I got a worried mail from a friend who is thinking to get a PyrShep puppy Ė and she is a little bit discouraged now that she has heard some people call them FearSheps, explaining to her that most of the dogs are so scared that won't work with distractions around. She is asking if that's true and what is my experience. So here is a longish version of my answer, maybe not too interesting for other visitors, but PyrShep fans might find it interesting Ė and might agree or not with me, itís up to you, youíre also welcome to mail me with your thoughts on this subject.
Iíve seen many, many PyrSheps all around the world since anywhere I go for the seminar, all the PyrSheps fanciers from all around will come, Iíve also done seminars for breed clubs and I also visited many breeders when searching for La, so I sure did see many dogs of this breed. Based on my experience, my answer to a question is: NO, fearfulness is NOT a problem in the breed. Lack of drive is.
I have had many, many people explain to me that their PyrShep is just too worried about the surroundings to be able to workÖ And in every dog that Iíve seen with such a diagnosis, I saw something completely different: I saw a dog that was not having enough fun while working and was looking around for the excuses, barking at people, things and shadows. So my advice was always to stop worrying about their fears and do some serious work on their drive and try to make agility way more fun to them.
Believe it or not, but Lo was the most fearful puppy Iíve ever seen. She was terrified of people, every noise, traffic included, dogs, cats, trash and her own shadow among others. Yes, extensive socialization did help and it was definitely necessary for such a scared puppy, BUT what made the biggest difference was work. My major focus was to make her crazy about working and playing and when I succeeded in this area, she was able to work whatever, in whichever surroundings. At this time, she was still terribly afraid of almost everything, but when she got to work, the scary world stopped existing as far as she was concerned. And soon, she realized thatís the best way to cope with your fears: to focus on me and forget about the rest of the world. If you look at her today, you would never call her fearful. She actually still is, so donít be too pushy around her, but you can take her to whatever environment, make whatever noise, even the shooting that she clearly is still afraid Ė and she will work, no questions asked, with her happy expression on her face.
Now, La is a different story. She knows no fears, she is loaded with tons of confidence and isnít afraid of anything. STILL, when on a walk and she sees something strange, she will bark: not because she was afraid, but simply because she finds it fun. She knows she was bred to warn about things and still loves to do it Ė when she has nothing better to do. Give her something better to do and she will forget about the fun of warning.
And yes, most of the PrySheps that were described to me as too fearful to be able to work, were not even closely as fearful as Lo is, they just thought that warning is more fun as working with their handler. They behaved exactly like my brave, fearless La when she is bored. SoÖ Make working with you more fun for your dog! Make him crazy about running with you, make him happy to work with you. And I guarantee all your fear issues will disappear.
How easy or not this will be depends on how much drive your dog has. Lo has enough drive that this was pretty easy. Bu has no drive, so it was very, very hard and the process has been very, very long and it has not yet been finished Ė she will still stop working when the distraction is too big. I donít blame her fearfulness for that, even though she is more timid as any of the PyrSheps that I have met. I blame the lack of drive. She works because she thinks itís fun, but there is not much drive involved in there. Ė This is just to tell that my major concern when getting a PryShep puppy wouldnít be how fearful or not he is, but how much drive he has. If you have enough drive, itís very easy to overcome fears. If you donít have it, then it gets complicated, then you need to become the most trust-worthy and fun handler in the world. It can be done, itís just not as easy as if you have a dog that gets green eyes when he sees a ball Ė or food or a tunnel or whatever it is that makes him crazy.
So again, the biggest problem Iím seeing in the breed is lack of drive, NOT fearfulness. And if you want to work through a problem, stop asking your dog to sit in laps of strangers and take food from them etc., this is not helping you at all to go through the problem. I was doing it with Lo too at the beginning, but I soon realized that itís contra-productive, it only made her feel under pressure around strangers and an idea that she needs to interact with them made her uncomfortable. So I stopped asking her to do that and she was immediately more relaxed: if I donít have to have anything with them, then they can be there if they want to, why not?
Instead of asking your dog to do what theyíre not supposed to do as itís written in their genes, just make them crazy about working with you. Theyíre supposed to be crazy about working with you. And I mean CRAZY. Happy is not enough.
Itís when he is crazy that your PyrShep will stop caring about things that can be barked at. And if you also want my opinion on sitting on somebodyís else lap: itís not the breed characteristic, if you want a dog that would want to sit in everybodyís lap, get another breed. Of course, some PyrSheps do it, even without special training, so you can get a puppy like this, itís just that if this is very important for you, you might be in the wrong breed. And no, my brave, fearless, over-confident, full of herself La wonít jump into your lap if not told to by me. Why? No, not because she were afraid. She isnít afraid. She is just not interested. She didnít yet notice you exist, she just doesnít care. She is very big-headed, snobbish dog and will not even look at you. She just wants to work. And yes, she will work with everybody if asked to, but no, she canít say hi. I donít even want her to say hi, because I donít think itís the breed characteristic and yes, I love and respect the breed as it is. I donít want a social butterfly, I donít want a dog to be all over everybody. As I said somewhere else: my favourite characteristic in a dog is craziness. And you can find lots of it in lots of PyrSheps and thatís why itís my favourite breed. Unfortunately, I do see a trend of making them less crazy, less hyper, less drivey, to make them more user-friendly. And this is the biggest problem I see in the breed. About fearfulness, I donít care at all Ė as long as I have drive that will overcome it.
And yes, some PyrSheps wonít work with distractions around. But no, after seeing that many PyrSheps as I have, I donít buy it that your PyrShep is leaving a ring to bark at somebody because he is afraid. He is only doing it because he is not crazy enough about what you two are doing in the ring. When you get him crazy enough about it and I will see him run full speed with you in a ring, Iím sure I never see him again to run out of it. Itís as easy as that.
So, to answer the question: are PyrSheps really FearSheps? Well, some are, some arenítÖ I have one FearShep and one BraveShep Ė but an observer that doesnít know them couldnít tell you which is whichÖ All that he could tell you is that theyíre both CrazyShep. And thatís all that matters, you donít need more than that. I hope breeders realize that too before itís too late. Unfortunately, what Iím seeing is a tendency towards more user-friendly, friendlier and calmer dogs, forgetting about first sentence of the breed standard that describes a PyrShep as ďmaximum of nervous energy in minimum body sizeĒ. As long as your puppy fits in that description that is in my opinion the best and most important description of the breed, youíre on the right path. No fear to get a FearShep if youíve got a CrazyShep!