Everyone thinks that their dog has the best personality (and who am I to comment!). Dogs are chosen based on how well they will fit into your family dynamic, a person’s lifestyle and most importantly how their personality will match with yours. A steady working-from-home parent will want a completely different personality and temperament compared to an athletic young person who runs 5k daily. 

Colloquially it is known that different breeds have different personality traits. Collies are hard-working, Labradors loving and Chihuahua’s feisty. But how different are our dogs from each other? 

The dog’s original purpose and personality correlation 

A large amount of a dog’s personality comes from what they are bred for. For example, a Jack Russell has a large prey drive as they were originally bred for hunting and killing foxes. This has enabled them to have incredible stamina and high energy. Hence why they zip all over the place!

People tend to choose a breed that fits into their lifestyle and temperament as much as possible. This could be why their original purpose is still important today, despite the majority of dogs being kept as companions rather than working dogs. 

Nature vs Nurture 

A study developed in 2003 created a questionnaire called the “canine behavioural assessment and research questionnaire”. This was asked to over 50,000 owners asking various pet personality questions. The research team specifically looked at genetic and behavioural data for the averages across a specific breed rather than individual dogs themselves.  They discovered that there are 131 places in a dog’s DNA that may help shape 14 key personality traits, including friendliness, trainability and aggression.

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These then explain roughly 15% of a dog’s “breed personality”.  Aggression, trainability and the desire to chase seemed to be the most inheritable of these genes. However, because a variety of dogs were tested they cannot link any particular breed-specific behavioural tendencies to any particular gene. It relied heavily on behaviour traits found across many breeds.[1] 

However it is not just genetics that play a part in a dog’s development. 

Environmental factors can affect the puppy even while developing in the uterus. Temperature fluctuations, tactile sensation etc are likely to affect how the puppy develops. During the neonatal period (birth to three weeks) environment factors are critical. Gentle handling and enrichment have all been shown to produce puppies that are less fearful, sociable with people and surprisingly, better co-ordination. [2] 

Puppies must be with their mother and littermates until they are 8 weeks of age. This allows them to interact and develop all the necessary communication and social skills needed with their mum and siblings. Between seven to twelve weeks, the puppy should be exposed to as many different situations and people as possible. This will form how the puppy reacts later in life, all interactions should be made as positive as possible with plenty of treats, play and verbal encouragement. Do not force a puppy to interact in a situation they are scared of. This will only make them more anxious and reinforce that it is a fearful situation, all interactions should be kept as short and fun as possible. [2]

Training is recommended as soon as a puppy arrives at their new home. Providing a routine ensures they feel more secure and they know what to expect and when. 

What can you do to help?

There are many tools online that can help build a happy dog with a stable (but still unique) personality, CD’s are available for firework exposure, pheromones can be placed in the house (a chemical substance that can affect the behaviour, often based on pheromones released by their mother. Usually available as a plug in or spray form to help relax them the way a mother would). Creating a safe space for them to return to is key for making the experience as stress free as possible. A behaviourist can be recommended by your vet and it is always worth discussing with them over how best to deal with individual situations. 

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While it may be a stereotypical answer, when we look at nature vs nurture the answer is always ‘a little bit of both.’ There may be personality traits more common in certain breeds but how we nurture our animals is what makes them into their own, unique, selves. 

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References:

  1. Elizabeth Pennisi (2019)Dog breeds really do have distinct personalities—and they’re rooted in DNA | Science | AAAS (sciencemag.org)
  2. Jacqui Neilson Nature Vs. Nurture (akcchf.org)