Can You See Your Dog’s True Nature?

Often when a dog demonstrates undesirable behaviour, that behaviour becomes the focus of attention for the owner, and consequently comes to represent the defining “character” of the dog. This is really unfair on the dog that is demonstrating certain behaviours simply because they are under extreme stress, not because they are just badly behaved. The tragedy is that the stress a dog may be under will actually prevent its own nature from shining through, and its owners may have no idea of the real character of their dog, often coming to actually hate the poor animal because it is so “bad”. Unfortunately, many owners opt to re-home rather than live with this “detested” animal.

The story of a stunning German Short-haired Pointer, called Tess, comes to mind, as a classic example of this. She had been bred by the owner and lived with her mother and three other similar dogs. By the time I was called on for help, she was three years old, and the owner was giving her one last chance to become a part of their family.

The main problems, for the owner, were that Tess would challenge her mother (also with the family), would not stop barking when anyone went near the house, and when she was taken to dog shows ‘was determined to make a fool of her owner (the owner’s words, not mine). I respected the owner for being honest enough to admit that she was close to hating this dog.

Happily, for all concerned, the owner was ready with an open mind to work with me and Amichien Bonding to see if a new and more positive relationship could be created. Once she understood that Sophie was actually stressed due to the traditional training approaches the owners had used, up to that point, and that the behaviour that both owners unwittingly displayed around her was actually preventing Sophie’s true personality from blossoming through, we were able to move on.

The status issue Tess had with her mother was based on her honest belief that she was the one responsible for everyone, not her mother. Her barking was due to her sincere belief that she had to protect all those she was living with and consequently; she had to drive strangers away. This belief was reinforced when the other family (pack) members were joining in; the other dogs barking and the owners shouting!

When the family was out (particularly at dog shows), everyone was stressed about how Tess would behave and the possibility that she would show them up. This anxiety transferred to the dog, to such an extent that she would do everything she could to get away from any venue that she came to associate with distress for the family and saw it as her responsibility to get them all away- as quickly as possible.

Once the owners began to adopt AB and started to establish themselves as the group leaders, they successfully removed Tess’s need to challenge her mother, removed her need to bark hysterically at people passing by and, after a month of working with AB at home taking things calmly and slowly, the return to the show ring was easy.


It was about three months after the initial consultation that the owner rang me to tell me that she now adored her highly intelligent, loving and oh so willing partner, Tess. Harmony had come to their lives, Tess became close to her mother and in the show ring, the red winning cards came thick and fast (that bit was down to Tess, not AB!). There were also comments from their friends and family on how gorgeous Tess had become. Of course, she always was, but under pressure she had been prevented from relaxing enough to show her true nature.

Jan Fennell

More from the blog

A Dog Will Test Your Leadership Credentials Many Times Every Day. As we know, all social living species have to accept that there will be members at the top of the group, while others will be at the bottom, with the majority of the community at different levels somewhere between the two, and just as this applies to us, it is also true for our dogs.
Are Dogs Suffering From Mental Distress? This was the subject of a BBC Radio 2 feature this month and I am sad to say that certainly, most dogs do spend most of their life with unnecessary stress and anxiety; why would we do this to our best friends?