Sarah Wilson

Dog Expert

The 4 Most Important Pet Dog Qualities

| 4 Comments

Dog training helpThis is not your fault,” I tell the upset dog lover as she explains to me about her dog’s fear of people. She has done all the right things – ongoing socialization attempts and attending a puppy class. But still, her dog is doubtful around strangers.

Just like people, dogs are born with unique personalities. They have their own strengths and weaknesses which we can learn to build on and compensate for but rarely completely change. This dog is missing the primary piece to be an easy pet: he just isn’t people loving. Together, we can improve matters but he’s never going to be a dog who naturally and immediately runs up to guests wagging.

Mulling on this dog and many others, I decided to blog on the topic. Here is my short list of ideal pet dog qualities:

People-Loving

Yesterday I was with a 5-month-old puppy who adores everyone, wagging nonstop at people of all ages, sizes, and races. This is not a response created just by socialization. Socialization helps a dog be as stable and social as he can be but it would not create this. This level of sociability comes in this pup’s personality package. When selecting a companion – especially a companion for kids – pick a dog born with that “Hi, nice to met you, I love you already” attitude. They are out there – in every shape, size, color, breed and mix.

Self-Calming

Self-calming pups cry in their crates for 10-20 minutes  the first few times then fall asleep. Self-calming dogs whine behind a gate or bark at some noise in the backyard and then, on their own, stop. They greet guests then go lie down.

Dogs who cannot self-calm keep on going and going. Before I understood this I tried to wait one of my own pups out, believing what the books of the day told me that she would stop on her own. Many hours later all I had was an exhausted, barking puppy and seriously frayed human nerves. She simply could not self-calm. So, I taught her how to crate quietly and she was happy for the help. She did not enjoy the bark-a-thon, she simply could not stop herself.

Life-Resilient

Watching experts at Guiding Eyes for the Blind temperament test pups years ago, I learned about life-resilience. At that time, they exposed pups to new things up to three times because what they wanted to see if the pup grew calmer or more concerned with each repetition. It was fascinating to watch pups who startled when they heard a noise the first time adapt quickly and others who became more concerned (if they showed such concern, the testing stopped). This underlined for me what I already knew from my work as a dog trainer: response to stress is inborn. It can be worked on and improved but it cannot be reliably or completely changed.

Dog-Tolerant

A good pet dog doesn’t have to love every other dog but he does need to tolerate of them. Owning a dog who wants to attack other dogs is a level of stress only bearable in the most rural of situations. I hesitated to add this one in because this is, usually, the easiest to deal with in most pets. A change in training equipment and some attention games generally creates a manageable companion. But requiring that already moves a dog into the “not easy” category so I added this in.

Once you’ve lived with a dog with all of these fine qualities, you know what a gift they are. Such companions are easy to live with, completely adored and can make you feel like an amazing dog lover. And once you’ve lived with a dog who is missing any of these, you know what a strain it can be and they can make you feel like an incompetent, flawed dog lover.

If that’s your situation, do not despair, there is a lot you can do to help the situation – a lot – but very little you can do to completely, 100%, gone-forever change it.

If you like my blogs, you’ll love my books: My Smart Puppy & Childproofing Your Dog.

4 Comments

  1. Great list! Thanks. 🙂 My dad’s senior rescue dog Jeter is a sterling example of all four. He’s an easy joy, nothing hard or complicated about him. Labby/pitty mix.

  2. Hi Sarah, I tweeted you about this. (I’m sevnthstar). I got my miniature schnauzer from a breeder who never allowed me to handle her until I picked her up at age 8 weeks. According to this breeder, she wanted to protect the dog from germs. She also lived far from me, so I could not just “stop by” to see how the dog was interacting with others. From what she told me, she was an extroverted little pup. But I also know SHE did not handle the dogs a lot as her philosophy was that they need to learn to be alone when owners are not at work. I work long days but have had a walker come twice a day when I work. When I am off, I have long stretches I spend with her. I tried to socialize her as much as possible, took her to puppy class, etc, invited people to meet her, took her places.

    She is great with dog play/interaction one-on-one, especially dogs her size. She’s much more nervous around big dogs. She is leash reactive and although this is much better with the training I’ve received from a great positive trainer here, I’m always on guard when I walk her.

    If a stranger reaches out to pet her or bends over, she barks and becomes very agitated. She’s usually fine if they ignore her! She’s slow to warm up but once she does she’s pretty happy. It’s very hard however to tell people, “please don’t pet my dog” or “please don’t stick your hand in her face to smell.” People tend to think a dog will like them if they do that, and she’s living proof that it does not work!!

    She’s scared of loud noises, and skittish around loud traffic, etc. We live in an apt. that opens into an enclosed hallway, and every time she hears a door slam, keys jingling, other dogs in the hallway, or people talking loudly, she runs at the door barking and growling. I have a gate that I keep shut so she can’t do that when I’m gone, and when I’m here I call her back, make her sit, throw her a toy etc., try to distract and desensitize, but it continues to happen. I don’t know why she can’t figure out that these sounds happen a million times a day and no one is hurting us…but I think she probably thinks she’s making them go away. Anyway, those are some of my challenges!!

    Thanks for pointing out it just may be in her personality. She’s a wonderful dog in many ways and I would never give her up or trade her for anything else, but it’s just sad sometimes because I would love it if she loved children and strangers petting her, but I don’t think it’s ever going to happen.

  3. Thank you for posting this- I have conversations about temperament vs training with my clients regularly. Unfortunately, sometimes because the pup’s temperament makes it an inappropriate pet for their home. I have a variety of super social stable dogs across many breeds lately- including a Springer puppy recently that by all current thought should have been shy and problematic because he was never out of his home between the age of 8 weeks and 16 weeks. I took him into my care at about 16 weeks and took him for his first trip to a shopping center, traffic and many strangers… His paws hit the ground, he looked around himself and walked along happily wagging, greeting people and watching the world go by. A lovely temperamented pup.

  4. She is great with dog play/interaction one-on-one, especially dogs her size. She’s much more nervous around big dogs. She is leash reactive and although this is much better with the training I’ve received from a great positive trainer here, I’m always on guard when I walk her. Thank you for posting this- I have conversations about temperament vs training with my clients regularly. Unfortunately, sometimes because the pup’s temperament makes it an inappropriate pet for their home.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.