The Importance of Temperament in the Cardigan Welsh Corgi

AKC Standard
Temperament: Even-tempered, loyal, affectionate, and adaptable. Never shy nor vicious.

Behaviour/temperament: Alert, active and intelligent. Steady, not shy nor aggressive.

A male's stability with puppies is one of the hallmarks of an excellent temperament.
Konrad Lorenz.

Back in 2002 there was an interesting discussion on Showcardi-L about temperament in the Cardigan Welsh Corgi. Among the participants were three well-known breeders whose views you will find below. It should be noted that when referring to "bad" or "poor" temperament, all three of them as a rule mean "shyness".

Kathy Schwabe, Xtacee Cardigans, USA
We all know that not every Cardigan is a show dog, but, a healthy, well-bred Cardigan with a sound temperament has value far and beyond the show ring. Our breed's successes in obedience, agility, herding and therapy work speaks volumes about what a Cardigan can and should be. Not to mention, and certainly not to slight, the many wonderful and much loved companions we have out there.

Personally I don't care how typey or structurally correct a dog is if his temperament is not sound! A dog of any breed with a poor temperament is not only an embarrassment to the breed and a possible liability for his owner, but generally not able to enjoy the same quality of life the emotionally stable dogs are. An emotionally stable dog with less than ideal structure still has immeasurable value as a family companion. A Cardi with a poor temperament cannot make a good pet.

Dog shows are not a natural activity for any breed. However, they involve situations that a dog with a strong, healthy temperament should be able to "handle" or deal with - and go on. Therefore, dogs that cannot "handle" dog shows are not always great candidates for breeding.

At shows, dogs are confronted with many of the same situations that a companion dog may face in the course of a normal day: strollers, crowds of children, crowds of adults, other dogs, noise, confusion, strange things blowing around, etc. If you have ever gone to a street festival or just your local Petco on a Saturday, you are seeing the same sort of thing we see at shows, magnified.

"The dog that is fine at home" has a great home...but is that a normal life for any dog? For a dog to be lacking confidence to the point that you can't take him to the park, Petco, etc. because he falls apart, or is insecure - that is not a sound temperament.

Aggression is, in my opinion, inexcusable, under any circumstances, be it human or canine. I can forgive a puppy being hesitant, provided they show signs that they are recovering, but I can't forgive an adult for temperament problems, no matter what the excuse is. I have seen dogs go through terrible abuse and neglect, horrible car accidents and trauma and still be ok to be shown when all was said and done, still be able to lead a normal life.

My opinion remains, a dog with a sound temperament may be frightened, traumatized, terrified, but they recover and go on. They learn to Deal with It!!!

I produced a dog with what I consider a terrible temperament! I doubled back on a dog with some temperament issues hoping that I would get the structure I was looking for without the shyness. I failed - out of a litter of 8, two had temperaments that were very bad and one was questionable.

The questionable puppy went to the stud dog owner as her choice. I know the bitch was never finished, but don't know if she was ever bred. One male went to a pet home with an experienced owner, and although not the ideal pet by any means, is living a nice life.

I kept the puppy that was my pick, structurally, and who, by Murphy's Law, had the worst temperament. He absolutely loved kids, probably because I had children and maybe because in an attempt to bring him around I took him to the church nursery school, gave the kids cookies and let them pet him. I hoped that with time and training and socialization he would come around. I was unable to do that for him so I placed him with someone with more opportunity to socialize him. He did finish his championship but nothing changed the fact that genetically he did not have a sound temperament. It was not a lack of socialization or training, it was not the way he was raised in the litter, it was genetic. He acquired it from his parents and passed it on to his offspring. He should have been neutered, and was not.

Maybe it is the experience I gained in this that causes me to draw such a hard line on temperament. It is something I feel very strongly about and I will do everything in my power to be sure I never make that same mistake again.

The other 5 puppies are in fantastic companion homes - a couple have obedience titles, two are therapy dogs... but none are champions.

Charlie MacInnes, Finnshavn Cardigans, Canada
I am more interested in breeding sound temperaments than show winners. I like sound physical as well as mental, but they aren't always pretty.

My temperament disaster litter was an ugly surprise. Both parents were pretty sound in temperament. Both spent a lot of their lives off leash, even going in and out of shows. Of five puppies, two had to be put down, after a lot of work by very experienced dog people. The other three took a lot of work, but lived pretty good lives.

What interested me more was that both parents, bred to other partners, produced pretty good temperaments. The sire did produce a couple on the shyer side, but a long way from having to be put down. The dam's pups were steady!

I have to watch both ends of temperament. Shy is obvious, but too active, what I call busy, is hard to live with, as is too aggressive. The busy types can be very, very intelligent, but are hard to impose discipline upon. Aggression can be controlled, but a few dogs remind me of living around a loaded gun.

One thing that bothers me greatly is that most of the shy puppies I have produced did not show any obvious signs at 8 - 10 weeks when most of my puppies leave home. I am firmly convinced that parts of temperament are inherited, so we breeders can work on them.

Now, learning has some to do with it, and maybe people who detect that their new puppy is uncomfortable around strange people or strange places try too hard to shelter their pup, thus making the problem worse. But, as I indicated above, the two from my disaster litter were both in the hands of experienced dog people. A third puppy, from quite different breeding, that I originally kept for myself, was adopted by another breeder with lots of experience, and did not improve after a lot of hard work. This person knew what she was up against, as by the time the pup went to her I knew it was shy.

When we meet a super dog whose temperament does not impress, it may be worth looking at the rest of the litter. There may be a dog of sounder temperament among those that were not "the one" keeper. I have many first class show prospects in pet homes because no show person wanted one when the pup was ready to go.

I have always kept individuals line bred on my first Cardigan, who had one of the most incredible personalities. However, this dog would have been a disaster in the show ring. I think the heaviest he ever was may have been 27 pounds (he was born in 1963). His parents were imported by my aunt from a lady in Wales who was interested in working ability. I think both parents would have been good show dogs, but they spent their lives working range cattle in southwestern Alberta.

Lore Bruder (Bluetrix kennels, Pincher Creek, Alberta) is herding with Cardigans in the same part of the world today. After a couple of demonstrations, she has had gray-haired ranchers come to her and say quietly "I had one of those, years ago, best dog I ever had".

Patrick Ormos, Phi-Vestavia Cardigans, USA
What kinds of temperament issues should be raised in making breeding decisions?

1. Has the dog who is "dog aggressive" but wonderful with humans a temperament problem?
Absolutely yes! Dog aggression is inherited, and is a problem. I personally select for dogs who are more tolerant of each other. I can't afford to have males always fighting.

2. Has the dog who is wonderful at home, shopping, and great with kids, but hates dog shows a poor temperament?
Probably yes! Question is, was this dog well socialized to new stimuli. If yes, and still hates dog shows, and with no other trauma to explain the aversion, then yes, it is not a sound temperament.

Everyone who knew Kentwood Lyneth knows she was not the soundest temperament around. She hated new situations, and was afraid of them. I never worried that she would bite someone, but I really did not like that part of her temperament. She was always fine with people, things and situations that she knew and had learned to handle. As she got older, she became far more tolerant of new situations. Given that kind of temperament, CathyOchs-Cline and I were very careful about the dogs with whom she was bred and we raised those litters very, very carefully. We managed to avoid passing on that problem, but, we were probably lucky, too.

If the dog/bitch which you are considering breeding has a temperament problem, of any kind, then you must very carefully evaluate what kind of a problem it is, how severe it is, its mode of inheritance (if any), and how you can breed around it. For example, gun shyness is inherited. That can be an awful problem if you have one in the house and there's a thunderstorm outside. But, if you are not a hunter, and don't live in an area with a lot of hunting going on, and have few thunderstorms, perhaps that is not a major issue for you. On the other hand, if you are breeding hunting dogs then it is a primary issue for you.