Why is my dog like this?
By: Trish King, CPDT, CDBC

Ftrishblogor the last several weeks, we’ve been fostering a little mom dog with her two puppies. By pure coincidence, little mom looks almost exactly like one of our other dogs (also a dog we fostered from birth, and couldn’t part with). They’re both small and blond and fluffy—Pomeranian mixes. But their temperaments are completely different. Both dogs are active, cheerful and very curious. Little mama is completely trusting. She loves to cuddle and to be petted. Our biggest problem with her has been keeping her attention on her babies, because she loves people so much. Our resident dog, on the other hand, is independent by nature, and loves to play catch me if you can, until you have earned her trust. She is also physically very sensitive; just brushing her seems to cause her distress. And her mother—who we had for several weeks while she raised her pups—was exactly the same in both areas. She made you feel that she was conferring an honor on you if she deigned to sit on your lap and be petted.

There are other distinct behaviors that appear to be genetic, rather than learned. Since we kept track of her brothers, we know that each of them has a captivating head toss—an invitation to other dogs and to people to play. Their mom had it, but they didn’t develop this until well into adolescence, after she was long gone. And they are all excellent alarm barkers, a trait we could do without.

As a consultant and dog behavior addict, I see many people who are perplexed by their dog’s behavior. Maybe their dog is reactive to sudden changes in the environment, or perhaps she only likes one member of the family, even though everyone loves her! If the people raised the dog since it was a pup, they know exactly what their dog’s past was like. Consequently, his or her behavior—whether it’s shyness, fearfulness or bullying—seems inexplicable, and often the guardian feels that they must have done something wrong. It’s true, sometimes they did, but often they didn’t. On the other side of the coin, some dogs whose upbringing has been flawed have such stable temperaments that they can overcome their environment and turn out to be happy, fun loving pets.

Dogs have been our companions for thousands of years, helping us with chores, keeping our homes safe, and being our closest companions. Different breeds were bred for various purposes, and developed temperaments that suited their jobs. In addition, individual dogs have their own personalities, different from other members of their breed types. And genetics being what it is, some of these personality traits are passed on from parents to pups. When we try to teach a dog with strong behavioral tendencies not to do what is bred in their bones, we are working against genetics that might go back hundreds or thousands of years.

This isn’t an excuse for bad behavior—we should still help them blend into their current lifestyle. It just means we need to understand and respect our dogs for who they are. They aren’t little lumps of clay to mold. They come into this world pretty well formed, with the potential to learn a lot more. It’s up to us to help them reach that potential.