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.
When choosing the right dog breed you can draw broad generalizations about the typical personality and behavior to expect. 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 a dog 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 for choosing the right dog, 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 dog 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 when choosing a dog puppy 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 the important decision of choosing a dog is no longer left to chance.