Initial Reflections and Observations on Training Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs.

by Siam Crown Kennel April 24th 2012

// Siam Crown is a K9 working dog kennel specializing in the breeding and training of FCI pedigree working line Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherd Dogs. We also have a training and breeding program for Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs. We have been active in the working dog field for over 25 years. We train dogs in Schutzhund, IPO, KNPV, as well as security dogs, guard dogs, protection dogs, SAR dogs and police dogs. Our breeding program produces FCI pedigree puppies with strong working drives and very stable temperaments. //

Training Approaches and Aptitudes

From correspondence and contact with owners of wolfdogs, perspective owners, persons interested in wolfdogs, and breeders there is a wide diversity of intent with respect to keeping and raising these dogs. There is also apparently a wide range of misunderstanding as to the capabilities of the wolfdog and their potential.

Some people appear to fantasize that they are getting a piece of nature, a wolf so to speak. This breed has been bred for effective domestication, and despite appearances should not be confused with a wolf. Some people think that the dog will be perfect for protection since they have the notion that a wolf is aggressive. The wolfdog is by nature not very aggressive. Some exhibit natural prey drives which is to be expected. They do not naturally act in what we would term positive aggression. It is very difficult to train them to act aggressively on command if they do not see a threat. This limits their potential for both sports and protection work. It is in our opinion the nature of the CSV. The CSV can be triggered in defense drive and will then bite, but this is when agitated or threatened. Care must be taken with this type of training, or the results to both trainer, people in proximity and in the mental state of the dog may be less than desirable.

Our normal sports training is with Malinois and Dutch Shepherds. We train both from drive where the reward may be a ball or a bite tug, and we also use clicker training and shape training on occasion. It is important to recognize that the over riding theme of the training approach is "drive" based, and comes from the breeds themselves. Training a CSV based on drives is not the same. As a juvenile the CSV has relatively high play drive, but this is in fact PLAY DRIVE and should not be confused with terms like ball drive, defensive drive, aggression drive etc. A young CSV will chase a ball, grab a tug but it is a game, and does not form the basis of a future training reward in most cases, unless it continues to be game based. The CSV is very intelligent, but this leads easily to boredom with repetitive exercises, and if over done they will lose interest. Training sessions need to be short and focused. Where a Malinois may happily repeat an exercise until the trainer gets bored, a CSV will not.

In training for obedience, when guised as continued play the CSV will happily go along with you. The CSV will also work out of "bond". The female that has lived in our home is now over 2 years old, she has an extremely strong bond with me, and will follow obedience commands out of the bond.

The CSV's all have one very strong drive, food! It is from this drive and training derivations using this drive that we have been able to achieve various degrees of success in training. In training we have found that conditioning to food reward forms a substitution for drive training. This is still an ongoing exercise for us. The current approach is to combine shape training with food reward. This causes the CSV to partially self teach the desired behavior. The shape training is done with a clicker to create the reward association. This approach is much slower than the type of training we would use with a Malinois, but appears to work. An example would be teaching a retrieve. The CSV is not a natural retriever. When young they will pick things up, but without reinforcement this disappears after around 6 to 8 months of age. Shape training for a retrieve requires breaking the exercise into very small parts. First is touching an object for a reward. Next is picking up the object for a reward. This is followed by progressively longer periods of holding the object for a reward. Separate from this is the teaching of a recall to handler for reward. When these steps are accomplished the exercise then needs to be combined, again for a food reward. Ultimately with many sessions the combination will work and the CSV will pick up an object and bring it to you. The same can apply in bite work, but it must be emphasized that this is a form of play; your prospect of training a CSV for serious protection work is not high. In bite work, the CSV in play mode can be induced to grab a sleeve. It is usually a hit and run bite, which is typical of a wolf. Shape training allows for a reward in return for holding the sleeve progressively longer. The sleeve becomes a game target that results in a reward. This allows for us to induce a chase on a running decoy. The performance may ultimately be adequate to pass an IPO protection trial; expectations of high performance should be limited. It should also be mentioned in the context of protection that while the CSV like a wolf can bark, they do not do this often, and barking on command while trainable is not easy to accomplish. There is perhaps one exception to my comment about protection, and this is in fact based on a natural response. When a bond is established with a CSV, there is clearly a protective response for the pack. Since the handler is in effect the pack leader, many of our CSV's will show an inclination to protect if the handler is threatened. This is not a protocol that can be easily trained or controlled, and appears to work only from a strong bond.

I should also make the following observation and caveat with respect to pressure training and corrections in training. Many working dog trainers are used to putting their dogs under a fair amount of pressure in certain types of training, this is common in KNPV and not uncommon with some IPO trainers. Corrections with some dogs that are considered "hard" can also be hard including e collars and prong collars. CAVEAT this type of training does not work well with CSV. The CSV does not react well to pressure training and goes into avoidance mode. Positive training is about the only approach that will yield success. Attempts at negative training, especially when it is early training (learning phase) will in all likelyhood fail. With regard to corrections, many CSV appear quite sensitve by nature, leash corrections in the form of a quick tug, and with some tougher CSV's a choke chain collar will work. Any high physicality is likely to be resisted. In some cases if you do not know the CSV well and you attempt to administer a very strong correction you risk putting the dog into a defensive mode and it may lash out at you. Working from bond and trust, and the use of positive training and incentives is by far the best approach. Corrections can be used mildly if the dog has already learned an exercise and then chooses to ignore it, but the emphasis is on mild.

While I have talked about training for sports, the concept of clicker and shape training combined with food reward appears in our view to be the best overall prospect for training approaches with CSV's.

We have also initiated agility training with the CSV's. This is a mix of game play and food reward. The CSV's enjoy agility work. They are naturally good jumpers and relatively agile, they also have good endurance. The variety of an agility course and the training that goes with it appears to counter their natural tendency to get bored quickly, and is by nature less repetitive than the training required for a sport such as IPO. Within the environment of agility training reinforced by food reward, they have advanced relatively well. I would still at this juncture be reluctant to plan to compete a CSV against a border collie in agility, but it is a very practical activity with CSV's.

I have mentioned scent work several times in this paper. The CSV has a much greater scent capability than most breeds, and a high degree of curiosity towards scents. Teaching a CSV to find a specific scent is not difficult. While it requires some redundancy in training, the identification of specific scents in return for food reward is relatively straightforward. The CSV is also naturally good at following a scent, so finding a person hiding at distance through a mix of air and ground scent is virtually natural to them. In an exercise within a 1 square kilometer area, my female CSV will find me rather quickly no matter where I am hiding. This lends to the idea that the CSV has potential for Search and Rescue training, and it is an area well worth further pursuit in training.

This paper is an initial summary; it is not intended to be an all-encompassing review of training, training approaches or the trainability of the CSV. It is also not intended as an overall commentary on the CSV. It is simply a series of observations made over a period of 18 months. We have another year or so to go until we will be able to complete certain training modules and reach some more concrete conclusions based on actual results.

We will continue to update this paper until we have a final document that better summarizes our work with the CSV.

Siam Crown Kennel

April 2012