If you’ve had anything at all to do with dogs, you’d know that, like people, every dog has its own unique personality, tastes and habits. When you adopt a new puppy (or adult dog) it brings its temperament along with it. Puppy personality is partially malleable in that it can deteriorate if its early months with you are not handled well, and may be slightly improved by proper socialization and basic training. But essentially, the temperament you encounter in the 7 week old puppy is the basis to what are going to live with in the adult dog.
The one that's right for you depends a lot on the kind of owner you are!
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In recent years canine personality traits have been standardized to these seven: reactivity, fearfulness, activity, sociability, responsiveness to training, submissiveness, and aggression.
Activity simply refers to how physically energetic or active the dog is.
Dogs that initiate friendly encounters with strangers and other dogs are considered to be sociable. Sociability tests of young puppies haven’t been found to be very reliable indicators of its adult personality. Sociability also only has a heritability of around 0.4, so most of a dog’s inherent friendliness is a result of how it is raised rather than its ancestry. For this reason, prospective owners who desire an affectionate dog, are much better off focusing on sourcing their puppy from a breeder who provides great socialization, and ensuring they in turn expose their puppy to plenty of positive interactions with strange dogs and people early in its life with them.
Dogs that learn quickly, are generally cooperative with people, like playing with them and have the ability to focus on tasks set for them by their owners are considered responsive to training. With a heritability of only about 0.35, the trainability of an individual dog is only marginally predictable by its breed and parentage.
In natural dog groups, submissiveness and dominance dictate the pecking order between members. Dogs in human families are no exception and tend to carry on the tradition of their wild ancestors. In an emotionally healthy family, a dog is submissive to all humans. An extremely submissive dog may urinate when greeting people. Dominance is the opposite of submissiveness. Dominant dogs are those that bully other dogs, or guard their food, toys or favourite chair from their canine or human family members.
Behaviors such as biting, growling and snapping at other dogs or people constitute aggression. However, aggression can be a regular behavior in two very different personality traits – extreme fearfulness, and extreme dominance. A fearful dog is one that reacts nervously to anything new, showing signs of anxiety such as pacing and excitement, raised hackles or fearful avoidance. The opposite end of the scale is the bold and confident dog that shows curiosity when it meets strange situations, people or dogs. Both fearful and very dominant dogs can be provoked into aggressive behavior. In the case of fearful dogs, if their natural inclination to retreat and hide away is thwarted they may bite whereas the dominant dog might become aggressive if its territory or belongings – which can include people, objects or food – are transgressed by other dogs or people.
These traits can be depicted as three personality dimensions:
• Sociable/dependent vs aloof /independent
• Dominant vs submissive
• Confident vs fearful.
These personality dimensions can be represented as a star:
Not all of these profiles are going to fit in harmoniously with your life and only some puppies will have the type of personality that you will fully enjoy living with for years to come.
Its personality is of utmost importance to your enjoyment of your dog. Indeed, studies show that to all but the most inexperienced of owners, what a dog looks like is almost irrelevant – it is how the dog behaves that is paramount. Behaviour affects the attachment and long-term commitment people feel towards their dogs, and is largely a product of breed traits and individual temperament.
When reading these personality profiles, keep in mind the size of dog you are dealing with. While an aggressive Chihuahua might be considered a bit of a joke, the same temperament in a Rottweiller is downright dangerous and another matter entirely. A high energy Jack Russell Terrier pulling on the lead is one thing to take walking, while a high energy Alaskan Malamute pulling your arm out of its socket is quite a different thing to have to live with. To put it simply, difficult temperaments in small dogs are much easier to tolerate and accept – so if you have your heart set on a large breed dog, be especially careful you are getting one that you can live with harmoniously.
And of course, personality type aside, to be great with children any dog needs to be properly socialized with lots of nice, gentle little kids when it’s a young puppy, and irrespective of their personality type, should never be left alone with small children!
Personality Profile 1. Aloof
This guy is not interested in people much, and confident about it. If there could be a doggie equivalent of the human narcissistic personality, this would be it! Extremely independent, this dog is not interested in people at all, let alone pleasing or socializing with them, and is quite happy to do its own thing. The classic one-person dog, his loyalty is focused exclusively on his chosen human. If you are looking for a dog that will be quite content being left alone for long periods, and not constantly fawning over you for a cuddle, then this might be a good match, but won’t suit most people.
Personality Profile 2. Bold
The bold dog is dominant aggressive, supremely confident, high energy and protective of its own space. It may be normally placid and easy to live with, but react aggressively if its boundaries are pushed. For example it may bite or snarl if its owner attempts to force it to do something it doesn’t particularly want to do, or if someone or something sits in its favourite chair. Such dogs make great watchdogs and can be high performers in guard and security roles in strong, capable hands. To stay balanced this personality type requires strong, highly experienced owners who demonstrate powerful leadership, enforced through regular active work and ongoing training. Not recommended for living with small children and other pets.
Personalty Profile 3. Confident
The confident dog is a high energy extrovert. He is a confident, sociable and “in your face” dog likely to jump all over you, mouth (or even playfully bite) your hands, give you a deep smoochy kiss, and knock things over. Like the dominant-aggressive, he thrives on having a purpose in life, needs work to do and is easiest to live with when adequately trained to control his natural exuberance. Without work he is prone to invent a variety of interesting but inconvenient ways to pass the time which may include destructive or neurotic behavior, such as being fixated on fetching that ball over and over again. This is a great dog for the experienced owner who wants a personality-plus furry companion to share their active lifestyle, and doesn’t mind spending time to exercise and play with their dog every day, as well as laying down the rules and ensuring they are stuck to. The bold-confident dog is likely to thoroughly enjoy training with the potential to become a bit of a super-star performer in agility and other energetic sports or jobs. Due to his natural liveliness, supervision is advisable when this dog is around small children and other pets.
Personality Profile 4. Friendly
The sociable-friendly dog is a real character, and a great dog for experienced and proficient owners. He is keenly interested in other dogs and people, and so long as he is well socialized as a puppy, will be fun to socialize with – Mr Personality Plus! Otherwise this natural interest may instead manifest as a dog that over reacts when he meets new pets and strangers. Though he may at times be a little willful, the sociable-friendly dog is easy to train, and – assuming he was adequately socialized to them as a puppy – can usually be trusted to behave appropriately around small children and other pets. To get the most out of this dog, ensure he gets a daily dose of exercise to keep him calm, contented and well behaved, and that you at least cover the basics of training with him.
Personality Profile 5. Gentle
The gentle type is submissive-cooperative and the classic “bomb proof” dog that requires very little, if any, training and just seems to know what is expected of it. Though she may be a bit short on personality and character, this dog more than makes up for it with her calm, steady and obedient nature and trouble-free presence. This pooch is ideal for the first-time, inexperienced owner, or one that is a bit of a “push-over” when it comes to discipline. And if you have small children this type of dog is your safest bet and very unlikely to bite anyone.
Personality Profile 6. Shy
Some dogs are just born shy, fearful and anxious. While their littermates may all be extroverts, now and then there will be the one puppy that is scared of everything and everyone and are true introverts. Most puppies go through a short fearful stage when they are between four and 6 weeks of age – it’s a natural instinct to keep them safe from the big world out there – but most grow out of it between 6 and 7 weeks of age and become the playful, curious puppies we know and love. The fearful-anxious type of dog is not suited to loud boisterous families where they are likely to be overwhelmed by the hubbub around them. They are also likely to bite out of fear if forced into contact with people they don’t know, so watch out for them around small children. Socialise these guys very carefully and thoroughly from the start, but don’t expect miracles. These are the most dependent of dogs and most susceptible to developing separation anxiety, so condition them as puppies to get used to both short term and long term confinement. Best suited to quiet, childless homes with gentle, understanding owners.
FINDING YOUR PERFECT PERSONALITY PUPPY
Generations of selective breeding by humans to develop specific traits that fulfill special tasks has resulted in a dazzling variety of dog breeds that differ measurably in temperament and behavior. The keen nose of the Bloodhound, the herding instinct of the Kelpie, the heel nipping drive of the Blue Heeler, the protectiveness of watchdog breeds like the Doberman, even something as specific as the Pointers’ tendency to point out game – all of these traits have been bred into each breed.
This allows broad generalizations to be drawn about the typical personality and behavior we can expect of particular breeds. Energy level is one characteristic that is reasonably consistent within a breed. However there is wide variation within breeds in the way individual dogs respond emotionally to life, and it is wise to treat most breed behavioral stereotypes with caution. As we saw when looking at choosing the Perfect Litter, some personality traits are also highly heritable and pass from the parents to their offspring.
These include energy level, compatibility with children, and tendency to bark, as well as aggressiveness, affection, and trainability. But just like in human families, different offspring will take after one more than the other parent, or throw-back to the personality of a grandparent.
The bottom line is, while picking the right breed and litter (parent dogs) is important, such best laid plans can go awry if people don’t choose an individual puppy with a personality that will be a Perfect Match for their home environment and ownership objectives. And in my experience, when it comes to choosing a puppy, most people don’t have a clue!
For example, there’re the fatalists who believe you should let the puppy choose you. This theory favors the boldest, in-your-face puppies that bound up confidently to greet you. Such pups are best suited to strong owners without little children, but if you aren’t a strong owner, or you do have small children in your life, you may be a lot better off with the puppy that hangs back a little. Other people choose solely according to color, even to the color of the roof of the mouth! Others always fall for the runt. All these methods, if you can call them that, are no better than trying to pick the winning horse in a race by betting on number 3 because that’s your favorite number – pure gambling. Knowing what we know about how important personality and behavior is to owner satisfaction, relying on pot-luck to identify the best puppy available to spend the next 10 to 15 years of your life with is just plain crazy!
Anyway, in the early days as a dog breeder – before I knew better - I used to let people select their own puppy based on methods like the ones we’ve just discussed. When I think about how many incompatible relationships may have resulted over the years I am horrified. For over a decade now I have been refining a more scientific approach to puppy personality testing so this important decision is no longer left to chance.
Various puppy personality tests, designed to inform adoption choices of pups around 7 weeks old, have been developed and made popular over the years but their usefulness in predicting temperament in the adult dog is far from settled science. Even so I am convinced that breeders like myself who raise their pups as part of the household, can determine clear differences in personality between puppies, and owner feedback reinforces my belief that the tests I have trialled and developed over the years are useful guides.
The objective of puppy aptitude or personality tests, are to judge each puppies temperament type by the way it reacts to different situations. They are designed with a view to predicting the behavior and talents owners and others can expect from a puppy when it matures into an adult dog.
Puppy tests usually involve taking each puppy individually to a quiet area isolated away from all distractions and noting how they react to a number of different situations. They are normally best performed by someone unfamiliar to the puppy.
Studies have shown that some tests are more reliable than others. Tests that score fearfulness by a puppy’s reaction to something designed to scare them are not as consistent, for example, with its likely response as an adult as those that seek to assess its sociability or trainability. Through research I have rejected and adapted many test procedures and tried them out with close to a hundred of my own puppies to arrive at the procedures that comprise the Perfect Match Puppy Personality Test. Comprising 8 separate procedures, this testing protocol is now available for general use by the public.
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