Why Does My Dog Act That Way?

February 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Why Does My Dog Act That Way? by Stanley Coren (2006)

Does an introverted dog exist? How about an extroverted one? Can you gauge a dog’s IQ? What about EQ? According to author Dr Stanley Coren (Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia), Toy Poodles like Maple can be characterized by these personality traits:

  • Dominance/Territoriality: very low
  • Intelligence/Learning Ability: very high
  • Emotional Reactivity: very high
  • Sociability: very low
  • Energy: very high

I agree with every one of these points, but I would modify Maple’s scale on the ‘Sociability’ index to ‘moderately low’—Maple is very sociable with humans, although not so much with other dogs (we hope this will change over time).

In the book’s Appendix, Dr Coren provides a lengthy table in which he ranks the personality profiles for 133 individual breeds of dogs according to the above five indices. ‘Chapter 5: The Personalities of of Dog Breeds’ describes in detail these five personality dimensions that are recognizable across the various individual breeds of dogs which, at the same time, can also be used to differentiate one breed from another. As Dr Coren posits:

A dog’s breed tells us a lot about that dog’s genetic heritage and makeup. Genetics is a strong determinant of personality. In the absence of any other information, we can make a reasonable prediction about how the dog will behave based upon its breed (p. 108).

A humorous exaggeration of the different breed personalities is illustrated in this excerpt from the book:

‘How many dogs does it take to change a lightbulb?’ The answer depends on the breed.

Border collie: Just one, but why not let me change the light fixture so that it will accept fluorescent bulbs, which are much more efficient?

Bulldog: Don’t bother; I’ll just lie here in the dark.

German shepherd: Just one, but it will have to wait until I’ve rescued those people trapped in the dark and led them to safety, and then checked the house to make sure that no one has entered under cover of darkness to take advantage of the situation.

Shetland sheepdog: I will as soon as I arrange all of the new bulbs in a tight and orderly little circle.

Golden retriever: The sun is shining, we’ve got no work to do today, I’ve got this neat red ball here, and you’re inside worrying about some silly lightbulb?

Rottweiler: Go ahead, and see if you’re tough enough to make me!

Corgi: First, I’ll bark until the old bulb leaves of its own accord and then I’ll nip at the new one until it goes into the socket…

Labrador retriever: I can do it! Please… Please… I can. You know I can. Please…

Greyhound: It isn’t moving, so who cares?

Pointer: I see it. There it is. Look, it’s right there…

Jack Russell terrier: Me! I can reach it! All I have to do is to keep bouncing off the furniture and walls.

Poodle: I’ll just whisper some sweet nothings into the border collie’s ear and he’ll do it. By the time he’s finished putting in the new light fixture, my nails will be dry (p. 82-83).

To determine your Fido’s personality profile, Dr Coren has developed a questionnaire that he calls the Dog Behaviour Inventory (p. 139). The questionnaire, however, is only accurate if Fido is at least 1.5 years of age and has spent a relatively long period of time under your care. I guess we’ll be saving this questionnaire for Maple when she is a little older.

Although I got some useful bits of general knowledge from this book, I think breeders, in particular, would find this book engaging because Dr Coren writes extensively about neonatal puppy care and domesticating a dog from the time of his or her birth. Dr Coren argues that a ‘Superdog’–that is, a smart, sociable, and even tempered dog—can be created through “an appropriate set of early experiences” (p. 157). Of course, that doesn’t mean we should give up on older dogs just because they act out. Dr Coren goes on to say that:

The process of creating a superdog takes a little bit of work at first, but it is easily integrated into your everyday life. No matter how perfect your dog is, always treat him as a ‘work in progress’ and continue to challenge him mentally. He will learn more, become smarter, become more stress resistant, and will be a better companion. It will also give you a sense of pride to know that you have shaped his personality as much, if not more, than his genetic endowment has (p. 235).

To end, here are a few things you can do to continue enriching your dog’s life as he or she ages:

— Vary routines and toys.

— Bring the dog with you on outings.

—Include the dog in as many family activities as possible.

— Get him involved in dog sports and games.

— Keep teaching him new words, tricks, and commands (p. 235).

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