by Terry Miller
"Briards have bad temperaments." "All black Briards bite." "Don’t trust any Briard, they’ll turn on you." "All Briards are aggressive to dogs and people."
Is this the image we want our breed to have? These comments are not fabricated. In my travels (showing my Briard), and in my profession (behavior counseling dog owners about their pets’ problems), I hear comments like the above frequently. It is distressing and of course inaccurate and particularly distasteful to those who care deeply about the breed.
The definition about good temperament varies from person to person and is as subjective a quality as is good conformation. But remember the directive we get from our official standard, "vigorous and alert," "he is a dog of heart, with spirit and initiative, wise and fearless with no trace of timidity."
The seeds of good temperament are in the dog’s genes, the fruit is in the raising of the animal. SOCIALIZATION, SOCIALIZATION, and more SOCIALIZATION. My own definition of socialization is "to expose the dog to novel sights, sounds, smells and physical sensations." The key word is novel. Basically if the animal is exposed to always-varying environments all the other socialization needs will fall into place.
The Briard is not for a lazy person. The socialization process takes time, thought and effort. It is not just joining a puppy training class (which definitely is one excellent experience). But it is providing your Briard with varied, challenging and stimulating life experiences.
My socializing Briards and I frequent the dry cleaners together, we waltz through the hardware store and the bank (I make it a point to go inside the bank rather than use the automatic machine outside every time). We have several small specialty shops that know us—a local clothing boutique and cozy corner bookstore. We even have drug store that lets us in. And of course there are the outdoor flea markets, garage sales, gas station parking lots, school yards, garden centers, pet shops, city streets, metro parks, university campus…socialization requires creativity! Anyone who stops us to say "What is it?" is encouraged to pet the dog and make some kind of contact.
One of the biggest mistakes people make in socializing their dogs is to stop socializing too soon. Most dogs of the working/herding breeds need a solid year of frequent, then intermittent, socialization.
From seven weeks until sixteen weeks, the puppy should be given at least four new experiences weekly. After sixteen weeks the schedule can slacken to a more intermittent basis of two to three experiences weekly.
However, around twenty-eight weeks it all must intensify to compensate for the onset of puberty and adolescent lack of confidence. Many people refer to this as the adolescent shyness period. At this time socialization should become more frequent again, back up to at least four new experiences weekly, and in those dogs that adolescence hits hardest, even some sort of daily socializing may be needed until they are twelve to sixteen months old.
Mind you, all of this varies according to an individual dog’s needs. Some dogs naturally don’t need as much exposure as others.
No matter what, keep in mind that any amount of effort and time invested in your dog’s mental health will be paid back to you in triplicate with an animal who is self-confident, poised in all situations, and can be counted on to be stable. We all owe it to ourselves, our breed and above all to our dogs
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