Puppy and Dog Personalities
I often look at our dogs and puppies in awe. There are such incredible differences and similarities. I'm a strong believer in intervention to minimise extremes of behaviours. One of the things I enjoy is hearing about our puppies as they grow and develop into adult dogs. It makes me smile when I recognise character traits that are similar to one or other of their parents. It is also very satisfying when I recognise how well many of our puppy's families do with "shaping" their dogs to their lifestyles.
The responsibility of producing puppies of good temperament, who will deal well with life's stresses is a serious matter to me. This is the main reason I adhere to a wide variety of Early Behavioural Science Techniques whilst raising my puppies. It follows on that I expose our puppies to a wide variety of situations, sounds and sights, in a calm, positive (or neutral) and encouraging way. It's not so much the quantity of experiences, but the quality of experiences that is important. Enrichment is the icing on the cake!
I'm committed to continually trying to improve the way things are done at Emerald Park; whether it be: facilities, nutrition, desensitisation, stimulation or enrichment. My scientific nature lends itself to trialing and testing on the road to being the best possible in my circumstances.
There are three reasons why I have been considering dog personalities recently. Firstly, puppies intrigue me no end! Secondly, there is a tendency for some breeders to place puppies with families due to personality traits. Lastly, it is vital that families understand the influence they can have on their puppy's adult personality.
Personality differences in puppies are obvious from quite a young age. I am a strong believer that their natural tendencies can be challenged and modified to a certain degree, in the way they are nurtured. I refer to it as "normalising". Some traits are breed specific and some are individual. One has to accept that traits that have been bred into a line over centuries are probably there to stay. They are the characteristics that are most important when considering which breed is right for you.
There is always that one puppy who seems to sleep with one eye open! When you quietly open a door to check on them, there is that little head that pops up with two sparkly, intelligent eyes challenging you. There is usually the risk assessor as well...…... the one that calmly waits & watches as the other puppies "jump in, boots & all". Some like to take their chicken neck off to a far corner to eat in peace. Others like to ignore their chicken neck and play tug-o-war with as many siblings as possible over theirs! The list goes on and the individual differences intensify with age.
I've never had a preference for different personality types in horses, dogs, or other animals. There's something special about them all. As I am aging, I recognise, that I am better equipped to cope with specific personality types in horses. As we age, our reaction rates decrease, physical abilities change and our need for stimulation and challenge probably also decline. I think this is a major factor in the recognition of my limitations. It's not so obvious in dogs, but it does make me appreciative of the fact that some people just do better with certain dog personality types.
Those breeders who match puppies to their new families have a large and difficult task in front of them and the merits of such a task is not supported by scientific research. Puppy Assessment Testing is a useful diagnostic tool. They help to understand the puppy at that time. Puppy Assessment Testing is not an effective predictive tool. That is; they have little or no ability to predict any adult personality trait except for exploratory behaviour. The problem is that the personality a puppy has at 8 weeks, holds no resemblance to the personality of the same puppy at 12 months. There is, however, a definite link between experiences in the first year of a puppy's life with the outcome of later temperament tests. Studies have shown that a puppy or young dog who is attacked by or experiences aggressive behaviour from another dog during the first year of their life has a strong correlation to later dog and human aggression. Puppy aptitude testing does not predict adult personality, but experience does. This tells me that my emphasis would be on empowering puppy owners. I prefer to teach new puppy families how to advocate for their puppies and keep them safe.
I have seen all of the traits listed as stable on the below table vary over time, dependent on environment. The ones listed as adjustable are, of course, easier to influence. There was an interesting study carried out of fearfulness in puppies that found ".......some major changes over time, with the initially most fearful individuals becoming most friendly to people or vice versa." This statement gives me cause for pause. Could eliminating a puppy from a breeding program due to fearfulness as a puppy be culling the dogs that will have the best temperaments as adults?
I am mindful that puppy aptitude scores give insight into a puppy's personality. It is not feasible to factor in all variables of a pup's temperament in one aptitude test; nonetheless, reporting does provide a solid understanding of temperament and how that may correspond to specific needs at the time of testing. The empowering of puppy families to provide positive experiences and advocate for their puppy's safety is the more important contributor to personality.