"Lively, without nervousness, attentive and watchful; towards stangers sometimes slightly aloof but never apprehensive or aggressive." (Part of Standard White Swiss Shepherd) Unfortunately, a part, given in former standars, was deleted in the "official" FCI-standard. It said: "to wellknown people friendly, trustful and devoted; easy to train with a balanced character; will first react shy and careful towards unknown people and things but will become curious soon." So the character description in the standard is even shorter and this is a pity. In my opinion the character is apart from the looks a very important factor when choosing a breed.
The standard should make clear how a dog has to look and how he has to behave. However, we did not know what they meant with some things when first reading a standard. Many words are special and absolutely unknown to people who "just want to buy a dog". The standard describes the looks of a White Swiss Shepherd. I do not want to tell more about it because I think everybody has already seen a White Shepherd. It is even harder to describe a character.
From the beginning it is a difficult job to describe a "typical" White Swiss Shepherd. Each dog is an individual animal with special characteristics. The combination of these characteristics is unique. So each owner should realize that the character means a special combination of reactions in certain situations. Some can be influenced by training etc, some not.
But there are some characteristics that are quite often in a special breed. So they are said to be "typical" for a breed. They are also mentioned in a standard. In the White Shepherds' standard there is one thing, people are argueing about: the word "aloof".
A propos kitchen: most White Shepherds love to be compagnions in the kitchen. They make cooking to an adventure. When you are lucky you have a White Shepherd eating everything and cleaning the floor again and again. In any case you will soon think about a renovation and puttin ALL cupboards at the wall. I promise: your dog will always ly in front of the door you want to open next. Keep cool: on the other hand it is great: you will never be alone in the kitchen. And as soon as the dog is adult he will control whatever you do.
Remember: as soon as you forget to close a door and think your white shadow will not follow, you will realize a thick black nose in the door and open it carefully. Then you will see the joy and happiness that he FINALLY found you (and be in the room next door). There is only one solution: close all doors when you want to stay undisturbed. And NEVER EVER teach your White Shepherd how to open a closed door. This is the next effect: it seems that EACH white shepherd learns how to open a door (in both directions). If you love perfectly coloured doors and doorframes you should better not keep a White shepherd!
The devotion is perfect. The White Shepherd needs ALL members of his pack. Then he is looking for the feet of his "leader". Small places do not affect him. The smallest edge will be big enough for him just to be beside his people. Often enough visitors and other family members have to sit uncomfortable and need a certain time to find a place for their feet. His place is his place and when visitors are putting their feet at this place below the table, he will lie on their feet or he will try to get his usual position. You will realize that then he can be egoistic and inconsiderately he will use his power to reach his favourite place. If this is not possible he will become tricky. Just a look into the visitors face, perhaps the paw to say hello.... once again a look and finally he gets what he wanted.
On the walks he will always try to keep the whole pack together. He is a shepherd and if there are no sheep to herd, he feels responsible for "his" people. He runs to the front, to the back and tries to keep everybody at his place. He will especially control the children. I want to point out that a white shepherd will protect the family even if he has no special training. Of course, he likes most to run free and to do whatever he wants. He will be happy about everybody coming with him and not only at the beginning. He will always come back between his runs and make sure that nobody is lost. Young dogs tend to love everybody and they want to say hello to each pedistrian. It is wonderful when they are that confidential. It shows that the dog is open and that he had a perfect socialisation. Think about these facts when one of these people does not like the greetings of your dog. Often enough, your dog will become more quiet and when adult, he will only show a reaction when the other person calls him or talks to him.
The White Shepherds have too much temperament to be satisfied with walks at your side. He will go away to play with another dog (when you allow it), to follow an interesting smell etc. Usually he will stay in sight. You do not have a hunt dog and no husky. It is no breed used to go alone and selfconfident its own way. The White Shepherd wants to be at your side and he will always control the distance. He will run away, but he will return soon to control that you are still there.
The breed wants and needs a close connection to his owner/s. He is happy as a family member and no White Shepherd has deserved to live in a kennel and to work as a sport dog only accepted as long as he is young, good and successful. This is no life for a wonderful dog like a White shepherd.
The breed is also perfect as a partner for riding tours. Many dogs are trained as therapy dogs, as rescue dogs. In addition to long walks he will also like bike tours. Most White Shepherds love to swim and they enjoy water!
This protection instinct is different in each dog. You should think before buying whether you are able a dog who is extremely protecting.
Back to the breed, von Stephanitz wanted to create. They should be devoted but also intelligent enough to learn quick and to work alone. A working dog who follows the masters' orders whereever he is and whatever he is doing. This was the target and he reached it. The German (coloured) Shepherd is the perfect dog in many different parts of life. Of course, the White Swiss Shepherd owns many of these characteristics going back to the same roots. He is intelligent. He understands quick what you want him to do and he WILL do it. He wants to learn. So he is a perfect dog for all kinds of training. You can train him "just for fun", you can train him to be a real help in everyday life (turn off the light, bringt the newspaper etc). He is also perfect for all kinds of dog sports. When you are willing to spend some time with the dog, he will roll the carpet for you and he will pull the sledge for the children at wintertime.
Of course, this means that he will learn the necessary orders within a minimum of time. It is your decision to train him to perfection.
Obedience is a good characterism and you will realize it when you have to concentrate on other things while walking with your dog. When you ride a horse you will like it as well as a mother who has to look after her children. When you have a dog who listens and follows to each of your words and who falls down even in a certain distance as soon as you say "lie" it will help in everyday life. A White Shepherd is able to learn quick and he will reliable. However, it is YOUR task to train him and to tell him what you want him to do. In HIS words, the main thing is that your dog has to understand. You will need a certain time of course and even if your dog follows, you have to repeat the training every day.
We are talking about reserve against unknown people and about shyness. The latter is not defined in the standard but it is a consequence when a dog is too reserved and cautious.
The standard says exactly how a White Shepherd should react. When he meets unknown people or environmental influences, he reacts cautious and reserved. This will say that a White shepherd will not run to foreign people, waving and happy that somebody (whoever it is) is coming. As soon as he knows these people, he WILL react this way, he will be the happiest dog in the world and he knows how to show it. Unknown people must become friends with him first. Often enough, the white shepherds goes back. HE decides the time he keeps in touch. If they see or hear unknown things/noises they are also cautious. They might go back but then they are too curious. Many dogs run a circle and come nearer from the rear side. To cut a long story short: White Shepherds are cautious and are looking for safety.
There are people, starting with breed wardens in clubs, breeders but also owners who are asking whether this reserve is desired. Is it a lovable, typical attribute belonging to the White Shepherd? There are a few breeds that have a similar characteristic in their standard and that are reacting this way: for example the Beauceron. However: who thinks that this attribute is negative wants to change it. The dog desired is fearless, reacts open and unimpressed to whatever happens. This type of White Shepherd will certainly be better for certain targets. The question in general will stay: Is it necessary and DESIRED that the reserve and caution is eliminated? Everybody will have his own answer to this question, it depends on the personal attitude and on the reason why one has chosen the White Shepherd.
There is one danger when this attribute is accepted and not controlled by clubs and breeders. The border to real shyness is very near. And here we come to a dog we do NOT want: a fearful, shy white shepherd, often enough conjured up by German Shepherd people and by people who want a strong White Shepherd. A giving ground absolutely accepted from a dog of another breed, will be commented as "oh yes, a typical WHITE, they are all like this". Admittedly, when you have a cautious dog and get these kinds of comment from time to time, you will be nerved and wishing a dog who is unimpressed. And you do not realize that, IF you have this dog you had other problems. One thing must be pointed out here: A White Shepherd, reacting shy and fearful, cannot come up to the standard. The breed was not accepted for a long time but there was always a good demand. So the unserious breeders had and have a market. Here is no temperament test, here is nobody sozializing the puppies carefully. And in these puppymills you can find these very shy, very fearful White Shepherds.
There is a negative image. It is probably the wrong way, to create a strong dog and to destroy the loveable attribute of a whole breed. The target is to choose the breeding dogs coming up to standard and health tests by attitional temperament tests and to continue breeding with these animals. Extremely shy and fearful as well as aggressive animals have to be eliminated as well as those not coming up to the standard.
When the White Shepherd left Europe it was a start for a new beginning as an own and new breed. Many countries realized that there is a new breed with own exterieur and character and accepted this breed as "White Swiss Shepherd". The white shepherd gets more and more fans and many people have choosen a White Shepherd BECAUSE he is different from the coloured shepherds.
The White Shepherd bred by serious and hard rules, carefully grown and socialized, is a dog fitting to our world. I tried to describe the character of a "typical" White shepherd. Each dog is an individual dog and for each owner the own white shepherd should be the best and most beautiful.
Copyright: Gaby von Döllen, Worpswede, March 2004Copying and publishing needs a written permission by the author.