Following on from my post about health testing, in order to produce ‘The dog of your dreams‘ it is also important to breed for temperament. As I approach Quin’s birthday, I have been reflecting on his temperament and what makes him the way he is. Of course, he is a Border Collie, first and foremost, so his behaviour will always reflect that.
It is interesting to me that many of my ‘dog friends’ say to me things such as ‘all your dogs are so good natured/well behaved/lovely temperaments’. They know about dogs and they think it significant that mine are all ‘nice’ dogs. Someone recently said “It’s so good to come into your house and the dogs are just pleased to see you. There’s no chaos, or fighting, or anything like that.” When I first had a person come to look after them when we went away, she couldn’t believe they all got on so well. So how do I do it?
Nature vs nurture
I’m a psychologist (in as much as it was my degree subject), so I understand the interplay between nature and nurture. It’s easiest to think of it as the balance between being biologically programmed to behave a certain way, or being brought up to be like that. Of course it’s not an either/or situation, both are crucial in creating the dog you want (or the person, come to that).
Starting with nature, I choose stud dogs from lines that I study and understand to be good-natured. I have tended to stick with the Goytre lines, because I know the temperament of these dogs is fantastic. However, I don’t want my dogs to be too inbred, so I sometimes need to add different lines. This means I might end up with different temperaments.
As I say all over this website, my puppies are given a brilliant start in life, with loads of positive experiences. They are cuddled every day, meeting plenty of people, including children. Puppies in my house spend time around dogs of different ages and temperaments, so they should cope better when they are out in the world.
That covers the first eight weeks, but after that, it is over to their owners to define their temperament. I have had dogs I’ve bred be nervous of children, because they haven’t spent time around them, once they have gone to their new homes. So different experiences continue to have an impact.
When I had the Rainbow Litter, I had one of the owners ask me about managing the ‘herding instinct’ that Ounce’s brother was showing. “I’ve never had to manage that, mine don’t really do that,” I said. Then Ounce started herding off other dogs. Hmm, a new characteristic to manage! That litter are also real water babies – thanks Sox!
Not all my dogs are the same. I can see likenesses between them, but also differences. It’s fascinating to see the traits develop. And to see the likenesses within and between litters. When I’m doing agility with Busy, people always say ‘She’s so fast!’ to which I respond ‘Just like her mum!’
Can you change it?
Dogs, like people are a mix of their biology and their upbringing. So you can influence how they are, up to a point. When I look at Quin, I can see he is a lovely nature. Like Busy, he’s generally calm and laid back. But then he barks at other dogs, or something on TV! Funny boy. I’ve worked hard on the barking at other dogs and he’s more or less stopped doing that. I think that yes, you can change their temperament, a bit.
It’s complicated isn’t it? I do my best to make lovely dogs – the dog of your dreams. Sometimes it goes it bit wrong (Aura :p). Oh she’s lovely, I’m only kidding. Hopefully it’s given you food for thought.
Oh and by the way, I had planned to talk about ‘Formal obedience/heelwork‘ this week, but I haven’t managed to go to a class for this. It’s a dying art, it seems?
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NB: I am not a dog trainer, or a dog behaviourist, just a dog breeder and owner. I can only offer my opinion, based on my experience.