Kris Kotsopoulos is a breeder of working Dobermanns and German Shepherds. Kris has been breeding and training dogs since 1981, beginning at the age of 16 and has been working with dogs ever since. Kris established a dog security company in Melbourne in 1984 and continues to own and operate the company with a view to expand nationally and is currently the largest dog security firm in Melbourne . Kris has travelled extensively internationally due to his interest in the working dog and has met some amazing people who significantly impacted his life.This interview was conducted by:
Total Canine Sporting Club (T.C.S.C) & The National Dog Trainers Federation (N.D.T.F):
T.C.S.C / NDTF: Good morning Kris.
Kris: Good morning.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: Thank you for taking the time to speak to us. Could you please tell us a little about your background?
Kris: Certainly, it all began when a very good friend of mine, Jim Tokis, picked up the Trading Post in 1981 pointing out a Doberman litter that was available. I was in the market for a protection dog because my parents’ home had been burgled four days prior, and so I convinced my father to take me to view the litter, I ended up taking a male puppy home with me. That day was to change my whole life.
I began training my new dog for family protection and he served us well. My hunger for information about dog training increased over time and, I began to realise that my dog was a nice natured pet with only a medium desire to work. This realisation came to a head when I began working as a Security Officer and called upon my dog for support. Unfortunately he was unable to offer me the support I required and I realised, that he was not a courageous animal. This incident was a lesson I would never forget and it propelled me into breeding working dogs.
Living in Australia in 1982 meant it was difficult to obtain information on the training or breeding of working dogs and everything I learnt at that stage was simply through trial and error.
At the age of eighteen, I started a dog training school called the Diamond Valley Obedience & Protection Dog Training Centre. It operated for five years on the grounds of Loyola College Bundoora, Melbourne. I recall the grounds manager instructing me that the maximum number of vehicles permitted, within the grounds, was 25. Within a year he counted 65 cars at one time and so his tolerance ran out and I was asked to find an alternative ground. The school I then moved to was Parade College, Bundoora, Melbourne and was located there for another five years.
During this period a great deal of progress was made in the training of working dogs in Australia . This was partially due to a number of international trainers visiting Australia to conduct seminars. Some of these events were extremely beneficial, and simultaneously destructive. The destruction was in part, due to the fact that everyone attending these seminars was at a different stage of training with regard to their knowledge and abilities. Some attendees only had 2nd or 3rd hand knowledge without any practical experience. This caused conflict within working dog training groups around Australia . With time and numerous discussions, it became clear that the direction I wished to take the training and breeding of working dogs was different to many others.
In 1987 I went to Europe in search of the elusive super dog. I was introduced to a Dobermann in Belgium , which I imported into Australia . At the time he was quite a good dog compared to those in our country and he went on to produce some nice dogs. A few years later, other Dobermans were brought into Australia offering some genetic diversity. I incorporated the appropriate dogs into my breeding program.
One soon realises that as your knowledge grows so do the expectations you place on your dogs. After many disappointments and expectations, you realize that there are not many dogs or bloodlines that can give you the type of animal you expect or desire.
I had experimented with many of the Dobermann lines around the world and I had not been entirely satisfied with what they produced in character. I did see some amazing dogs from a particular bloodline that worked the way I wanted, but they were small animals and their conformation was not sufficient. This particular breeder, whom I visited again in March 1999, has since improved the conformation of his dogs to a very good level as well as maintaining the superiority of his dogs’ working temperament. Looking back, I believe I knew what I wanted and have since found what I was looking for.
|Ilo von der Weyermuhle|
Dobermanns from the Weyermühle / Bayern bloodlines stand quite high in working ability anywhere in the world. After travelling the world many times, training with and interviewing many influential breeders and trainers, I have come to understand their way of thinking in the breeding of working dogs. I believe that I have discovered which bloodlines are working dog material and which individual dogs produce these traits.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: You have a professional breeding establishment; what can you tell us about that?Kris: I don’t see as just a breeding facility; to me it’s a multipurpose facility. After visiting many breeders and seeing first hand their establishments, it became evident that there is a difference in what other breeders want to achieve. Even the facilities that many operate from vary immensely. Many of the environments were not conducive to the overall growth and development of puppies, and most importantly not very encouraging to the average person who does not understand the concept of breeding quality dogs. Due the my commitments within the overall running of our operation, I have people working with me that specifically look after the puppies and their psychological development. However, we need to keep things in perspective: breeding good working dogs has nothing to do with a professional establishment.
I will be breeding working dogs until my last days and quality is of upmost importance to me. I am not content without a quality establishment, quality dogs and quality training. This is the most rewarding way! I can seriously say that through this approach, I am achieving my requirements. Supplying government and law enforcement agencies nationally and internationally was actually a surprise, as I didn’t expect the Australian government to budget for working dogs so soon.
We also have a purpose built building for professional presentations and educational purposes. In addition we offer National Training programs for dog trainers wishing to further their skills; Security Officers wishing to further their handling and tactical procedures; and for anyone else wanting to broaden or refine their knowledge on handling and training dogs.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: Could you tell us your philosophy on working dogs?
Kris: Certainly, but before I do I would like to say that without question there will be those who will disagree in both my techniques and philosophy; yet no claim of finality is made, my belief does not pretend to be the bible but perhaps the beginning for new thought, theory and improvement. I also feel the need to state that although the information I’m imparting has been tested in the field and works better than any other system I’ve tried to date, it may not be the best system for you. Situations can change and my ideas may also change so I can only inform you of what is working in my current breeding and training program in 2003, which is providing me with decent working dogs.
The first thing every-one must realise is that without the appropriate genetics the probability of producing a dog of an excellent standard in service work and or Schutzhund / IPO is very low. In order for a dog to cope with the demands required to be a peak performer, he must have a strong nervous system that is able to cope with stress without any adverse psychological or physiological effects.
Reaching agreement on what is truly a quality working dog, not because it is trained well, but because it is genetically equipped with all the traits one would need for reliable and consistent performance and breeding is difficult. Unless one has worked with a great number of different dogs, then we are left with a judgement based on limited experience.
Knowledge on canine behaviour is evolutionary and not everyone is on the same page at the same time. Acknowledging this, and then leaving the selection and breeding to people who truly understand canine behaviour, is a good start to breeding better quality dogs worldwide.
My philosophy is quite simple: German shepherds and Dobermans are working dogs first and not show dogs first – period. My aim is to improve and create consistent working ability, coupled with functional conformation and superior health, for people who want a World Championship level competition dog or working service dog. I believe there is very little difference between the two disciplines.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: What do you mean by “improve…working ability”?
Kris: There are many attributes that require improvement and I know in my heart that Australia has the bloodlines to make a huge impact on the international scene. One of the main areas requiring improvement is the ability for a dog to maintain a clear head during protection work. This is especially true in highly driven dogs where there is a problem with learning. I love intense dogs that aren’t conflicted. Although this conflicted state can be created through training, I believe that it is also a genetic problem. This type of dog lacks confidence-based aggression, which is one of the main problems worldwide. There is too much emphasis on breeding prey driven dogs and although this is very important, it is one aspect to a complete dog. To put it another way, most dogs that are being bred with all over the world don’t stay in an optimum function zone whilst working and are easterly rattled. For me this is a genetic component and one needs to learn how do identify it in order to breed a balanced dog.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: Given the appropriate training and genetics do you believe there is very little difference in service dogs and Sporting dogs?Kris: You are going to regret asking that question! For the benefit of readers, who are new to dogs, I will do my best to keep it as simple as possible.
Given the appropriate genetics and the right preparation, I believe there is very little difference between the service dog and sporting dog. For me, the training foundation is identical and once this is accomplished, it is purely training them for the required task.
In my opinion, when preparing a working dog, the way in which puppy development and, the interaction with people is managed, is of vital importance.
Socialisation and habituation is not merely the casual interaction with friends who come over for dinner now and then, but is the active interaction with as many strangers and changing environment as possible. This is especially important during the critical development period i.e. – (first sixteen weeks of life). If you are observant, you will notice that almost every time a human approaches a puppy, the puppy has an immediate desire to be subordinate eg. by placing its ears back, exaggerated tail wagging and / or lacking bladder control. In my opinion, it is important then that we do not let people fuss and play with our puppies as much we tend to, as this can encourages social suppression.
One can see that there is a complete change in the dog’s behaviour and sometimes it’s for the worst reasons. Some puppies show it more than others because it’s directly proportional to the way the puppy perceives strangers. This is based on its genetic expression of self-confidence, prior exposure and experience.
It is important to allow your puppy to jump on people when it is calm and collected. Although the first few times your puppy meets multiple strangers allow the puppy to jump on people while it is in an excited state to establish that people are fine and that they cause no harm. This behaviour should not be acknowledged by strangers or reinforced at all. After some measured interaction you will soon realise that the puppy will try to approach strangers with an eager and excited attitude, however, only allow interaction when the puppy is calm. This takes time to teach and is very important. The puppy must realise that stimulation comes from you and that people are just people – nothing to be concerned or excited about.
You will notice there is an invisible line (referred to as critical distance), which determines how each and every puppy will react to unfamiliar people. You must now keep the pup outside that critical distance in order to prevent subordinate behaviour. It is almost natural for puppies to act in this submissive manner to man as they have an inherited fear of man due to their wolf ancestors. But we don’t want our puppies to act subordinate to humans because of the type of dog we want in the end. I encourage all to always have the end result in mind.
Note: (I allow my dog to approach strangers and never allow strangers to approach my dog).
Your dog should be socially dominant; of course genetics plays a significant part in this.
It must appear confident, with its ears up and eagerly looking at people but not trying to make contact in order to be fondled, rubbed up and whatever else people do to puppies, which can consequently suppress them.
How can we possibly get any active aggression in protection work if our dogs consider people as their superior (alpha)? The only humans who can be superior to my dog are my family and I, period.
During this stage of exposure, encourage your pup to play bite on a tug with you. While doing this, you must be standing out of the critical distance of behaviour change to other people that are around you. As soon as the puppy shows no real interest in others but seeks to play bite with you and shows determination and bites quite firmly, then throw the pups’ bite article to a helper / decoy (stranger). The helper should then pick up the tug / towel, which the puppy saw you throw. The pup should now be eager to bite it again and the helper allows the puppy to bite deep and full and the puppy is to carry it away. I only encourage this behaviour a few times so that I know when given the stimulus, the puppy will respond the way I expect.
It is very important that hard and determined biting is encouraged although this is very much a genetic property and a question of maturity and confidence. If your puppy bites softly then care must be taken not to overwork it, as this can lead to frustration and passive biting. Such an animal is already passive in its nature and so it’s important not to reinforce this by repeating exercises, hoping to get a better response. What I’m saying is: you must be sure that you will get the response you expect.
Once the puppy can work with one stranger and there is a positive behaviour established, which, by the way, does not take very long, perhaps 4 sessions, I then get three to four different helpers to work the puppy over the period of two week in multiple locations. This is very important as it is the most crucial period in a puppy’s development as discussed by Scott and Fuller in their publication, “Imprinting and Conditioning”. This period is renowned for having a major impact in establishing a fantastic foundation in drive building if done properly. ( Please note that I only allow the most experienced helpers / decoy to work my puppy for only very short sessions, eg. 2-3 bites, at this stage ). I have experimented for approximately sixteen years with this and I am convinced that this bite / drive development, during the imprinting stage, is necessary but can also be detrimental. It should not be attempted if not properly understood.
By six months of age a puppy should exhibit an extreme desire to want to be in high drive, at every possible moment, and will become very difficult to handle. This is the required attitude if we want a serious working animal that displays an enormous amount of power. It is during this stage that we teach our puppies how to act and react with people, and create an attitude of Social Dominance.
I must also say that the puppy quickly learns that it is to be in a “drive state” every time it is in your presence. You must be careful to reinforce “inactive states” (calmness) as well as “active states” (drive) in order to keep your dog balanced.
It’s also far easier to create a dog with attitude, and then concentrate on shaping him into an animal that you can manage, rather than placing enormous restrictions on your dog in his developmental period and then praying that you can bring him up to a powerful level. (It is also important that this is not misinterpreted, as I also want my dog to be socially confident, calm and relaxed with people and not a liability).
Once he works to the best of his ability, considering his age, and is self-confident with people, all social interaction with man is slowed down. However, it is important that habituation with mans environment and children is kept up for life. The reason for this is simple: over socialisation could make your dog a little too friendly or subordinate. Hence it is difficult to get confident aggression, as he must perceive a helper / man as a rival and not merely a playing partner. A lack of ample socialisation will create the reverse: the dog will exhibit fear-based aggression and will never be confident enough to deal with a helper / human, in protection work, with conviction.
The other reason for reducing socialisation is that from about seven months old the defence mechanism in your dog begins to blossom. less socialising allows the dog becomes a little suspicious and this promotes defensive/aggressive behaviour. You will begin to see your dog demonstrate this behaviour while in his territory, in your car, whilst you are walking him in the dark and so on.
This is one of the most important stage that most people neglect or abuse. Here too, you need to encourage and promote this defensive / aggressive behaviour in as many aspects of his life as possible.
Be very careful that you are promoting the (confident) component of aggressive behaviour and not the reactive component (fear). For example, if he is barking at someone and his hackles are up then your dog is unsure or afraid and so you must never praise him but ignore him, as this will merely reinforce insecurity. On the other hand you should reinforce barking with confidence, conviction and the desire to go forward with the helper fleeing.
Note: This can encourage unruly aggressive behaviour with some dogs and so the stimulation your puppy receives must be measured. If you over stimulate him, then simply reintroduce strangers into your dog’s life until his behaviour stabilises. Initially, allow the barking behaviour to establish a little before you reinforce it with praise. Care must be taken during this stage that reinforcement is very calm and does not distract the dog whilst he is working. This applies in all phases of his work. You should not allow anyone to approach your puppy while he is in your vehicle, in his crate, wherever he is vulnerable or where subordinate behaviour may prevail.
There are times, in controlled situations, that I may ask one of the helpers to impulse the dog with defence attractions so the dog realises that he can create avoidance in the threat. However, one must be careful, as defensive impulses are the same impulses for avoidance. If avoidance occurs then you are placed in a position where by your defence impulses must continue until the dog comes back into forward aggression. This is not the desired way, as one must question what mood and mind set the dog is in; surely not dominance. Note: I hardly ever reinforce this phase of aggression development with biting, as I want to firmly establish and strengthen his aggression and confidence not the reverse.
“Proper Foundation in Protection Training Is the Answer“
There are many people in the dog training profession who believe that training should not commence until the dog has reached 12 months of age. However, this approach has some limitations as learning begins prior to 12 months of age. In actual fact, learning begins on the 21st day of a puppy’s life and so waiting simply means having to train around all the improper behaviour that the dog has learnt in the mean time. One of the problems of leaving protection work until the dog matures is that he does not have an established behaviour to reinforce. When these instincts are triggered by a helper, your dog will have no option but to deal with it as best he can based on his prior experience, which can be limited to say the least, and the strength of his genetics. In my experience very few dogs will engage the helper with confidence and display uncomplicated biting.
For people who are not aware of the inverted U function it relates to the relationship between changes in arousal and motivation. It is also known as the Yerkes – Dodson law. The basic concept is that as the arousal level increases, the dog’s performance improves up to a point. Once beyond that point, increases in arousal lead to deterioration. Thus some arousal is thought to be necessary for efficient performance, but too much arousal leads to anxiety or stress, which degrades performance.
I apologise for emphasising this and acknowledge that most experienced people are aware of the point I’m stating, but feel I need to reiterate this as it’s easy for helpers to miss this point, and I see it in training systems globally. Acknowledging the above will help us with what and how we teach our dogs in all phases, and what association (instrumental / classical conditioning) our dogs make.
So what mind set has been triggered in the dog?
Let’s look at it from the dog’s perspective in a typical training session.
Dog goes on to a field. Dog sees helper/ stranger / man that he is fond of, because his owner allowed him to accept people as his superior during his critical period. Suddenly the human he respects threatens him and because the dog has no prior experience he will react in the most fitting way that secures his survival. The possible reactions are either confident aggression; fear based aggression, which is usually the case; displacement; avoidance or prey. The reaction totally depends on prior experience, the level of threat and the strength of the dog’s temperament. Unfortunately, with most inexperienced helpers they will try to get the dog to bite the sleeve when he shows some form of aggression.
Now let’s say the dog does bite and quite reluctantly, which usually is the case. What has now transpired is an example of where the dogs’ introduction to bite work is completely on a dominated side and in favour of the helper. The dog then associates that if he bites to save his life the threat may go away. I use the word ‘may’ because most helpers do not stop there but instead, continue to try to express what they have learnt from a book, video or some expert, despite what the dog’s behaviour is suggesting.
What has also happened is that the helper has created a set point. This is a point that the dog will begin from the next time he is confronted by the same or different helper. How else can the dog view this helper? Last week the dog was not afraid of the helper but now the helper has become something to be feared because he threatened the dog’s existence.
However, what happens when there is no aggressive reaction? With the more experienced helper he may go down a different avenue and try prey attractions, which usually works well. The reason it is successful is that most decent dogs have prey drive, which can be developed with just a little work. From the dog’s point of view, he will enjoy chasing a jute bag because it is not threatening; it’s connected to humans, whom he is fond of.
All in all, the whole picture is one of excitement and very little stress, especially when the dog works out that he derives pleasure and success from playing tug of war with the pleasant human connected to the end of the jute / bag, which he now begins to pair and see as one.
With this possibly succeeding the helper usually continues with prey training until the dog becomes proficient, bites hard and demonstrates wonderful attacks. The helper then contemplates how to encourage aggression because achieving it in the dog is one of the main aims he has most likely read about in training books. Dogs must be balanced in Prey and Defence. The word ‘defence’ does not sit well with me as it denotes ‘fear’; something we should try to stay away from when training.
So, what happens now is that the wonderful human attached to the bag / sleeve, that the dog derives so much pleasure from, suddenly becomes a threat. The helper threatens the dog and tries to incite some form of aggression. However, all this does is perplex the dog because for the last 6 to 12 months this human has been a source of enjoyment and now he is a threat. The dog reluctantly goes into aggression because he favours what works (prey).
This then causes frustration in the helper and he often resorts to use of force such as striking or threatening the dog with open aggression or some form of pain or whatever gets a reaction. Of course the dog is forced to react. This reaction is almost always stemming from the wrong mindset: one of self-preservation rather than self-confidence (confidence based aggression).
Over the years I have grown to recognise that I don’t like or teach punishment based training. One thing you will notice is that if you start using punishment, you will get into the habit of always using it, and you will find it in other areas of your life. A dog looks for two types of information, information that tells him about access to comfort and information that tells him about the avoidance of discomfort. If you use punishment the dog, will always seek a way to obtain positive reinforcement. I also don’t believe that dogs are born resistant. Resistance in a dog is caused through punishment-based training. This is why I also believe that many helpers make dogs sleeve fixated through thoughtless defence training. A dog will seek a way around the punisher back to the reinforcer. The helper is being the punisher when he strikes the dog and he is trying to get the dog’s attention away from the sleeve, which is the reinforcer. If you really look at it closely, this type of protection training is no different to forced dumbbell retrieval training, except in this case the sleeve is the dumbbell. The dog eliminates the pressure from the helper by holding on to the sleeve, which could be a dumbbell, as the dog knows no difference. Then we wonder why they will not let go!
Let’s look at this a little closer:
How can the dog possibly show any form of confidence based aggression when the human that he was fond of, who became a fun connection in prey, suddenly threatened him and made the whole experience uncomfortable?
This situation is suddenly not in the dog’s favour and hence the dog learns to deal with the threat with undesirable aggression, which is reinforced by the helper. It is only natural that the dog will then show complications in biting because the prey has become a threat. And what are we always taught by the old master trainers? Prey being (helper / sleeve in this case) that has been previously paired never attacks the dog otherwise it is not prey. But for decades people have trained this way and continue to train in this manner.
But does anyone really stop to think about what was going through the dog’s mind?
A very difficult skill to learn and takes considerable time and experience. However, training has come a long way. Science has had a profound effect on the quality of training in the last 20 years but we must also acknowledge that we have allowed inappropriate dogs to get through as well. Schutzhund was a testing tool for the breeding of serviceable dogs but hi-tech training has allowed people to develop ways of disguising the animal’s true character. Consequently, breeders are breeding dogs to suit the discipline that they are involved in. As an example it’s merely a mindset change that is required of (high sport drives and limited aggression) for dog sport enthusiast and (high aggression and adequate prey drives) in service dog enthusiasts. Often the dog’s prey drives are so high that inhumane systems have been adopted to stimulate some form of aggression. Prey training should satisfy several important needs for the helper: the first and most important need is that it stimulates a non-fear based aggressive response. It is essential to be aware of “Pavlovian Fear”. It is harder to eliminate fear in a weak dog than it is to control the aggression in a hard dog.
Most of the hold & barks that I have seen in clubs in Australia, and around the world, are predominately in prey and almost all aggression is pain-induced. If we trained correctly and bred from the right dogs, inhumane training methods would slowly subside and more thought would go into effective training. I know that a quality animal that is trained properly is sound, safe and can be an exceptional sport dog and an equally good service dog. Such an animal shows true power that can be managed with limited compulsion. This is because the dog learns that it is in his favour to comply, and to do more of what he enjoys – work.T.C.S.C / NDTF: There are an ever-increasing number of breeders breeding “Working Dogs.” What is your feeling about this situation?
Kris: Firstly, I feel it’s a positive thing because it shows an awareness that the working dog is a desirable and necessary part of our modern world. However, it is not simply a matter of putting two titled dogs together and hoping the progeny are as good, or better, than their parents. Chances are that they may be of less quality than their parents. Consistently producing a quality dog with the necessary and desirable traits is an extremely complex and time-consuming venture. Simply stating that you are breeding working dogs does not mean that you are. Breeding is about ups and downs, trial and error, and scrutinizing why the ups and downs exist in relation to your breeding goals. For this to occur we all need to be extremely critical of our own breeding stock.
For me it’s about creating a bloodline that will constantly reproduce itself. I want German shepherds and Dobermans that also look like German shepherds and Dobermans with good bone, strong heads, functional conformation and of course, balanced high drives that endure stress and remain uncomplicated.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: In your opinion what are some of the mistakes that breeders are making in attempting to produce working dogs?
Kris: The most common mistake is the belief that because a dog has a title after his name he is a working dog. The fact is that just because the dog works somewhat, doesn’t mean it’s a true working dog. My opinion still stands today as it did 20 years ago, you must breed with the extreme dogs as nature naturally produces sufficient to insufficient in the type of dogs we require. It’s difficult to fight thousands of years of evolution in a hundred years. Up until the year 2000 there were very few true working lines in Australia and there are fewer breeders that can identify them.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: How did you come about getting German shepherd working lines into Australia?
Kris: I had been involved with dogs that work since 1981 and knew what was required. Jim Tokis, Boyd Hooper and I went on a dog training tour to America in 1993. During our travels I saw some incredible German shepherds; shepherds I had never really been exposed to here. I should elaborate on this by saying, their prey drives were higher than the dogs in Australia . These dogs were highly driven and maintained a clear head throughout all their work. It is important to note that if the dog can keep a clear head during protection work, he is also able to do the same in obedience and tracking. I believe behaviour is like fluid, it’s always shifting.
As a breeder, what amazed me the most was their ability to successfully reproduce themselves. At a Schutzhund club in California I had the pleasure of seeing four generations of one dog’s line that were almost identical in type and mentality. This was evident not only in California but also throughout the U.S.A. Since that day I have done lots of research on bloodlines and, most importantly, personally visited and tested many of the dogs that were highly admired. Nothing beats seeing the dogs first hand and working them yourself! It was great to be able to see them in a relaxed state and in a normal environment. I get a lot out of doing this. I was also very surprised at the amount of dogs that lack territorial aggression. I mean, I could walk into 98% of people’s homes and take the house, not to mention the dog. This is not a true German shepherd or Doberman in my opinion.
In 1993-1994 I began collecting frozen semen because many of the great dogs I saw were not for sale. So far we have over fifteen German Shepherds and eight Dobermans on ice. These form a collection of the best dogs I have seen to date that also reproduce themselves.
|Gento vom Haus Larwin|
T.C.S.C / NDTF: Have you used any of this semen and what were the pups like?
Kris: Yes! I had one litter from Gento v. Haus Larwin, IPO 1, PSH 1, KNPV cert. (Metlauf) Kkl. 2, and one litter from Natan v. Busecker Schloss, SchH 3, IPO 3, FH, AD, Kkl. 1a. Both lots of semen were used on the same mother Buennen Katrina, producing my “P”; and “R” litters.
The “P” litter was excellent! Though, to be honest, I didn’t realize how good they were until I began comparing them to many other breedings and testing their progeny over the last 5 years. The “P” litter was very driven, uncomplicated when stressed, and very territorial. I have said this many times and I’ll say it again: these dogs are within a select group of dogs that will bite anything that is presented. It is extremely difficult to overload them; hence they always bite firmly and out instantly and naturally stay in an optimum function zone. These are dogs that enjoy both drive phases “Prey / Aggression” equally, favouring neither. These dogs confuse many helpers because they made it very difficult to read which drive they were in. “Humans” are a natural stimulus for aggression and that separates them from most other dogs that I see. I don’t believe that Gento alone contributed to these behaviours: the mother’s line also clicked and for a very good reason.
Not many people realise this and so here is a history lesson regarding why I chose the mother lines. In the late 70′ there were a handful of very interesting dogs that arrived into Australia, predominately Melbourne. These dogs were Ingo v. Hafenlohrtal, SchH 3, Kkl. 1a, Six v.d. Pelztierfarm, Don v. Trafalga DDR and a few DDR (East German) Bitches.
|Bodo vom Lierberg|
Ingo Hafenlortal’s line goes back to Bodo v. Lierberg, SchH 3, FH, Kkl. 1, who is Bernd’s Brother of course. Six v.d. Pelztierfarm is a Marko v. Cellerland, SchH 3, FH, Kkl. 1 son and Don v. Trafalga was an Ex v. Riedstern, SchH 3, Kkl. 1 son and the rest is history.
Anything in the world today which has any power goes back to these dogs and the combination of them produces more. I would like to thank Hynek Stehlick from Regenerace Kennels, Neville Williams from Von Kaiserhof Kennels and Steve Tolis from Buennen Kennels because without these people my bloodlines would not be where they are today. Steve Tolis leased his bitch Buennen Katrina to me which I mated with Gento v. Haus Larwin (A.I.), and then Natan v. Busecker Schloss (A.I.). Neville Williams from Von Kaisarhof Kennels was also kind enough to provide me with all the frozen semen he had from dogs such as Stobar Hardt, Glenlofty Trafalga and Security Pekahia.
|Glenlofty Trafalgar||Security Pekahia||Don von Trafalga|
They are invaluable to the future of my breeding program. Their gracious efforts will come back to them ten fold.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: What did you like and dislike about those old bloodlines.
Kris: The only thing that I found lacking was their prey drive level. They were mostly medium prey drive dogs partly due to the fact that they were physically large. The dogs were aggression based and highly territorial, however they were very stable with their families.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: What made you collect frozen semen?
Kris: I am a quick learner. I would hear the old trainers cursing about the old traits gone and, what was most funny is, they did nothing about it. Right up until today, March 2003, there is still very little done. Helmut Raiser in his address to the SV, mentioned it and still nothing. I guess we have all heard the saying “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”
T.C.S.C / NDTF: What about the “R” litter from Natan v. Busecker Schloss SchH 3, IPO 3, FH, AD?
|Von Forell Rena|
Kris: Natan v. Busecker Schloss was a very nice dog but he did not produce what Gento did from Buennen Katrina. Von Forell Rena, which was the pick bitch from the Natan v. Busecker Schloss mating, went on to produce consistently with a Dutch import I had, called Kuran van Tiekerhook, IPO 1. We had the “B” & “D” litters, which produced many good dogs like Borg, Bodo, Bianca, Betty, Doris, Dilon and the rest went to non-competitive homes. What’s interesting is that while visiting Koos Hassing in Holland, the breeder of van Tiekerhook Kennels, he told me that the best lines to combine with Asko v. Joufne Keyleff was Sagus v. Busecker Schloss and the Kuran and Rena mating was just that!
T.C.S.C / NDTF: You mentioned Kuran v Tiekerhook could you tell us more about him?
Kris: Before I do that, I would like to take this opportunity to also thank Dave Smith, from Queensland, as he informed me that Kuran was available. Also, thank you to Mark Sandford, a New Zealand police dog handler, for providing me with the footage of Kuran. Mark was in Holland when he filmed Kuran and rated him highly and he knows his dogs. So I bought the dog on his word. I believe it was a wise choice.
|Kuran van Tiekerhook|
Kuran was a super highly driven dog and because of some training complications in Europe I believe he worked with a little urgency although he was extreme in his prey drive. The only dogs that he has produced as extreme as himself are Von Forell Vilco SchH 3 IPO 3 (Axel), the 2003 Australian Grand National Schutzhund Champion, and Von Forell Borg, BH. Borg has slightly higher aggression but that stems from a little insecurity due to a lack of inadequate socialisation during his critical periods as a young dog.Kuran was very intense; he had enormous prey drive and his grip was incredible. The thing that amazed me was that he could be left alone and not worked for months but would still perform faultlessly when undertaking a bite work session. That type of drive to bite is desirable. He has what I call a reflexive action to bite, which is due to very fast twitch muscle fibre. It is preferable that the dogs I select for breeding possess this genetic trait. You must recognise it in order to breed for it.
He was used quite a lot considering he was a working dog and I believe he significantly elevated the working dog standard in this country. He was a dog that could take a lot of stress. An example of this was a hard session of bite work undertaken in Queensland . Even with the humidity he worked with great enthusiasm, this truly amazed me!
Kuran definitely increased the drive levels and quality of grip in Australia ‘s German Shepherds but he also produced dogs with traits I don’t like such as smaller and finer structured dogs.
T.C.S.C / NDFT: Have you line bred on Kuran and what did you get?
Kris: Yes I have, and he produced dogs very similar to himself in character and type. The only thing that I needed to watch for was increased sensitivity.T.C.S.C / NDTF:
Tell us about the National Schutzhund Champion Von Forell Vilco SchH 3, IPO 3 and how you came to breed him?
Kris: Von Forell Pamela is a Gento daughter who came from a very consistent litter of four, and I consider them to be very good producers. All her brothers have produced nice dogs just like Pamela.
As we know, some dogs produce for some and not for others. This dependence whether the combination clicks with their bitch line, which is critical if you are going to breed good dogs. I have spoken to many people in America and Europe, that also used Gento, and they reported mixed results. For me, the “P” litter stands out and they continue to breed on. Pamela’s brother Von Forell Prix is another excellent example: he has 0-0 elbows and 0-1 hips and, like Pamela, he can produce. I sent a son of his to New Zealand who has done very well in the sport, earning his SchH 3 respectively. His owner is Paul Auchten. Paul is an AUSC judge, an excellent handler and trainer whom I want to thank for keeping his word, trialing Von Forell Trou to SchH 3 and IPO 3. I worked this dog, for eight inspiring days over a one-year period, in two seminars that I conducted for the New Zealand Dogsport club.
|Von Forell Vilco|
Here is an example of what the Gento lines can give: balanced, high drive dogs that are real. However, they are a little difficult to live with! For those people who have them, you know very well what I mean. But they are such a pleasure to work.
Ask Gabi Hoffman who owns Von Forell Vilco. She is another person whom I am very proud of. Von Forell Vilco is a good dog, with excellent training, and is another example of the Gento line. Kuran’s unmanageable high drive is also evident, however Gabi has done an excellent job in shaping it, despite the challenges he gave her. I remember Gabi visiting me over 7 years ago and at that time I gave her the choice of 18 puppies. She picked Axel, which was a wise choice. I am now hoping that Gabi can attend the worlds (WUSV), as I’m sure she will give them a run for their money. I’d also like to thank Reg Worth for assisting Gabi in training Axel to such a highly successful level. Without Reg, Gabi’s results may not have been so impressive and of course thanks to Karen for putting up with Reg’s passion. We all know how demanding our sport can be on our partners!
T.C.S.C / NDTF: Tell us about Von Forell Borg?
Kris: Well, this dog is an example of what can be produced with regards to extreme drives but unfortunately he never got the appropriate start in life. His original owner commenced socialising him from 14 weeks and even then there was not much to rave about. Borg has enormous prey drive, like his father, but unlike his father lots of aggression.
John Mc Donald handled him for his BH and did an excellent job. There are not many people at all that can handle a dog like him. Borg has produced four litters. He is a dog that definitely reproduces himself with lots of self-confidence to add. The puppies are still young so I need more time to establish what he can produce as a breeding animal, but so far he is producing better than Kuran. One of our club members Felix Ho, also had fun with Borg. That was interesting, and I am sure Felix and Borg learnt a lot from each other. Borg is available for breeding and even at 9 he still maintains all of his power.
Kris: Firstly, I would like to thank Mike Diehl, from the Indiana Police department, for allowing me to use his dog Brawnson. This dog is the best I have seen. I have not found a dog to equal Brawnson’s brutal biting power, enormous prey drive, aggression to match, his nerves of steel, incredible focus and beautiful black sable pigment.
To the right bitches he can produce big bones and substance as he did with my “A” litter. There is a lovely lady called Janice Bartmess, in Los Angeles California , that is a breeder of DDR dogs. I was in discussion with her for over 5 years when she graciously allowed me to take on two of her dogs: Bella v. Rosenzweig DDR and Asa v. Haus Gebets DDR. I took Bella to Indiana to mate with Brawnson. I had previously tested dogs in L.A, Tampa Florida , Ohio and not one came close to his quality. Bella then whelped her puppies in my Kennel.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: How did that mating go?
|Von Forell Aria|
Kris: Well, 4 years down the track and I guess I can say they are normal with the exception of two bitches: one solid black bitch called Von Forell Aria (IID) and one black sable bitch called Von Forell Amber (IID). Amber recently had a litter to Fax v. Grenzgänger, SchH 3, Kkl. 1 in Queensland. He is another good dog that I saw at Dr. Helmut Raiser’s club on our dog trip in 1999.
I tried to purchase this dog from Gunter and Ingrid Wasshausen but unfortunately he was not for sale at the time. When he finally did become available I was not in the position to take him on. Apparently these puppies are looking promising. Reg’s dog Eick is certainly an excellent example of his genes and has recently been sold to the Queensland Police.
Aria is interesting.
I have been trying to get her back and finally did just after the New Year 2003/2004. She is a very nice type with a strong head, good bone and possesses that predatory instinct that Brawnson has. She has just been mated to Von Forell Prix, the Gento son, and I am sure that will be a litter to look out for. I believe he is the right dog for her. The interesting aspect of Bella’s breeding is that her mother Annah v. Haus Gebets is the litter sister to Asa. This is very important for my line breeding in the future as Asa’s line produces the excellent heads, bone and substance that I am looking for. Take a look at his progeny and the consistency he produces on our website. There are not many bloodlines that give you these traits with rock solid nerves. Aria also had a litter to Von Forell Vilco and to his brother Vocho and they are looking very promising also.
|Larry von Karthago|
Kris: Approximately 3 years ago Larry was available in Germany but it wasn’t until mid 2003 that I obtained him thanks to Dennis and Christine Gallacher from Western Australia. They are 2 very good friends of mine who have done a lot for the Doberman and German Shepherd in Australia.
Larry is a large Bi-Colour male of DDR type. He is a beautiful dog to look at, is quite balanced in his drives and has an excellent solid grip. He has 4 litters on the ground and they are looking very promising: two from Hassan v. Grüntal, DDR, SchH 1, Kkl. 1a daughters.
Being a Jago v.d. Lindenhalle, SchH 3, HGH, Kkl. 1 son and a Xando v. Karthago, SchH 3, FH, BSP winner, Kkl. 2 grandson he possesses all the power that they have and seems to produce very solid nerves with lots of self-assuredness. In addition to this, his mother is line bred on Afra v. Stoppenberger Land, SchH 2, Kkl. 1: known as the best producer in the past 20 years.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: Tell us about Hassan v Grüntal DDR 171677, SchH 1, Kkl. 1a?
|Hassan v. Grüntal|
Kris: In 1993 there was a super dog that went to the Von Haus Antverpa Kennel in Belgium around the same time I bought the Gento v Haus Larwin semen. This dog was Hassan and he would have to be one of the best pigmented dogs you can find. He was eventually sold to South Africa and stayed there for 5 – 6 years for breeding. I tried for many years to get him into Australia and finally got him here when he was 9.5 years old. Yes, I took a big risk and we only got six litters from him when he suddenly passed away, however it was worth the effort. Hassan was up there with Stormfronts Brawnson’s quality only Hassan was physically more powerful. We have collected plenty of frozen semen from him and the most important thing about Hassan is that he was one of the last of the DDR LINE 13A dogs left in the world – world renowned for consistently producing very intense, powerful dogs that are structurally correct. Hassan had the most tenacious retrieval drives a dog could have and would never give up when looking for a ball. He also had a very strong dominant character. Gerard and his wife said and I quote “there were only two dogs we truly regret selling, one was Hassan v Grüntal and the other was Bella v Kirchgraben, SchH 3, IPO 1, Kkl. 1.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: There is a difference of opinion regarding West, DDR and Czech dogs: what is your opinion?
Kris: My opinion is that there are no perfect bloodlines, whether the dogs come from the West, East, or Czech lines is irrelevant. A good dog is a good dog, great working behaviour is great working behaviour. However, if you study the bloodline chart in the last AUSC magazine you will see quite plainly that there is a norm and it is evident that certain dogs are very influential.
Currently no one has the answer. However, by Australian breeders studying their lines and knowing their dogs, I believe it is inevitable that our country will become the place to obtain a good working dog. In the future people might be saying “You’ve got to get an ”Aussie German Shepherd” like they did with the DDR dogs in the early 1990’s and the Czech dogs in late 1990’s. From what I’ve seen, the DDR and Czech dogs are sharper but most of that seems to come from thin nerve and sensitivity. There are not many good ones left but those that are, are great!
I need to say that we have burned all of my 29 years of video history onto CD, which will allow us to put together a video bloodline profile for handlers and breeders that are interested in the history of their dogs. I really believe this is imperative for breeders as it gives access to visual information about the dogs in a bloodline. I feel it’s an obligation for breeders to provide information on the background of their genetics. It’s not the answer but it provides a piece of the puzzle that can help a breeder make a wise choice on using the right dog for breeding. Anyone viewing our site will be able to click on a short version of the dogs working and then order the full version over the net. It’s fascinating what can be done now, especially with broadband capabilities. You can see some of our dogs on You Tube.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: Do you like mixing these lines?
Kris: As I said, there is no difference in my view because a good dog is a good dog. However, I do breed pure matings as well. I am interested in preserving the characteristics that were selectively bred for in the pure West, East and Czech matings. We also cross breed to obtain hybrid vigour eg. West x East, West x Czech, East x Czech etc. I am determined to never reach a state of inbreeding decline. Being an isolated country we don’t have the luxury of having access to thousands of dogs like the Europeans, not to mention the expense of having import genetic variation, so we need to be very careful how we breed our dogs. I always plan many generations ahead with the end result in mind.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: How often do you line breed and when do you decide to outcross?
Kris: The frequency of line breeding depends totally on the result I am getting. Also, to be honest, it’s taken a long time to decipher the truth about the dogs. What I mean is that line breeding should only be done on the right animals and that it is up to the breeder to work it out for himself / herself. It amazes me how many people blindly accept the owner’s interpretation of his stud dog. The owner isn’t necessarily not telling the truth but there are times when he genuinely doesn’t know a good dog due to his level of experience. So it’s important for me to go in person, where possible, and make my own decision.
It is only in the last 7 years that I have seen my breeding program heading in the direction that I envisaged. My line breeding is about to start in the German Shepherds, as that is where the power is. The interesting thing is that there is a breeding formula for us all to use that works; you just have to recognise it.
In regards to out crossing, the majority of my matings are outcrosses.T.C.S.C / NDTF:
T.C.S.C / NDTF: You also breed Dobermanns. What’s happening there?Kris: Dobermanns have always been an interesting topic. I originally started with Dobermans and let me tell you, when you get a good Doberman they are great working dogs. It is so difficult to find a good one these days and it has become my obsession. We are turning over every possible stone and there doesn’t seem to be many good ones left. Whichever dog we go to, they go back to the same lines. The gene pool is very concentrated and there is not much more that can be done with the existing gene pool. The interesting thing with the Dobermans and the Rottweiler is that most gene pools can mix with relatively good success. We are currently looking for that special animal that can improve on what we have.
My Dobermann bloodline is ahead of my German shepherd bloodline when it comes to line breeding. We only have 3 more matings to do and then based on those results we will outcross. The last few matings are very exciting and I cannot wait to see the results. Trying to breed away from the typical flighty or spooky Dobermann trait is difficult as most breeders don’t recognise it. This trait keeps being expressed in the progeny, which can be a problem, but it’s getting better with every generation. Because of this bringing up a Dobermann is like bringing up a Malinois; it’s quite an art! You really need to know your stuff, which is quite annoying, as it should not have to be that way.
One of my primary interests at the moment is to get the next few generations out on the trialing field. So if there are any would-be competitors who are interested in a challenge, please consider a Dobermann for your next competition dog.
Again, while on our last trip in 1999, I met up with the famous Norbert Schmitz. He is the breeder of the Doberman Kennel v.d. Weyermühle, and what an eye opener this guy is! Norbert is a gentleman and tells it as it is and hence his dogs speak for themselves. I want to also thank Norbet for his time and exchange of his breeding philosophy and formula. It has helped me more that he will ever know. My German shepherd breeding has benefited greatly from his input.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: What’s the best dog you have ever imported?
Kris: That is a difficult question as almost all of them have had a purpose and have contributed to the gene pool. Hassan V Gruntal would have to be the best one if I had to choose.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: You now sell your dogs on limited register; can you explain why?
Kris: That is a great question, as it does seem to cause some controversy. I have considered many possible options but to date this system seems to work best. This is how it works: all puppies are now registered on the limited registry with our Victorian Canine Association. Once the dog or bitch proves that it is breed worthy (both health and working mentality are considered) like Von Forell Vilco SchH 3, IPO 3 then the limited registration will be transferred to the main registration. This will then enable the entire country to use the dog in question. Otherwise what we have is an indiscriminate breeding of dogs, which are not necessarily worthy of breeding, just because of their kennel name or misguided opinions. This is not fair on the Dobermann and German Shepherd breed at all. It’s as simple as that! However I am now at a point and will consider working with people that share common goals in the breeding of working dogs!
T.C.S.C / NDTF: Who was your main influence in breeding and training?
Kris: There are many people who have contributed to my philosophy. It’s hard to answer that question because I believe that everyone you meet has something interesting to offer; it’s whether you choose to listen, that’s more the point. I could start naming people but there are too many to list. However, I will mention a few important people who have contributed to Von Forell and helped get it to where it is today and most importantly supporting me today.
My wife Tonia with her attention to detail, consistent drive, passion and love of animals and a refreshing new way of seeing things is giving me new opportunities to achieve all that I want.
Jim Tokis who has been an enduring and real friend. He has continued to give his time freely over a number of years and it is much appreciated. He always puts 100% both into working with my dogs and into my program. Jim demonstrates outstanding helper skills and this is reinforced by his excellent ability to read behaviour in both dogs and people. He always questions what does not work and then immediately alters his method to suit any dog, any time. Jim has brilliant talent and is a definite consideration for the National Helper Training Board. Most importantly I always look forward to our philosophical discussion.
Also, I would like to acknowledge and thank Boyd Hooper for always being there in moments of need and never saying no to any of my requests. An excellent helper with exceptional knowledge on canine behaviour and a great friend.
Kris: The next five years are the most exciting as I now believe we have most of the ingredients to consistently produce the right dogs. To achieve this, dedicated breeders must band together and work interdependently. We are all independent at the moment but to make an impact, like never seen before in the world, we need to be able to unite our ideas, our resources and our gene pool and work towards a common goal. That will be my focus over the next five years. Imagine what it would be like for the German shepherd, Doberman, Rottweiler and Malinois if this happens. I know in my heart it can and will happen; it’s only a matter of time.
I will extend an invitation to all the appropriate people nationally to get together for training weekends in the pursuit of excellence in canine training and the exchange of innovative ideas. I know of many individuals that can make a tremendous difference. The weekends will consist of 2 solid days of family oriented involvement in our passion of training dogs. I am also asking people to speak about any ideas that they have and would like to share with the national dog training community. I believe that by sharing our ideas, beliefs and experiences in an open, friendly, learning environment we will overcome the communication barriers that currently exist. Through this we will be instrumental in recognising each other’s abilities. This will also allow us to encourage up and coming youth to participate and pursue a higher education in the dog world.
I am here for the long haul. This is my passion! It is also beginning to return some finances, which makes it even more interesting, as it enables me to reinvest into alternative gene pools. One breeder cannot do it alone: it is not possible, given the knowledge depth and capital required to propel the project I envisage. So come on breeders and trainers: let’s do it! I will be calling you soon.
T.C.S.C / NDTF: Thank you for your time Kris and we will revisit you and your progress in 5 years if that is ok.
Kris: It was my pleasure.
Kris can be reached Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, if you require any assistance on breeding, training, Security or Consulting. He also conducts helper and dog training seminars and his principles are adaptable from Schutzhund to Law Enforcement. Please feel free to contact him.
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