Nature vs. Nurture effects on Dog Behaviour.

There is always a lot of stories in the news and on social media about specific breeds. Certain breeds tend to get more bad press than others so is it justified or does the dog’s upbringing contribute more strongly to behavioural traits?

Our dogs are intelligent animals and do not react to something without a reason or two. With this in mind, if we’ve corrected a behaviour displayed by our dog within an environment because its seen as ‘bad’ or ‘misbehaving’, we need to have a look at the environmental impact in relation of changing the dogs reaction to the ‘stimulus’. There are lots of factors which when taken into consideration, can influence your dog’s behaviour relationship with the environment. Here are some of them:

    Inherited behaviours

    These are behaviours displayed depending on how your dog reacts to different stresses in environments:

  • Dogs which are considered to be weak-nerved can display fearful based behaviours (behaviours such as shy, timid, fearful bites); these dogs struggle to deal with the everyday environmental stresses.
  • Dogs which are solid-nerved can display ‘disobedient’ or ‘dominant’ based behaviours; these are dogs that are confident, curious, distracted, like to explore and get easily bored.
    How the dog has been socialised
  • This can affect your dog’s behaviours in connection with its social skills and its relationship with its surrounding environment.
  • Your dog’s brain is like a sponge during the first 16 weeks; more social interaction and different environmental stimuli and stresses during this period will form ‘good’ behavioural patterns (and how it would react) as an adult dog.
    The relationship between the dog, its owner and other humans
  • This is so important, whether your dog is a family pet, working dog, police service dog, etc.
  • No matter how well your dog is trained, if the relationship between you and him/her isn’t based on trust, fulfilment etc. then the performance will not be good.
  • If you have a good relationship with your dog it will be beneficial for your dog when dealing with or coping with different environments; a dog won’t play a game during a stressful situation/environment. If you engage in a game then your dog will have a message from you that there is nothing to worry about because you’re relaxed, therefore your dog relaxes.
    The environment which the dog lives or has grown up in
  • This can initiate and fuel your dog’s natural drive, although it should be considered when looking at territorial, aggression, fearful behaviours / reactions.
  • How you present or even don’t present the environment during the 16 week period of your puppies life will affect how your dog reacts to the environment as an adult.
    Environmental distractions
  • The way which your dog reacts in an environment to the distraction depends on the level and intensity of the distraction and how used to a distraction the dog is.
  • Your dog will not react the same way with an ambulance siren (the stimulus) going off 100 meters away compared to if the sirens went off right next to it; this is because the intensity of the volume and distance is different.
  • By identifying the ‘trigger’ you can work on your dog’s behaviour, desensitise and condition your dog to know how to react the next time it faces that situation.

Waiting till the issue is obvious, or the dog’s behaviour is dangerous before dealing with a less than perfect behaviour can be quite common; however preventing is the best we can do for our dogs.

    Preventions can include:

  • If purchasing a puppy, use a reliable breeder/owner who obviously cares about the breeding dogs behaviours (selecting good temperaments etc.) e.g. inherited behaviour.
  • Start your puppy’s socialisation from day one as this is a small window of opportunity; the puppies brain is like a sponge and are influenced on the environment and situation. Exposing the puppy to many different environments and stimuli will influence its adult behaviours and reactions.
  • Build a solid relationship between you and your puppy, this will help them feel secure in different environments and with different distractions.

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