Factors Known to Influence a Dog's Behavior

Updated on November 11, 2016
The breeds of dogs play a main influence, alexadry
The breeds of dogs play a main influence, alexadry

When it comes to evaluating dog behavior and making a careful assessment a variety of factors come into play. Just as humans a dog's personality and temperament is the end result of genes and the environment. The nature versus nurture debate therefore applies to the canine world as well. Is a dog's behavior the result of an intrinsic mix of genes or is it the result of several experiences the dog has made on this world? Very likely both are fundamental factors.

The nature versus nurture term was coined by anthropologist Francis Galton. The theory emphasizes the importance of innate qualities versus personal experiences. Behavioral traits of dogs therefore may be the result of one or the other or most likely both. There are many factors capable of influencing a dog's behavior and they may have a hereditary or environmental origin. Following are common factors that may influence a dog's behavior.

The role of Nature

  • The Genes of the Dog

A dog's behavior may be influenced by its hereditary baggage. If you mate two shy dogs chances are high you will have shy puppies. This is why it is very important to deal with reputable breeders who temperament test their breeding pool. It may be very difficult to change the personality of a dog which is wired deep into its genes. Behavior modification may help some, but many cases may be reluctant to improve.

  • The Breed of the Dog

A dog's behavior may also significantly be influenced by the breed. You may have a hyperactive Labrador because this breed was meant to work for most of the day and you may have an aloof Rottweiler because this guarding breed was bred to be wary of strangers. For this reason, it is very important to evaluate a breed very well before considering adopting a dog. Learn about the history of the dog, the typical temperament and its needs. However, consider that within a breed, each dog mmay have their individual personalities that may not necessarily abide to the ''breed standard''.

The Role of Nurture

  • Experiences in the Litter

The litter plays a big factor in the upbringing of a puppy. A very large litter may mean that mother dog may have a hard time in taking care of all pups and this may influence future behaviors. A puppy learns a lot from its litter mates and mother and this is why owners are told to get a puppy only after it has reached eight weeks. A puppy for instance who tends to nip a lot, may have missed being taught proper bite inhibition, something the owner will have to teach twenty bite marks later.

  • The Socialization Window

Puppies undergo a critical phase in puppy hood between 4 weeks and 4 months. During this critical phase puppies must learn as much as they can about the world around them. Exposing the puppy to as many people, noises, pets and places will help the puppy grow into a stable dog that does not react much to new people or sounds. Lack of proper socialization may cause behavior problems such as anxiety or aggression.

  • Role of Health

Health plays a big role in behavior. A healthy mind is in a healthy body. For this reason, dogs affected by sudden behavioral problems should be seen by a veterinarian. Some forms of aggression may be linked to health problems such as low thyroid levels. Dogs who have pain may also become grumpy and  prone to behavioral changes. Dogs on certain medication may also undergo behavior changes.

  • Effects of the Environment

Here the owner may come into play. Litters of puppies raised in dark garages with no sensorial stimulation may be affected for life. Dogs abused, or on the contrary, spoiled may also undergo behavioral changes. If a dog has bad experiences it may become  fearful and defensive, whereas if it has many good experiences his confidence will grow. The environment may play a big role  in a dog's behavior and it may help dogs born with bad genes or  it may turn bad good dogs blessed with good genes. 

As seen, a multitude of factors come into play in the shaping of a dog's behavior. Well raised puppies coming from reputable breeders are usually like balls of play dough. You can shape their behavior and turn them into extraordinary beings or you can ruin them for life if you abuse or neglect them. While the debate of nature versus nurture remains open,  it must be recognized that owners often remain primary factors when it comes to a dog's behavior. This is why breed specific legislation should be stopped: blame the owner not the breed.  Puppies are in most cases born good; it is how they are raised and cared for that may ultimately make a difference.

Questions & Answers


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      • fundamentallife profile image

        fundamentallife 7 years ago

        Great explanation my friend, I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

        Voted up and awesome!


      • bayoulady profile image

        bayoulady 7 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

        Super article.My Sweetie Pie was a shelter dog. They say she had been on the streets and scavenging around in the town in people's backyards for weeks. I know she was treated well by the confident way she acts when I interact with her,

      • KatMalone profile image

        KatMalone 7 years ago

        Enjoyed you hub, very informative. I love dogs.

      • ocbill profile image

        ocbill 7 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

        Yeah, I always believe the hereditary traits always come back into play especially with animals that are supposed to live in the wild being a home pet. I heard hats (from you? or someone else on hubpages) may make a dog think you are a stranger