“Dogs got personality. Personality goes a long way.”
–the character Jules in Pulp Fiction
noun The combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character.
Some dogs, (and some people!) respond to learning more naturally than others. You know the ones- quick studies, stars of the group class, all the poodles dig them.
Why does this happen? Is the same method of training the best method for everyone? Of course not! Dogs- like people, come equipped with their own unique personality. Understanding your dog’s individual character is an invaluable tool when creating the most effective training regimen for him. Yes Jules, personality does go a long way!
A dog’s personality is greatly based on instinctive behaviors (drives) which are inherited from its parents. Certain breeds may be more predisposed to specific drives, and most all dogs have varying degrees of each one. Often, your dog can switch from drive to drive instantaneously. It is the concentration of each drive, combined with life experiences which define a dog’s personality.
So what are these drives of which I speak? There are three main categories: Prey, Pack and Defense. Each of these categories includes specific behaviors. Let’s start with Prey drive. This is the instinctive drive that enables a dog to hunt, kill and eat. As you may imagine the behaviors associated with this drive are based on motion, scent and sound. Is Fido chasing cars (or anything that moves)? Prey drive. Max loves tug-of-war? Prey drive. Bear hiding his rawhide in the dirty laundry? You guessed it- prey drive!
Is your dog happiest when he is with you? Does he play well with others at the dog park? If so he probably has a high pack drive. All dogs are naturally pack animals, and as their people you are a part of their pack. They crave a hierarchy (or pecking order) with structured rules and expectations. Dogs with a lot of pack drive make good teammates when working, as they have a strong desire to please. Other common behaviors associated with this drive include desire for attention, licking and other affectionate behavior.
A dog’s basic survival instincts make up the Defense drive, which is comprised of both fight and flight behaviors. My first Rottie, Mitre, seemed to strut when he walked like a bodybuilder at Venice Beach. Chest out and head high. He was always curious about new noises, wanted to explore new surroundings and stood firm to anything he perceived as a threat. He had a good deal of fight in him. Other behaviors could include guarding food or toys, and not moving out of peoples way (laying in front of doors etc), forcing them to go around them. Don’t move on my account!
Flight behavior is defined as a dog who is uncertain of certain situations. They may run away or hide during storms, fireworks or large (or small) gatherings. They generally demonstrate anxiety or a lack of confidence. Often this is seen in young puppies before they have had many life experiences or socialization. It can, however, be present in dogs of any age and is a behavior that one should be wary of. Fear biters have a high level of defense/flight and almost assume a “get them before they get me” attitude.
Is there a way to measure your dog’s drives? Absolutely. Probably the most recognized test is The Canine Personality Profile developed by Wendy Volhard. It involves rating ten behaviors in each drive. A score is assigned for each, which allows you to see the balance between them in your dog. A high or low score is not necessarily good or bad. It just helps you understand how your dog views his environment, what motivates them, and how to ensure they are given the best opportunities to learn and contribute positively to the world around them.
What are some training tips and techniques for your dog’s individual personality? Stay tuned and we’ll talk about this next time!