In Dog Temperament we are going to look at how to consider temperament when searching for your puppy.
All dogs are different. Not just in appearance, but in personality too.
Some are very lively and driven, whilst others are very chilled out and relaxed.
They will also differ wildly in their feelings and reactions towards the people they meet each day.
Part of these differences in temperament are down to the way that the dog is raised, and part is down to his genes.
We’re going to look at why dog temperament is so important, how temperament can be influenced, and even tested.
Both before and after you bring home your puppy. But let’s begin by finding out what temperament actually is
What does temperament mean?
Dog temperament is the underlying nature or personality of your dog. It governs the way he interacts with the world, and influences the activities he enjoys and likes to participate in.
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Scientists often use the word temperament to describe those aspects of character that are inherited, rather than learned through experience.
However many people discussing dog temperament also include those attributes of personality that your dog acquires as a young puppy.
In many cases it is impossible to neatly divide the two up.
We don’t always know whether a nervous dog inherited his anxieties or whether these were caused by experiences he had when he was small.
What matters is the outcome. But predicting that outcome, when choosing a puppy, can be challenging
It’s something you will need to seriously consider when selecting a breed, and when caring for your dog as he grows.
Does dog temperament matter?
Does it really matter whether or not your dog is friendly? Especially when it comes to strangers. Isn’t it quite nice to have a dog that will ‘protect’ you?
Or guard your house?
And what about dogs that are more or less trainable than others? Is that something that can be inherited? And does it matter?
Perhaps you’d rather have a dog with a bit of character and independence, than a robotically obedient dog?
The fact is, temperament does matter.
It matters very much. And there is a lot you can do to influence the temperament of your dog. Let’s take a closer look
Every year, thousands of people are victims of dog bites. Not just nips, but severe damaging attacks that result in hospitalisation and occasionally even death.
Very sadly, the majority of these victims are also children.
If your dog bites someone, he may need to be destroyed. If he bites someone badly, you could personally end up in very serious trouble.
Whilst most dogs live peaceably amongst us, aggression by dogs towards people, and towards other dogs, is a significant problem in our society.
Influences on Temperament
There are three main influences on a dog’s temperament:
In this Puppy Search series, we are concerned with the process of getting a dog. When you have found your puppy, we can influence the dog we have through proper socialisation and training.
But at this stage your choice of breed is paramount, because genes have a powerful influence on temperament.
How much of dog temperament is genetic in origin?
Choosing a dog breed with a reputation for good temperament and a generally sunny disposition, is very important indeed.
You may have heard the slogan ‘deed not breed’ which refers to the stereotyping of certain breeds and making assumptions that dogs of certain breeds are guilty of being dangerous, without considering the individual dog.
The deed not breed campaign
The ‘deed not breed’ campaign is important because it underlines the fact that we cannot accurately predict behavior by knowing what breed a dog belongs to.
And because it emphasises the importance of early environmental influences on a dog’s behavior
The deed not breed argument, quite rightly, has been driven home powerfully by some influential people. Quite rightly, because it is important that individual dogs are not destroyed or abandoned simply because of the way they look or because of the breed they belong to.
But there are issues here that have been downplayed, and puppy buyers need to be aware of them
Inherited aspects of dog temperament
Whilst it is very important that we don’t condemn individual dogs simply because they belong to particular breeds, it is true that certain aspects of temperament, or tendencies to behave in certain ways are inherited.
This is why retrievers love retrieving.
And this is why collies like to herd sheep. And while it may make us feel uncomfortable put labels on breeds in this way, (when individuals can vary so much), this is also why dogs from some other breeds or mixes are more likely to be involved in incidents involving aggression
This information is important for anyone choosing a puppy. Especially one that is going to be a family dog.
The truth is that some breeds of dog are so naturally friendly and free from anxiety that they are likely to make safe companions for children even if only minimally socialised.
And that some breeds are more vulnerable to poor socialisation and training, and require a lot more effort on the part of the owner, in order to ensure that they grow up into friendly and gentle canine citizens
A lovely temperament
Don’t get me wrong. It is possible to raise a healthy puppy from any breed of dog to be a good, safe, citizen. And it is never acceptable to say that ‘this’ individual dog is unsafe because of his breed.
But that does not change the fact that there are some breeds where it is much easier to get the outcome you want.
If you want to give yourself the very best chance of a puppy with a wonderful temperament, not only should you provide optimum socialisation and care for your puppy, but you should pick a breed where a friendly and trainable temperament has been established through good breeding.
Naturally friendly breeds of dog
Most of the gun dog breeds fall into this category, which is one of the reasons that gun dogs comprise more than half of all dogs registered in the UK each year.
And why a gun dog – the Labrador – remains the most popular purebred dog in north America and much of Europe
Choosing a dog that has been bred to be friendly and welcoming towards other dogs and people may mean that you have to compromise on other aspects of behavior that you may admire in a dog, such as protecting your property.
Guarding the home
People often say to me
“I want the dog to be good with kids, but I also expect him to guard the house”
Some dogs will perform this ‘dual role’ without any problems, but many will not.
There are a great many inherent difficulties in balancing the two needs. This is because aggression in dogs is largely rooted in fear.
The roots of aggression
Many dogs will not ‘guard’ possessions or property, because these instincts have been bred out of them over many generations.
Dogs are generally only aggressive to things, events, situations or people which they consider alien or unsafe.
The process of socialisation that responsible dog owners carry out with puppies nowadays teaches the dog to feel safe around pretty much everything he is likely to come across in his everyday life. Guarding things is unlikely to be on his list of priorities.
He is more likely to invite your burglar in and show him where the fridge is.
If you fail to socialise your dog properly he may well guard your home against strangers, unfortunately he may also guard your home against your friends and their small children. This is both embarrassing and dangerous.
If you are worried about burglars you are in all honesty, better off investing in a decent burglar alarm and some sturdy locks.
Owning an aggressive dog is a huge responsibility and encouraging aggression deliberately is about as sensible as leaving your toddler in charge of a loaded shotgun.
Do your research
Trying to find a dog that will be generally friendly and easy to socialise is simply too important a goal to risk compromising with concerns about guarding the house.
Read as much as you can about the temperament of the groups of dogs you are interested in and the breeds within it.
Talk to your local vet, any local breeders of nice dogs and local people you know that have a lovely friendly dog. Spend some time with dogs of different breeds, observe how they react to strangers and in public.
Because here’s the thing
You need a friendly dog, and the world does not need any more aggressive ones.
A little research at this point is time very well spent.
Now let’s look at another aspect of temperament that is going to have a big influence over how much pleasure you get from your dog, particularly if your aim is to own a dog of medium to large size.
Not all dogs are equal when it comes to trainability.
If you are interested in dog training and think you might want to train your pet to a high standard, consider buying a dog from one of the gun dog or pastoral breeds.
Ask yourself if the breed of dog that appeals to you has been expected to work in close co-operation with humans during the last few decades. If the answer is yes, you are looking at a more trainable breed.
It is no coincidence that the vast majority of assistance dogs, like guide dogs, therapy dogs, military and police dogs, come from the gun dog and herding group.
Dogs that are expected to hunt in a pack, Basset Hounds and Beagles for example, or to course other animals at speed and over great distances, are likely to be more independent and less disposed to working as a team with a person.
This does not mean that these dogs cannot be trained, simply that you are not necessarily taking the easiest route if you choose one.
Of course breed, or type, isn’t everything. There is individual variation between members of the same breed, and even between puppies from the same litter.
So is there are way to test temperament when you choose your pup?
Dog temperament test – should you test your puppy?
Some breeders set great store by temperament testing. This is a process where you expose a young puppy to a range of different experiences, and monitor his reactions
How does a puppy cope with being touched, for example, or with being placed in a strange location
Temperament testing can give you an hint of what a puppy’s future personality might be. But it is only a hint.
So far, there is little evidence to show that existing temperament tests are in any way reliable predictors of a puppy’s future personality.
We’ll look at this in a bit more detail when we look at choosing a puppy from a litter, and we’ll keep you updated with any research that is published on this interesting topic.
Dog temperament – a summary
Temperament is the natural tendency of a dog to behave in particular ways. It influences your dog’s enthusiasm for different activities and the way he interacts with the whole of society.
When we talk about dog temperament we often include behavioral patterns that have been acquired, usually in puppyhood
This means that your dog’s temperament, as most of us understand it, will be a combination of genes and the environment.
When picking your new puppy, you will want to consider the traits of a breed as well as it’s particular parentage.
Pastoral and gun dog breeds are often trainable, whereas some pack hounds are likely to be noisy and independent.
Fighting and guarding breeds may be more likely to protect your home, but may also require more effort to socialise and make safe. Some of these breeds require more experience and skill to manage and control, than the average new puppy owner has.
If you do your research, acknowledge your own capabilities, and go forward with the right aims, you will be setting yourself up to find the right dog for your family.
We continue our puppy search journey in the next part of this series Puppy or rescue? Meanwhile, tell us what your dog’s temperament is like in the comments box below