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gsdIMAGE_9A dog’s temperament is usually indicated by his behaviour towards people and other dogs. It can also refer to a dog’s steadiness and stability, his energy, alertness, loyalty and affection. It goes without saying that a well behaved dog with a sound temperament is a pleasure to live with. However, depending on how it was treated in the past, it can have a tendency to be aggressive towards people, have a fear of people, fear dogs or fight with dogs, be shy or hyperactive and you can have a lifetime of struggle with such a dog.

A puppy arrives in this world with a genetic predisposition to respond in a certain way just like his ancestors before him. So we know that when your Husky gets out of the gate that you must look for your car keys. The Jack Russell will spend much time in the undergrowth ferreting critters and the Border collie may be herding the cats. Some breeds, like the Akitas, are naturally aloof with strangers in the beginning but with time can become more affectionate. All dogs are different.

A pure bred puppy’s bone structure, pigmentation and coat can be predicted with a certain amount of accuracy. His temperament on the other hand, if problematic, can be somewhat modified and directed but cannot fundamentally be changed. That is why owners must start early, while the puppy is still developing, to iron out signs such as shyness, being distrustful, hiding behind the owner, snapping, and growling at people and dogs and/or the guarding of food and objects. Temperament training and behaviour modification must form part of puppy school training because trying to resolve an adult dog’s temperament problems is much more difficult and time consuming.

Thus, the most important item on any puppy training and socialization program must be temperate training. The puppy must learn to be confident and to interact on a friendly basis with people, young and old, and with other dogs. If puppies are allowed to play freely with other dogs most dog-dog problems can be overcome. However, humans and trainers must do their best to prevent the development of fearfulness and aggressiveness towards people and other dogs. All dogs must be trained NEVER to bite people. Temperament problems MUST be solved during puppyhood. Prevention is better than cure!

Judging a Puppy’s Temperament

When choosing a puppy one can easily be fooled in ones assessment of the little dog’s temperament. Some are pushy and others shy. Some are overactive and others can be sluggish. Advice from a good breeder and doing your homework by reading up about the breed is always recommended. Is the puppy clean, used to household noises and are the parents friendly? Is the puppy calm, trusting and wags his tail when you talk to him? If he is frightened, tries to avoid you and does not seem to like being handled, rather find another prospect.

I have experience of a client who insisted on buying a puppy in spite of the fact that it continued to run away from him at the selection and purchase. Training was difficult because he did not attend puppy school and his behaviour was very unpredictable and aggressive. My advice to discuss and return the dog to the breeder was not accepted until a family member was very seriously injured by the dog and only then was he returned to the breeder.

Temperament Training

Temperament training is an ongoing process of 1) getting dogs to learn to TOLERATE the actions and closeness of adults and children and 2) to ENJOY the handling and manhandling that they and other strangers may do to them.

This forms part of socialising your dog. An under socialised dog may become fearful near people and other dogs, run away from them and will often react aggressively towards them if they insist on following and cornering him. Puppies must be desensitised to all they may come across.

Socialising a puppy does not end with puppy school. As a pup gets older his behaviour and temperament changes with time. He now becomes less forthcoming and even shy when meeting people, dogs and children. Adolescent dogs must continuously be socialised to all situations he is likely to meet, especially children.


Handling, for the purpose of temperament training, is nothing more than a carefully planned confidence-building exercise. It is best done when the pup or dog is suitably hungry. I regularly use a randomly taken dog and demonstrate how quickly I can get him/her not only to tolerate what I am doing to it but also to love it.

Armed with some dry kibble/treats, call your pup and give him a treat. Step back and give another when he comes to you. Pick the pup up in your arms and wait for it to calm down before gently lowering him and reward with a treat. Next pick him up again but this time hold him cradled like a baby in an upside down position. Wait for him to calm down or stop resisting before putting him down before giving him a treat.

With puppies and older dogs first offer a treat then scratch behind the ear and treat. Next gently tap on the head and treat. A gentle tap on the cheek gets a treat followed by a light grab behind the neck etc. In no to time it is possible to repeat the sequence with much stronger contact and the dogs will tolerate being manhandled.

Squeeze the paws and treat then put your finger between the toes and treat. Lift the front legs off the ground and treat. Use your foot and gently tap his shoulder with your shoe. Pull the tail; lift the back legs off the ground and when he is laying down push his head into a dead dog position etc. etc.

Repeat these exercises more vigorously and get your friends and family to repeat them also but they must be carefully supervised by you. The dog now learns to associate humans with petting and giving treats. Temperament training with puppies can be achieved in a short while but with older head-shy dogs you need to be patient and persistent to achieve success. Who knows there may come a time when you suddenly have to grab you dog to remove a chicken bone he has picked up or have to save his life by jerking him away from an approaching vehicle.

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