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.
It’s something you will need to seriously consider when choosing and caring for your puppy.
Does Temperament Matter?
Does it really matter whether or not your dog is friendly? 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.
Temperament does matter, it matters very much. And there is a lot you can do to influence the temperament of your dog.
Every year in the UK thousands of people are victims of dog bites.
Not just nips, but severe damaging attacks that result in hospitalisation and 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 even end up in very serious trouble with the police.
Whilst most dogs live peaceably amongst us, aggression by dogs towards people, and towards other dogs, is a significant problem in our society. And one that really needs addressing
Influences on Temperament
There are three main influences on a dog’s temperament:
In the 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 important, because genes have a powerful influence on temperament.
Is It In His Genes?
Choosing a 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.
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.
Therefore some breeds therefore are more vulnerable to poor socialisation and training.
A lovely temperament
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.
Most of the gundog breeds fall into this category, which is one of the reasons that gundogs comprise more than half of all dogs registered in the UK each year.
This may mean that you have to compromise on other aspects of behaviour 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.
There are too many to list here, but you can find information about each breed on the Kennel Club website and on Google.
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.
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.
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 gundog or pastoral breeds.
Most of the retriever breeds and traditional sheepdog breeds (border collies and German Shepherds) are particularly trainable.
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 gundog and pastoral 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 highly 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.
Your dog’s temperament will be a combintion 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 gundog breeds are often trainable, whereas some packhounds 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 Puppy Search Seven: Puppy or rescue?