Breed, Behavior and Temperament
What do we mean by "temperament"? We may think of terms such as loyal, congenial, affectionate, regal, aristocratic, tranquil, eager to please, shy, happy-go-lucky, attentive, alert, self-confident, energetic, obedient, sweet, rollicking, courageous, intelligent, gentle, upstanding and quiet. On the other side of the coin, we may think of words such as aggressive, mean, stupid, lazy, quarrelsome, aloof and so on.
These terms, normally used to describe a dog's behavior by everyday folk and by the American Kennel Club, are useful to the extent that they enable us to predict the behavior of a dog so labeled. For example, you would expect a shy dog to avoid strangers and novel objects, an affectionate dog to engage in a lot of nuzzling and licking, an obedient dog to train easily and retain its skills a long time. A rollicking dog would be one that does a lot of jumping and running about. A quiet dog is one that probably doesn't bark or howl very much. An attentive or alert dog is one that notices subtle changes in its environment or in its owners.
The problem, of course, is that there is no generally accepted definition for any of these potentially useful words. Even though we have just defined them my way, the average person may not agree with me or simply proceed to use the words any old way that pleases him or her at the moment.
In addition, these words have not been objectified by identifying, through a repeatable set of operations, the behaviors that go along with them. Since there is no standard set of operational definitions, we are free to use the words any way we choose, and we usually do. The result is labeling chaos.
To add to this chaos, we also use words like regal, aristocratic, congenial, courageous, upstanding, happy-go-lucky, sweet, quarrelsome and so on. These words do not reflect any definite canine behavior. I have never witnessed a quarrel among dogs, nor even a heated discussion, but I have seen a dog bark and fight with other dogs. Upstanding could mean standing erect and upright, but it is probably used in the sense of morally right and honest. You know, the kind of dog you would vote for.
There is a further problem in using such terms to describe temperament in dogs. Because all the previously mentioned terms are frequently used to describe human behavior too, we can fall into the trap of "anthropomorphizing" (i.e., attributing human characteristics to) the looks, temperament and behavior of dogs. This is an error of logic. It is best to remember that even though an English Bulldog may remind us of Winston Churchill, it would not really make an effective Prime Minister of England.
In spite of the fact that people frequently treat their pets like humans and think of their dog's behavior in human terms, dogs are canines. They are a member of the family Canidae, which includes wolves, coyotes, foxes, jackals and some obscure canids from Asia, Africa and South America. Our pets are also members of the genus Canis and the species familiaris. Table 1 provides a list of our dogs' family relatives.
Our pet dog, Canis familiaris, has roots that can be traced back some forty million years. It is commonly believed that the domestic dog, Canis familiaris, was developed from the Eurasian wolf, Canis lupus, beginning some twelve thousand years ago as the people who captured and domesticated wolf puppies started the practice of selective breeding. Each culture probably had a concept of what would be the most desirable behavioral and physical characteristics of the captured canines and mated those animals which exhibited these traits. Voilà! Twelve thousand years later we have 123 or more distinct breeds in the United States (500 throughout the world) varying in size from the Chihuahua, which can be 4 to 6 inches at the shoulder and weigh less than six pounds, to the Mastiff, which can be as much as 34 inches at the shoulder and weigh over 200 pounds.
Only recently has the study of animal behavior in general, and that of Canis familiaris in particular, come under scientific scrutiny. Researchers in this area most frequently are interested in identifying the genetic determinants of behavior and temperament (instinctual behavior) and separating such behavior from behaviors and traits that develop as a result of reinforced practice (learned behavior).
Around 1950, Dr. John Paul Scott and Dr. John L. Fuller started what turned out to be a fifteen-year project on the genetics of canine social behavior. Some of their observations will be incorporated herein. For our purposes, the important conclusion to be drawn from this work is that canine temperament was reliably shown to vary with breeds, at least in the five breeds these researchers tested. It's a pretty safe inference that the rest of the breeds vary systematically in temperament as well.
There are certain behaviors that have developed over millions of years of evolutionary trial and error. Some of these behaviors are common to the whole family of Canidae and can be called family-typical behaviors. The set of behaviors common to the genus Canis are genus-typical behaviors. The set of behaviors common to the species Canis familiaris are species-typical behaviors. The set of behaviors common to specific breeds of dogs are breed-typical behaviors. Finally, each individual dog may exhibit more or less of these family, genus, species and breed typical behaviors in its individual-typical behavior. Thus I define temperament, in part, as the degree to which an individual dog exhibits these individual typical behaviors.
Table 2 gives some examples of family typical and genus typical facial expressions in canids.
You can see from Table 2 that some facial expressions are common to all canids. These are family-typical behaviors. For example, all canids show a submissive grin by pulling their lips way back. This facial expression seems to indicate to other canids and even to some other species, "You're the master; I don't want to fight, and I'm not going to run away. So don't be aggressive toward me; let's be friends and I'll obey you." It's amazing what a smile can say.
A genus-typical behavior would be common only to dogs, wolves and coyotes. Submissive rooting is genus-typical. Your dog does this when he comes up to you and nuzzles his head under your hand or arm and pushes up or forward. Some people would call this a kind of cuddling behavior. It also occurs when your dog puts his paw on your hand or lap. Your dog is probably saying through this behavior, "Pay attention to me, scratch my head, pet me."
I have included another column in Table 2 labeled "Primate Counterpart." I did this to show how we as humans can sometimes understand what our dogs are trying to communicate. Human beings, Homo sapiens, are primates. We share some common behavioral characteristics with our simian cousins, the Great Apes, Orangutans and Chimps. Interestingly, these primate-typical behaviors are sometimes similar to our canine comrades' genus-typical behaviors. For example, smiling in people probably means about the same thing as the submissive grin in dogs. They both say, "I'm friendly; I'm not going to be a threat; in fact, I acknowledge your dominance over me."
This is probably why humans have been able to cohabit with canines for so long. We are both pack or social animals and share some social signals. This is also why humans have the unfortunate habit of anthropomorphizing canine behavior. We interpret the behavior of dogs as if it were human and give dog behavior human labels. Sometimes our interpretations are on the mark, especially when there is a congruence between human and canine social signals. This lulls us into believing that our interpretations will be always right. This conclusion, of course, is in error, because there are an equal number of social signals we don't share with dogs. For the most part, men don't define the boundaries of their territory by lifting their legs and urinating on the nearest tree or bush. Thus, it would be better for us to avoid anthropomorphizing our dog's temperamental characteristics. Rather, we need to categorize a dog's temperament along dimensions of canine genus- and species-typical behavior.
Dimensions of Temperament
Categorizing a dog's temperament along dimensions has two advantages over the use of terms like quarrelsome, congenial, loyal, etc., that I mentioned earlier. First, it provides "evolutionary validity" for our definition of temperament. That is, it connects the definition to the body of knowledge that has been accumulated on the evolutionary and genetic determinants of canine behavior. Secondly, a consideration of "dimensions'' of temperament permits us to specify much more precisely what we are talking about. When our descriptions are dimensionalized, we can begin to say that some breeds show more or less of a temperamental trait than others, and we can specify how large the difference is. Defining a breed's temperament by locating its typical behavior along several dimensions will thus allow you to compare that breed's behavior with the behavior of other breeds. This in turn will provide you with information you need to match your own personality and life-style to the temperament of a particular breed.
To dimensionalize a component of temperament, we define the end points of that component and then define a series of points between those end points. By doing this, the component becomes a dimension and we can then locate any breed's behavior along that dimension. I have followed this procedure to generate sixteen dimensions that I think are the most relevant in identifying temperament differences among breeds. Those dimensions are listed in Table 3.
Several different sources were used to locate each breed on each of these dimensions of temperament. These sources included: data from surveys of veterinarians, obedience trainers, groomers and other animal service personnel; measurements taken from samples of the various breeds; breed books and dog encyclopedias; and various relevant scientific books and papers. Finally, I have drawn heavily upon data I have collected and experiences I have had while working with behavior problems in dogs.
It is also possible to infer at least some of the general behavior characteristics of each breed and breed type from the facts of average body size, shape and function, and by sifting through the mass of propaganda, hearsay and opinions commonly held by the "experts." For example, we would expect that a breed specializing in guarding would have a different temperament profile from that of a breed designed for following small animals into their burrows. There are also some general rules about behavior that relate to body size and even coat color. Very tiny breeds have trouble maintaining their body temperature, and this can have effects on temperament. Coat color is related to the amount of melanin, a skin pigment, which also can have behavioral effects.
Finally, breed devotees sometimes make some slips of the tongue or pen that may expose their animal's true nature. Sigmund Freud said that "It is impossible to keep a secret; we leak self-disclosure from every pore." Perhaps this is an overstatement, but it surely occurs on occasion. For example, the A.K.C. description of an Airedale, a terrier, is glowing until it says, "Its disposition can be molded by the patience of the master." Reading between the lines, we can assume that Airedales might tend to be difficult to get along with, and an owner will need to spend some time and energy if he or she wants a sociable, obedient pet.
Hopefully, combining the facts, results of my measurements analyses of written descriptions, opinions of professionals working with dogs, and my own experience, I will be able to approximate a hypothetical picture of the average temperament of each breed. To do this I have summarized what has been said about each breed by the breeders, handlers and trainers I have interviewed. I have combined this information with my observations of the breed and descriptions of breeds published by breed books, the American Kennel Club Complete Dog Book and other dog encyclopedias.
Now that you have a general idea of how I intend to differentiate the various breeds of dogs, I want to become much more specific. As you can see in Table 3, I have taken each of the dimensions of temperament and expanded it into a five-point scale. Each point represents a level on its associated dimension and is defined by a representative set of behaviors. You will note that four of the dimensions -- activity, dominance, sociability and learning -- are further broken down into more specific subdimensions.
Activity. Activity is defined as the rate of behaviors per unit of time. A very active dog is one that eats and drinks very fast; is easily aroused sexually or playfully; is constantly on the move outdoors, sniffing, smelling everything; is very exploratory, investigating every new thing in its environment; may pace and seem restless indoors; scratches and grooms itself a lot; solicits play from its owners or other dogs constantly. A very inactive dog does not do all the above-mentioned things, since it is spending most of its waking hours resting. Moderate activity involves about a 50-50 split between resting and moving. An active dog does more moving than resting and an inactive dog does more resting than moving. The activity dimension will be evaluated separately for indoor behavior and outdoor behavior.
The Activity Dimension (Indoor and Outdoor)
Description of Typical Behavior
Always on the go, moving continuously, "restless."
On the go most of the time, moving at least 75% of the time.
Moving and resting about equally.
Never on the go for very long. Resting about 75% of the time.
Always resting, sleeping at least 90% of the time, "lazy."
Vigor. The vigor dimension relates to the force or intensity of behavior regardless of rate. A very vigorous dog eats and drinks with large gulps, pulls and pushes on objects with great force, strains on the leash, snaps food from its owner's hand, runs with great endurance over rough terrain, attempts to overcome obstacles by applying progressively more force, jumps great heights, carries heavy objects and so on. A very gentle dog does just the opposite: it takes food from the hand easily, collapses under the weight of a relatively light object, does not pull on the leash and so on. An animal classified as moderate does some things forcefully and some things gently.
The Vigor Dimension Description of Typical Behavior
Does almost everything with great force, regardless of the demands of the situation.
Acts with force at least 75% of the time.
Moderates its force in accordance with the needs of the situation.
Is gentle at least 75% of the time.
Does almost everything gently, even if the situation calls for vigor.
Behavioral Constancy. The behavioral constancy dimension relates to how many different behaviors a dog will engage in per unit of time. It can be considered to be independent of both activity and vigor. A constant dog engages in a few activities most of his waking hours. A variable dog goes from one behavior to another and is easily distractable.
The Behavioral-constancy Dimension Description of Typical Behavior
This dog would be almost impossible to distract once it started a behavioral sequence. It would chase that rabbit until exhausted, running past bitches in heat and so on, or play continuously ignoring anything else.
This type of dog would remain on a behavioral sequence about 75% of the time.
This type of dog could be distracted about 50% of the time.
This type of dog could be distracted about 75% of the time.
Highly distractable, going from one behavioral sequence to another. If it was chasing a rabbit and you threw a ball, it would break off the chase and fetch the ball. As it was returning with the ball, if it caught a scent it would drop the ball and track the scent. While on the scent, if you started playing, it would start playing and lose the trail and so on.
Dominance and Territoriality. The dominance dimension relates to the probability that a dog will assume a dominant or submissive posture given another dog or person attempting to dominate it. Dominance is related to territoriality, which can be defined as the extent to which a dog will stake out, mark and guard a territory from intruding dogs and people and also by the size of the territory it claims as its own. However, it must be understood that a dog may be dominant, submissive or territorial toward other dogs and not toward people, and vice versa, so ratings in these dimensions must take into consideration the species with which the dog is interacting. Thus, the dominance dimension will be further broken down into dominance with strange dogs and with familiar people.
The Dominance Dimension Description of Typical Behavior
Attempts to exert dominance over every dog and/or person with whom it interacts, regardless of the other's behavior.
Dominates 75% of its interactions with dogs and/or people.
Moderates its behavior according to the behavior of the animal and/or person with whom it is interacting. Dominant behaviors would result in submissive postures, and submissive postures would result in dominance behaviors in the intermediate animal.
Submissive in 75% of its interactions with dogs and/or people.
Submissive to every dog and/or person with whom it interacts regardless of the other's behavior.
The Territoriality Dimension Description of Typical Behavior
Tends to guard a large territory extending beyond its home base and get progressively more aggressive the deeper an intruder dog and/or person penetrates its territory. Considerable boundary marking. Aggression may include attacks on intruders at the periphery of its territory.
Territory limited to the area immediately surrounding dog's home base. Aggressive about 75% of the times an intruder violates its territory. Aggression may include attacks or threats of attacks if intruder gets close enough to personal space.
Territory includes only dog's home base, perhaps only the inside of the house. Aggressive or threatening about 50% of the times an intruder violates this territory. Aggression in most cases involves only barking and sometimes growling.
Territory includes only a small personal space around dog. Aggressive only 25% of the times the space is violated. Aggression involves only threat postures.
Appears to have no territory. Accepts an animal and/or person on its "territory" with no signs of aggression. Little or no boundary marking. Unconcerned about violations of its personal space.
Emotional Stability. The emotional stability dimension takes into consideration the fact that emotional behavior varies over time. Some animals, characterized as high-strung or nervous, vacillate greatly over a short period of time. The owners' observations are that "At one moment he will be happy and in the next he will be aggressive." They often report that their dog is "moody" and that mood changes cannot be predicted. On the other hand, there are animals characterized as "easygoing." They seem to stay in the same mood no matter what happens. Usually easygoing implies friendly behaviors. However, an animal can be considered emotionally stable by reason of being consistently aggressive. What counts is that the mood doesn't vary over time, not the quality of the mood.
The Emotional-stability Dimension Description of typical Behaviors
Stays almost perpetually in the same mood.
Stays about 75% of the time in the same mood. Changes are slow and small and may be explained by natural circadian rhythms.
Mood swings are moderate and are related to the natural circadian, seasonal and diurnal changes.
Changes mood about 75% of the time. The changes aren't fast but occur frequently, at least once per day.
Changes moods from moment to moment.
Sociability. The sociability dimension relates to the number and type of people an animal can stand to be with in an enclosed space and the number and speed of friendly bonds the animal is prepared to make.
The Sociability Dimension Description of Typical Behaviors
Greets everyone as a friend. Will greet and rapidly bond with anyone showing the slightest degree of friendliness. May even bond with people who dislike dogs, thereby annoying them, and ignoring their rejections. Comfortable in large crowds with many people touching and playing with them.
A one-family dog. All the members of its family are its friends, and their friends are also usually accepted. Usually "warms up" to someone after a few minutes of playful interaction and accepts that person's friendship from then on. Relatively comfortable in medium-sized crowds, but will learn to avoid people who reject it.
A small-family dog. Owners tend to describe this dog as "reserved" with strangers and "slow to warm up." After many pleasant experiences it will form a bond with a few others besides its caretaker, but these bonds will be weaker. It is uncomfortable in crowds greater than five and will typically ignore strangers or sniff them and walk away.
A small-family or one-person dog. Owners tend to describe the dog as "shy with most strangers." It will, over a relatively long period, form a permanent bond with a few persons, usually the ones who care for it. May tolerate other people but mostly stays away from them. Uncomfortable in crowds greater than two, one of them its master. Typically avoids most strangers and many children.
A one- or no-person dog. Its owners typically describe its behavior as "aloof and independent," sometimes even with them. Even over long periods of time it may not completely accept the owner. It is uncomfortable in crowds greater than one, its owner. It will typically avoid its owner's friends and strangers. Will remain with you as long as you feed it. May even refuse food at times.
The sociability dimension is a complex one, because the dog's probable reactions to its master and the family with whom it resides, the dog's reaction to visiting adults who are strangers to the dog, and its potential behavior toward children must be considered separately. There is some overlap in the levels of the sociability dimension. For example, at the moderately sociable level there are some breeds that (1) tend to be one-person dogs, (2) may be friendly with adult strangers, but (3) may be unsuitable for small children. Because of this complexity, each of the areas of sociability will eventually be discussed individually.
Learning Rate. The learning rate dimension relates to how many experiences are necessary for an animal to learn something about its social or physical environment. This dimension along with the next two, obedience and problem-solving ability, can all be considered to fall under the general rubric of learning dimensions.
The Learning-rate Dimension Description of Typical Behavior
Acquires habits in one or two exposures to the learning contingencies and will retain these for long periods without the need for repetition or practice.
Acquires habits in five to fifteen exposures and retains them perfectly with the benefit of repetition or practice.
Takes fifteen or thirty experiences to acquire a habit. At the point of learning, the animal can benefit by repetition and practice.
Requires thirty to eighty experiences to acquire a habit. The habits are weak, will benefit by repetition and needs practice to prevent forgetting.
Requires perhaps hundreds of sessions to learn what the very fast learner acquired in one session. The session must be repeated, or forgetting occurs rapidly and sometimes in spite of practice.
Obedience. Obedience is more of a social learning variable. Thus, an animal may be a fast learner and still be disobedient by refusing to respond to the owner's commands. Owners typically say that their animals know what to do but refuse to do it for them, and frequently label their animals as "stubborn."
The Obedience Dimension Description of Typical Behavior
Obeys all commands within seconds after they are given, whether the owner is near or distant from the animal. It will heel, come when called, stay on command with the owner out of sight.
Obeys 75% of the time, responding to the owner's commands within seconds after they are given. Does most of the things the very good dog will do except less frequently. Usually there is a distant point of impunity beyond which the dog will not comply.
Obeys immediately about 50% of the time, usually when the owner is perceived to be in striking distance. Beyond a point of impunity the dog will almost completely ignore the owner's commands. Occasionally obeys commands when they are screamed.
Obeys only 25% of the time, "when it feels like it," and ignores the owner if at a distance. The owner usually resorts to screaming a lot at this animal or rationalizing that the animal is independent.
"Unruly." Refuses to comply with commands and fights owner's attempts to enforce his authority.
Problem Solving. The problem-solving dimension relates to the dog's ability to get around obstacles in order to get what it wants. Very good problem solvers can learn on their own to open doors and windows, dig out of enclosures, open refrigerators, find objects, etc. The very poor problem solver has trouble in changing its behavior, even though that behavior does not produce a solution to a problem.
The Problem-solving Dimension Description of Typical Behavior
Gets into and out of situations rapidly. Not deterred by detours, locked doors or closed windows. Learns to solve these and other problems rapidly, retains these solutions a long time and abandons them when ineffective. Owners typically call this dog intelligent.
Solves about 75% of the problems encountered.
Fair or normal
Solves about 50% of the problems encountered. The solutions are usually retained, but the animal may persistently attempt to use solutions that were effective but now are ineffective.
Solves about 25% of the problems encountered.
Barely solves any problems. If path is blocked, sits there perplexed. If it happens to stumble onto a solution, dog may not remember to use it the next time. Owners typically call this dog stupid.
Watchdog and Guard-dog Abilities. The last two dimensions we will consider are the abilities that relate to watch and guard work. A watchdog simply barks to alert its owners to a potential intruder. A guard dog will threaten intruders, hold them at bay and, in extreme cases, attack them. Many breeds can be trained to be watch, guard or attack dogs; others exhibit these qualities more or less naturally; yet others are simply too friendly or sluggish to perform any of these functions well. For a watchdog we are talking about the degree of alertness or sensitivity to strange stimuli. The guard-dog dimension involves the degree of aggressiveness once aroused.
The Watch Dimension Description of Typical Behavior
Barks at the slightest strange stimulus, and keeps barking some time after the stimulation is over. Sometimes hypersensitive to stimuli and barks at insignificant things.
Barks at strange noises, but stops barking as soon as the stimulus stops. Shows some discrimination regarding what is barked at.
Barks spontaneously at about 50% of the strange stimuli it perceives, ignoring the rest. May bark if confronted directly with a stranger on the premises.
Can be made to bark if the owner works it up first and tries to get it excited. Usually you get one or two woofs and then the dog goes back to sleep.
Sleeps through house fires and burglaries. Such a sound sleeper that the owner has to shake it awake if he suspects an intruder and it still may fall back asleep.
The Guard Dimension Description of Typical Behavior
Naturally aggressive to any strangers entering its territory. May attack if provoked, or may just hold intruders at bay.
Usually holds intruders at bay by barking and growling, but has to be trained to attack.
Gets confused with intruders, barking and growling indiscriminately at anyone. Without training it would be an undependable guard dog.
Usually greets most strangers as friends. Occasionally encounters a stranger whom it fears.
Everyone's friend. Would not protect owner even when he/she was being attacked. May be playful under these circumstances.
The Rest of the Book
The six main breed types designated by the American Kennel Club have been used as chapter titles for the next six chapters. These breed types are the Sporting Dogs, the Hounds, the Working Dogs, the Terriers, the Toy Dogs and the NonSporting Dogs. I have constructed a format of information for each breed that parallels Table 3. The levels of dimensions of temperament are indicated for an adult male specimen of each breed, followed by relevant details concerning that breed which I have obtained from owners, trainers, breeders, veterinarians, handlers, my experience and a comprehensive search of the literature. To assess the temperament for females of the breed, a few simple rules of thumb have been developed in later chapters. A series of self-administered questionnaires then are presented which will permit you to assess your own personality traits and the circumstances of your life-style which are relevant to owning a dog. Responding to these questionnaires will permit you to match the temperamental characteristics of any specific breed with your own personality and life-style.
Dogs are remarkable animals. They have, in the course of human history, been seen as gods, workers, guards, guides, best friends and pets. They have been adapted to the forests, the plains, the mountains and the polar regions, always in the company of humans. Choosing to share your life with a dog is not a frivolous decision. The choice may affect your life for the next ten to fifteen years. By using the information in this book you will be able to select from the great variety available the kind of dog that will provide you with an endless source of affection, protection, work, fun -- whatever you want.
Copyright © 1980 by Daniel F. Tortora