Understanding Your Puppy’s Temperament

Knowing your puppy’s temperament helps you raise a happy dog.

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Temperament plays a huge role in your puppy’s personality. onetouchspark/iStock/Thinkstock
Katherine Eldredge

Whether you have just picked up your new puppy or are thinking about getting one, temperament is an important factor to pay attention to and consider. Your puppy’s temperament plays a huge role in his personality and how he will integrate with your family and lifestyle.

Puppy Personality

Temperament is basically another word for personality. Your puppy’s temperament is affected by his genetic background and his life experiences, all of which come together to make your puppy who he is. People often throw around the phrases “good temperament” and “bad temperament,” which imply a black-and-white comparison of dogs who are bubbly and outgoing versus dogs who are extremely fearful or aggressive. The reality is that temperament does not have only two options; most dogs fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

Breed Temperaments

Regardless of where you get your puppy from, it helps to do some background research. Dog breeds exist because people selected for dogs with different physical and mental traits to serve specific purposes. The same process occurred for every breed, whether the breeders were selecting for herding ability, hunting ability, speed, endurance or appearance. Because of this, the purebred dogs of today are fairly consistent across each breed in both appearance and behavior, allowing owners to have a general idea of what they can expect when their puppy grows up.

So what are you looking for in a dog? Consider your desires and abilities — do you want a dog to go jogging with you every day, or would you rather have one who is laid-back? Do you enjoy a dog who wants to constantly be with you, or would you prefer one who is more independent? Do you live in an apartment, where a noisy dog or one with high energy would cause problems? These are just three examples of questions you should ask yourself before getting a puppy. A dog is a lifelong commitment, so it helps to know what sort of canine personality will best match with yours, and the expectations you have for the dog.

Once you have figured out what your needs are in a puppy, look at the breeds that appeal to you and see if they are a good fit. Research each breed’s temperament and activity level. From there, I highly recommend that you try to meet the breed and talk to people who own and live with them. Dog shows are an excellent opportunity to meet dogs of many breeds and see how they behave, and to decide if you like them in person. To find a dog show near you, contact your local dog-training club. The members will be able to tell you about nearby shows and dog competitions, and may even be able to connect you with someone who owns the breed that you are interested in. When talking to someone who owns the breed of your choice, ask lots of questions! These people are valuable resources and can give you a sense of what it is like to live with your dream dog.

All of these concepts apply to mixed breed dogs as well. If your puppy is half Jack Russell Terrier and half Labrador Retriever, his temperament will resemble one or both of those breeds. Research all of the breeds that make up your dog’s background to get a sense of what he will be like when he grows up. If you are not sure what exactly your dog is, look up breeds that have a similar appearance and see if any of their behavioral traits line up with your pup.

If you already have your puppy, a little research into what your breed is like can give you an idea what to expect as your puppy grows up. If you just adopted a high-energy breed like a Border Collie but live in an apartment, you now know that you will need to make an effort to exercise your puppy every day.

Judging A Puppy’s Personality

If you are getting a puppy from a breeder, the breeder will probably select the puppy for you. This is a good thing! The breeder has been constantly observing the puppies for at least eight weeks, and knows their personalities and quirks much better than you can hope to in a half-hour visit. Communicate with your breeder ahead of time and tell him or her what you are looking for in a puppy, and trust the breeder to match you with the right puppy for you.

If you are not getting a puppy from a breeder or if you are choosing your own puppy, you may need to do some temperament evaluation on your own when choosing a puppy. Observe how the puppy interacts with both the people in the room and any other puppies or dogs. Initial shyness when meeting new people is to be expected, but ideally the puppies should warm up to you and be willing to interact. Extreme fear or shyness could indicate a temperament problem that will last the lifetime of the dog. Try different little games, such as tossing a toy or banging a metal pan on the ground. Chasing the toy indicates some play and chase drive, and puppies that then bring the toy back to you are good retrievers. When banging the pan or making other loud, strange noises, watch how the puppies react. Almost all puppies startle at sudden loud noises, but ideally the puppies will then recover and continue on with their play. Puppies who investigate the pan are braver, while puppies who spook and do not recover may have sound sensitivity.

When choosing your own puppy, do not let emotion rule your decision too much. The puppy who is constantly climbing on you and begging for attention may be cute, but he has not actually “chosen” you. He is just pushy! Depending on your lifestyle, a pushy, confident, busy dog may not be the best match, especially if he is going to be a big dog. Another situation that tugs at our heartstrings is the runt of the litter. It is easy to assume that the tiny little puppy will be sweeter and cuddlier than his larger littermates. This is not necessarily the case! While watching the litter, you may actually find that the runt rules the whelping box and bosses the other puppies around. Observe objectively, and choose your puppy based on what you observe and what your family needs.

Socialization

When you bring your new puppy home, it becomes your job to socialize him and teach him about the world. My approach to socialization is to safely expose my puppy to as many different things as possible. This teaches him that new things are not necessarily scary, and it enables him to go to new places and meet new people throughout his life without having a meltdown.

Puppy class is an excellent opportunity to socialize your puppy. He will meet other puppies and people, and also learn some of the foundation obedience skills and manners that will make him a great pet. You can also take your puppy into pet stores and to local parks. Always be mindful of the other people and animals around when taking your puppy somewhere — keep him away from overly rowdy or unfriendly dogs who might scare or hurt him, and instruct people of all ages to approach him respectfully and not dive or grab. Protecting your puppy from these situations enables him to be confident about the world, and prevents him from developing an automatic mistrust of strangers.

Good luck with your new puppy!

Article Categories:
Behavior and Training · Dogs · Puppies

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