BRTCA Breed Description - Black Russian Terrier Temperament
BRTs were designed to protect people and places as well as to help with other tasks in a combat situation. That is going to lead to a different set of natural behaviors than is going to be seen in a breed that is designed primarily for companionship. These dogs are bred first for the task and then for companionship. If you look at the descriptions of the history of the breed the companionship didn’t even factor in until the breed was placed in civilian hands. A companion dog is not going to act aggressively with out extreme provocation. A working dog is going to have a much lower threshold for aggression. A companion dog isn’t going to have the tendency to react to things with their mouth. Most working breeds are mouthy and will bite out of aggression, excitement, and even to get attention - all acceptable in a working dog. These behaviors need to be properly controlled. The reason it is so important that they receive extensive socialization and training is that without it they will tend to be suspicious, aggressive, and are going to deal with things by biting.
The idea for training and socialization is to provide direction for desired behavior, threat identification, and to teach the dog that everyone is not a threat. Usually the behavior of the working dog is different at home and away from home. At the home the dog is going to have a desire to protect, away from home the dog has no territory to protect and will have a higher threat threshold. The dog has nothing to guard so the only thing it is going to have to protect is a threat against the handler. It’s known that many fully trained protection dogs that function as therapy dogs. In fact that is what should be considered desirable in a personal protector. If the dog isn’t capable of that, you are going to have to lock them up when ever anyone comes over and that won’t be much protection. To say a breed is defensive should not be considered a detriment. It describes how the dog will react to a threat and how it will deal with it. Prey driven breeds will tend to go out and meet a threat. They will tend to want to chase things going away from them. A defensive breed like BRT will tend to wait for the threat to come to them as well as prefer to have the threat head on. They are
less likely to want to chase down anything running away from them. Both types of behaviors have to be trained. With a dog properly bred to protect, the dog is going to protect in some fashion whether you want it to or not. There are several methods to handle this. You can teach that no aggression is acceptable. That will often work. Sometimes it won’t work and with enough stress the dog will react and bite. This training may also decrease the dog’s demonstration of stress and provide less warning prior to the dog reacting. The dog has been taught that this type of demonstration is not acceptable, so they skip that step. With trained protection dogs - barking is a good thing. We called it an honest dog. The dog provides a warning of their presence. Some dogs won’t bark. If they bark the threat will leave and they won’t get their bite, and they want that bite. The idea that you can wait until a problem with protectiveness or aggression shows up and then deal with it is asking for problems. The
protective instincts will start to kick in between 12-18 months. The time to deal with the issues that will come up is at 2-10 months. Train proper reactions to people, get and maintain proper obedience control, learn to read your dog. I have had so many people say to me “I had know idea my dog would do that”. In most situations if I was standing there I knew it was coming and often warned about it before it happened. You have to recognize when the dog is beginning to perceive a threat and what they are going to do about it. Training can make that easier as well as provide control over those situations. Properly done protection training will have no effect on the dog’s temperament. If anything it will teach the dog to recognize a real threat and what to do about it. Protection training has little to do with teaching the dog to bite. Getting
a dog to bite is easy, getting control over the behavior is what the training is all about - the ability to “out”. Because you are teaching the dog what is a threat and under what circumstances they should bite, it also teaches when they shouldn’t bite. It provides the ability to stop the dog on command and command a release. Not every deployment of a dog requires a bite. In most cases the mere presence of the dog will take care of the problem.
A dog that is guarding is going to be preparing to react aggressively to a threat. They may not show it, but it is there. Without the back up there is no point to guarding. How you train their reaction will determine the reaction they have. Now we get in to an area where personal opinion comes in to play. I have long believed that the more protective the dog is by breeding the more important it is to protection train. There are a couple of reasons for this. If the dog has the instincts it is important to channel them in to proper behavior. If the dog has a bred in desire to do something but they aren’t sure what it is they are supposed to do it creates a problem in the dog. If you are trying to train what NOT to do, it is impossible to train for EVERY circumstance. It is possible to teach good decision-making. So by exposing the dog to as many things as possible in training, you can teach the dog to make good decisions. If you teach the dog what TO do then they don’t have the conflict of not knowing if they are correct until after they have done it. Since you also train for control you can communicate what you want on the fly, hence the out command that can stop the dog BEFORE it bites. You can also tell the dog to release after it has made the bite. In addition you can add cues according to where they are in training, like a specific collar or the training area, to tell the dog that it is going to bite now. Without the collar you don’t bite now. After you have control you can eliminate the collar in training and use their normal training equipment for protection. Another thing is that the dog loves to do the work. It is fun for me too. So now the dog sees you as the source of that fun. You take them to the training, you work them there, you can control when they do it and use it as a reward for other things like obedience. You can also associate a command to biting. It takes a lot of work and that time goes further in to establishing a better relationship with the dog, and in terms of leadership it puts you in control of the dogs aggression. This is the typical arrangement in pack behavior. It is pro-active not re-active. You also learn what will cause the dog to react and learn to read the dog to tell what the dog is going to do. Is it ABSOLUTELY required to train the dog for protection? No. If you train the dog properly in obedience and make sure you have the proper control you may not to do protection training. There are some keys that can make it more difficult. Dogs that are bred for work are also bred for trainability. So if they are properly trained you will have good control and can use commands that will not allow the bite. It isn’t an out command, but the dog isn’t going to bite an arm from a down. If the dog is going out towards a bite it can be stopped with a down or recall command. However, you need to recognize when the dog is being aggressive, dominant, or friendly. Often they look much the same and the cues are often very subtle. If you miss them you will have a mistake. It is that ability to read the dog that makes me recommend people that train working dogs over a person that just trains pets. As the owners of a large protective breed it is imperative that we have proper
control, do extensive socialization, and know our dogs. It is also important not to set up false expectations of what the dogs are. We must always keep in mind that there is a potential for the dog to react aggressively to a threat.
I think that to say the BRT has little or no prey drive isn’t really accurate. The prey drive is there it is just demonstrated much differently than in other breeds. The most common definitions of prey drive only describe the reaction of the dog to something moving away from them. Prey drive is seen as being very comfortable for the dog, as opposed to the stress involved with “defense” drive. BRTs react more as the item is moving towards them. Even when working in close with a tug, they tend to make their grabs as the tug comes towards them and let it go when it starts going away. As they learn and go higher in to drive they will chase more. They seem to be very
comfortable in dealing with someone moving towards them rather than away. They also seem to be more comfortable in “handler” or “defense” situations that are going to be more stressful for other breeds. The BRT also seems to be less concerned about “escape” behaviors than you are going to see in the working dogs that come from the herding breeds or from SchH type work. Since the BRT wasn’t bred for herding there seems to be less of that desire to chase and “herd” things. I would start by making sure that the trainer you are working with has experience with working dogs, not working breeds, working dogs. They think differently. Because of their dominance issues they are going to respond to a challenge. They are also going to move to help defend a “pack mate”. If another of your dogs acts aggressively they are going to join in. If they see the aggressor moving away they are going to figure that the dog is running away because of weakness and they are going to enforce their dominance over the other dog. You need to expect that. I always maintain the same grip on my leash as I do in protection when there are people or dogs around I don’t know. I trust my dogs; I don’t trust other people or most of their dogs. Most just don’t get it. The place I am most comfortable is in the middle of a group of protection/sport competitors. They get it, they know the rules, and they pay attention to their dogs. It is always safer than in a group of mixed pet owners.
Start thinking like a protection dog and try to avoid some of the situations that are going to provoke a response from the dog. The example would the GSD being allowed to jump on you. A protective dog will see that as a threat and respond. They expect some space around them. Always give them a chance to evaluate a situation before entering it. They will not like surprises. It sounds backwards, but training in protection will make a dog that has proper aggression issues safer and less aggressive. The issue is teaching the dog the rules of behavior you accept and will allow. It also teaches you what your dog is going to respond to and help to establish control in a
situation that the dog is focused on being aggressive. It will also teach you to use the out command under stress. I would start in the beginning of training with an “out” command. By that I mean a command that the dog should cease all aggression. It can be used with aggression towards people, dogs, or any other animal. The out should be followed with an obedience command. Enforce the obedience command as a separate thing from the out. If the dog re-aggresses then use the out again (with a correction) and start doing obedience commands in rapid succession. Re-focus the dog’s attention on you, instead of the object of its aggression. I would also teach a greeting command. Use it to tell the dog that a person, or dog, or whatever is OK. Make the dog sit before any greeting. Obedience establishes control. That control will extend in to all other areas of interaction with the dog. The issue with the BRT, or most working dogs, is not a correction but an unfair correction, one that is given too hard or too often. Make it a point to keep them interested by decreased repetitions of an exercise. If they lose interest they are going to find some way to entertain themselves and that may lead to what the dog sees as unfair corrections. Positive training is a good thing, but it doesn’t have to exclude proper corrections. I would prefer to see a more traditional correction than the bottle. For one thing it just isn’t practical to carry a 2-liter bottle all the time. One problem with punishment is that it is only effect when the punisher is present. Without the bottle the dog knows you can’t correct it. A correction collar is going to be more effective. The dog has to see the owner as making all decisions regarding dominance and aggression.
I would describe BRTs as both dominant and protective. For starters I think that we have to define some terms so we are talking about the same thing. Dominance is the desire to get their own way. In some cases that are done through aggression, but that is a separate issue called Rankness. Often people will describe a dominant dog as pushy. The dog that is coming up to you and using its nose to demand that you pet it is exhibiting a form of dominance. Dogs are acutely aware of body position and the dog that pushes through a door first or bumps you as you walk down the hall is demonstrating dominance. Dominance is used to increase position in an encounter. It is done through the use of body position, forcing the encountered person or animal in to a submissive position and through the attempt to get their own way. Dominance also extends to those around them. Dominance is involved when a dog takes a bone or toy from another dog. They will use their size and strength to impose their higher status on some thing new coming in to their area. It can be seen in their body position, use of their shoulders, and by mounting as method to force the other dog in to a position of submission. Get two dominant animals together and they will continue to vie for the top position until it escalates into a fight or an outside force disrupts it, for instance - the owners stepping in and controlling the behaviors of the dogs. If a dog senses weakness it may attack to demonstrate dominance. In a contact with a person they will bite to demonstrate dominance over that person if they sense fear in them. So not all times the dog bites is it doing out of aggression, it may do it to establish dominance.
Rankness in a dog involves the dogs desire use aggression to increase rank within the family (pack) by using aggression to force their will on who they see as the top
ranking individual. They may also pick a lower individual if they don’t think they can win the top position. There are some breeds that tend to be rank by nature; the Giant Schnauzer is an example. Some dogs have been bred so that they exhibit rankness as a by-product of trying to increase other characteristics. This is often seen in GSDs. Protectiveness is the ability of the dog to use force to protect a person or property from a threat. Many protective dogs are also dominant, but they are separate issues. Some dominant dogs have little or no protective desires and some protective dogs have little dominance. BRTs will demand attention through several methods, like the foot or a head butt. With other animals in their “pack” they will attempt to control the actions of those around them. They demonstrate no type of rank behavior. You are not going to see a BRT actively coming after its owner to establish dominance. I suppose you could, through bad training, foster that type of behavior. But I would not describe it as a characteristic of the breed like I would with the Giant. They are definitely protective, more of people than property, but protective of both. Given a choice they will protect the person first. If they identify a threat they work to eliminate it. This can be a problem if they are not taught to identify a true threat. Because the BRT doesn’t have a rank bone in its body you have some more latitude than with a rank dog. Everything you do is a question of degree and if the dog is starting to get out of control you can clamp down a bit. This can also become a problem depending on the training and I will explain that later.
Much of what you need to do starts when the dog is a pup. If you lay down a proper foundation, when the dog is older you will have less problems. I have said it a million times; it is much easier to prevent a problem than to correct it. It will take 2-5 times longer to fix a problem than to create it. I could explain why but it is a bit complicated and charts and graphs help. So if you lay down a proper foundation when the dog is 8 weeks to 8 months old it will decrease your work when the dog is 2. That foundation can include not only the relationship, the basic obedience, but can also extend to things like corrections and the foundations for protection work. Once you have
the proper foundation and relationship you can allow things that you may not be able to allow otherwise because you can associate them with commands. If you give a command for what the dog will do anyway, then to the dog it is under your control. The point for dealing with dominance is for the dog to see you as in control of those behaviors. With a dominant dog (or a non-dominant dog for that matter) you can create what would otherwise look like a rank issue through training. It looks like this. If the dog starts to do something through dominance and you allow it for a while, then you decide to put a stop to it. When you start to train against the behavior and the dog starts to resist the training. If the dog growls and you stop trying to modify the behavior you have taught the dog that it can control you through aggression. Now the dog is getting its way. If you then try and stop that behavior, or a different behavior, the dog growls and you quit you have reinforced to the dog that aggression let’s it get its way. On the third trip the dog growls and you don’t stop and continue to force your will, the dog will escalate and now snap. You give up. After a while you make another attempt on the same or new behavior and this time snapping doesn’t work so the dog bites. If you look at the last behavior only it looks like a rank dog. It is in fact a “trained” behavior. It wasn’t trained on purpose, but it was trained. With a dominant dog every time it wins it sees it as an opportunity to move up and exert more control so it will push in other areas. So the whole thing is progressive.
The BRT is sensitive to their handler, which is a good thing. It means that the dog is not likely to challenge their handler. If there is only one person that handles the dog you can set up a similar situation and I have heard of this happening several times. If a new person comes in or a person just has no desire to deal with the dog, the dominance is going to start to show directed at that individual. If the dog gets away with that it will begin to enforce that dominance. If it isn’t properly dealt with by the handler AND the person the dog is going to be reinforced for the behavior, so it is tried again and the dog growls, and the correction stops. It can even escalate to a bite and now there is a terrible problem. Most people will put the dog down or re-home it first, but it has happened.
A couple of stories: a single woman got a BRT. Did great with it. Dog loved her to death. Then she got a new boyfriend that moved in. The dog started to dominate the boyfriend. It wasn’t properly handled and it got to a point that the dog would actually stand with it’s paws on the guy’s shoulders growling in his face. The dog was re-homed. It sounds like a problem dog, in reality it is problem training and that is further born out by the fact that the dog is doing well in the new home and is coming around based on proper training. A guy got a BRT as a rescue. The dog was re-homed for guarding behavior (barking when people walked by, growling at guests). When the guy got the dog he invested a tremendous amount of time and effort in to training the dog. His wife had no interest and didn’t train with the dog at all. As the dog settled in it started to protect the home and owner from guests. The wife had no control and so the dog increased the level of aggression towards the guests and wife. There were a couple of bites and the dog was put down. The dog had good lines and was fine in most circumstances and with the husband. Good dog, bad training, dog put down. There are other stories.
Many people also will not do what is recommended and that leads to further problems. It is important that the dog has good experience with other people. The other piece is that this type of socialization has to occur at home. One thing that I would recommend is that the dog to be allowed to approach the person rather than the person approaching the dog. One of the things I have been watching is that these dogs react to objects moving towards them rather than away. I think that we need to remember that when doing introductions. Once the dog has accepted the person and is allowing physical contact, then have the person pet the dog. The bigger issue in my mind is to start this type of training as soon as possible with a puppy and provide the puppy with as much good experience as possible. The problem with training threat identification is that it requires exposing the dog to a threat. It also requires the placement of the threat in close proximity to similar non-threatening behavior. What this breed needs to learn is to accept people at the direction of the handler. That means the dog has to have the experience of the person being threatening and then the handler calls the dog off and the person is friendly with the dog. It also requires that the dog learn what your reaction to a threat is going to be. The dog has to learn,
through experience, that when you say the person is no longer a threat that the dog can trust that judgment. When the dog has that experience then the dog is going to be more willing to take direction. The training has to be about teaching the dog what decisions it can make and how you want those decisions made. It can be taught but it takes time and experience as well as an understanding of what the dog reacts to. That provides the ability to engage in training in that area. Make sure that you have the control over the situation you are in with the dog. Pay VERY close attention to what dog is doing at all times. It allows you to be confident that you can read what the dog is going to do before it does something. I believe it can be done, but it takes a tremendous amount of effort and a lot of training time to provide the history required to allow that to happen.
Working dogs are often mouthy. That means that they will bite because they are happy, they will bite because they want attention, they will bite because they are trying to dominate and they will bite out of aggression. So you have to understand the circumstances regarding how a bite happened . It necessitates a training regime that starts the day the dog comes home, and in this breed continues until the dog 3 years old. The BRT matures late and may not develop the full type and level of aggression until they are 3. If you are that afraid of a problem DON’T GET A DOG THAT HAS BEEN BRED TO BITE PEOPLE. If you aren’t going to put the work in to do the training to make the dog safe, DON’T GET A DOG BRED TO BITE PEOPLE. If you aren’t going to pay enough attention to keep THE DOG SAFE, DON’T GET A DOG BRED TO BITE PEOPLE. Dog breeds need to be suited to their owners. Figure out what you want and need and then pick a breed. DON’T TRY AND FIT THE BREED IN TO YOUR WANTS. It doesn’t work. Unfortunately I don’t think many in the U.S. have been either honest or knowledgeable about what it means to own a true working dog. As I have said many times the Russians did a great job with this breed but it comes with a trap. They mature late combined with the fact that they are so good with their owners. The trap is that because the dog is so friendly with their people and when properly socialized can be very accepting of strangers, to a point, that many people are just now starting to see some of the protective qualities coming out. Many of the current protective breeds will also be aggressive with their owners and this breed isn’t. That may also lead to a false sense of security with the breed.
BRTs are smart enough that they can be difficult to train. With most breeds you can go through multiple repetitions of an obedience exercise, with the BRT they will become bored and find their own entertainment. So you have to modify your techniques to keep their attention. With many breeds in the U.S., especially those that
have had some measure of popularity and/or wide spread acceptance in the AKC, have been “bred down”. Many of the breeds that have been trained for “man work”
are no longer capable of doing work of that type on consistent basis as was seen in years gone by. It is often difficult to find a dog that is capable of working. In many cases people don’t understand that the proper training will actually make an aggressive dog safer. The training, socialization, and supervision required to own this breed (or any strongly protective bred) is more than most people in the U.S. are willing to do.
Many people in the U.S. still buy a dog and throw it in the backyard and do nothing with it. Done with this breed you will end up with a truly dangerous dog. Not because the dog is bad, but because the breed has a level and type of suspicion that will make them aggressive with any stranger. We must in fact train these dogs that not all people are bad by nature. With many breeds you have to teach them to be suspicious of strangers. In the U.S. we also tend to do a sales job and only talk about the good qualities of a dog. There are drawbacks in almost any breed you deal with. I am afraid that there is going to be a decrease in the working abilities of the breed worldwide based on the general decline in the number of people working them. In Europe there are still any people that are training, but it is on the decline. In the U.S. there are probably less than a dozen people that are training the BRT for protection type work. In the U.S. there is a major stigma towards dogs that bite and little understanding of the idea that protection training is more about control than just the bite. There are also people involved that don’t help that impression. I have also seen many working police dogs that are very poorly trained and they don’t leave a good impression when they are seen working. Because of the negative stigma attached, many people that are training for protection will not admit to it. The AKC’s attitude towards protection training doesn’t help. In fact they will not accept it in any fashion. A member club that sponsors protection “any activity that involves the biting, grabbing, or holding of a person” is subject to having their privileges with the AKC revoked. They did attempt to bring protection sports in, and the delegates have overwhelmingly voted it down.
Also in many areas in Europe the dogs are taken out with more regularity, but are kept in muzzles so they don’t bite. Here it is considered a major stigma if the dog is in a muzzle. Often people have suggested that a dog be put down rather than to wear a muzzle to keep the dog and other people safe. In the U.S. we get a dog and then try and get it to fit in to our lifestyle rather than choosing a dog that has characteristics that fit the lifestyle. Many times I have talked people out of one breed or another for a variety of reasons because the breed wouldn’t fit with the owner. My training schedule is I try to have the dog out working twice a week. When we first started we trained several times every day in obedience, socialization several times a week, invited people in to my home for the sole purpose of socializing the dog, and out in group settings 3 times a week. That is by far not the standard in the U.S. The BRT is a great breed, but they aren’t for everybody. They require extensive training with a person that understands working dogs, extensive socialization in and out of the home by someone that can read the dog, and someone that is going to make sure the dog isn’t put in to a position that will compromise safety for the dog and people around the dog. As difficult as that sounds, it is harder to do. Most don’t have the ability or desire to deal with a truly dominant breed or protective breed.
Rich, professional trainer
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