Nerves -- nature vs nurture - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 24 (permalink) Old 09-24-2017, 01:02 AM Thread Starter
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Nerves -- nature vs nurture

I recently encountered a gentleman who had a beautiful long-haired WGSL GSD. Anyway, in talking to him, I couldn't help noticing the disgust in his tone, body language, and word choice when describing his dog. Turns out he'd had a 90 lb short-haired, black and tan GSD for 12 yrs that had passed away, and that dog had been perfect for him. Within about 6 months of his previous dog's passing, he was out of the country on business and his wife decided to get him this dog as a surprise. The dog has a reasonably good pedigree (so he told me, I didn't see it), and all of his siblings are short-haired and large - 75-95 lbs. More, he said his dog is fearful, and suffers from extreme separation anxiety, so they have to send it to daycare whenever they're not home with him, and at 2.5 yrs old he only weighs in at 53 lbs. So he's small, weak nerved, and neglected because the guy really doesn't like him.

So my question is can nurture supersede nature and create a weak nerved dog? Or, is this dog a product of nature? Can one dog in a litter be weak nerved when virtually all of it's littermates are strong, solid-nerved dogs?

And the corollary, can a fearful, weak-nerved dog gain significantly given the right handling, to become a more stable, fearless, solid-nerved animal? Or are nerves a product of genetics only?

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post #2 of 24 (permalink) Old 09-24-2017, 01:09 AM
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How do you know the dog is weak nerved and not just under socialized? Seperation anxiety does not equal weak nerves. Sounds like this dog will never live up to his expectations of his old "90lb gsd" so he is noticing every little thing about his new dog to "hate" on it. Sad
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post #3 of 24 (permalink) Old 09-24-2017, 01:35 AM Thread Starter
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It really was sad to see! No dog should have to live that way. But the weak nerves label stems from the fact that the dog is fearful, and again this was this guy's description of him.

It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog. Mark Twain

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post #4 of 24 (permalink) Old 09-24-2017, 01:37 AM
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Originally Posted by tim_s_adams View Post
I recently encountered a gentleman who had a beautiful long-haired WGSL GSD. Anyway, in talking to him, I couldn't help noticing the disgust in his tone, body language, and word choice when describing his dog. Turns out he'd had a 90 lb short-haired, black and tan GSD for 12 yrs that had passed away, and that dog had been perfect for him. Within about 6 months of his previous dog's passing, he was out of the country on business and his wife decided to get him this dog as a surprise. The dog has a reasonably good pedigree (so he told me, I didn't see it), and all of his siblings are short-haired and large - 75-95 lbs. More, he said his dog is fearful, and suffers from extreme separation anxiety, so they have to send it to daycare whenever they're not home with him, and at 2.5 yrs old he only weighs in at 53 lbs. So he's small, weak nerved, and neglected because the guy really doesn't like him.

So my question is can nurture supersede nature and create a weak nerved dog? Or, is this dog a product of nature? Can one dog in a litter be weak nerved when virtually all of it's littermates are strong, solid-nerved dogs?

And the corollary, can a fearful, weak-nerved dog gain significantly given the right handling, to become a more stable, fearless, solid-nerved animal? Or are nerves a product of genetics only?
In the order in which you asked.

No nature is where it is at, unless you are talking about very very very young dogs which can supposedly be made weak. I heard of a study there they took nervy bred dogs and they turned out nervy even when raised by a non nervy mother, but if they took dogs that were supposed to come out with good nerves and had a nervy female raise them they ended up nervy. There is a little bit of nurture in there and it is strongest at very very young ages. Past the 8 week point it is mostly about nature and formative events up to that point (as best as I can surmise.)
Yes a dog is a product of its genetics
Yes it is possible to have a crapper in a litter of winners it happens all the time
Yes but only make gains so far as its genetics will allow no matter how much training happens.
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post #5 of 24 (permalink) Old 09-24-2017, 01:41 AM
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How do you know the dog is weak nerved and not just under socialized? Seperation anxiety does not equal weak nerves. Sounds like this dog will never live up to his expectations of his old "90lb gsd" so he is noticing every little thing about his new dog to "hate" on it. Sad
Solid dogs need little to no socialization.

Separation anxiety does not equal weak nerves true, but there is a fairly strong correlation. Most dogs that have bad separation anxiety issues, especially the cases where it is extreme and leads to potential self injury on escape attempts and stuff like that have bad nerves. Not always the case but usually it is.
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post #6 of 24 (permalink) Old 09-24-2017, 02:22 AM
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How do you know the dog is weak nerved and not just under socialized? Seperation anxiety does not equal weak nerves. Sounds like this dog will never live up to his expectations of his old "90lb gsd" so he is noticing every little thing about his new dog to "hate" on it. Sad
Solid dogs need little to no socialization.

Separation anxiety does not equal weak nerves true, but there is a fairly strong correlation. Most dogs that have bad separation anxiety issues, especially the cases where it is extreme and leads to potential self injury on escape attempts and stuff like that have bad nerves. Not always the case but usually it is.
I have heard that a few times before. I wonder what kind of fear issues this guy was noticing with his dog. I couldn't even imagine seperation anxiety like that. My shepherd doesn't have strong nerves but has zero seperation anxiety.
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post #7 of 24 (permalink) Old 09-24-2017, 02:31 AM
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The terms "nervy" and "weak-nerves" are not well-defined. I think people rate dogs differently depending on what they are producing or what they have. I do not have dogs that are fearful at the vet. I may consider a dog that is fearful to the point of aggressing at the vet to be unstable or nervy. And yet a lot of people with k9s have to handle their own dogs at the vet because they (the dogs) will not allow some treatment. Certainly all of these dogs do not have weak-nerves.

I guess the point is that some of us consider a lot of things weak, and would not want to breed it. Like a dog who is fearful of storms. But really, a lot of what we see most often, fear-reactivity to dogs or people may be attributed to poor handling, weak-nerved, shy people transmitting their uneasyness and lack of confidence to their dogs from early on.

And yes, litters can have a range of temperaments. Think about dog packs that are often formed when a dog and bitch have a litter of puppies and raise them. Not all of those pups are going to be alpha-leader pups. Many more will be middle of the road follower pups. And there may be a few softer puppies, which are not necessarily defective, they probably have their place in the pack and provide something that causes the pack to work better.

Some dogs recover to a change or whatever might frighten a young dog quickly, and some take longer to recover. Some react strongly, some do not react at all, and some react badly, and some react very badly.

I am not sure about all the answers. I know they raised a litter of pups from a nervy bitch, using a solid bitch and the pups had the nervy temperament. Do we know where those pups went and who raised them? Do we know the surrogate dam truly was a solid bitch. Is a sample of on sufficient?

Personally I think each pup has a continuum of potential in the area of temperament. This is what nature deals him. 50% of the genes come from the dam and 50% from the sire. If the bad genes are coming from the dam it is a double whammy because she imprints her temperament on the puppy, some say before birth and throughout the time they are with her. So if she goes ballistic every time someone comes to the door, the puppies will most likely develop that problem. I am not sure what I believe on that. I tend toward the pups being imprinted after their eyes and ears open at around about 2 weeks through 8 weeks, unless the bitch is moved to another household when the pups are weaned.

I think the dog is who it is, by its genes and how it was imprinted. That gives us that continuum. At that point, excellent handling will give the dog the best possible chance at reaching the positive end of that continuum. If it is written in the genes that the puppy will be gun shy, the puppy will be gun shy or afraid of storms or what have you. It is possible that with one handler the dog will pace and tremble a little when hearing thunder, and another handler if they raised that same dog, might have the dog cowering under a desk or chewing on itself. I don't know, because EVERY dog is different and you cannot go back and erase the raising process and try again with different leadership.

But you can take a pup or dog out of one situation and with another handler, have bad habits cease, be trained out, what have you. A dog might be reactive with a wife, and not reactive with husband. A dog might be fearful at the vet with the owner, and not be fearful at all at the vet when the daughter takes him.

So yes, I believe a dog has a range of potential and handling does play a part. Good handling does not produce better than what the dog naturally can be. And bad handling does not produce a dog worse that what his nature is. But better handling produces a dog with fewer issues.
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post #8 of 24 (permalink) Old 09-24-2017, 02:38 AM
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how does this man know this ?
" Can one dog in a litter be weak nerved when virtually all of it's littermates are strong, solid-nerved dogs? "

Have any of them , parents included , had any testing .
How do you describe the dog that made Sieger?

A strong pup needs little of the socialization that everyone is so anxious about , at least as far as forming the temperament or character.

They just sail through life -- adapt and cope .
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post #9 of 24 (permalink) Old 09-24-2017, 04:12 AM
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how does this man know this ?
" Can one dog in a litter be weak nerved when virtually all of it's littermates are strong, solid-nerved dogs? "

Have any of them , parents included , had any testing .
How do you describe the dog that made Sieger?

A strong pup needs little of the socialization that everyone is so anxious about , at least as far as forming the temperament or character.

They just sail through life -- adapt and cope .
what about before maturity? I have a pup who's bred 1/2 ddr, 1/2 Czech- the ddr 1/2 being some of the newer ddr dogs that some people don't seem to be too fond of. The one thing I've learned thru talking to people who own similar dogs is they take a while to mature and can seem nervy prior to maturing. I see this in my own pup. Or maybe I mistake his defensiveness for weak nerves. Maybe they're one in the same.
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post #10 of 24 (permalink) Old 09-24-2017, 08:08 AM
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Interesting. My 16 month old male is nervy. Well most of the time. I never had the chance to see his parents, or meet his breeder. When my nephew got him at 8-9 weeks old he brought the pup over to show me. The pup didn't show any signs of fear towards myself, wife, kids, or my dogs. Just jumped in the situation like he had been here his whole life. He brought him over a couple times the first week he had him dog didn't show any signs of fear or nervousness. In the weeks to follow the pup would spend the majority of his time alone in a crate covered in a blanket. "evidently the blanket made him not whine so much". The pup would be beaten if he happened to potty inside the house when he was out of the crate. Finally my parents bought the pup off my nephew just to get the pup out of the situation. They then asked me to rehome the dog. So I brought him into my home and started looking for another home for him. It didn't take long before my wife informed me that we were just Gonna keep him. So here we are.
When he is at home he doesn't know a stranger. If any one of you came by the house. He would bark to alert someone was here but if I let you in or I met you outside he would approach you like he has known you forever. Move that same encounter anywhere else he shows fear and avoidance. Bit, just for a couple minutes. Usually within a minute or so of talking he'll approach the stranger sniff them out and then he seems to be fine. I have even had him sniff them out and just sit down beside them like OK no big deal. Then on other occasions when in public he seems to be fine with whomever. So he has moments where it's almost like he forgets to be afraid. Or another flipside is that a couple times just a guy sitting on a park bench has startled him to the point of jumping backwards and me having to basically pull him past the bench.
I have always wondered if he didn't go through the crate, and physical abuse at such a young age how much different he would be towards strangers in public. And why so confident at home. I get he feels safe here. But, most scared dogs I meet at their home show the same fear towards strangers at home or in public.

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Last edited by cdwoodcox; 09-24-2017 at 08:18 AM.
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