Dogs are People, Too! The Effect of Individual Dog Personalities on Training

By: Brittney Frazier, Found Chicago Boarding and Training Center

Have you ever heard a person referring to their dog as their child or family member? Our country and its culture is notorious for celebrating their pets as human beings, going so far as to walking them around in strollers and plastering their adorable furry faces across social media, documenting their every day.

As a dog trainer, I find it to be an uphill battle to teach clients the need to treat dogs as animals and interpret their behavior as such. However, while most owners are very attentive to their dog’s individuality and character traits which make them the furry creature their owners adore, I can attest to the number of owners who sometimes fail to take their dog’s personality into consideration when dealing with specific scenarios. Although dogs are not quite as complex in their wants and needs as their human counterparts, dog personalities can be as vast as any other intelligent species, and it is no secret that not all dogs are made the same way.

So why is it that we tend to expect them to react the same way in every scenario? In Chicago, we have dog parks, bars and patios that allow dogs, and even some stores that allow us to bring our favorite companions along. We expect them to love our human children and never say no to a hug, kiss, or playing “ball” in the yard. We want to see them wag their tails and play bow at ever small, large, or fluffy dog they meet. And if the other dog is confrontational and aggressive? We want our dogs to “turn a cheek” and remain calm, cool, and collected.

The expectations I see in some owners seems to be higher than what they might expect of themselves. Are you always happy, passive, and non-confrontational? I know I’m certainly not. And when someone rubs me the wrong way? I know I’m not always as “prim and proper” as I should be with people I’m not a fan of. So why do we expect more from our dogs? While I do believe strongly in teaching dogs how to calmly diffuse situations with calming signals or taking control of the situation myself, I also understand that there are just some situations a dog might not be comfortable in. Not giving them a choice just seems unfair.

The three dogs my husband and I share our lives with have vastly different personalities and each has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. There’s our nine-month-old German Shepherd pup with boundless energy and a goofy and aloof demeanor; our fun-loving, loyal, and intelligent Border Collie mix; and our ten-year-old retired sometimes sweet and sometimes grumpy female lab mix. Although our dogs are very privileged in the way that they are able to accompany us during most of our daily activities, this does not mean that we expect them to enjoy every dog and human interaction they encounter.

Our oldest dog, for example, has always been picky about her canine friends. We like to joke that she has lots of “opinions” about how dogs should act and is usually not interested in making new friends while she is out with her “pack.” In dog training terms, she is dog selective and has a great deal of resource guarding tendencies. During my time with her, I have found several behavioral modification strategies which allows her to socialize safely and in a way that enriches her life as much as ours. Maybe it involves choosing the dog beach with more space to run and walk away from dogs she is not a fan of versus the dog park with very close quarters, even if it is more convenient for me. Perhaps it is choosing to leave her at home when we attend barbeques with too many new dogs. Either way, we make sure to set her up for success in situations we are confident in her behavior to avoid any setbacks in her behavior. However, if there are high value food items present or an exuberant dog approaching us who wants to meet playfully, I will make sure to remove our girl from the situation because I will lose credibility with her as her trainer and caretaker if I choose to force her to be a dog she is not.

I see it as our responsibility as guardians of our dogs to advocate for their wants and needs. Some needs may include a three mile run each morning, but some needs may include an adequate amount of space between your dog and a new dog they have never met before. Before assessing what kind of training will be best for a particular dog, their individual personality must be taken into consideration before planning a way to modify their behavior in a way that suits you. What is truly possible for this dog? Is this a behavior we will be able to ask our dog to do without the dog’s resentment? What we expect of our dogs should be something our dogs readily enjoy, not something we are forcing them to be involved in.
If we take the time to learn our dog – really learn – we will be able to build an overall stronger and closer relationship through training. When a dog learns to trust their trainer to keep them safe and respect their needs, the dog is usually able to be pushed much further in their behavioral growth due to the fact that the dog feels as though they have an ally in guiding them through each new situation. So find a trainer who will help you learn your dog inside and out and treats your pet like the individual he or she is.

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