Dogs enrich our lives in countless ways, providing companionship and unconditional love. But your canine companions must mesh well with your lifestyle, personality, and temperament. For instance, if you’re an active person, you may be more compatible with an energetic breed that loves to play. Conversely, those same active dogs aren’t necessarily the best choice of companion for introverts or those who spend most of their time at home.
When adopting a dog, whether a puppy or an older rescue, keeping your unique personality in mind is thus a crucial component. Your new dog’s temperament should also be considered. Put simply, a dog’s temperament is indicative of its general attitude towards people and other animals. Breeders and rescue organizations often conduct temperament testing, and these tests can be invaluable in determining whether a particular dog is a good match for you and your family.
While they aren’t infallible, temperament tests can provide valuable insight into your dog’s personality and behavior. During these tests, various behaviors are observed, such as a dog’s prey drive, protectiveness, level of aggression, and friendliness. Once your dog’s temperament is established, it may become easier to address behavior issues or to develop a training program tailored to individual personality.
No matter if you just brought your first dog home or you want to improve the behavior of a long-time canine companion, here’s what you need to know about successfully working with your dog’s temperament.
Common dog personality types
For starters, it’s important to understand the various factors that can influence a dog’s personality and behavior. Much like their human counterparts, dogs enjoy a wide spectrum of personality and temperament types, from shy and timid dogs to those that are playful and easily excitable. And depending on a dog’s personality, effective training methods are likely to vary considerably.
Further, many dogs are comfortable in the submissive role, where you are unquestionably the pack leader. Others may have alpha tendencies, where they attempt to take on a leadership role to help protect their “pack.” Establishing a pack order is a natural canine trait that pre-dates domestication, and various factors are involved in the process.
Genetics and breed may influence temperament, but your dog’s environment also plays a major role in this regard. A 2012 study found that environmental factors are the most significant influence on canine personality. Environment, in this context, refers to living situations, how much time is spent outdoors and/or in isolation, and much more. In general, dogs that spend most of their time in the company of people and other animals are more sociable and less aggressive.
Maintain a safe environment for your dog
But it’s important to note that even dogs classified as shy, timid, or playful can act out. When any dog feels fearful or threatened, it may respond with aggression. For this reason, dogs should be raised in a safe, non-threatening environment where they feel comfortable, protected, and loved.
Even the most loving and compassionate dog owners may not be aware of the habits and environmental factors that may be affecting a dog’s behavior, however. A notable example involves your home environment. Research indicates that excessive clutter can disrupt your mental health over the long term, increasing stress and reducing overall life satisfaction. It can do the same for your dog.
Thus, when working with your dog in a training capacity at home, you’re likely to have greater success in a clean, uncluttered environment. If you’re unsure where to begin in the process of decluttering your home, consider the rooms where your dog spends the most time and start there. Be especially mindful of any messes and clutter in your kitchen and living room. When your home is in order, both you and your dog are likely to see reduced stressed levels and greater happiness overall.
The dangers of aggressive dogs
Yet cultivating a safe and organized home environment is just the beginning in terms of training your dog according to temperament. Decluttering may have little effect on aggressive traits, for example, especially among rescue dogs who were raised in an abusive or neglectful environment. And if your dog is exhibiting signs of aggression, you must work to correct that behavior as soon as possible.
Among puppies, potential aggression warning signs can include being possessive over food and toys, nipping and biting, and excessive fear of unfamiliar people. Older dogs may exhibit similar behavior when stressed or agitated, but consistent negative behaviors could indicate aggression.
Legally speaking, aggressive dogs that pose a danger to other animals and people may be classified as “vicious” or “dangerous.” These types of dogs may require permanent restraint, as well as consistent training solely using positive reinforcement and plenty of treats to reward good behavior. If you attempt to correct aggressive behavior with anger or violence, it’s likely to reinforce that behavior in your dog, rather than eliminate it.
Learning the nuances of your dog’s temperament is an ideal first step in the training process, and establishing a safe environment will also take you far. But no matter if your dog is classified as playful, timid, or potentially aggressive, consistency and patience are key. Always use a calm yet firm voice when working with your dog, and reward positive behavior with their favorite treats and plenty of love.
Dan Matthews is a writer with a degree in English from Boise State University. He has extensive experience with nose boops and chin scritches. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.