The most important considerations in training dogs in Protection are the drives and the nerve threshold of the particular animal. The Dobermann is most often a dog with a more defensive or lower nerve threshold. A Labrador, for example, is a dog with a high nerve threshold, and little or no aggression. The lower threshold was bred into the Dobermanns for many generations and for good reason. Around the world, the Dobermann is considered a first rate home companion/protection dog for this very reason. Their intelligence, combined with the ability to recognize a threat makes them excellent companions and protectors of man.
In Schutzhund training, the courage test calls for a dog with more of an offensive, rather than defensive, attitude. In other words, the dog should be excited to chase his prey and catch it before it gets away. A more defensive dog is best at preventing entry into his territory; thus the term "territorial aggression." There are few dogs which look more impressive behind a door, or staring out a window than a Dobermann.
They were specifically bred to protect man from man. Usually, and with little or no formal protection training, once mature, they will protect their master in his home, his yard, or in his vehicle. Sometimes, however, what makes them great at performing one task, presents a problem for them when they are asked to perform another. Specifically: the long distance attack!
In order to successfully train Dobermanns for the long distance attack, or Courage Test, we have to change their thinking. Anyone who has ever owned or trained a Dobermann knows very well that they are a thinking breed. Lower threshold dogs get aggressive easily with very little stimulation. So, we can begin right away to channel their drives into prey. Because the Dobermann responds so well to agitation, it's important not to over stress them with civil agitation. Continuous defense leads to avoidance. The helper must become the dog's friend. Just like a sparring partner in boxing, the dog must trust the helper. On leash, the Dobermann bites impressively because his handler is beside him and he feels secure. The further the dog gets from his handler, the more unsure he becomes. This is typical of all lower threshold type dogs. What we must do is make the dog feel safe at progressively longer distances from the handler, by taking the defensive threat out of the situation and, by making the dog excited to chase his prey and take it from the helper.
In the trial, the helper comes straight towards the dog in a threatening manner. In training, 90% of the time, the helper must back up and try to get away from the dog. When the dog bites, the helper, the helper as well as the handler, must praise the dog to teach him that there is no chance for him to be hurt. The dog always wins his prey. The long line is an invaluable tool for this training. It acts as the umbilical cord, connecting dog and handler. When practicing long distance bites, the handler runs with the dog, holding the long line. Approximately 20 feet before the dog reaches the helper, the handler lets the line loose, but does not let go. Once the dog bites the sleeve, the handler pulls on the line and the dog feels the handler is close by. Of course, the line is attached to a flat, buckle collar or to a harness, and not to a correction collar. In this way, the dog learns to bite as confidently at long distances as he does on the leash. This training improves the entry or the last 10 feet before contact, which is where most of the problem is. This is where the dog will make the decision to either hit hard and to bite strong and firm, or to put on the brakes, avoid the frontal attack, begin to break down emotionally and go into avoidance behavior by missing the bite altogether, or by bouncing off the sleeve because he is not committed to the attack as a result of his unsureness. He feels he cannot win. Therefore, his flight instinct takes over. This is true of any breed of dog, not just Dobermanns.
All of our working breeds, (the GSD, Giant Schnauzer, Rottweiler, Malinois, etc.), have either low, medium or high nerve thresholds. When the dog has a lower threshold, (or a defensive nature), he must be worked more by prey attraction to balance the dog's drives and allow him to work confidently and stress-free. Conversely, when the dog has a higher threshold, (a prey attitude), he should be worked more aggressively using some defense attractions to balance him and to bring more intensity to the work.
The ideal dog for Schutzhund protection work is a medium threshold dog. He is friendly and has strong fighting instinct. He barks rhythmically and forcefully on the hold and guard and pursues the helper with speed and power. On the courage test, he comes full and hard, and has a calm, full grip. On the re-attack, he maintains a full grip during the stick hits without shifting his bite. This is what we all train for. We can make a lot of progress with less than perfect dogs if we properly evaluate our dogs and train them accordingly.
All success in Schutzhund protection is the result of good genetic drives and nerves, combined with a solid training program. The handler and the helper must constantly evaluate the progress of the dog during the training program. All the working breeds produce dogs with different nerve thresholds and drive combinations. The GSD and Rottweiler present as many potential training problems as do the Dobermanns, Giant Schnauzers, Malinois etc. The key is reading the dog properly. REMEMBER: THE TRAINERS HAVE ALL THE OPINIONS; THE DOGS HAVE ALL THE FACTS. If the dog is not working up to a satisfactory level, you have to understand that it is either the dog's lack of sufficient drives and nerves, or it is not the right training program for that dog.
In closing, I would like to clarify that the principal reason Dobermanns (or any breed) bounce off the sleeve or miss it entirely on the courage test is due solely to a nerve problem. - Whether it is genetically inherited or environmentally caused by too much stress in the training program. The anatomical structure of the dog has nothing to do with it.
Helpers must take special care not to push the dog into avoidance or flight instinct with hectic or defensive training methods which can overstress our dogs. SHARPNESS IS NOT HARDNESS. THROUGH CALMNESS COMES THE POWER! Breeders must look to dogs that enjoy the work and have good nerve thresholds and excellent prey instinct. These traits will produce the Sport Dobermann.