What is Temperament?

I regularly talk to my clients about temperament it is foremost in choosing a dog. I hear so often my dog is really great but it is afraid of strangers and just needs to be socialized. Sometimes this is the case but more often than not, the dog does not have a sound temperament.

Temperament is genetics, it is a collection of drives, nerves, thresholds and instincts that are inherited and innate. Temperament is not something that can be developed it is what the dog is born with and is a product of its genetics. The core of a dog’s temperament will never change, although sometimes behaviors can be modified by behavior/training techniques if there is movement in the temperament. For example let’s consider a dog that has high prey drive and is ball crazy. With training you can teach the dog to control its drive but you cannot take a high energy, high prey drive dog and make it a low energy, low prey drive dog. Trainers can use the drive to redirect and build obedience but the drive has to be there. Just as you cannot take a dog that has very low prey drive and no interest in the ball and make it into a ball crazy dog, if the temperament is not there you can not build or develop it.

A dog with a sound stable temperament will always be a dog with a good temperament regardless of the lousy environment in which it might be raised. Just as unstable or unsound temperament will not change regardless of the fabulous environment in which it is raised. Temperament is not the dog’s personality. Personality is developed by interaction with other living creatures usually humans. Proper and early socialization will build and develop the traits that are already there and may progress a weaker temperament to the level it is capable.

Determining a dog’s temperament is not specific to the breed, it all depends on the genetics. The breed of a dog can give us some indication of the possibility of the temperament, but it all goes back to the genetics. An example is a Lab, often chosen as a family dog, because the breed is known to be good with people, other animals, have an easy going loving nature, responsive and easy to train. I have also seen Lab’s that are aggressive, full of anxieties, and dominant this is genetics and not what is expected but shows how poor breeding can produce lousy dogs.

I understand the need to want to fix every dog, but I also know this is not always possible. Everything begins with temperament, sure a good trainer/behaviorist can develop, train and fix some behavior issues, but only if the temperament allows it.

Always choose a dog based on its temperament, a solid stable dogs behavior will be predictable, responsive, easier to train and a well mannered pet with the proper training, socialization and environment.