I received a recent phone call which has prompted me to write this long overdue article on “Understanding your dog’s temperament”.
Quite often the phone calls I receive pertain to advice on fixing problem behaviors. Sometimes these behaviors are genetic, sometimes environmental, or learned, and even with advanced dog training, they stem from too much compulsion or repetition in one area without keeping a balance in another area of training.
The idea of dog training is to evaluate the problem, find out how it originated, eliminate that reason, or recondition the dog in a different way. That way is dependent on the dog (and the handler) and how they perceive corrections, accept corrections, understand praise, eliminate praise, and work with the dog’s thresholds. (Thresholds are discussed in a previous article).
It is important to understand what type of dog you have. You must understand their breed, and what that brings to their temperament and motivation. It is most helpful to know the dog’s genetic line, as that has tremendous relevance on how the dog behaves, what motivates it, what it perceives, what drives it has inherited in its lineage. You should know the dog’s history. What happened to this dog in its prior home, how long it was with it’s mother as a pup, did the breeder socialize the dog, did the dog get socialized by it’s owner, was the dog introduced to noises, slippery floors, men, women etc., did something detrimental happen to the pup during it’s growth fear stage, has the pup been dominated by other dogs, or people….all of these factors contribution to your dogs temperament.
Therefore, knowing as much as possible, about what motivates your dog, what stresses your dog, and how far can you push the stressor before the dog breaks. Does the dog recover quickly from stress? All of this helps you live with your dog, train your dog, and understand your dog.
This knowledge helps YOU to read your dog and become a better dog owner and handler.
Most often, people fall into denial…Their dog is wonderful, it doesn’t have a temperament problem, it’s not a nerve bag, or it’s not fear aggressive. Just because it may have these problems, doesn’t mean it’s a bad dog.it just means you have to understand what you have. Denial does nothing but hurt the overall training and relationship with your dog.
If your dog is fear aggressive, don’t put him in situations that he has to fend for himself…If your dog is afraid of people, don’t make people approach the dog; have the dog approach the people. If your dog is afraid of thunderstorms, don’t cottle him or sit with him on the floor.
You must accept what your dog is, whether it shows good temperament, bad temperament, inadequate breeding or socialization, and work within those guidelines. You will not change your dog, but you will help your dog to overcome its issues.
Instead of understanding your dog, most people label their dogs, or put blame somewhere else. Aggression is a term used far too broadly, when it is usually the fear, dominance, flight, or defense that brings out the aggression, not that your dog is “aggressive”.
Unfortunately, there are a significant higher percentage of poorly bred and poor temperamented dogs than there are good. This is a reason you will find many trainers keeping young dogs till 1 yr old ….to see what qualities and insufficiencies they have. In part, this is what helps to keep dog trainers in business. Breeders should be more selective in their breeds. Just because a dog is a “Champion from great lines” doesn’t mean it’s going to have a great temperament. Chances are, it’s just going to look nice. Breeders should also be more responsible in their selection of owners. They should explain the dogs genetic abilities so that you help to eliminate the problem of wrong breed for wrong owner. Lastly, the owners should take note in the following:
Temperament is partly genetics, partly environmental. I like to say it is genetically based with environmental and human intervention. The human intervention is usually unconsciously tainted in a negative way. As such, these factors are detrimental to the behavior. Since the owner doesn’t see the problem, only the symptom, they try to correct in the wrong way; thereby, exasperating the problem. Don’t blame the dog…Understand your dog…and work with him/her.