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Canine Trauma

An Interview with Dominick Donovan

by Yvette Piantadosi
and Here for more information on Dominick

YP: Dominick, Can you tell us a little about your experience and history with Schutzhund?

On my tenth birthday I received as a gift from my father (and to my mothers protest) a German shepherd import "Kyrass v. Fligerberg" Schutzhund 111. I successfully passed several examinations at Schutzhund trials sponsored by the now defunct North American Schutzhund Association (N.A.S.A.)which was the first organization to offer sanctioned events in the early days prior to the development of the D.V.G. in America and Schutzhund U.S.A. My participation and success at these early trials drew the attention of many "seasoned" trainers, largely due to the unusual fact that I was only eleven years old at the time.

By the time I was fifteen years of age I had bred, raised, trained and handled my next dog "Zorn" Schutzhund 111, FH, to all degrees and had produced a second generation of titled dogs which I also trained myself. I was a certified Schutzhund trial helper by the D.V.G., had been selected as trial helper for the regional championship and was elected head director of training at the local Schutzhund club. At the arrival of my seventeenth birthday I had compiled a list of accomplishments which would rival those much older than myself and which I am still quite proud of today. I also won an award for pioneering sch. in N.E....and I am the current training dir. at Allgemeiner.

YP: So Dom, we know that you had the opportunity to work and breed to many of the top dogs coming from Germany in the 1970's, tell me about some of the more familiar dogs that appeared in the pedigrees of the top dogs in the 80's and 90's.

DD: Yes I did work and breed to many of the top dogs in the 70's. One particularly famous dog was Enno v. Antrefftal, SchIII, FH who won the Bsp in 1974. As a matter of fact I still have super 8's of me doing SchIII routine with him when I was maybe 14 years old. He was a predominant produce of his time.... As was his father Int. Ch. VA, Dutch Sgr. Frei v.d. gugge.

Frei dogs had active aggression but were a little sensitive. People should remember that previous to the early 1970s the Bundesseigerpruefung and Sieger Show show dogs were similar dogs. In the early 1970's, competition was not such a big goal. It was not a money thing yet so there was not so much of a separation between "work" and "show" as there is today where money will dictate a breeding. But when Enno came upon the scene he was considered a working dog. This all happened in one generation even though his father, Frei was VA7 in 1970 and VA2 Vice Sieger.

Frei was a very lively animated dog. I never got to work him but worked many of his offspring and by looking at the description on his koer report that says: unusually energetic attacking dog", you can see the very characteristic of what comes down from him.

Around the time Frei was born, the dutch Shepherd, although virtually unknown in the US was becoming prevalent as a premier working dog in Holland as they were more energetic and handler sensitive. It is my own personal belief that Frei carries Dutch Shepherd genes.

Frei produced dogs who had hard bodies, shiny coats, very dry, a lot of solid blacks with a bit of a refined head, small black beady eyes. The faults he tended to produce were monorchids, long hair and missing premolars.

When inbred, or closely linebred, he produced a solid black Tervouren looking dog who could be very aggressive. . Frei has turned out to appear in almost every exceptional working dog after his existence and I'll tell you why I think that has happened.

The GSD were bred more as a military and police type dog. Who typically was kinda like a thick headed booty dog, kind of hard to control, could take a lot of pain but he had lots of focus - he would lock on to you and was hard to get off - a big, powerful dog but not so trainable. He had less active aggression more of a deep, deep booty drive (instinct) coupled with social aggression tough and hard headed in a way.

A lot of times breeding the Frei lines into other lines produced offspring a bit more like a Belgian Herding Dog in behavior. When crossed to big, hard hitting dogs you came up with a more talented versatile work dog. Both of the traits of the two lines would fuse and you would get the liveliness, energy, eagerness and willingness of the Frei lines combined with the thump and hard hitting thick head and bone of the typical West German lines at that time. So you started to see those combination - especially Frei crossed to Ajax vom Haus Dexel the 1963 Sieger.

This cross was represented through his son, Olaf van haus Altena's Land who was bred many times to the Enno lines. This was one of the famous Enno clicks - it was called the Enno/AX click.

YP: Now did you get to work Enno?

DD: Yes I worked Enno.

YP: Please tell me about him.

DD: Enno was very much the type of his father - high active aggression, very trainable - not what I think of as a super hard dog but a medium hard dog. A dog with a lot of aggression and a lot of intensity but when he bit he was very aggressive and he would shake his head a lot. But at the same time he was a very controllable, thinking dog. He really almost set the standard by winning the Bundesseigerpruefung with a score of 299. He was trained by what I consider the epitome of the working dog trainer of his day who was more of a performance dog handler then a service dog handler.

This was Fritz Biehler. Enno was trained by him and I feel he set the standards for the increase of control during the protection work, which become more and more the norm for competitive style of training.

Fritz & Enno set the standards for the increase of control in the protection work and was this was directly related in the time to the theory that was proposed by Bernard Mantlerr who I believe is the Father of advanced drive and instinct manipulation of the GSD/working dog.

Bernard was the first one to talk about the "prey" or "booty" method by utilizing and analyzing the different instincts of the dog and how to manipulate them into performing consistently for points. And I think Fritz might be his nephew. Fritz took a dog who was more aptly designed to work under that kind of theory - Enno. Enno was bred extensively and Enno reproduced himself tremendously.

Enno has the distinction to be the only dog to win the Bundesseigerpruefung himself and to also have two different sons who have won it. Not placed, but won and to my knowledge this has not been done again.

Falk von der Eichendorfschule (winner, 1978 BSP) was very much like his father but slightly bigger boned. He was maybe a slight less intense, a hair watered down in active aggression but still the same biting style with intense barking and a really good guarding potion of the Schutzhund routine. He presented a picture of control and hard hitting with an intense bite.

Drigon represented a line where the Enno/AX click came into play. Drigon was a dog that Fritz never did sell. Drigon I believe did the same 299 points as his father but the difference was that he was a slightly different style dog in that there was a fusion.

This is where I started to develop my theories about active aggression being like water in that it can fuse into other drives. Active aggression can be characterized by rhythmic barking, a dog who gets excited and stays excited. Who when they see the agitator running away and hiding behind the blind they will usually continue to bark at the hiding place. They also have a tendency that when you play with a stick or wrestle they want to bite and growl and leap in the air while barking. That is one reason why the Enno line was unique to the GSD - the active aggression lends itself to an excitability in the dog. This can actually come into the obedience routine.

Malinois, in general, have a high active aggression - that is almost what the breed is based upon. That is why you find many malinois are apt to bark while in the obedience exercise and their active aggression is so high it tends to channel into its pack instinct. So active aggression can fuse into pack, booty, defense, and social aggression.

Active aggression is, to me, the main and most necessary ingredient for a high performance dog. You could almost get away with a dog who has active aggression and nothing else and still train around the lack of other drives. That would be a far more difficult thing to do with any other instinct. That is why the malinois can be nervous but most will not run off a field when trained. You can see they are nervous in strange environments but once you tap into the active aggression and they start to bark and focus, it overrides the nervousness.

Active aggression has been used a lot to mask a lot of fundamental flaws of dogs. When you have a problem in the nerves and sound sensitivity is very high and pain threshold is low, if you put a lot of active aggression on top you could still get a performance dog. Once they get excited they tend to stay excited - especially in an environment they are trained in (i.e.. the Schutzhund field). That is why active aggression can cover up a lot of flaws if you don't know the dog outside of a working environment. That is why active aggression in one sense is excellent but can also be dangerous because it can hide a lot of flaws in a setting in which the dog is stimulated.

That is why the malinois has developed into a good competition dog because they key off the environment but it is also possible the same dog walking in a dark street can be scared out of his collar if a tin can falls onto the pavement. People need to look at a dog in situations other than a working environment.

(Back to Drigon)

Frei had lots of active aggression and he was a flashy dog and stamped his progeny with this - especially Enno. Drigon was different because they took the active aggression and fused it to booty instinct (which is the genetically inherited instinct in a dog to chase after and seize moving objects in there mouths). But the difference between the two is that an active aggression dog growls, shakes and actually fights and wants to kill the object whereas a booty driven dog is apt to just grab as deep as it can and to push the object to the back of the jaw and quietly squeeze, hold on to it and just crush it.

So Fire, (a dog of Dom's breeding) would hang onto a tree branch for fun and would bite a sleeve forever). She is a perfect example of a watered down version of Drigon. She is what happens when you take an active aggressive line and cross it to a booty line.

YP: Yes but Fire would not bark at anyone who entered the yard or house.

DD: Yes because she was almost exclusively all active aggression and booty based so what happen was the reactive parts were not as prevalent therefore no barking at strangers.

Defense instinct is a catalyst that is needed in a dog It is the "spark" which get the dgo to re- act without which . It is kinda like a motor in a car engine that is so powerful it can pull a truck. The motor is so powerful ONCE it starts up but if the starter doesn't work then the motor is no good. That is where you need the spark (starter) and in the dogs the spark is defense instinct.

Defense instinct is what makes a dog bark - it starts the aggression, makes the dog guard the territory and gives it suspicion. Active aggression is the drive that is so pliable that when you add a spark of defense instinct you get a dog who is then willing to charge a person and doesn't calm down easily when they come onto your property.

I always speak of instinct as a pure theory,( I don't suggest to anyone what type of dog to produce, If you want a suggestion, I would say when you breed a line of dogs you have to first and foremost think what is the purpose of this line. What is its primary function? Schutzhund and competition dogs and the way the system is designed and the way the judges are scoring is why a low defense and low social aggression dog would do well. A dog who can be petted by a stranger. If the dog had any measurable degree of social aggression, he would not allow a stranger to pet him as this is an invasion of his space. And if the dog has social AND active aggression he will get mad and stay mad as the active aggression will make him stay excited and this is not what they are looking for in a schutzhund competition dog. What you find now is a primarily an active aggression mixed with booty instinct that does not have a sharp trigger thats why many are not good in the practical guarding exercise because all the aggressive drive and social aggression (which makes a dog decide on its own to bite a person) has been watered down. If a dog can be touched by a stranger at anytime and you are not there to tell him what to do how can you expect that dog to guard your property? This has been breed out of the dogs as it is now considered ""quote un quote a instability (does what just came mean to say a sign of instability?) in the dog.

You need to breed more sharpness /defense instinct into a line that has to be used for a working/military/border patrol/police dog as this makes them more of a practical natural guarding type dog with some natural suspicion of strangers.

(Back again to Drigon!)

So Drigon was different then his father because he had less sharpness and he was almost one generation more specialized to become a performance schutzhund dog.

The social/dominance aggression was not high and he was not as tough or a civil dog but a pure offensive dog. He would come to the bite 1000x in a row so hard it was hard to stand up under the impact - his hit was harder then Enno.

Falk and Enno were more consistent in the active aggression but when Drigon came in he was bred (on his mother's side) from the Ajax Haus Dexel and Racker Itztal lines. Ajax put a lot of hardness into the line and Racker put a lot of booty instinct, so you ended up with a dog who had the active aggression of Enno fused in the booty instinct. So a dog from these combined lines may have been less apt to guard the area or bark in the crate but when he saw the helper run away, his eyes bugged out of his head and he hit a thousand miles an hour and he could hit 50x in a row just as hard without losing any of his enthusiasm. His bite was very deep to the back of his mouth and without shaking and growling which the sport trainer realized kept the dog calmer in the mind as they were less mad. He actually could be trained to perform more reliably on the release and that quiet bite then become the standard. So Drigon set the standard for the deep quiet bite with the big thump impact. And I worked Drigon so I knew about his bite and hardness.

I owned a Drigon son that was line bred on Frei. Drigon was the father and the mother was a Frei daughter so the dog was 3:2 on Frei. The dog looked like Drigon - his name was was Nando vom Ruhberglick I put the Schutzhund I on him as I co-owned him with my partner Len Sana. I only trained Nando briefly with Paul Hombach ( the same guy who owned Enno and he was also impressed with how hard the dog hit and bit. To this day I have not seen a dog who has bitten as hard or had such an incredible strike.

YP: So what happened to that dog?

DD: I trained him to a Schutzhund I and only bred him once to a high line, Quanto von der Wienerau bitch and that litter produced the dog Nitro vom Karushoff who won the 1983 USA Nationals with Larry Caruso. Larry was ( I think) a total novice, Nitro was the first dog he had ever trained After my partner took Nando back to Spain, he developed stones in his penis and had to have both testicles removed and he never sired another litter. It was a shame as this dog was an extreme example of Drigon - his litter sister was not as good as him. But this dog started me on a 10 year course of line breeding on Frei.

My first bitch, Zorn who I titled to a SchHIII, FH was a granddaughter, of Ajax vom Haus Dexel which was almost the same lines as Drigon's mother so I took her and bred her to Enno. I got a litter of puppies that would hit a hard sleeve by 5 months and were very socially aggressive, trainable , and remarkably consistant.

YP: Dom how old were you when you did this?

DD: I was 13/14 when I trained Zorn and I had trained and titled the offspring of this litter before I was 15. My puppies had a high aggressive side. One was sold and become a SchHIII and may have competed at the nationals. His name was Alf vom Algemeiner SchHIII FH.

YP: I heard of that kennel- was that your kennel name?

DD: Yes I had used that name as I was one of the founders of Allgemeiner Schutzhund Club - so was my father. I was about 11/ « years old. The club had originally started in Westbury, Long Island. For two years I did the helper work and the Board of Directors had voted me as Training Director by the time I was 13.

Dominick is available for training and seminars and may be reached at 516-786-7762 or email at

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