Behaviors Related to Breed

Most breeds were developed to do a specific job. An important part in understanding your dog is to research what job he was bred for and recognize how that affects his behavior as your pet. Although few purebred dogs are still performing whatever job they were bred to do, the behaviors remain. To confuse the issue, these behaviors remain in varying strength. An infamous example is the Irish Setter, who has been bred for beauty for so long that some have lost their ability to find birds. However, few seem to have lost their desire to run. Keep in mind as you are reading that these are generalizations that will not apply to all individuals within a breed.

Understanding how your dog's breed affects his behavior can be a challenge if your dog is a mixed breed. These dogs are often misunderstood because they don't have a breed identity to lead to an understanding of their behavior. Try to guess what breeds may be combined in your mixed-breed dog. Judge by characteristics like shape of ear, tail carriage, size, and coat rather than by color. Stick to the more popular breeds, as they are more likely to be part of a mixed breeding. It is unlikely that your dog is a cross between an Ibizan Hound and a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon.

Many breeds of dogs were developed to hunt in different ways that affect their behavior as pets. Some dogs hunt by sight, while others hunt by smell. Beagles, when off leash, are easily distracted by smells on the ground; Afghan Hounds are more likely to be distracted by something they see moving. Terriers were bred to hunt small rodents, which were sometimes not much smaller than they were. This produced a feisty dog who is eager to do battle and is not afraid of anything. Setters hunt by covering a lot of ground, and they will often do exactly that when allowed off leash.

An important factor that affects how easy it is to train your dog is whether or not his breed was developed to work in close cooperation with man or independently of him. For example, both the Golden Retriever and the Border Collie were bred to take directions from humans to do their job. On the other hand, when Beagles are working as hunters, they do not wait for instructions from their handlers, but strike off on their own, looking for rabbit scent. Setters and Pointers fall somewhere in between, searching independently for game birds, but staying within range of the hunter with whom they are working.

Some dogs were bred to hunt or work for long periods of time, such as Setters, Pointers, and Border Collies. You shouldn't be surprised if your German Shorthaired Pointer, bred to hunt all day at a steady gallop, paces restlessly around the house and gets into trouble when he doesn't get enough exercise. On the other hand, people are often surprised to learn that some of the breeds bred to hunt by running down game, such as Greyhounds and Afghans, are content to sleep away the day rather than run through the house. They were not bred to hunt all day at a steady pace, but to capture their prey in brief bursts of speed.

The behavior of dogs bred to herd, such as Collies and Shetland Sheepdogs, causes problems for many dog owners. It may mean that your Australian Shepherd obsessively rounds up the neighborhood kids in your backyard and won't allow them to move. Or it may mean that your Border Collie mix bites at the back of your legs when you try to walk. Herding breeds have an instinctive need to control moving objects. This works great if you have a herd of sheep you want to move, but poorly if the herding instinct is extended to small children or cars passing by. They are often compulsive retrievers, extending their herding instinct to balls or Frisbees. This herding behavior can be confused with an aggressive attack, and indeed the line between the two can sometimes be hard to draw. If you have a herding breed or mix, it would be wise to expose him to things like groups of small children running around and make sure he understands that under no circumstances is he to chase them.

These breed-related behaviors are instinctive, and they cannot be erased by training, only understood and controlled. Keep in mind that often these behaviors are at their worst in a bored dog. Terriers will dig, Huskies will howl, and Border Collies will chase cars. Training, stimulation, and exercise are all helpful.

Now we will examine some inherited personality characteristics that affect all dogs, regardless of breed. While we will be discussing extremes of each characteristic, there is a continuous range of behavior between the extremes that might best describe your dog. It is important to note that these personality traits are not necessarily good or bad, but rather a matter of personal preference. Puppy behavior testing gives a good indication of these personality traits at an early age (see chapter 3).

Evaluating Your Dog's Personality

Understanding your dog's personality is important for successful training and a good relationship. Circle the description below that best fits your dog.






Barks or paws

Whines when

Rarely asks to

at door when

his dinner is late

go out or begs

wants to go out

for food

Defense reaction

Readily bites

Would bite

Wouldn't bite

when stressed

if very frightened

even if very frightened


Very upset when

Unhappy when

Would run

left alone; never

left alone; wanders

away if given

leaves your side

away but not far

the chance

Energy level

Always on the

Likes exercise,

Sleeps most

move; needs

but no problem

of the time;

lots of exercise

if walk missed

couch potato


Gets excited

Gets excited when


easily; high

people come but



settles down


Is always one

Learns quickly

Isn't quick to

step ahead of

but isn't creative

learn or solve

you; easily bored



Does whatever

Has some bad

Very difficult

you want;

habits but tries

to train;

easy to train

to please

independent and assertive

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Dog Training 101

Dog Training 101

If you own a dog, you will have to do more than just feed him and give him toys to play with. Just about every dog, no matter what breed, will have some bad habits and behaviors that you will need to break.

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