessly to changes in their environment; a dog who "takes things in his stride", and the ability to navigate life with and attitude of confidence, without worry or concern.
The environmental test can include strange people, dogs, bicycles, stairs, unfamiliar surfaces or anything that might be out of the ordinary. We want to gage the dog's natural behavior or response and adaptability to things that are unfamiliar or strange.
Throughout this entire process the evaluator should also watch for a build up of stress as the exercises progress. All these exercises should be done consecutively, one after another, to get an accurate picture of whether the dog carries stress or not, and if so, to what extent.
It is also a good idea to take videos of every exercise, so the behavior of the dog can be studied carefully before final decisions are made, and in case the evaluator have missed certain things during the test.
I hope this testing procedure will give a general idea of what it is we are looking for in our personal dogs, but also the standard and care I would like to see implemented when it comes to the breeding of working dogs in general. There is too much careless breeding going on. (A registration doesn't mean or say anything about your dogs other than that they are purebred. But purebred does not equal quality - far from it.) Please test your dogs before you breed. These tests are not difficult to do, and does not take a lot of time or training. You owe it to the breed to breed with more care, consideration and testing to uphold minimum standards among the working dog population.