The Black Nose in the Door

or: A Try to describe the White Shepherds' Character

"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".

"Friendly, trustful, devoted"

You can enjoy the devotion most when your White Shepherd lives in your family. He does not like to be alone. Usually, he will get up as soon as somebody gets up. Waving his tail he will signalize: "What's up now?" When you leave the room, the dog will follow like a shadow. Everywhere. As soon as you forget to close the toilet door your White Shepherd will verify whether you still are in this room. The devotion is a wonderful characteristic but you sometimes need good nerves. Within a few days your White Shepherd has learnt which places are the best at home (in the kitchen when the meals are prepared and whereever something eatable is)

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.

No hunting dog?!

Not really. But this does not mean that he is not interested in animals. When he has realized that there are animals running away he will follow. He will even follow when you cry his name and do not him to do so. He will enjoy his run, hopefully he will not catch the deer, cat or whatever he was chasing but he will return to you. Glad. YOU know that there are hunters who do not like these dogs and you know that they have guns to shoot your dog. It will be a hard job to teach your dog NOT to chase deers and wild animals. You will not have the problems owners of other breeds do have. But you will never avoid that your dog "escapes" when a deer or a cat crosses his way.

Versatile, easy to lead and intelligent!

The White Shepherd is quite versatile. When you are looking for a sport dog, you will be happy with a White Shepherd. The breed has a perfect size for the different dog sports and his intelligence will nearly guarantee success. BUT: you must be able to teach and to lead him correctly. Here we have a further characteristic the owner of sport dogs do not like best: The White Shepherd is sensible. Sensible does not mean shy or fearful. But he is a dog with an enormous sense for feelings. He does not like loud crying and he does not like rough handling. Often enough, people say that the dog is fearful. The dog just tries to be as small as possible, the ears back ,the tail under the body. A White Shepherd, reacting this way, is no coach potatoe, he is not weak in character. The fault is his owner who is not able to realize that the dog has to follow because he WANTS to and not because he is afraid of punishment. The training and education needs a certain consequence but it is important that you do not exaggerate. When the dog does not know what you want he cannot follow. The perfect way is patience and silence. The nature of the White Shepherd is to work and he is interested in everything new. It is your task to show him what you want. Pressure and roughness are neither necessaary nor successful.

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!

A Dog for the family....

This characteristic is perfect for a dog living in a family. "Loves children" and "perfect for Family" are words you will find in the description for nearly each dog breed. Words with good sound and selling the "product dog". I tried to say WHY I think the White Shepherds are perfect for families, I tried to avoid the above mentioned words. The white shepherds are have a close binding to their family. The integration is easy. This is important for a family where a stressed adult has to look for the children and has at the same time the responsibility to train a dog. The less difficulties you have to expect from the dog the better. But for keeping a white shepherd in your family you need a certain time to occupy him. Otherwise the dog will look out for something to do and these are things you will certainly not like.

"...he loves children..."

A white shepherd will accept the position in the family you will give him. Of course, you have to socialize him correctly and you should look for a serious breeder. For the children he will be a play-mate and he will also protect them. When you have smaller children, be sure that he will accept a "hard" treatment by their side. But he is not that stupid that he accepts everything. At a certain point he will "warn" with a growl and then he will try to escape. You should always have a look at the team child-dog. When the children are grown up he will accompagny at adventure tours, he is suitable as "wolf" when they play cowboy and indians and he will not hesitate to swim with them in lakes and rivers at summertime. He will NOT argue when the parents are angry. But: no White Shepherd, not dog at all is a "Lassie". A dog is a living animal and there is no programme to install that says "do not harm the children". Your treatment, your education will form the dog and will be example for your children (who are the dog owners of tomorrow).


The Shepherds in general were bred to protect herds. There was a certain selection of dogs. Now only a few dogs are still used for herding tasks. However, protection is in their genes and the dog will react when he thinks a situation is dangerous. Not only in real danger but also in situations the dog himself considers as dangerous. You should realize it when your White Shepherd reacts like a fool when somebody tries to enter your house.

This protection instinct is different in each dog. You should think before buying whether you are able a dog who is extremely protecting.

Easy to train with a balanced character

Somebody from the army is responsible for this breed. Obviously, the dog in his mind has to follow perfectly. Till now you can see drill and perfection in the training of German Shepherd Dogs. When you are guest on a training place for German Shepherds you will realize that shouting is normal and that the dogs are following. However, often enough the dogs show a very submissive impression. The modern idea of dog training is very different and the result are open minded, people related dogs who are working to please their owner. It seems that the time has stopped in the last century on some dog training places.

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.

A perfect breed?

Many people will answer "YES" !!! I think each owner will. And this includes us. I think you read it between the lines already. BUT the standard also says that there is a part of his character many people see negative. And there are breeders who are thinking that they have to eliminate this as soon as possible. Other breeders and owners are pointing out that without this characterism it is no longer a White Shepherd.

Controversial matter: Reserve

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 2004

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