BARKS from the Guild July 2021

Page 24


What Makes a Good Temperament? Susan Claire investigates what guardians can – and cannot – do to influence their dogs’ temperaments and set them up for success in their home environments


t is a common misconception that “All a dog needs is love” or “It’s how you raise them” to increase the chances – or even “guarantee” – a dog will have a good temperament. And al­ though these things are very important, there are a lot more factors that affect how a dog will behave at maturity. A “good” temperament can mean different things for different people. For example, someone competing in dog sports is looking for one set of characteristics, while service dog train­ ers or working dog handlers may have an entirely different set of characteris­ tics in mind. For the purpose of this article, I’ll define a good temperament in terms of a pet dog, i.e. what the average person or family may be looking for in a dog © Can Stock Photo / Farinosa they can share their life with. Com­ The level of maternal care received by a puppy, as well as genetics, socialization during the critical period of development, training methods, and lifestyle all have an impact on his temperament monly, this would probably be a dog who is friendly, sociable to people and other pets, playful, affectionate, attentive, and generally cooperative. But how Prenatal/Neonatal Conditions: If a mother dog is in an unfortunate sit­ do we get a pet dog with these characteristics? Is it all predestined or uation while carrying a litter in utero, such as being homeless, in a puppy can we create it? While guardians do have control over some of the mill, malnourished, infested with parasites, or in extreme conditions that things that affect a dog’s temperament, there are others where they cause her to be in fight or flight mode with stress hormones surging have little to no control at all. Let’s take a closer look. through her body, these conditions risk being passed on to the puppies when they are born and may affect their development and temperament. Genetics and Breeding: If someone is looking for a specific breed and Socialization during the Critical Period: According to the American wants a puppy, it’s wise to choose a breed that inherently has traits compatible with their lifestyle and to find a “reputable” breeder. There Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (2018), [t]he primary and most im­ is a lot of confusion over this term, and the internet makes it super easy portant time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life.” This to be duped here. A good place to start is the American Kennel Club is when curiosity outweighs fear and puppies should be introduced to (AKC), where information about every recognized breed is available and the things that are likely to be in their lives in a safe and controlled way. one can learn about the “breed standard.” Research what characteris­ The window for social learning remains open until around 16 weeks of tics make dogs of certain breeds structurally and temperamentally age. The effect of socialization to other dogs, people, objects, noises, sound, and which do not. Temperament traits such as aggression and places, surfaces, etc. or lack thereof, is pretty much determined by then. fearfulness are proven heritable traits, as are many physical ailments. However, the final result (temperament) will not usually be apparent Both are important, as physical health affects temperamental health. A until maturity, at around 12­18 months of age. Exposing the puppy in an reputable breeder will belong to a regional or national breed club and overwhelming or scary way to environmental stimuli is NOT socialization, be transparent about their breeding practices. but rather flooding, and is counterproductive. A substrate preference for Many breeds have certain health conditions they are prone to and elimination is also developed during this critical socialization period. reputable breeders are knowledgeable about these and test for them in Lifestyle and Treatment by People, including Training: Before be­ any dogs they intend to breed. This helps them decide which dogs are more likely to pass on a hereditary issue and which dogs should and haviors that make a good temperament can be expected, it is imperative should not be bred together. A reputable breeder breeds with the inten­ that a guardian meet the dog’s basic needs. These would include nutri­ tion of breeding out these health concerns from their line to the great­ tion, veterinary care, shelter, enrichment, exercise, social interactions est extent possible. They may also participate in AKC conformation and freedom from pain and anxiety. (See also Is Love Enough on p.38 shows, as their hobby and passion is the breed, the improvement and and, specifically, the Hierarchy of Dog Needs on p.39.) This means the future of the breed, and producing excellent examples of the breed. lifestyle of the humans must be adjusted to fit the dog into the family.


BARKS from the Guild/July 2021