We’re nearing the two-week mark with Tajji, the retired seeing-eye dog we’ve adopted. That’s an observational milestone; next week we’ll report to our trainer and decide with her on a course of action for teaching Tajji how to be just a dog. Along the way I’ve found myself constructing “just-so” stories about the difference I see between Tajji, bred specifically for seeing-eye service, and Oka, bred as a sport dog. (His sire was the world champion in Schutzhund, the sport that tests the dog’s adherence to the breed standard.)
I call them just-so stories because I have not yet spoken to the Fidelco Foundation, her breeder and trainer, about their seeing-eye service “take” on that standard. So these are just my observations based on experience with four other GSDs of varying quality and adherence to the breed standard, and the little I know about what seeing-eye work demands of a dog.
Physically, there’s no visible difference in the phenotype. Tajji is a classic sable (or grau) German Shepherd Dog bitch from what Fidelco calls “Bavarian” working stock, weighing in at about 65 pounds and standing about 22 inches at the withers. Other than being twenty pounds lighter than Oka, she could be his sister. Most noticeable is the strong convex curve of her back, the invariable sign of a working GSD lineage, where permission to breed requires a 20-kilometer run: almost half a marathon!
Most seeing-eye dog kennels have given up on GSDs, citing temperamental and genetic (e.g., hip dysplasia) problems. My suspicion is that the real problem was reliance on dogs from American show stock, where the breed standard established by Max von Stephanitz in 1899 is honored more in the breach and focuses to an unhealthy extent on the unique angulation of the GSD hindquarters, to the detriment of its stamina and longevity, not to mention its psychology. Fidelco started with German working lines, so they didn’t build their kennel on sand.
It’s in temperament and the expression of various GSD psychological traits that I see some very interesting contrasts that suggest just how different a Schutzhund and a seeing-eye GSD need to be. Continue reading