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Dog Breeds and Behaviour

Posted on 19/05/2017


Following some recent queries, I want to clarify the myth of different breeds when it comes to behaviour, as misunderstanding will always lead to more problems.  Breed does not determine behaviour; rather it is the exaggerated nature of physical breed traits that compound behavioural problems.

This can lead to fear of certain breeds, for example the much maligned pit-bull terrier. The truth is that all terriers were initially  bred for their strength of jaw and determination to hang on and, when combined with their powerful build, prove them to be the ideal partner for those involved in 'pest control' and the like but these are physical traits not behavioural issues; just because a dog “can” does not mean it will, but many still make the assumption that these dogs are aggressive just because they are capable of being so, if they haven’t been shown correct behaviour or shown what constitutes good manners, as far as we are concerned.

 In exactly the same way the exaggerated trait of nipping the back legs and ankles (to encourage movement) of breeds used for herding, can result in injury to visitors, as with a smaller example of this group, the Corgi, it would be the ankles, while the Bearded Collie is more like to make contact with the persons leg.   Again, just because they can doesn’t mean they will and the common phrase “they all do that” simply doesn’t apply.

The reality is that almost all dogs are in private homes with owners who have no desire of utilising the exaggerated 'traits', encouraged for the originally intended purposes.  Most members of the Gundogs group serve as loved companions only.  How many Labradors never hear a gun being fired, let alone take part in a shoot?  We are more likely to see them being used as guide dogs or promoting toilet tissues and, as long as the owner is aware that if they allow their dog to become the decision maker within the family (pack), then their dog is likely to draw on the trait in its panic to cope with the stressful and impossible responsibility and as it is this responsibility that causes all non-medical behavioural issues, then that owner can make an educated decision.

Of course, the poor 'dangerous' dogs are usually the choice of a majority of irresponsible people, who either do not know, or care, how to keep the dog safe from exposure to threats that will call on the dog to naturally use its defence instinct by biting, (which, as already mentioned, has been exaggerated by human intervention -breeding-), or they are in the hands of people who deliberately place the dog in a situation that will result in the inevitable need of the dogs to defend themselves, or their families, and we have to remember that the dog has no way of differentiating between good owners and bad ones.

In the hands of the genuine owners, who love this breed for its proud strong appearance, and work with the dog to live as with all dogs in our modern human world, the pit-bull becomes a wonderful devoted companion as many will, justifiably,  tell us.

All of which proves that the 'breed' is not behavioural determinate, rather the breed will exaggerate a particular response from the dog, based on the situation and  handling. 

As always, humans are the cause of the behaviours, both good and bad, and the dogs are the result. As long as we appreciate that all dogs can bite and we work with our dogs in such a way to ensure that they are never made to feel so threatened that they need to do so, with no one to turn to for guidance (a leader), that they have to employ the ultimate defence, then we are able to provide the safe situation for all member of our society.