Dog Temperament – Inherited or Developed?



There have been ongoing debate and lots of research within the dog breeding and research community that focuses on animal behavior and temperament regarding the nature versus nurture issue when it comes to temperament. It is important to note that temperament in these research studies goes beyond just the dog’s personality traits, rather these studies look at natural abilities and aptitudes as well. The results are rather surprising in that what all the research has found is that there really isn’t a clearly defined answer to the nature versus nurture question. In reality dogs, may in fact be more like humans in that it is a true combination of both.

Temperament testing is used for dogs that are entering specific types of training programs such as those for police, rescue and therapy work. The tests in these cases are designed to test how likely a dog is to respond in either appropriate or inappropriate ways based on the tasks they will be asked to do. These temperament tests do vary based on what the typical behaviors or the tasks will be. Temperaments need to be slightly different for these working dogs, after all you wouldn’t want an overly aggressive or passive police dog nor would you want an aggressive guide dog, but other factors will vary between the two. Temperament testing in more basic forms is also done in rescues before placing dogs for adoption. Non-kill shelters may also use this process in helping to re-home and adopt out dogs.

What a great deal of the research on testing has shown is that there is an inherited component to temperament, but that how the dog is trained, socialized and interacted with can change the expression of that temperament, but not the actual temperament itself. For example, a highly aggressive pair of some breed of dogs is going to produce puppies that are aggressive and in fact perhaps more aggressive than the norm for the breed.

This is important for potential owners of puppies to understand. What it means to a puppy owner is that if you know both parents of the puppy are aggressive, you can still train, socialize and interact with the puppy and have him or her turn out to be a well behaved dog under normal, non-stressful conditions. However, and here is the biggest issue, under stress or in times of anxiety that puppy will naturally revert back to aggression, since this is its genetic makeup with regards to temperament. This seems to explain the relatively random incidents of dogs killing or injuring other people and pets, despite how the owner indicates the dog has never been aggressive or violent in the past.

The reverse is of course true. A very gentle and even tempered crossing will result in gentle, less aggressive puppies. If one of these puppies was to be treated cruelly, abused or otherwise trained to be aggressive they would, but under the correct training methods this would not be a likely outcome. Even these gentle dogs when highly abused often can be rehabilitated to be non-aggressive if they are cared for, re-trained by a knowledgeable professional and given time to heal from their abuse. Owners need to always ask to see both parent dogs and ensure that the temperament is sound before taking their puppy home to a loving and caring household.

Article by Sam Perry of Oh My Dog Supplies, your top spot to purchase dog toys online.