Behavior Modification, Breeders, Breeds, Fearful Dogs, Positive Reinforcement, Puppies, Specialty, Training
Is temperament as important as structure?
If you know me at all, you know my answer is YES! I have spent the last 14 years of my dog training career focusing on behavior consultations. For years I have gone into people’s homes to help them with their dog’s behavior issues. I have listened to them cry, I have seen families torn apart, I have seen dogs whose issues were easy to resolve and many whose issues were not so easy to resolve. I have lived with dogs myself with mild to severe behavior issues including fear, aggression (all kinds), resource guarding, you name it, I have lived with it, if not just dealt with it through my clients. All that said to imply that I take behavior issues in dogs very seriously. Having seen what I have and the heartbreak people go through when they have a dog who is not comfortable living in it’s own skin convinced me a long time ago that a solid temperament is crucial in a dog, whether it be a show dog or a companion dog.
Sometimes there is a reason why a dog behaves the way he does such as a lack of socialization or something he experienced in his life, but even if that is the case there is a still a genetic component that contributes here. So many times people try to figure out what happened to make a dog behave the way he does, but the truth is, we may never know. More importantly, whether or not something happened which caused the behavioral response, the fact is that many dogs can go through the exact some event or upbringing but end up having no behavioral issues whatsoever. This has to do with who a dog is. His actual genetic makeup and DNA. I know dogs that had absolutely nothing traumatic ever happen to them, but they become highly fearful and reactive at 8 or 10 months old. On the flip side, I have known dogs that were thrown out of a moving vehicle by a person or severely neglected but still never developed any issue with people or otherwise. This is because, again, part of it has to do with who that dog is as an individual.
Sometimes people want desperately to figure out “why” a dog developed a behavior issue because they do not want to accept that they bred a dog or have dog that “has issues”. I have seen owners blamed for the dog’s behavior and been accused of “causing” it because the breeder “doesn’t have that in their lines”. But, the truth is that structural or temperament anomalies can creep into any breeding program. If a temperament is produced that is undesirable it is up to the breeder to 1) accept that it can happen and has happened, 2) consider removing the affected dog from their breeding program and/or 3) attempting to breed away from it. However, I believe we can nip this issue in the bud by being much more proactive and careful in our breeding program and the decisions we make in regard to the dogs that we keep. By having less tolerance for weak temperaments we can save ourselves heartbreak in the future.
Breeders who consider temperament as important as structure and flash will run into this issue much less than the breeder who allows the occasional questionable temperament in hopes that something caused the behavior and that is why it exists or simply downplaying the importance of the issue. This is particularly critical when considering our brood bitches who are not only contributing their DNA to their puppies, but also contributes by raising those puppies and teaching them through their extremely critical developmental periods that it is normal to be fearful, reactive, skittish or however their mother behaves. This behavior WILL affect the puppies and is very important to consider.
Of course we want the dogs that we retain for our breeding program and to be beautiful and correct, but it is a mistake to choose a puppy with less showmanship and more physical flash over a puppy who may be slightly less flashy, but has a confident LOOK AT ME attitude. Anyone who has ever showed a beautiful dog who hates to show knows how disheartening this can be. You can force a dog to show but you cannot force a dog to enjoy himself and want to be conspicuous. It is so much easier to make a dog that loves to show better than a beautiful dog that hates to show. Of course, many times we can teach the dog to enjoy the show ring, but what I ask people to consider is that when looking at your litters and making your choices unless the dog has serious structural flaws, look closely at the puppies with the “show me” attitude. These dogs are usually so much fun to show because their confidence and joy for showing and for being watched by people and touched by strangers and surrounded by other dogs will go a very long way in a successful show career.