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DarnFar Ranch LLC Professional Dog Training
Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people

Personality vs. Behavior

In my opinion, puppies are hardwired to be social and they have a unique personality. I think that, sometimes, people confuse those two things. Some dog owners grant a puppy undue liberties because they think those behaviors are part of the dog’s personality and something they cannot change. Others don’t take into consideration a dog’s innate personality when they work with the dog and they expect it to conform to a training regimen that may have worked for a previous dog, but is ill suited for the new dog’s intrinsic temperament. The former (failing to address unacceptable behavior assuming it cannot be changed) is highly likely to create an anti-social dog. The latter (failing to consider the dog’s distinctive nature) is apt to create a dog that cannot reach its true potential. Let’s contemplate a human family with three kids; one is a bookworm that loves to remain in her room reading and studying, one is a very gregarious, sporty boy that is outdoors with many pals most of the time, and the third loves to stick around with his mom in the kitchen, especially when she is cooking. The three kids are very different in the way that they approach life; what motivates them, what makes them happy. But, the parents are still responsible to make certain all three kids are appropriately social. When Aunt Lois comes for a visit, the mother must coax the bookworm downstairs to greet her relative. She has to drag the athlete from the backyard and his friends to do the same. The third child was waiting for his Aunt with a plate of cookies that he baked especially for her arrival. There’s nothing wrong or right, good or bad about any of the three kids’ natural tendencies when it comes to visits from relatives. However, the house rules are that all the kids must at least greet their Aunt and spend some time with the family during visits. They must treat guests with kindness, use good grammar when speaking, set the table, sit with good posture when eating, use their napkin, clear the table, wash the dishes – whatever it is that the parents define as being well mannered. That is what it means to be social; to learn the rules of the society and then behave within those confines because a higher ranking one expects that sort of behavior. Each child has a personality that was probably set from birth. It’s likely that environmental factors may influence those sorts of predisposed traits, as well. When a parent expects the recluse child to eat at the table with the family each night; that may be an environmental override for what is predisposed in that specific kid. Yet, the predetermined natural behavior of the future chef requires almost no external intervention when it comes to domestic type expectations. On the other hand, getting the sporty kid to sit still and read a book may be a required over-ride of his natural disposition. If he cannot learn to sit still and read and study when he’s young, he will be ill prepared for future success. And, so, the parents (and the rest of society as the children leave the home) tweak the child’s natural tendencies in order to make them all fit within normal social parameters. This is done for the safety, security and success of the individual and the society. I think that, as social predators, dogs and humans are quite similar in many ways. Dogs are born with a unique personality and they are born with the capacity to be socialized and remain social in a family structure. Some pups are born gregarious and others are aloof. This is true of individuals within a breed and also can be seen between breeds in a more generalized way. In my experience working with dogs and their people, I have found that folks often error in the upbringing of their puppies by assuming that the pup’s behavior defines the dog (as in the dog’s innate personality). Therefore, they feel helpless to intervene and simply accept behavior that they would never tolerate from a human child. In contrast, I examine the dog's behavior, regardless of the personality. I recognize that I have a right and a responsibility to change certain behaviors since it’s my job to continue the social programming that the pup’s dam and breeder started. It’s my job, as the dog’s owner, to impose my will upon him, at times, to set standards for behavior that will make the dog a well-adjusted, social member of the family. A young pup that bites a human’s hand isn’t acting aggressively. He’s just biting whatever he encounters. If the thing he bites doesn’t bite back, he will probably continue to bite it. This is how they explore their world. However, if he bites the wrong thing, and it snaps back, he learns about what is expected of him. When a pup bites me, I bite him back the way that another senior ranking dog might do. I take my thumb nail and pinch the skin around his neck, using my nail to provide the sense of a bite (with a quick, pop-snap sort of action). I want the pup to yelp. It tells me that he “felt” my bite. He probably won’t bite me again, but he will continue to bite all the toys and other stuff he encounters to find out whether it will bite him back, or not. Socialization requires determining what the boundaries are going to be. One of mine is that no pup will bite me, full stop. Another might be that the pup won’t jump up, climb on the coffee table or chase my cat. Without deciding what the rules are to be, there’s no way to be consistent in enforcing those rules. Then, I need to give a warning to the pup when he’s about to break a boundary. I can clap my hands, shake a can full of pennies or use my voice. If the pup doesn’t change his behavior, then I need to go in and correct him, physically, the way that a senior dog would do. A pup’s behavior is not who he is. It’s just his behavior. It doesn’t define his personality. It doesn’t matter what personality the kid or dog has, when it behaves in an anti-social manner, it must get feedback about the behavior. An individual’s personality may influence his behavior. When the behavior is unacceptable or anti-social, then, it must be over-ridden by a higher ranking authority figure. To me, personality traits are things like thoughtful , pensive, fearless, gregarious , creative, desire to please, desire to work independently, openness to change, work drive, aloofness, willingness to partner with a human. There are also behaviors that we enhanced in specific species through artificial selection, such as heel nipping in herding dogs, howling in hounds, carrying objects in retrievers, killing small animals in terriers etc… Socialization (the process that higher ranking ones impose on lower ranking ones by establishing and reinforcing boundaries) results in behaviors such as self-restraint, obedience to authority, manners (which includes things like respecting another’s personal space and not stealing resources), performing tasks that are consistent with respect, recognizing rank order in the family structure, accepting one’s rank. We can socialize a dog despite his natural personality traits and also despite his natural tendencies to perform tasks such as killing small animals or biting heels. A herding dog may need to bite the heels of some livestock under certain situations, but there’s never a reason that he should bite a human in the ankles. We need to correct a pup that even considers tugging on the pants leg when he’s just a wee baby in order to avoid having to seriously correct him when he gets older and his bite is more intense. If a pup has been properly raised by his mother and the breeder has continued the lessons in her interactions with the puppies, the socialization must continue with the pup’s new owner. Some behaviors will be a result of the specific pup’s personality. Others will simply be typical puppy behavior. Regardless of the root cause, the behavior should be labeled as “acceptable” or “unacceptable”. If a pup does something that I like, I ignore it. If the pup does something I don’t like, I address it (typically with a correction). It doesn’t matter why the dog does the behavior (personality, bred-in behavior or simply an act that the pup doesn’t know is not acceptable); it’s the owners job to teach the pup what is appropriate and what is not tolerable. Some personalities are easier to train to do certain behaviors and other personalities lend themselves to learning other skills. No pup is perfect. But, if the owner assumes the responsibility of teaching the pup about what is and what is not acceptable, the relationship should thrive.